Don't Tell Your Friends!

Stereophile's founder, J. Gordon Holt, photographed toward the end of his life by Steven Stone.

Editor's Note: The forthcoming August 2017 issue of Stereophile is No.451, but 55 years ago this summer, J. Gordon Holt was putting together the first issue of what initially was to be called The Stereophile. Here is Gordon's editorial leader from that issue, published in November 1962:

We are always embarrassed and a little annoyed when a shopkeeper, rubbing his hands obsequiously, bids us tell all our friends about his little establishment. If we liked what he had to offer, we'd tell our friends anyway. If we didn't, we'd tell them not to patronize him, if the question should come up at all. But we have always felt that asking us to spread the good word was rather like asking a politician to vote for your favorite party. Your request won't make a whit of difference.

Now we find ourselves in the same position as the businessman of limited means, convinced that he has something of value to offer, but unable to afford the full-page advertisements in the Right Magazines to tell all about it.

Most of you who are now Stereophile subscribers received our announcement simply because your name was on a manufacturer's mailing list, and we thank you for your support. The response to our announcement was encouraging, but it was not so good as we thought it should be, considering that all the people we contacted were ones who have actually purchased high-fidelity components in recent years.

We know from our experience at the now-defunct Audiocraft magazine that there are plenty of people who are seriously interested in high fidelity as a hobby. But it is evident either that our mailing list didn't include most of those people, or that many whom we contacted, who would be interested in The Stereophile, have just not gotten around to subscribing yet, either through human inertia or a wait-and-see-what- it-looks-like attitude.

Well, this is what it looks like. Heft it, notice the fine paper, try a page or two in a tossed salad if you wish. Read it, even. If you like it, we aren't going to ask you to tell your audio friends all about it; we know how it feels to have that sprung on us. Instead, we ask that you lend the thing around, so that anyone who might conceivably be interested in what we are trying to accomplish with The Stereophile can decide whether to subscribe.

There is a "rule" in publishing to the effect that one's readers should never be apprised as to the financial status of the publication. Business must always be Just Great. To admit otherwise is deemed negative thinking. Well, The Stereophile isn't a showcase for advertisers. It is the readers' own publication, and because of this, we feel obliged to keep readers informed about what's going on: business is good, but not great. We hope it will improve.

Now, to the topic we had originally scheduled for this editorial. If you read our announcement, you have a pretty good idea of what we stand for. Honesty, integrity, and all that. We said there were several things in dire need of some straight talk, but we didn't elucidate. We shall do so now.

Tapes and discs are the source material for more than 90% of our listening, and as such, they determine at the outset the maximum fidelity we can ever achieve, regardless of how good our systems are. Yet those "hi-fi" tapes and discs are more often than not carefully tailored to offset the tonal deficiencies of the average low-fi boom box. The net result, of course, is that NARTB tape or RIAA disc equalization will not yield flat response from these recordings. Yet the record jackets still advise owners of high-fidelity equipment to "equalize to the RIAA curve." Some of the things that happen to recordings before we buy them would make a purist's hair stand up, which is why the hi-fi press in general has never had much to say about this monkey business. We'll have a great deal to say about it in the future.

Stereo created an intense demand for compactness in speakers and low cost in everything, and most manufacturers have been happy to co-operate. The past three years of corner-cutting have been fruitful, in that the average low-to-medium-priced component is far better than it used to be. But the industry has been so preoccupied with the mass market that maximum quality standards, as set by the top-priced stuff, are not significantly higher today than in the late pre-stereo years.

Other things that need looking into are the service problem, equipment testing standards, subjective criteria for evaluating fidelity, and the question of precisely what, if anything, high fidelity is supposed to be trying to achieve.—J. Gordon Holt

tonykaz's picture

Wow, he said that in 1962,

I'm still "thinking" it.

I'd like to read his "Review" of an iMac/Roon/MQA/Brooklyn DAC/Genelec 8020/Genelec Subwoofer system with Active DSP!

I kinda thought of Holt as the intellectual Feathers on the back of the Audio's Journalistic Arrow & as a "Man of Integrity". I never met him.

We still have a small few of his type hanging around Stereophile, thank god!!!

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

I remember Holt describing one of his early recordings - at a high school as a student I think, in 1948. He would have progressed well beyond that by the time he declared his standard for recorded and reproduced sound, which meant that he compared his recordings to live sound.

There's a short series of microphone recordings on one of the Stereophile discs, where Holt reads some script into a series of high-quality studio mics one by one, to give you an idea how each one sounds. The differences are astounding.

The bottom line with Holt was that he could cut through the most complex issues with the most complex gear, and tell you pretty quickly where the sound was getting away from accurate reproduction. And he could do that even where 'accurate' was considered to be controversial.

John Atkinson's picture
dalethorn wrote:
There's a short series of microphone recordings on one of the Stereophile discs, where Holt reads some script into a series of high-quality studio mics one by one, to give you an idea how each one sounds. The differences are astounding.

I produced this track, which is on our first Test CD: This CD also has Gordon's 1948 high-school band recording.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile