Anniversaries, Auditions, Advertisers

A couple months back, a question from a dealer set me back in my chair: "Are you guys really going to put out Stereophile on a monthly basis?" I was surprised—when he put the question, we were just starting production work on the issue you hold in your hands, the twelfth to hit the stands since we started publishing monthly. Beginning with Vol.10 No.5 in August 1987, a Stereophile has gone in the mail every month, pretty much on time despite having gone through the trauma of changing printers last December on one issue's notice.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to say thanks to Richard, Rebecca, Michael, Janice, Andrew, Susan, Jim, and Mort the typesetter—the mechanical production team—for rising to the challenge of our first year of monthly publication with nary a hitch or complaint. And I mustn't forget either you, our readers, who seem on the whole to enjoy our efforts, or our regular writers, a merry band now some 32 strong, who have responded to my unwillingness to cut deals concerning deadlines with fortitude and with copy that is both well-written and well-informed.

Over half of those writers are members of Stereophile's new record-review team, a team of heavyweights put together pretty much from scratch by Assistant Editor Richard Lehnert, who has just celebrated his first 12 months with the magazine. Coincidentally with his anniversary, I am astonished to realize that as I write these words, I've been working for Stereophile for exactly two years. I say "astonished," because it doesn't seem like any time at all since I was comfortably enthroned at the helm of Hi-Fi News & Record Review in the UK.

Looking at my former domicile from the high desert of New Mexico, was I really as introspective as my countrymen now appear to be? To judge from Ken Kessler's "Update" column in this issue, one would be forgiven for thinking that the UK audio community is not aware of the existence of the rest of the world. Yet I know that not to be true, having witnessed at first hand the efforts made by companies like KEF, B&W, Quad, Linn, and Meridian to cut themselves loose from their parochial formative markets.

As I see it, high-end audio is a world community, a true McLuhanesque "global village": no company, not even here in the US with its long tradition of isolationism, can afford to cling too tightly to its domestic roots if it is to survive as a major high-end force. Of course, you could fairly point out that, as an international transplant, I have a vested interest in such a view. Nevertheless, I point to the worldwide success enjoyed by such US brands as Magnepan, Cello, Audio Research, Apogee, Mark Levinson, and Krell, who do view their activities in this light, as supporting evidence for my opinion.

Among other things, one of the tasks publisher Larry Archibald hired me for back in 1986 was to help increase Stereophile's presence in the world audio community, an area where we had fallen behind with respect to The Absolute Sound. Our new Circulation Director, Reba Scharf, informs me that we are now read in over 60 countries! My main project, however, was to turn Stereophile into a monthly publication. When Larry announced that we intended to bring the magazine out 12 times a year, there were many who said that our efforts would be doomed to failure. Not only would it be impossible to publish an "underground" audio magazine that frequently—look at the problems that that other magazine, with a similarly sized editorial and production team, used to have in appearing even bimonthly (and no I haven't forgotten our own inglorious past)—there was said to be not enough high-end audio substance to fill a monthly magazine.

One skeptical observer, Jack Sumner of Transparent Audio Marketing, applies a "test" to each issue (prompted by what he felt was the "failure" of Vol.10 No.7): Are there at least two or three articles about products he thinks are significant? Well, in these first 12 monthly issues, out of a total of 2512 pages published, 1516 have been editorial (as opposed to advertising), out of which 518.5 have been equipment reports (not including the musings of the Audio Cheapskate)! (footnote 1) For the statistic-hungry—I love quoting objective figures in defence of what is basically a subjective position—55 loudspeakers, 30 cartridges, 25 amplifiers, 16 preamplifiers, 15 CD players, and 79 other products (not including the loudspeaker cables in Dick Olsher's review in this issue) came under the reviewers' scalpels during these last 12 months.

I would venture an opinion that enough of this reviewed equipment must offer a sufficient amount of that elusive quality known as "high-end" sound that, even when appearing monthly, every issue of Stereophile passes the Sumner test. As to whether our focus is too much on the extreme high-end, as instanced by Richard Pierce's letter in this issue—"anyone who would pay that kind of money for a stereo system is nuts"—or too much on the budget end, as we have been accused of in the past, I'll leave it to you to decide. As we get equal numbers of letters accusing us of bias in either direction, however, editorially my opinion is that we must be somewhere in the general vicinity of home plate.

A subject which, to my surprise, has also engendered a large amount of mail is surround-sound—not for-or-against letters, which is what I had expected, but opinions and prospective articles from people passionately involved in putting together ambience-synthesis and ambience-recovery systems intended to place the listener in the performing space. (One of those articles, by Ralph Glasgal, appears in this issue.) Now I have made no secret of my feeling that, as far as high-end audio reproduction is concerned, surround-sound is irrelevant (footnote 2). (For Dolby Stereo replay of movies, where the flat visual images need all the spatial help they can get, it is another matter.) In my opinion, what a high-end stereo system needs to do, as well as being able to reproduce music's emotional pulse, is to open an end-wall–sized window into the recording acoustic, in effect putting the listener into the "best seat in the house."

J. Gordon Holt emphatically disagrees. As I write this piece, I have in front of me Stereophile Vol.7 No.7 where, in his "As We See It," he owns up to having been impressed by the Wilson WAMM system. In particular, he was taken by its accurate tonality, its apparently effortless reproduction of the frequency extremes, and its reproduction of stereo images and its ability to float a soundstage without any indication that the acoustic edifice was being supported by a pair of loudspeakers in the room. However, he was greatly disturbed by the fact that those soundstages were presented only to his front, singularly failing to envelop him. Pointing out that the recorded ambience needs to come from behind the listener if a system is to be truly capable of concert-hall realism, he concluded back in 1984 that "Perfectionist audio needs surround sound!"

Footnote 1: For comparison, Vol.5 in 1982, the first 10 issues to be published by Larry Archibald after buying the magazine from J. Gordon Holt, contained a total of 392 pages, including editorial and advertising. Vol.6 in '83 contained 396 pages, Vol.7 in '84 786 pages, Vol.8 in '85 1056 pages, Vol.9 in '86 1260 pages, and Vol.10 in '87 1876 pages. These last three years contained 326, 302, and 466 pages of equipment reports respectively.

Footnote 2: See "Ambisonics: the future of sound reproduction?", Vol.10 No.7, November 1987. (My answer to that question was "No.")