Anniversaries, Appreciations, Aleatorics, & an Apology

It was the strangest feeling: to be part of something yet without any understanding of how what I was doing fit into the whole. Back in the early 1980s, I had graduated from playing miscellaneous instruments in an early-music ensemble to devoting myself to the recorder (the end-blown fipple flute, not the audio archiving machine). My teacher, Nancy Winkelmann, had introduced me to various ensembles, and one Saturday afternoon, an ad hoc group of us was working with a composer of so-called "aleatoric" music; literally, music by chance.

"It is very important in this piece," we were told, "not to listen to the other players, not to play in time with them, to play as differently from each other as you can." This, of course, is the opposite of what is drummed into one as a music student, and I am here to tell you that this was very difficult to do. And it was very off-putting to be playing apparently random notes, to be speeding up and slowing down, with what each of us was playing not seeming to make any sense. Yet, to our mutual astonishment, out of what appeared to be a mess of random noodlings there appeared in the room, hanging over the ensemble, an enormous C-major chord that slowly transitioned into other chords. The musical meaning was absent from any individual player's contribution. What mattered was the musical consensus that emerged from those contributions.

I raise this experience because it is very much relevant to how Stereophile chooses its annual Products of the Year, the 16th edition of which is featured in this issue. We operate a two-stage voting process, with first a nominating vote to produce a short list, then the magazine's reviewers and editors voting for their top three choices in each category. This process has been criticized both by readers and by some reviewers on the grounds that because no single reviewer will have heard all the products reviewed in the past year, any individual's selection will be meaningless.

But as with the aleatoric recorder composition, while each reviewer will have heard only some of the nominees, as long as they vote for those products they have heard and feel to be outstanding, when the voting is examined as a whole, a consensus emerges. End of sermon.

In November's "As We See It," I noted the 45th anniversary of Stereophile's founding by J. Gordon Holt, who offered some acerbic, even angry comments on how the high-end world has changed. The major manner in which the world of magazine publishing has changed, of course, was the introduction of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s. We agonized over how Stereophile should enter that world, but it was a chance encounter in spring 1997 with musician, audiophile, cashed-out audio retailer, and self-proclaimed Web Monkey Jon Iverson that led to emerging from the dark on December 1, 1997.

Out of the blue, Jon had sent me an essay, "The Tiger Wags Its Tail," which I published in the April 1997 issue. In subsequent conversations, it emerged that not only did Jon have considerable insight into the magazine and its doings, he had strong ideas about how Stereophile should approach the brave new world of Web publishing. Jon visited then-publisher Larry Archibald and me in Santa Fe, pitched us a plan that we didn't have to think twice about adopting, and the rest is history—10 years' worth.

Jon is still our Web Monkey and more than 300,000 unique visitors now "hit" each month. Stephen Mejias, Wes Phillips, Fred Kaplan, and Robert Baird blog there regularly—even daily—and the site's forum and photo gallery are where readers can interact with the magazine's writers and editors, as well as with each other. Back issues and Stereophile CDs and LPs can be purchased from our e-commerce page. We update the home-page news and "Vote" every Monday, as well as add four or five reviews or articles to our free online archive.

Our goal is eventually to have everything Stereophile has ever published available in the website archives, and we are well along the road to reaching that goal: Getting on for 1500 equipment reviews, going back to the 1960s, are now available online, along with a large number of interviews, every "Recording of the Month" going back to June 1992, every "R2D4" feature, and many, many, many technical and musical articles. Not only have we posted every "As We See It" essay going back to January 1994, but also a large number of editorial leaders going all the way back to the magazine's founding.

Thank you for 10 great years, Jon, and thank you for choreographing that giant step forward for the magazine. I can't now imagine how a magazine could survive without a website to complement its print activities.

Something else you can find in the archives are the five years' worth of Art Dudley's "Listening" column. Yes, this issue sees the publication of the 60th edition of "Listening." It seems only yesterday that Art told me he was leaving Listener, the audio magazine he'd founded with his wife, Janet, and would I be interested in his contributing to Stereophile? Would I? I'd been a fan of Art's writing since he worked for The Abso!ute Sound in the mid-1980s. Another chance encounter, another step forward for the magazine. Thank you, Art.

In the very first "As We See It" in Vol.1 No.1, J. Gordon Holt had included a throwaway remark: "Other things that need looking into are . . . equipment-testing standards [and] subjective criteria for evaluating fidelity." We started routinely accompanying Stereophile's equipment reports with measurements in summer 1989, using, among other pieces of gear, an Audio Precision System One two-channel measurement system, which operates in both the analog and digital domains.

That Audio Precision One is still doing sterling service, but it's getting long in the tooth and is not really up to the task of assessing the best-performing modern components. I was very pleased, therefore, to get an e-mail out of the blue last summer from Audio Precision's Tom Williams. Tom told me that AP was appreciative of the work I was doing with the System One, and wondering if I would like to try their top-of-the-line Model 2722, which has both significantly greater resolution and greater bandwidth than the System One. Would I?

So, beginning next month, I will be transitioning our test regime to the System 2722. Thank you, Tom, and thank you, Audio Precision. And thank you, chance.

John Marks reviewed the Ars-Sonum Filarmonia integrated amplifier in our October issue. Unfortunately, when we referred to this product on our October cover, we described it as "Italian Art." The Filarmonia is, in fact, Spanish. Our apologies for the error to Ars-Sonum, and to their US distributor, Bobby Palkovic, of Merlin Music Systems.—John Atkinson

John Atkinson's picture
every "Recording of the Month" going back to June 1992...every "As We See It" essay going back to January 1994...

As of December 2014, we have now posted every "Recording of the Month" going back to January 1983 and every "As We See It" going back to December 1981.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile