As We See It

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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.

Herb Reichert  |  Feb 25, 2014  |  First Published: Mar 01, 2014  |  12 comments
Way back when, I met this maenad woman at Caffe Reggio in Greenwich Village and told her I was an artist. She told me she was an art collector and invited me to her loft to see her collection. While she was showing me an impressive assortment of African and contemporary art, she was dropping names: William Burroughs, Bob Marley, John Cage, etc. Hmmm . . . really? I spoke up. "Oh, I love John Cage. What was he like?"
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 26, 2014  |  First Published: Feb 01, 2014  |  17 comments
You don't need me to tell you that listening habits are changing. Although those who predict that the end of our beloved home stereo systems is near (footnote 1) have more than a little in common with those who predict the imminent destruction of humankind, there's no question that listening via computers, iPods, and headphones has become the order of the day among a large segment of younger Americans.
Stephen Mejias  |  Dec 27, 2013  |  First Published: Jan 01, 2014  |  9 comments
It's no secret that the high-end audio industry has done a poor job of reestablishing the mainstream respect it enjoyed through the latter half of the 20th century, but its lack of reach has never been as painfully obvious as it is today. Teens are inextricably tied to smartphones, moms and dads are infatuated with Bluetooth streaming, and most people would rather pay too much for an MP3 than anything at all for a DSD download. In a world dominated by fancy gadgets and intriguing technologies, the pursuit of true high-fidelity sound remains an obscure pastime for a relatively small group of aging males. Everyone knows Apple, Beats, and Bose, but few have heard of Vivid, Wilson, or YG.
Art Dudley  |  Nov 30, 2013  |  First Published: Dec 01, 2013  |  13 comments
It began innocently enough. In June, Slate.com published a sampling from an exhibit by the photographer Kai Schaefer, in which classic LPs of different eras were partnered with the similarly classic record players on which they might have been played: Tea for the Tillerman on a Dual 1219, Kind of Blue on a Rek-O-Kut Rondine, Sgt. Pepper's on a Thorens TD 124—you get the idea. The photos worked as cultural documents, as good-natured kitsch, as surprisingly beautiful and compelling industrial art. I was thoroughly charmed.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Oct 25, 2013  |  First Published: Nov 01, 2013  |  13 comments
Thanksgiving will mark two years since Charles died. I still miss him.

I first met Charles in the 1990s, around the time I began to review recordings and audio equipment. I had just left my apartment and was driving slowly down the street when I spied a somewhat bent-over, wizened-looking man carrying a copy of Stereophile under his arm. My astonishment at discovering another Stereophile reader whom, it turned out, living just two buildings away, brought my car to a sudden halt.

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