Anniversaries, Auditions, Advertisers Page 2

Gordon makes a good case. Recently, however, he and I paid a visit to San Francisco, where VMPS's Brian Cheney had asked us to play some of our recordings to the local Audio Engineering Society chapter. Before the meeting, we spent an interesting afternoon listening to two systems: Brian's Super Tower IIa/R SE speakers in his completely live-end/dead-end treated listening room, where I felt they sounded much better, driven by Meitner electronics, than they did in JGH's listening room (footnote 3) (though Brian's new Yamaha grand piano sounded considerably better still); and David Wilson's system in Wilson Audio's listening room.

Referring to my very rough notes, I recall that David's front end was either a Goldmund Studio fitted with a Clearaudio cartridge, a Tandberg CD player, or the Ultramaster open-reel tape recorder (Studer chassis with John Curl-designed electronics); phono preamplifier was the dual-mono Vendetta Research; and loudspeakers were the WATTs, sitting on matching Gibraltar stands and driven by Rowland Research mono power amplifiers. A Krell KMA-200 provided the urge to the prototype WHOW subwoofer, with crossover chores handled by, I think (can't read my writing here), the Vendetta "Transient-Perfect" crossover. Certainly it was the Curl design. Cable, I can't read my writing at all, it may have been Randall Research or MIT or both. Note, however, the lack of surround-sound components!

David put on a 30ips master-tape he had made of a Debussy work for violin and piano. Gordon was sitting in the system's sweet spot for tonal balance, my seat behind and slightly above Gordon's head giving me rather an uptilted treble. But both of us were in agreement that the sound was more realistic than either of us had ever heard from a hi-fi system. The imaging was holographic. Both instruments had a stunningly lifelike presence, the lefthand weight of the piano being totally believable. Dynamically, there was absolutely no sense of strain, neither in the sense of sounds coarsening at high levels nor in any sense of peaks being compressed (though to be fair, the room was on the small side and physically could not have accommodated the piano). And most importantly, musically, listeners were laid bare to the composer's intent.

But, I am sure you will point out, we were listening to a master-tape! Of a performance actually recorded by the person who put the system together! Played back on one of the world's finest analog recorders! Using very expensive loudspeakers in the very room used by their designer to voice those speakers! Using very expensive and accurate amplification!

That's exactly my point. When a mere stereo system is put together without compromise, as David Wilson's seems to be, then the fact that the recorded ambience doesn't come from the rear of the listener is totally irrelevant to the musical experience. That, in my opinion, is what audiophiles should strive for. If a system is less than the best available, for its owner to opt for surround-sound synthesis diverts attention away from the traditional areas of stereo reproduction that could, and should, be improved. And if they are not improved, then, no matter how impressive the surround effects, the system will be less musically satisfying than it ought to be in the long term.

I am sure that Gordon will respond to this argument next month, but in the meantime, this issue finally sees the appearance of Dick Olsher's report on loudspeaker cables. Covering a representative selection of what the market has to offer, it is the culmination of nearly four months of measurement and auditioning. Although not directly involved, Larry, Gordon, and I have kept watching briefs on the project and are happy that Dick's subjective results are valid. But as you can see from "Manufacturers' Comments," hardly a manufacturer concerned feels this to be the case. And in the case of one brand, the manufacturer felt that his objections to Dick's findings would be better answered in the courts than in our pages.

This leads me to a wider but related subject, that of exactly to whom a magazine like Stereophile owes its loyalty. Bruce Brisson of Music Interface Technology, for example, berated me at the 1987 Summer CES for failing to support the magazine's advertisers. Irritated by Alvin Gold's examination of the subject in Vol.10 No.4, he felt strongly that we owed it to manufacturers of multistrand cables who happened to be advertisers to suppress all mention of solid-core cables in Stereophile. In other words, because the magazine accepts advertising from a manufacturer, we are obliged to promote the particular design philosophy adopted by that manufacturer.

Well, sorry, that's not what we are about. Certainly MIT and DNM cable are about as opposite in design concept as it is possible to get. But regarding policy about which, if either, to promote editorially, the only relevant criterion is which gives the more accurate, more enjoyable sound quality, the reason being that Stereophile exists to serve the interests of its readers, not its advertisers. That is why JGH, irritated by the fact that High Fidelity would not publish editorial coverage of good products that happened to be manufactured by non-advertisers, resigned as that magazine's Technical Editor in the early 1960s in order to found Stereophile.

Ever since then, it has been our policy to try to inform our readers about every relevant development, not just those that concern our advertisers, and if we do a good job at that, then people will want to read the magazine. The fact that we will then have a healthy readership makes our pages attractive to advertisers, which also serves our readers, mainly, as far as I am concerned, because it enables us to keep the cover price down. Alternatively, for the same cover price, we can give you considerably more of interest to read. A magazine should inform, educate, and entertain its readers. And good advertising, by definition, also informs and educates.

There is no causal connection between the editorial content of the magazine and who takes advertising in Stereophile. We give good reviews to non-advertisers as well as to advertisers. We give bad reviews both to advertisers and to non-advertisers. Our team of reviewers, still led by JGH—"dal gran padre dell'high end," as he was recently called in the Italian magazine Audio Review—calls 'em as they see 'em.

Looking at the title of this essay, I see that I have wandered a little from the subject. So one final anniversary: it is now five years since the launch of Compact Disc in the US, and record companies seem happily to be conspiring with the mass market to make that visually seductive disc the main medium for domestic replay. Yet, as you can see from "Letters" this month, the controversy as to whether CD can produce true high-end sound rages on. But that's another story . . .

Footnote 3: See JGH's review in May, Vol.11 No.5.