60 Years of Stereophile!

It was September 1962. In the UK, the Beatles were recording their first single, "Love Me Do," at London's Abbey Road Studios. And in the US, a young journalist, J. Gordon Holt, born in North Carolina but raised in Australia from 1935 to 1947, had become dissatisfied with the advertiser-friendly atmosphere at High Fidelity magazine, for which he had been the audio editor. Holt quit High Fidelity and, after a brief stint with phono cartridge manufacturer Weathers, published the first issue of what was then called The Stereophile. Cover-dated September 1962, its 20 pages contained one equipment report (with four graphs), five record reviews, five feature articles, one classified advertisement, and an editorial leader in which JGH, as he was to become known, wrote: "The Stereophile isn't a showcase for advertisers. It is the readers' own publication. ... If you read our announcement, you have a pretty good idea of what we stand for. Honesty, integrity, and all that."

"Okay, if no one else will publish a magazine that calls the shots as it sees them, I'll do it myself," he later recalled thinking, adding, "I must have been out of my mind!"

Six decades later, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are still touring (though not together), and the magazine JGH founded, now just called Stereophile, is celebrating 60 years of continuous publication (footnote 1).

This longevity is a rarity in magazine publishing. When that first issue appeared in readers' mailboxes, there were three dominant audio magazines in the US: High Fidelity, Audio, and Stereo Review (then called HiFi/Stereo Review). High Fidelity was published from April 1951 until July 1989, when it was bought by Stereo Review's then-publisher and shuttered. Stereo Review was first published in 1958, with the title HiFi and Music Review. In 1999, it merged with Video magazine. In 2000, it was retitled Stereo Review's Sound & Vision—then later just Sound & Vision—to emphasize its change from an audio magazine to one covering home theater as well.

Audio started life in 1947 as Audio Engineering, then dropped the word "engineering" in 1954. Audio's final issue was a combined February/March 2000 issue, after which it merged with Sound & Vision. In a strange twist, Stereophile's then-publisher bought Sound & Vision in 2013; Sound & Vision is now owned, like Stereophile, by AVTech Media, which also publishes the only English-language audio magazine that has exceeded Stereophile's 60-year (so far) lifespan: the UK's Hi-Fi News & Record Review, which published its first issue in June 1956.

What could lie behind this magazine's longevity? In an article I contributed to Hi-Fi News & Record Review's 50th anniversary issue, in June 2006, I wrote: "Monthly magazines, with their focus on the new, the exciting, the cool, are inherently ephemeral things. Some readers react to this reality by merely glancing at a few features as the magazine wends its way from mailbox to recycling bin. However, other readers pore over each issue's content, using it to stay abreast of what is happening, to feed their passion for the subject. Such readers are drawn to a publication that shares their passion, that doesn't talk down to them, that is unfailingly honest with them, that informs and educates as it entertains, that gives them more than they expect with respect to both breadth and depth of content."

These words have applied to Stereophile since its founding, coupled with J. Gordon Holt's vision that the optimal way to judge audio components was to do what end users did: listen to them! "Dammit," Gordon said, "if nobody else will report what an audio component sounds like, I'll do it myself!"

The audio space was simpler in the 1960s. In its first 12 issues, published as Vol.1 from September 1962 through May 1966, Stereophile reviewed 84 products from 36 manufacturers, doing a relatively complete job of covering what was available then. By contrast, the magazine's 12 issues published in 2021 (Vol.44) contained reviews of 125 products from 101 manufacturers and couldn't come close to being comprehensive. Even so, other than stablemate Hi-Fi News, there isn't an audio magazine that can rival the depth of Stereophile's audio product reviews.

Of the 36 brands reviewed in Vol.1, several have been in continuous existence since: Bang & Olufsen, Beyerdynamic, Grado, Koss, Marantz, McIntosh, Nagra, Neumann, Ortofon, and Shure. The reviews in 2021 included products from Marantz and McIntosh, as well as some from other brands that have been in continuous existence since Stereophile's first issue was published but weren't reviewed in Vol.1: KEF, Klipsch, SME, and Sony.

J. Gordon Holt, who passed away in 2009, created not just a magazine but a community of what came to be called audiophiles. Stereophile's team of contributors has played an important role in that community. There have been too many to list here, but I will mention those who are no longer with us and who played major roles in creating the magazine's identity through those 60 years: Art Dudley, Margaret Graham (Mrs. Holt), Peter W. Mitchell, Wes Phillips, Robert J. Reina, Rick Rosen, John Swenson, and Steven W. Watkinson, as well as art director Daniel Bish, managing editor Debbie Starr, and advertising representative Ken Nelson.

Another writer who also played a major role at the magazine for more than a quarter-century, but who is very much alive, is analog guru Michael Fremer. His first Analog Corner column appeared in July 1995 (footnote 2), and in 2012, he was hired as a fulltime staff member, not only to continue contributing Analog Corner and equipment reviews but also to edit AnalogPlanet.com, Stereophile's sister website. Sadly, Mikey (as he likes to be called) resigned from both Stereophile and AnalogPlanet.com in June. His final column appears in this issue, along with his final review, of the humongous Gryphon Apex Stereo amplifier.

All of us at Stereophile wish Mikey well in his new ventures.


Footnote 1: You can find a timeline of Stereophile's first 40 years here and articles celebrating the magazine's 500th issue here and here, and a related photo gallery here.

Footnote 2: Analog Corners through November 2005 are archived here; from October 2017 onward they can be found here, with earlier columns added each month.

COMMENTS
teched58's picture

You (JA2) can ban me if you want, I really don't care at this point.

I'm sure you guys can see what's happening, and I really get that you have a limited editorial budget to work with, but in any case, isn't there anything you can do to make this site more interesting for the readers?

Right now, AnalogPlanet is fresher than you guys. Think about that. Personally, I'm not interested in record reviews, so they're not an alternative for me.

Jack L's picture

Hi

To YOU, maybe. Not to many many loyal readers out there, including yours truly.

"Personally, I'm not interested in record reviews"

Who cares !

Jack L

PS: I'm still awaiting yr reply to my question to you: "Are you really an EE ??". I'm all ears.

MatthewT's picture

For you to answer his question as well.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Talk is cheap! I want to read his posts in Audiophile forums, if any at all, in electrical engineering language.

Back to the same topic on $4,000+ interconnects, I want him to show me his EE knowledge in audio cables: the formula to calculate the "characteristic impedance" of an audio cable.

Otherwise please shut up & back off.

Jack L

MatthewT's picture

No.

Jack L's picture

Hi MatthewT

I meant to tell the guy who challenged me with such redundant personal question to "shut up & back up" if he could not come with the formula to calculate the "characteristic impedance" of an electrical cable.

FYI, audio electronics is only my leisure hobby to supplement my classical music enjoyment. It's kinda 'peanut' vs my EE experience.

My professional EE experience is much more subtantial:
providing engineering solutions to the power industries for deacades, e.g. to power companies for their HV power distribution.
I dealt with power company engineers day in day out.

Jack L

MatthewT's picture

Deleted

Nicholalala's picture

I wouldn't say that Stereophile is dying. In fact, of all the sites that I visit, Stereophile is first on my list. Sure, I visit Analogue planet, and stop by Twittering and maybe even Darko. But, my tastes were formed by the late Art Dudley. This is the first place I stop by to look for reviews of equipment that I am considering to purchase. Perhaps, I'm more in the maker end of the spectrum.

So, maybe a return to the idea of being a maker audiophile is in order. I'm certain my grandfather purchased your fist issues, because he had a subscription when he was 90 decades ago. He also designed audio equipment for RCA and such. So, I'm in the market for a SUT for an EMT TSD. I also just found out that EMT is making new tonearms! Yay!!! My next set of speakers I'll be building with Rulliet drivers, but hey, I do well so a set of KEF LS60s might show up.

All in all, death looks somewhat premature.

Anton's picture

I remain a steadfast fan.

We are definitely in the time of diminishing 'hard copy' circulation, but that is certainly not unique to Stereophile.

Plus, evil empires now rule the landscape, so I am even more impressed that Stereophile can maintain some degree of the appearance of autonomy.

Plus, the hobby is so different now.

In 1962, a person earning the median wage could participate in the hobby at the highest level. Now, it seems the average demo at a given hi fi show is double the median price for an entire home. That part might be a factor in how we are seen by non-audiophiles.

*Don't get me wrong, I understand the great affordability of entry and middle ground gear. It's just what JA1 called that price event horizon.

John Atkinson's picture
Anton wrote:
I remain a steadfast fan.

Thanks.

Anton wrote:
...the hobby is so different now. In 1962, a person earning the median wage could participate in the hobby at the highest level. Now, it seems the average demo at a given hi fi show is double the median price for an entire home. That part might be a factor in how we are seen by non-audiophiles.

*Don't get me wrong, I understand the great affordability of entry and middle ground gear. It's just what JA1 called that price event horizon.

I used that term in my January 2017 As We See It: www.stereophile.com/content/price-event-horizon. I was referring to an an earlier essay - www.stereophile.com/content/upward-price-spiral - in which I wrote "if an audio manufacturer has to gross a certain amount of revenue each quarter to meet payroll, cover fixed expenses, invest in parts for the next quarter's production, and pay the interest on any capital they've borrowed, the least risky business strategy is to bring to market a very small number of very expensive products." But that strategy make so many great products financially out of reach for regular people, like you and me, Anton.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

MatthewT's picture

I'm not complaining, but the Entry Level column needs to make a comeback.

Anton's picture

No way to know, I would suspect the 'ratings' would be very good for Cheapskate/Entry levels columns.

I think any price level gear can play nicely with any price level gear...and Stereophile manages this very well. Kal's review of the Topping gear was just superb, not to single out only one person. It was all that, and more.

In general, I like finding lower cost reviews thrown in with higher end reviews by the same reviewers, so Stereophile already does a lot of this...maybe just badging the reviews would draw attention to how much affordable gear is included.

Poor Audiophile's picture

"the Entry Level column needs to make a comeback." I do miss SM & his writings about gear I can relate to.

"I wonder if it was popular?" If the letters were any indication I would say it was.
Congrats to all! I was born one month before Stereophile.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Just last nite I streamed "Concert for George (Harrison)" performed 11/29/2002 at the Royal Albert Hall on my 4KUHD TV with sound feeding my audio rig.

What a full-house musical event! Paul McCartney & Ringo Starr were seen playing together with George's then young son: Dhani, who looked so much like his dad !

Jack L

Jack L's picture

Hi

Though JGH outlived many audio celebrities back then (He was 79 !!), he could have lived much longer should he give up his addicted smoking. He only stopped smoking 10 years after he got the painful throat cancer !

This reflected his determination of running a readers-friendly audio magazine aginst those well established "showcases for advertisers".

Jack L

Allen Fant's picture

A Salutation to the original JGH! A 2nd salutation to J.A. for his hard work and passion at the helm of Stereophile. May J.A.(2) have the same flair and zest for our beloved hobby. I have been a dedicated subscriber sine 1993 to present date.
Think about adding a "Dealers Showcase" several times per year to recognize those brick-and-mortar retailers still in the field.

Happy Listening!
J.A.(3)

Glotz's picture

60 years is an utterly amazing accomplishment! John's work, Jim's work, Larry's... and of course Gordon, there has been no other magazine that provides the insight, knowledge and truth that Sterophile has provided over the past 6 decades!

I would even argue that they are the best, most interesting and best written magazine of ALL TIME.

To those that would say much less or worse about these fine writers and editors... you have no place to disparage with these professionals!

Thank you truly, for the most thought provoking periodical extant.

BillBrown's picture

Wow! Remembering the 25th anniversary makes me feel old!

Congratulations to all. My 35 years with the magazine has provided tons of enjoyment, especially early on and for years when I read it ravenously in less than a day, then began the wait for the next issue (pre-internet!).

Bill

hb72's picture

…to the team!! Pls keep up the great work!!

best regards
HB

The Tinkerer's picture

I just upgraded from digital, TO PRINT, for the first time in the history of my subscription. A decadent move that will reward me in the most corporeal manner.

Long live Stereophile.

Anton's picture

You are now in the cool club!

Cheers!

The Tinkerer's picture

Cheers, indeed! :)

Hi-Reality's picture

Dear John,

Firstly, thank you for this interesting article.

Don't you think it is time for the Stereophile Mag (and all of Audio Journalism) to move from Audiophile-ism to Audio Realism?

One example of progress, is the fundamental R&D at works in the Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) industry that aims at Audio Reality (rather than the outdated and vague term and definition of Audiophile).

I am writing the scripts for a number of video posts on this topic that I will publish on my Youtube channel "Hi-Reality Sensorium".

Regards, Babak
Hi-Reality Project

Jack L's picture

Hi

Please define:"Audio Realism".

Are you telling us here the produced music we enjoy days in days out since day one decades back were not real ???

Listening to discrete analague is believing

Jack L

SET Man's picture

Hey!
I first read Stereophile when I was in my mid teens in the 1990's, I remembered it was in digest sized back then. I remembered drooling all over all those components I couldn't afford. Well, today I still can't afford many of the stuffs still. But I'm very happy with what I have now, mostly DIY.

I don't know if I should thanks or cuss out at you for gotten me into this crazy world of the High-End audio, LOL. And of course it was Fremer who got me interested in analog vinyl back in the '90s also.

Well, congratulation on your 60th years!

X