Don't Just Sit There!

Like every sensible publication, The Stereophile keeps track of the questions raised by readers who write to us, so we can get some idea of what most of you would like to see in future issues of the magazine. To date, the list looks like this, in order of diminishing interest: transistor amps and preamps, loudspeakers, pickups, tape equipment, tuners and, way at the bottom of the list, recordings. We are devoting most of the August 1964 issue to a discussion of commercial recording practices.

This is not because we are just naturally perverse. It is because we have the unusual (in publishing) idea that, when there's a choice between something our readers are curious about and something they should know, we are inclined to give precedence to the latter.

Okay, so you're more interested in components. Fine, so are we. But above all, we are interested in hearing really musical, natural—all right, we'll use the term—high-fidelity sound. And this is one thing that the record manufacturers seem determined not to give us.

Face it, equipment has been improving during the past few years. Pickups are smoother, more compliant, lower in mass, and better in tracing ability than they've ever been. Some of the new ones surpass even the old Weathers FM pickup when it was working right, which is saying something. And the new ones are stereo, too. The best transistor amplifiers are cleaner and more lucid-sounding than most of the tube amplifiers that used to lead the field, and speaker systems like the KLH Model 9 and the experimental Harned full-range electrostatic are setting new standards for detail and transparency.

But look at what's been happening to the stuff we play on these improved components: the commercial discs and tapes. What's new in recordings?

Apart from a brief flurry of 45-rpm stereo discs, there has not been a single move to produce for the consumer higher-fidelity recordings than he was getting five years ago. Instead, the existing media have been getting worse—see the article in this issue—while the only new media that have been introduced represent steps backward in sound quality.

Stereo recordings on tape and disc have, with but few exceptions, been getting increasingly gimmicked, and bear less and less resemblance to live musical sound. The only truly significant technical advance in the disc field—Dynagroove's predistortion technique, which appreciably reduces high-frequency tracing distortion from an average disc—was adopted by the sales and promotion interests as a means of cutting unprecedentedly higher levels on the discs without incurring more distortion than before.

What about the new media, then? Revere-3M introduced a tape cartridge system seme time ago that ran at 17/8ips, and it was a big step backwards, sonically speaking. Now Ampex (UST) announces a new series of 4-track tapes of music at 3¾ips (for the new Ampex automated recorders), and while these sound much better than Revere's cartridges, they aren't as good as the 7½ips tapes, either.

So, equipment improves while the recordings deteriorate. And the better our equipment, the more it reveals the flaws in the recordings. Few of us, as a matter of fact, have any idea how good our music systems really are, because there is not, to our knowledge, a single commercial stereo recording on the market that portrays a symphony orchestra as it actually sounds from a good seat in a concert hall. The millennium of high fidelity might be with us already, for all we know. But we won't find out until we start getting recordings that are equal to the quality of our systems.

If you don't mind being cheated blind by record manufacturers, then just sit back and be happy with what you're buying in the name of high-fidelity recordings. If you do care, we'd suggest you read the article that starts on the opposite page, work up a good head of steam over it, and then take some concrete action, as suggested, to do something about the situation.

Help, Dammit!
Several loyal subscribers have brought it to our attention that a number of their friends borrow their copies of The Stereophile instead of paying for them. To all persons guilty of this dastardly practice, we point the bony finger and say For Shame! You could put us out of business this way.

When we say, incessantly, that we need subscribers, we kid people not, to paraphrase somebody. All of our income must be from subscriptions, and since this estimable publication costs about $1500 per issue to produce, for printing and promotion alone, we need more than just a little income to keep paying for it. As long as we carry a horde of nameless readers who enjoy the magazine without assuming any responsibility for it, we can't hope to continue publishing for very long.

The reader reaction to date indicates that you do enjoy The Stereophile, but moral support isn't quite enough. If you want to see us continue, and haven't yet done your bit to help make that possible, then please do. We're trying to help you; please help us, even if you can only afford a $4, 6-issue subscription.—J. Gordon Holt

tonykaz's picture

In 1975 some Warner Albums seemed pretty good.

HP at TAS discovered ( in the 1980s) the "Living Presence" Series ( about 50 discs, or less, many in Mono )

Sheffield Labs came in around 1980 with the beautiful Direct to Disc that we-all played to death. Professor Johnson followed with Reference Records ( Symphony Fantastique ) and then Digital took over. I left my Analog Based Audio business to return to servicing General Motors Distribution Channels, not looking back till I met Tyll and Steve G. at RMAF 2011 ) .

I've listened to a great many of those early Vinyl discs, only a tiny few were listenable in one of my better systems and still are barely listenable on any of my Sennheiser/Schiit Systems ( remastered to 16/44 CD ) .

Was it Ivor at LINN that said: "Garbage in, Gargage out"?

Tony in Michigan

ps. I wonder what folks would say if they listened to a Big Wilson System with a Gerrard Lab 80 changer and a Shure V15 front end ?

dalethorn's picture

Actually, that 6-issue subscription might have lasted several years.