500 Issues!

In October 1962, the first issue of what was then called The Stereophile was published and edited by J. Gordon Holt out of Wallingford, Pennsylvania. The issue you hold in your hands, published by AVTech Media out of New York, New York, and edited by Jim Austin, is #500. Jim is the magazine's third editor, having occupied that seat since the July 2019 issue. Gordon Holt put together the first 82 issues, through the June 1986 issue; I was the editor from issue #83, cover-dated August 1986, through issue #473, June 2019 (footnote 1).

Many, many audio magazines have come and gone since 1962. The only English-language example I can think of that rivals Stereophile's staying power is its stablemate Hi-Fi News & Record Review, which was founded in 1956, and which I edited from October 1982 through the end of April 1986. What lies behind Stereophile's longevity?

Many years ago, I read something that had been written by Henry Robinson Luce, the founder of Time and Life magazines: "All great editors are men able to see how stories, episodes, and personalities flow and merge one into the other to reproduce the pattern of a world that only their own inner eye perceives." By that standard, Gordon was indeed a great editor. His inner eye led him to declare that his new magazine's editorial policy was to judge audio components by listening to them, a heretical idea in those days of meters and measurements (footnote 2).

"The Stereophile isn't a showcase for advertisers," Gordon wrote in Issue #1, and its 20 pages were free from advertising, as were those of the next 25 issues. However, the financial reality of publishing a print magazine, then as now, is that the revenue from subscriptions and newsstand sales does not cover the costs of paper, printing, and distribution. The declared publishing schedule in 1962 was bimonthly, but the lack of revenue meant that Gordon fell behind that schedule. The Stereophile had no choice but to start publishing advertising, from audio dealers, in issue #27, cover-dated "Winter (4) 71/72" but not actually published until April 1973. The first issue to include advertising from manufacturers was #37, published in December 1977, which was also the first to drop The from its name.

Ah, advertising. Wouldn't that affect the magazine's editorial integrity? Journalist Walter Lippmann addressed the apparent conflict of interest 40 years before Stereophile's first issue, writing, "A newspaper can flout an advertiser, ... but if it alienates the buying public, it loses the one indispensable asset of its existence."

When I discussed this subject with John Crabbe, my predecessor as editor of Hi-Fi News & Record Review, he expanded on Lippmann's point. "If you tell the truth about components you review, there will always be a small percentage of companies at any one time who are not advertising in your pages. But if you publish the truth, you will have a good magazine. And if you have a good magazine, you will have readers. And as long as you have readers, disgruntled advertisers will eventually return."

Have there been "disgruntled advertisers"? Yes indeed. Have those disgruntled advertisers eventually returned? Mostly. The firewall between Stereophile's editorial content and its advertising has remained inviolate since issue #27, throughout its changes of ownership and throughout its changes of publisher and editor. Stereophile has given favorable reviews to products whose manufacturers advertise in the magazine and from companies that have never advertised. Stereophile has given negative reviews to companies that don't advertise but also to companies that do. Since issue #1, Stereophile's highest priority has been to its readers, and for 500 issues, all that has mattered to the magazine's reviewers is the sound of the components they write about.

The Luce, Lippmann, and Crabbe quotes guided my almost-four-decade career as a successful magazine editor, along with something C.P. Snow wrote in his 1951 novel The Masters: "To be an influence in any society, ... one can be a little different, but only a little; a little above one's neighbours, but not too much."

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JA and JGH working together on a listening test in 1988.

When I took over from Gordon, he stayed on as Stereophile's chief tester and, despite the occasional disagreement, we worked together successfully for 13 years. It was my adherence to Snow's dictum that ended our relationship. Gordon told me in 1999 that Stereophile must abandon its coverage of two-channel components and stereo recordings in favor of surround sound and multichannel recordings (footnote 3). My rejection of Gordon's proposal, among other conflicts, led to his resignation. Yes, it was possible that music in surround sound might eventually dominate audio. But it might not. For Stereophile to adopt Gordon's strategy would mean that it would be too much more than a little above its readers.

Twenty-two years after Gordon left the magazine he founded, Jim Austin continues to give the highest priority to the needs of Stereophile's readers, staying just a little ahead of what those readers believe they want.


Footnote 1: A timeline covering what happened and when it happened in Stereophile's story, from 1962 to 2002, can be found here. Also see Jonathan Scull's article on the history of Stereophile elsewhere in this issue. (Jonathan joined the magazine's reviewing team in 1993 and was Deputy Editor from 1998 through 2002.)

Footnote 2: Starting in the late 1980s, the magazine's reviews have included an examination of a product's measured performance. This is not in conflict with JGH's seminal policy, as Stereophile published measurements, albeit in an occasional and inconsistent manner, since Issue #6.

Footnote 3: "Surround sound is an integral part of all real, live musical sound," Gordon wrote me in an email, adding "Now that it's possible to reproduce it properly, magazines devoted to music reproduction are going to have to embrace it or die of irrelevance."

COMMENTS
dc_bruce's picture

To have even survived for this long is an accomplishment; to have prevailed is a triumph!

JGH's insistence on abandoning stereo for 4-chan (or whatever else it has been called) may be an example of the "broken clock" -- that is, it tells the correct time only twice a day. Having hit on the idea that a magazine devoted to the performance of sound reproduction equipment should focus on how the equipment sounds to a careful listener, rather than on how it measures, JGH hit strikeouts thereafter.
Having lived through all of the 4-channel stuff, beginning with the ingenious efforts to encode 4 channels on a vinyl record, I'm wondering what it was that blinded JGH to the obvious problem with 4 channels: too much equipment in the room for all but those who could afford a dedicated listening room. As time has progressed, the increasing capabilities of two-channel reproduction -- even from vinyl records -- have given listeners a more "3-D" presentation, albeit probably inferior to good 4-channel. Therefore the marginal benefit of 4-channel has been going down, while the marginal cost -- either in money or "decorating issues," has stayed constant.

Good call, JA!

Jack L's picture

Hi

Yes, I am an old schooler who never likes "4-Chan" since day one.

A good vinyl stereo system beats any quadraphonic, period. My experience.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Anton's picture

I gotta say, JA2 is really such a perfect choice. He's a true Hi Fi mensch.

Does he drink martinis?

remlab's picture

Surroundphile? That would have been a little awkward :D

jond's picture

Congratulations both JA's on 500 issues great milestone!

a.wayne's picture

No mention John ..??? :)

Regards

John Atkinson's picture
a.wayne wrote:
No mention John ..??? :)

Larry Archibald's role in the history of Stereophile is discussed in J-10's article, linked to in footnote 1. In this essay I wanted to focus on J. Gordon Holt's achievements. But I will always be in Larry's debt for letting me apply to Stereophile what I had learned at Hi-Fi News. Thank you, Larry.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Jack L's picture

Hi

Finally, I see how Gordon looked like. Thanks.

Gordon won my heartfelt respect in his honesty to his readers.

Jack L

tonykaz's picture

I'm hearing that personal Audio's Powerhouse influencer ( Apple ) is deciding to embrace high resolution & Surround !

Will all Apple Products now feature 16x44.1 and some sort of Surround Emmersive capability ? I suspect so.

Mr.J.G.Holt must be say'n "told you so" from his Grave.

With Streamings 83% of the Music Pie and Physical splitting only 6% between CD and Vinyl it's becoming clear what Music's next Decade is going to look and sound like. Hmm.

I'll predict that one of the New Colourful iMacs will soon appear on Stereophile's Front Cover because it may soon become the standard Music source replaceing the traditional. ( or a Cover Trilogy comprised of iPhone, iPad and iMac ).

I travel far and wide, I Never encounter people that own record players. ( I'm a Koetsu Collector )

Tony in Venice Florida

Allen Fant's picture

Well Done- JA.

John Atkinson's picture
Allen Fant wrote:
Well Done- JA.

Thanks Allen, and thanks also for subscribing to Stereophile all these years.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

shawnwes's picture

It's been a part of my journey since I first got into audio in my mid 20s. Congrats on continuing to do a job well done.

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