Think Pieces

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Peter W. Mitchell  |  Aug 03, 2020  |  First Published: Feb 01, 1991  |  9 comments
I want to talk about the acoustics of live music and recordings. As I write this I'm back in Boston for a week, re-calibrating my ears with (excuse the expression) the "absolute sound" of live music in various concert halls. On Friday the Boston Symphony played symphonies by Mozart and Shostakovich, producing (as always) magnificent sound with the aid of Symphony Hall's near-legendary acoustics.
Barry Willis  |  Jul 07, 2020  |  First Published: Nov 01, 1995  |  6 comments
Most audiophiles are aware of the modification and add-on aftermarket. A few have learned the hard way that modifier competence varies from primitive magic and sales hype to real engineering skill. Some modifiers are serious audiophiles who are also good technicians; others are scam artists whose only goal is to make a quick buck on the latest fad. If you have only a rudimentary understanding of electronics, you may not be able to make a distinction. Even the most jaded and battle-hardened among us can still be hooked and reeled in by a slick sales presentation.
Jim Austin  |  Feb 24, 2020  |  51 comments
January's Industry Update included a report on a scientific article presented at last year's AES meeting, in which the authors used test tones and a modest audio system (albeit in an anechoic chamber) to prove that listeners can discriminate between high-rez and CD-rez audio. This is important because scientific evidence of an audible difference between high-rez and CD-rez music is considered weak by some, even as anecdotal evidence grows stronger by the day.

As I pondered this, I recalled a recent paper I'd seen in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society but hadn't yet read. "High Resolution Audio: A History and Perspective," which the AES has made available free online, does precisely what the title says: reviews the history of digital audio beyond CD-rez and frames the issue of high-rez audio's audible superiority on the basis of the available evidence.

Robert Schryer  |  Feb 04, 2020  |  12 comments
As per our ritual, Karim and Dan arrived at my door in late afternoon, bearing our ritual's customary offerings: dark beer, wine, cold pork sandwiches, fruit and chocolate tarts, good music on well-recorded CDs, and audio hardware to try out on the host's hi-fi—on this particular Friday, my hi-fi. It's what we did: break bread while gabbing like regular folk about regular things, then bolt for the listening room for an evening of hi-fi fun.
Carl Thomas Hriczak  |  Jan 02, 2020  |  6 comments
It's 9:45 on a mid-September weeknight in Greater Toronto. Having spent the evening reveling in the glory of her 9th birthday—candles blown out, presents open, pleasantly full of Wegmans' Ultimate Chocolate Cake—Our Birthday Girl has one additional request:

"Can we please play 'Happy Birthday Polka'?!"

Herb Reichert  |  Oct 29, 2019  |  19 comments
"The crying rain like a trumpet sang
And asked for no applause.
"—Bob Dylan, "Lay Down Your Weary Tune"

I remember as a toddler sitting in the kitchen on a highchair, watching my mother smoke a cigarette, apply red lipstick, and tune a turquoise table radio from one news station to another. Between the strange, nattering voices, the radio emitted a sharp hissing sound. That's my first memory of human voices coming from a little box.

Sasha Matson  |  Sep 17, 2019  |  7 comments
In Alfred Hitchcock's great film Vertigo, filmed in San Francisco in 1957, the protagonist, Scottie, played by James Stewart, becomes obsessed with Madeleine, played by Kim Novak. Scottie, a retired detective, suffers from a disabling case of acrophobia, which becomes a critical if tenuous plot point.
Ken Micallef  |  Sep 05, 2019  |  21 comments
Like most older teens growing up in the South in the late 1970s, I had two poles of rock and roll heroes: The Allman Brothers Band and ZZ Top on one side, Yes and King Crimson on the other.
Robert Schryer  |  Jul 23, 2019  |  32 comments
Dear Newbie: Welcome to the wonderful world of hi-fi! If you're besotted with a desire for audio gear that can make your recorded music sound better than you've ever heard it, you've come to the right place.

And at just the right time: Not only is there an unprecedented amount of sanely priced, excellent-sounding audio gear on the market; there's this thing happening between us right here and now—the fact that you're reading a letter I wrote especially for you.

Isaac Markowitz  |  Jan 24, 2019  |  17 comments
I've just returned home from one of the greatest concerts of my life, and felt absolutely compelled to share my thoughts with you. Yo-Yo Ma performed all six of J.S. Bach's Cello Suites, from memory, over a mesmerizing two-and-a-half hours at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, in Morrison, Colorado. It was a truly special experience.
Jim Austin  |  Dec 04, 2018  |  17 comments
If there's one thing audiophiles agree on, it's that snake oil is bad—even if they can't agree about what snake oil actually is.

In audio, snake oil means fake science or fake technology—anything that's claimed to improve the sound of a system but that looks like an obvious rip-off. For some people, expensive speaker cables and interconnects are snake oil. A few objectivists consider AC power treatments snake oil: most modern audio components, after all, can correct for AC line-voltage flaws and reject "ripple" in a power supply's output. A handful of hard-core objectivists maintain that every new digital technology since the advent of the Compact Disc is snake oil.

Peter W. Mitchell  |  Jul 05, 2017  |  First Published: Jul 01, 1991  |  5 comments
When you graduate from mass-market hi-fi to high-end audio, one of the first things you notice is that audiophile gear dispenses with the gadgets and gimmicks that clutter up the front panels of most stereo receivers and integrated amplifiers. The dominant philosophy in mass-market design is that features sell products: the more functions a product has, the more desirable it will seem in the store. High-end designers, on the other hand, prefer the KISS approach: Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Martin Colloms  |  Jun 29, 2017  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1992  |  9 comments
It has been said that the high-end audio industry has a weakness which perversely has also helped to maintain its growth. The evolutionary process whereby designs are improved, upgraded, and supplanted at regular intervals keeps everyone interested, and of course affords reviewers useful employment. On the other hand, once a purchase has been made there may be resentment on the part of owners who find that, by the time their choice has become established and awarded sufficient review recommendation, a product upgrade is already in the pipeline.
Jim Austin  |  Dec 06, 2016  |  33 comments
Although I've never tried one, I think "lifestyle" audio systems are a bit of a joke. My in-laws' decade-old Bose Wave Radio sounds good for what it is, although its obvious flaws—boomy, undefined lower mids masquerading as bass, a frustrating lack of sonic and musical resolution, etc.—become grating fairly quickly. These days, there are far more accomplished and expensive lifestyle systems out there, but because I haven't tried them I won't comment on them, except to say that I'm not really interested.
J. Gordon Holt  |  Jan 21, 2016  |  First Published: Nov 01, 1962  |  18 comments
Considering the amount of careful research, cautious theorizing and wild speculation that have been lavished on the amplifier power question, we should expect to be considerably closer to the answer in 1962 than we were five years ago. This does not seem to be the case.

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