As We See It

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Jason Victor Serinus  |  Oct 17, 2017  |  41 comments
How many times have I asked myself what the purpose of music is? And what music really is, and what exactly I am trying to convey. What feelings? What ideas? How can I explain something that I myself cannot fathom?—Gabriel Fauré, letter to his wife, August 31, 1903

In writing reviews for Stereophile, I face a challenge. Whether I'm evaluating an audio component, a recording, or a live performance, I'm confronted by the fact that, when all is said and done, no one fully understands why or how the sound of a particular component, composition, or artist can affect us as powerfully as so many of them do. How and why music and sound moves us remains, fundamentally, a mystery.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Sep 12, 2017  |  64 comments
Digital audio forever disrupted the way music is recorded, mixed, and mastered—and, to even greater extents, how music is distributed, sold, played, and consumed. Music unmolested by zeros and ones is now nearly extinct.

There's no going back, but what if, in 1983, the Compact Disc had bombed? What if music lovers worldwide had rejected the shiny new digital format because they thought LPs sounded so much better? And what if later attempts at digital formats with higher resolutions also shriveled and died, due to lack of interest by recording engineers and consumers? What if, to this day, music had remained blissfully all-analog?

Art Dudley  |  Aug 15, 2017  |  12 comments
I'm a thirty-year-old puppy doing what I'm told And I'm told there's no more coal for the older engines,"—Andy Partridge, "Train Running Low on Soul Coal"

"[We] know the truth of this: We would likely live happily ever after with a system from nearly 60 years ago. An idler-drive turntable, some Marantz electronics, and Quad ESL-57s can be very satisfying. The main improvements to be made are not necessarily in the area of musical enjoyment, but rather boring old reliability."

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jul 13, 2017  |  39 comments
For the longest time, I've found the label "hobby" inadequate to describe the audiophile goal of better sound reproduction. Yes, for some, the mechanics of the High End have become an end in themselves—a way to tinker and tweak, build and rebuild in classic hobby fashion. But for many others, specifically earbud listeners, folks with whole-house systems, and those who'd rather push a button on a remote and sit back or dance rather than roll tubes or tinker, the descriptor hobby falls woefully short.
Steve Guttenberg  |  Jun 13, 2017  |  100 comments
There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it: Headphones sound different from speakers. For different reasons, I like both, but all speakers come with one undeniable disadvantage: the room you play them in. I don't care if you're running pint-size Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a's or giant Wilson Audio Alexandria XLFs—they're at the mercy of your room's acoustics. Losses are inevitable.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  May 16, 2017  |  16 comments
Balance is certainly a lovely concept, as well as a lofty ideal. But achieving an optimal sonic balance in a high-end audio system—whose final sound is determined, in part, by interactions among any number of components and that great bugaboo, the listening room—while maintaining some semblance of psychic equilibrium can be the hardest goal of all.
Robert Schryer  |  Apr 18, 2017  |  64 comments
Audiophilia is dead.

Actually, it retired to an exclusive country club in the sky—but as far as the enduring, salt-of-the-earth audio hobbyist is concerned, it may as well be dead. The reason is simple: The old audiophile paradigm used to be mostly about when we were going to get that top-shelf component we had our eye on; it was rarely an if proposition. That's because, if you were an average, determined audiophile, it wasn't prohibitively expensive to buy top-shelf equipment. That's what made our hobby so exciting back then: the idea that you could actually own the best sound around. Damn!

Steve Guttenberg  |  Mar 14, 2017  |  First Published: Apr 01, 2017  |  6 comments
Do you remember your very first record? I started with the Hollywood Argyles' "Alley Oop" in 1960, and played that silly 45 on repeat until my mother begged me to stop. My tastes quickly evolved, thanks to WWRL AM radio's steady diet of tunes by Jackie Wilson, Bobby Bland, Etta James, and Gary U.S. Bonds. It didn't take me long to gather a sizable collection of singles, but I switched to LPs with Meet the Beatles! in 1964, and since then the craving for new sounds has never let up.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Feb 14, 2017  |  17 comments
This year is not only one of fallout from the most divisive political campaigns of our time, but will also one of competing audio shows too close for comfort. Southern California will see dueling audio shows three months and 35 miles apart, and New York City and Washington, DC will host shows on consecutive weekends. While a proliferation of audio shows potentially presents plenty of opportunities for audiophiles to hear new gear, such conflicts ultimately limit which manufacturers can exhibit where, and can render some shows a poor value.
John Atkinson  |  Jan 17, 2017  |  28 comments
Last July and September I made two loudspeaker-related road trips: first to Rockport Technologies, in Maine, to audition their new Lyra; and then to high-end dealer-distributor GTT Audio, in deepest, darkest New Jersey, to audition YG Acoustics' new Sonja XV. Both speakers offer innovative, proprietary drive-units and heroic audio engineering, especially regarding their enclosures, which are constructed from aluminum. Both experiences took place in superbly well-designed and optimized listening rooms with front-end and amplification components that were beyond reproach. The sound quality offered by the Rockport and YGA speakers was simply superb, both stepping entirely out of the way to offer maximum communion with the music.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Dec 13, 2016  |  9 comments
Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.—William Bruce Cameron, Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking (1963)

I hear not the volumes of sound merely, I am moved by the exquisite meanings.—Walt Whitman, "That Music Always Round Me," from Leaves of Grass

These two statements, to me, express the core perspective shared by Stereophile's contributors. When I encountered both of them within a span of 30 days, they spoke so strongly that I felt impelled to hook up the biggest, baddest loudspeakers I could find and broadcast them to the world, without distortion. Failing in that quest, and having not yet attained the status of the Edward R. Murrows and Walter Cronkites of eras past, I share them here.

Robert Schryer  |  Nov 15, 2016  |  10 comments
My friend was in dire straits. What had been rare occurrences of panic attacks—one every year or so—had turned into a full-blown panic disorder that made it impossible for him to enjoy peace of mind..

If you've never suffered a panic attack, the idea of one—of being, in the absence of any real threat, suddenly overwhelmed by fear—can seem inconceivably strange. Try to imagine fear flooding your mind with such fierce momentum that you struggle to catch your breath, so convincing is the sensation that everything is spinning horribly out of control. Once that happens and the fear has taken over, it doesn't matter if the threat is real or not.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Oct 19, 2016  |  6 comments
I'm at Dan D'Agostino's house listening to his triamped Apogee full-range ribbon speakers. It's 1985. His listening room is immense, easily 30' by 45', and we're rocking out to Led Zeppelin and Bonzo Dog Band records. The sound is light-years better than anything I've heard—dynamic as hell, beyond vivid, and the soundstage has infinite depth—and Dan's obviously loving that I'm blown away by his system. We get to talking. He has three pairs of Krell KMA-160 monoblocks and Reference KRS preamps for me. Thanks, I say, but how can I get them home? No problem—Dan has a van.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Sep 20, 2016  |  17 comments
What do Prince, David Bowie, Merle Haggard, Gato Barbieri, Phife Dawg, Frank Sinatra Jr., Keith Emerson (Emerson Lake & Palmer), Dan Hicks (Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks), Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire), Paul Kantner and Signe Toly Anderson (Jefferson Airplane), Glenn Frey (Eagles), Dale Griffin (Mott the Hoople), pianist Paul Bley, bassist Rob Wasserman, sopranos Susan Chilcott, Phyllis Curtin, and Denise Duval, countertenor Brian Asawa, composers Steven Edward Stucky and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and conductors Pierre Boulez, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Gilbert Kaplan, Gregg Smith, and Royston Nash have in common? Besides the fact that all were musicians who made multiple recordings and who died in 2016, their recorded legacies rarely, if ever, get airplay at dealerships or audio shows.
Steve Guttenberg  |  Aug 16, 2016  |  11 comments
A recording engineer's choices of microphones to record singers, guitars, horns, bass, drums—or an entire orchestra—are absolutely crucial. Those very subjective choices are, in large part, what separate the best recordings from the also-rans. When I contacted some of the best engineers in the business to talk about mikes, I got an earful. I was told that mikes have a more profound impact on reproduced sound than does any other link in the recording chain. Yes, the acoustic of the recording venue also plays a huge role, and post-session mixing and mastering can of course improve or ruin the sound—but the choice of mikes is absolutely crucial.

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