40 Years of Stereophile

"The monthly miracle," it's called in publishing: that magical moment when the new issue of your magazine arrives in the mailbox hot from the printer. And with this issue of Stereophile—No.274, or Vol.25 No.11—we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the start of our "miracle." With the 20 pages of Issue No.1, Vol.1 No.1, cover-dated September-October 1962, "Ye Editor & Publisher" J. Gordon Holt introduced both a new audio magazine and the philosophy that an audio product is best reviewed by doing exactly what its purchasers will do: listen to it. On that small rock of an idea was founded not only Stereophile but the entire high-end audio industry. Here, reprinted from a 1974 anthology of the first 12 issues, is J. Gordon Holt's description of the events that led up to the founding of Stereophile:

"Many years ago—in 1945, to be exact—I was required to take a music-appreciation course at a private school I was attending in Melbourne, Australia. The approach was, of course, a historical one, so like most of my classmates I sat with total indifference through the playing of excerpts from Gregorian chant through Baroque to early Romantic, via a truly magnificent phonograph and record collection donated to the school by the Carnegie Foundation. Not until the Prelude to Act III of Wagner's Lohengrin was I stirred from my apathy, and I was so stirred I bought my own recording of it, to play on a little wind-up acoustic Victrola. Somehow, it didn't sound quite the same, and I was determined to find out why. And that is how, in one fell swoop, I became hooked on both classical music and high fidelity.

"Since audio was technical, I chose to go to an engineering university—Lehigh U.—but soon learned that engineering was math, for which I had no talent. So I went for a journalism degree, for which one course required that I write magazine articles. I wrote about audio, and sold two pieces to High Fidelity, ultimately accepting a job there as 'Audio Editor.' My function: testing and reporting on components. That was my introduction to the 'commercial' side of Big Publishing.

"I watched, first with incredulity and then with growing disgust, how the purchase of a year's advertising contract could virtually insure a manufacturer against publication of an unfavorable report. Critical reports were either watered-down to minimize the critical comment, or were simply suppressed when it proved impossible to express in an 'acceptable' manner the fact that we were unable to test something because all three samples submitted to us had blown up when we switched them on.

"I managed to live with this crap for five years, after which I quit HF and went to work for one of the hi-fi industry's genuine geniuses, Paul Weathers, who is still best known as the inventor of the first commercially made FM phono pickup. The stereo version of that never came to pass, but Weathers did produce a ceramic stereo pickup that managed somehow to wipe out all of the competition. It was when we started submitting that pickup to the hi-fi magazines that I got to see the other side of the commercial-publishing coin.

"The Weathers Professional Stereo pickup outperformed everything else on the market for a period of about four years after its introduction, but it was never given any recognition for this superiority by any hi-fi magazine. In other words, not only were the Big Advertisers' products immune from serious criticism, they were also shielded from the threat of comparison with competing products that were better but not so heavily advertised.

"My reaction was, 'Okay, if no one else will publish a magazine that calls the shots as it sees them, I'll do it myself.' I must have been out of my mind!—JGH"

Four decades later, in a different century, we are still calling the shots as we see 'em, and we are still basing our value judgments on how products sound. I outline what happened next, the story of Stereophile's subsequent 40 years, in an article starting on p.56. But as that article is concerned with our public face, I thought I'd take a moment to mention the behind-the-scenes aspect of "the book."

Every installment of our "monthly miracle" involves many disparate elements. Looking at the issue you are holding in your hands and contrasting it (in parentheses) with issue No.1, it contains:
• 1 color cover photograph (1 black-and-white in 1962)
• 3 articles (5)
• 5 regular columns (2)
• 10 individual news items in "Industry Update" (none)
• 17 audio components written about (1)
• 22 recordings reviewed (5)
• 25 events listed in the "Calendar" (none)
• 26 letters from readers and manufacturers (9)
• 39 classified advertisements (1)
• 58 measurement graphs (4)
• 100 photographs and graphic images (13)
• 120 display advertisements (none)
• 204 pages (20)

Each month, every one of these items must come together at the right place at the right time in the right order. J. Gordon Holt wrote back in the 1970s that putting together that first issue of Stereophile took him and a temporary assistant six months. The current issue was put together in one month by just three full-time people—Pip Tannenbaum (Production Manager), Elizabeth Donovan (Managing Editor), Stephen Mejias (Editorial Assistant)—with the help of two contractors: Richard Lehnert (Copy Editor) and Natalie Brown-Baca (Art Director). These five are the magazine's too-often-unsung heroes. My thanks to them for turning the ideas expressed by music editor Robert Baird and myself, and by our 60-strong team of writers, into something tangible.

And my thanks to those same writers for making this editor's job as rewarding as it has turned out to be. To my continuing regret, J. Gordon Holt left Stereophile in 1999 for what he perceived to be greener pastures. But it is my pleasure to announce that Art Dudley, until recently editor of the now-defunct Listener magazine, will be joining our extended family as a reviewer and columnist with the January 2003 issue. Welcome aboard, Art.