It was almost five years ago that I first spent some serious auditioning time with an omnidirectional two-piece speaker from German manufacturer MBL: the four-way MBL 111. When I reviewed the 111 in the April 1998 Stereophile, I had been extremely impressed with the speaker's stereo imaging, which was superbly stable and well-defined, with images that floated completely free of the speaker positions. The tonal balance was also excellent, with a rich midrange, superbly clean highs, and extended lows. "This Radialstrahler is one of the best tweeters I have experienced," I wrote. In fact, the 111 was let down only by bass frequencies that tended to lag behind the music slightly.
"My god. This was better than any hi-fi I had ever experienced—I actually had Sergei Rachmaninoff in the room, playing Mendelssohn just for me. I am not ashamed to say that I wept." I wrote those words in the January 2001 Stereophile, about hearing a piano-roll transcription of Rachmaninoff performing Mendelssohn's Spinning Song (Op.67 No.34) on a Bösendorfer Imperial 290SE reproducing piano. I was in the middle of recording Robert Silverman's cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas at the Maestro Foundation in Santa Monica, where there just happened to be a floppy disk with Wayne Stahnke's transcription of the Rachmaninoff for the Bösendorfer mechanism, which Stahnke invented.
Such is the pace of development in digital technology these days that it is hard not to become convinced that digital playback is a solved problem. The measured performance aberrations are so low in absolute level—and, more important, so low compared with the typical threshold of human hearing—that it is difficult to see why digital components should sound different from one another.
I never "got" the spurs with which Jimmie Lee Robinson provided a percussive accompaniment to his singing and guitar playing, but I became a fan of Jimmie Lee's when I saw him perform on two successive nights at Acoustic Sounds' first blues festival in Salina, Kansas in September 1998. His subsequent live appearances at Consumer Electronics Shows and at HI-FI '99, Home Entertainment 2001, and HE2002 on behalf of Acoustic Sounds' associated APO label, were highlights of those events. (I took the accompanying photo at Jimmie Lee's May 31 HE2002 gig in New York with harmonica player Wild Child Butler.)
Of the small number of times I have been totally swept away by listening to recorded music, a significant proportion have involved loudspeakers from Wilson Audio Specialties. It was my experience of their X-1/Grand SLAMM in the listening rooms of reviewer Martin Colloms, then-retailer Peter McGrath, designer Dan D'Agostino of Krell, and manufacturer Madrigal Audio Labs, that led me to name it my "Editor's Choice" for 1995 and join my vote with those of the Stereophile scribes to make it the magazine's "Loudspeaker of the Year." I wrote in my December 2001 "As We See It" about how a cross-country road trip had begun with a listen to the Cantus CD on the Wilson WAMMs in their designer's Utah listening room. And, as I wrote in my April column, auditioning Peter McGrath's 24-bit Nagra-D master tapes on Wilson MAXXes in the Halcro room was, for me, the highlight of the 2002 CES.
Although I was trying to earn a living playing in rock bands in the early 1970s, I occasionally used to drag my Fender bass over to a school canteen in the next town for an after-hours session with what used to be called a "rehearsal band." (I have no idea what the derivation of that name is, except that, with the exception of a couple of veterans of the Ted Heath Orchestra, we were certainly in need of all the rehearsal we could get.) I would set up my Marshall stack the other side of the drummer from the pianist and sit behind a set of trumpet players, a brace of trombonists, and a scrum of players of the common saxophone flavors—a couple of altos, three or four tenors, and a baritone wielded by a gentleman with the magnificent moniker of Albert Bags. We played Glenn Miller and Woody Herman charts, and, on one memorable night, a Stan Kenton arrangement. Our technical chops didn't match our musical ambitions, but the feeling that welled up inside us when we all reached the final measure at the same time couldn't be beat.
It's the grain elevators that break the monotony of driving across the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandle. As you pass one, another one appears on the horizon. Thus you know you're making progress, despite the fact that the landscape remains unchanged.
This magazine's "Recording of the Month" feature has been running without a break since it first appeared in our January 1994 issue. The idea of its progenitor, then-music editor Richard Lehnert (who still copy-edits every word you see in Stereophile), was that every month we would recognize a recording that defied "Holt's First Law" by offering superb sound and wonderful music (footnote 1). I think we've succeeded at that goal. Despite the letter that Robert Baird mentions in his "Aural Robert" column this month (p.113), whose writer objected to the February issue's pick (Shelby Lynne's Love Shelby, Island ISLF 15426-2), if an audiophile's music collection consisted entirely of Stereophile Recordings of the Month, there wouldn't be a dog in the whole eclectic bunch.
Following the tragic events of September 11 last year, Audio Asylum and Audiogon co-sponsored a charity auction of audio equipment to benefit the NY Firefighters' Fund and other related charities. Manufacturers, dealers, magazine writers and editors, and audiophiles donated equipment, recordings, and memorabilia for sale, and as reported on this website, the auction ultimately raised almost $175,000 for 9/11-related charities.
Sometimes, taking what looks like the easy route turns out to be a bust. The line for cabs outside the Alexis Park Resort Hotel in Las Vegas, home of the high-end audio exhibits at the 2002 Consumer Electronics Show, must have been at least 50 people long. So much for the post-9/11 forecasts of doom that had preceded the convention: last fall's Comdex may have been a bust, but the official CES visitor count of 100,307, if a little lower than the past two years' attendances, still seemed respectable (and surpassed 1999's total of 97,370).