A Babel, a Babble . . . Page 9

Holt: I think the stress must be on the state-of-the-art stuff.

Norton: I think the mix we've had over the past couple of years has been fine.

Atkinson: Peter [Mitchell] has offered to write a column on inexpensive equipment and I think that that's something we should definitely publish.

Mitchell: I do think Stereophile needs a clearer focus on the middle of the market than it has at present. Since we lost the Audio Cheapskate column, you need to replace it with something. Because an occasional review of an Adcom preamp is not sufficiently visible emphasis on the affordable end of the range. And I think we should be even more aggressive in seeking it out.

Olsher: What do you mean by "affordable?"

Mitchell: I mean exactly in the right price range that most of our readers are buying equipment in. Which is $5000 systems...

Galo: One of the things that I have a real problem with when I read it in magazines and when I hear it from high-end dealers is the attitude toward people who don't have a fortune to spend on hi-fi, the attitude that "Well, you can't spend that amount of money? Sorry, you can't enjoy music. You won't be able to listen to music." I have a real problem with that. And I think often it's more challenging. If someone has $5000 to spend on a preamplifier—yes, there are some out there that are obviously not worth the money—the chances are pretty good that what they buy for $5000 will at least be reasonable. I think it's more of a challenge to help the entry-level—and I love Guy's term "entry-level high end," I use that term myself—I think it's very important to bring new people into this business by steering them in the right direction on affordable equipment.

I agree with Tom Norton, I think the magazine's balance between the state of the art and the affordable is very good right now, I would like to see it continue in that direction. It disturbs me that there are readers who are offended by the fact that there are a couple of equipment reviews of affordable products. I would have a problem with a person like that. If you've got $10,000 to spend and you don't want to read the GTP-400 review, well, that's okay. You don't have to read that review. But gee, aren't there enough other things in the magazine to make it worthwhile to you?

Mitchell: I think the opposite problem is probably a real one. I mean, there are only about 10,000 audiophiles in this country who can afford $20,000 systems, doctors and lawyers mostly. If the magazine's circulation is growing, it's now 40-some thousand and probably heading, eventually, close to 100,000.

Holt: What is it?

Atkinson: 45,000 this year. [82,600 in 1998.]

Mitchell: Most of the new readers are going to be in the $5000-$10,000 system category. So you have to have a growing emphasis in that price range if you want to satisfy those readers.

Atkinson: However, Larry Archibald and I both feel that there is a natural ceiling on Stereophile's circulation in this country of probably 60,000. To do any more than that would require such a dilution of the magazine's contents that neither of us would still want to be involved in it.

Mitchell: So you don't really want to compete nose to nose with Audio magazine?

Atkinson: How could we without destroying what we feel Stereophile's good at?

Lipnick: Last night John and I had a slight disagreement during dinner about this point. I think that he sees Stereophile as a magazine that should be targeted to the small number of "audiophiles" and is always therefore going to appeal to a small number of people. That may be the case. Maybe that's what we want. And we shouldn't sell out. Stereophile shouldn't become Stereo Review and it never will. But Gordon had a good point when he said that we're in the driver's seat. I have a small consulting business, I help people set up audio systems in the Washington area, and I've run across people who knew nothing about high-end audio at all. They just like music, and they generally don't spend a fortune on equipment. I'd talk to them about audio and explain about good equipment and explain what you get for what you spend, and they were always satisfied with the system [I recommended].

A lot of them have read Consumer Reports, God forbid, and most of them subscribe to Stereo Review. But what I always do is give them a copy of Stereophile, generally when I'd come to their homes for the first consultation. I say, "This is the magazine that I write for. You may not be buying in this price range, but I think you'll enjoy reading it." And almost to a person, they say, "This is fascinating reading. A lot of the stuff is more expensive than I would probably buy, but it really made me think about what I want and what music reproduction's all about." And most of them either become subscribers or buy it from a local shop. But over the past years, out of those people, about 30 have become lunatic audiophiles. To the point of being absurd—they go by an audio shop and their noses twitch. This magazine has turned them into audiophiles. That should tell you something. People knew from nothing about audio, and they now love this magazine. So there's something there for people who aren't originally audiophiles.

Deutsch: Ultimately it is the circulation figures that are the bottom line in terms of people's satisfaction with the magazine.

Holt: And the renewal rate.

Lemcoe: I think that Dick mentioned, the magazine should be fun to read. It should be interesting, we can't lose the entertainment value of the magazine. I'll never own a $12,000 amplifier. But I love to read about them.

Holt: This is what I used to call "audio-porn." [laughter]

Lemcoe: But as Lewis mentioned, to convey to the reader the thrill of discovery of a musical experience—to me that's the most important thing when I write a review. I hope I'm successful in conveying the excitement that I feel when I put a component in a system and it uncovers layers of music that I wasn't aware of before. This, I think, is contagious. Once that bug hits you and you hear the sheen on strings, or the shimmer on massed strings, you'll never forget it. It's a nirvana. Unfortunately, you'll never be satisfied with anything less from that point on, but all it takes is one experience. A positive experience. When you hear it you're hooked. You go from being a non-audiophile listener to being an audiophile listener. But most importantly, they're listeners. And that is what is most important. Listening to music. Let's not forget the musical experience. Because that's the end result of all of this.