As We See It

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John Marks  |  May 21, 2015  |  First Published: Jun 01, 2015  |  5 comments
The day before I began writing this, John Atkinson posted on Stereophile's website a chart from Nielsen Soundscan showing the ski-jump–like path CD sales have been on since 2004. In 2004, total sales were 651 million units; in 2014, 141 million units. All that is lacking from that impactful visual to make the ski-jump analogy perfect is the little uptick at the end to launch the skier into free air. Those numbers look to me like a total decline in sales of 78%. Ouch.
John Atkinson  |  Apr 15, 2015  |  First Published: May 01, 2015  |  109 comments
I write this in a Seattle coffee bar—my flight home to New York has been canceled due to a snowstorm. As I try to put down these thoughts, I'm listening to the high-resolution masters of the April issue's "Recording of the Month," Sasha Matson's jazz opera Cooperstown, on my Pono player using Ultimate Ears UE18 in-ear monitors. I was in Seattle for Music Matters 10, held by retailer Definitive Audio, and this was my first road trip with the Pono since I reviewed it for the April issue. (Bruce Botnick and Charles Hansen comment on that review elsewhere in this issue.)
Steve Guttenberg  |  Mar 16, 2015  |  First Published: Apr 01, 2015  |  61 comments
I've known a lot of folks with impressive LP and CD collections who were perfectly content with the sound of the crappiest of hi-fis. This diverse group has included recording engineers, musicians, and owners of record stores. Loving music isn't the same thing as caring about the sound of music, and maybe, in some alternate universe, those folks would-have-been, could-have-been audiophiles. But in this universe, they didn't, and I'm not sure why.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Feb 24, 2015  |  First Published: Mar 01, 2015  |  31 comments
To put it mildly, Jack Vad (second row in photo, orange shirt) was dismayed. The Grammy Award–winning media producer and chief engineer for the San Francisco Symphony had just returned from the 2014 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, and was trying to make sense of his experiences there. When he'd carried his latest recordings, which I think are superbly recorded, into rooms at the show and asked if he could play them, exhibitors were anything but enthusiastic.
Robert Schryer  |  Jan 28, 2015  |  First Published: Feb 01, 2015  |  5 comments
Audiophilia nervosa. It's a running gag with a mean streak. As audiophiles, we know its effects intimately. We know how it can turn what was once a source of pleasure and pride—listening to good music over a good sound system—into an irritating itch that can't be scratched.

The UrbanDictionary.com defines audiophilia nervosa (AN) as "the anxiety resulting from the never-ending quest to obtain the ultimate performance from one's stereo system by means of employing state-of-the-art components, cables, and the use of certain 'tweaks.' Although the goal is supposedly to achieve maximum appreciation of the music, those afflicted with this condition are merely obsessed with their electronics."

Steve Guttenberg  |  Dec 22, 2014  |  First Published: Jan 01, 2015  |  12 comments
We all have secrets, and it's about time I came clean with one of mine: I enjoy recorded music more than concerts.

I know, that's a sacrilege—as a lifelong music lover, I'm supposed to relish the live event, with all of the energy and connection between musicians and audience that can happen only when they're all breathing the same air. That may be true for you, but not for me. I've harbored the guilt for years: When I take the plunge and attend a concert, I rarely enjoy the experience enough to justify the effort and expense.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Nov 25, 2014  |  First Published: Dec 01, 2014  |  23 comments
With increasing frequency, many audiophiles and industry professionals have accepted that the quest for highest-quality sound quality is a luxury and esoteric pursuit that, by its very nature, can appeal to only a small niche market. According to this view, the masses—the 99%, if you will—are either satisfied with Pioneer, Bose, Samsung, Dr. Dre, and iPhone/Android/tablet sound; can't tell the difference between quality and dreck; or will never have the money or imagination to move beyond lowest-common-denominator sound. To the extent that the vast majority knows anything about high-end audio, it regards it as an absurdly overpriced indulgence and a target for their disdain.
Steve Guttenberg  |  Oct 27, 2014  |  First Published: Nov 01, 2014  |  27 comments
Classical and jazz notwithstanding, an awful lot of new music is highly compressed, processed, and harsh, and it's about time we got used to it. Musicians, producers, and engineers are, in large part, on board with the sound, and any suggestion of making less-compressed recordings, with a wider dynamic range, is met with confused stares, or worse. One superstar producer didn't take kindly to my suggestion that he make two mixes for his new project: the standard compressed one, and another, less-crushed version. That didn't fly; he said there could be only one, the mix approved by him and the band, and that to them, a less-compressed mix wouldn't sound better. This producer is an audiophile, but he's not the least bit interested in making music for audiophiles. Harshness, it seems, isn't just a byproduct of compression; it's an integral part of the sound of today's music.
John Atkinson  |  Sep 26, 2014  |  First Published: Oct 01, 2014  |  8 comments
Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, "If you work in either journalism or politics . . . you will be flogged for being right and flogged for being wrong." I was reminded of Thompson's words when I read a forum post on our website. "Why is Stereophile way behind the other magazines?" asked "rs350z," explaining that, among things, he objected to Stereophile's supporting its reviews with measurements. "why waste the ink on doing measurements on each product reviewed," he wrote, with a disregard for capital letters. "There is no need to. I don't care if the distortion is 0.00005 or 0.00007, nor do i care about all of the other tests you do. What i care about is the sound, quality, finish, looks."
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Aug 21, 2014  |  First Published: Sep 01, 2014  |  21 comments
I've always considered the high end to be industrial art. People who favor a certain brand are saying, in a way, "I like that designer's interpretation. I like his or her art."David Wilson

Last March, I had a rare experience akin to hearing the same recording through two different systems. I heard Andris Nelsons conduct the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the same program—Haydn's Symphony 90, and Brahms's Variations on a Theme by Haydn, followed by his Symphony 3—in two very different venues: UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall and, 50 miles north, Sonoma State University's Weill Hall.

Herb Reichert  |  Jul 21, 2014  |  First Published: Aug 01, 2014  |  7 comments
Playing recorded music in the home is a complex, coded, cultural experience: We sit, we listen, we think and dream—and, when it feels just right, we admire. We admire who we are and how we arrived at this beautiful moment. This simple act of admiration is usually a happy sort of self-congratulatory expression of our basic desire to have meaningful as well as enjoyable experiences. We are proud of our good taste and love of music. But this type of listening can also provoke anxiety and self-recrimination. We ask ourselves why we like this music and not some other kind. What would my friends think if they knew I was listening to "truckin' wit' th' doo-dah man"—or Deodato?
Steve Guttenberg  |  Jun 23, 2014  |  First Published: Jul 01, 2014  |  20 comments
Record-business profits peaked 20 years ago, just before Napster and other file-sharing sites turned their world upside down. There have been occasional surges, but the future of the Compact Disc looks bleak, and while income from downloaded files is still climbing, the shift of profitability from à la carte music sales to unlimited streaming on demand seems inevitable. The realignment is already underway—the vast majority of today's music listeners, young and old, haven't bought a CD, file, or LP in years. It pains me to admit it, but after hearing, at the 2014 Midem music exhibition, a presentation by Marc Geiger, of William Morris Endeavors, I was convinced that music-streaming companies are poised to reboot the industry. If Geiger's predictions are accurate, the music business will be more profitable than ever, and swell to $100 billion in 20 years or less (see www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcNsAR_FM5M&feature=share).
Glenn Weadock  |  May 22, 2014  |  First Published: Jun 01, 2014  |  8 comments
Why does music matter so much to so many of us? Some, like Stereophile's readers, go to great lengths to reproduce it in their homes with accuracy and impact, and build libraries of their favorite works. Others, like my daughters, don't care much about equipment, but find it hard to spend more than five minutes in a car without listening to music. We go to concerts, play instruments, hum tunes, sing. Why? Why does music seem to speak to so many more of us than do, say, painting, sculpture, poetry, architecture, or even literature?
Steve Guttenberg  |  Apr 22, 2014  |  First Published: May 01, 2014  |  19 comments
Here's what I've learned in my 35 years in the High End, first as a hi-fi salesman and then as a full-time reviewer and blogger: No hi-fi, no matter how expensive or exalted, will ever deliver the holy grail. While there have been considerable advances over the years, I can cite two 50+-year-old loudspeakers—Quad ESL electrostatics and Klipsch's big horns—whose transparency and dynamic range, respectively, blow away those of many contemporary high-end speakers. The very best of today's speakers, electronics, and source components don't zero in on a single perfected sound indistinguishable from the experience of being in the same room as the musicians—no, every one of them sounds different from all the rest. I want to experience as many of those flavors as I can.
Art Dudley  |  Mar 26, 2014  |  First Published: Apr 01, 2014  |  12 comments
"You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve?"—Lauren Bacall, To Have and Have Not, 1944

Yesterday, I played a minor role in a dustup on Facebook. It began when a fellow journalist posted a controversial quote from a veteran manufacturer known for generating same. The bait proved irresistible, and a long line of audio mavens, myself included, swam around the hook for an hour or so. The manufacturer himself also waded in, and before the fight was over, he'd made a show of demanding the home address of one of his antagonists, thus raising the manly specter of bodily harm. If there were any women in the audience, I'm sure they were impressed.

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