Jim Austin

Jim Austin  |  Sep 11, 2023  |  16 comments
It's an error commonly made in evaluating hi-fi–system performance: the failure to listen differentially. Differential as in compared to something else. "Something else" could be a different recording on the same system or (especially this) the same recording on a different system. The question is, what are you comparing it to? The point is: Do you really know what that recording sounds like?
Jim Austin  |  Aug 15, 2023  |  16 comments
In the excellent My Back Pages essay that closes this issue, Londoner Phil Brett writes, "I bought my first albums in my teens for £2 then sold them off years later for 50p each."

Why did he sell his records? "[I]n those days, most vinyl had the thickness of a butterfly wing without the quality. As I grew older, I went through—ahem—several relationships hence several changes of residence. The hassle of carting boxes of records around grew wearisome; CDs were so much lighter, and often, they sounded better."

Phil predicted Stereophile readers would be horrified by what he did those many years ago. Maybe so—but for many, the horror will arise from regret—at the memory of doing the same thing themselves back in the day. As I did.

Jim Austin  |  Jul 19, 2023  |  36 comments
Not long after I moved to New York City, in anticipation of some summer-holiday meal, I went out into the city searching for lambchops. The closest butcher shop I found, Harlem Shambles (thank you, Google Maps), was at roughly my latitude but across Morningside Park in a gentrified section of Harlem. I walked over and entered a large area occupied by a refrigerated glass case of the sort common in butcher shops. The case, though, was nearly empty—just a few cuts of meat, filling perhaps 5% of the available space. Adding to the vibe of neglect was that none of the half-dozen or so skinny young men with spiffy hats and immaculate facial hair (no hairnets on the beards) were greeting customers—or customer, since I was the only one.
Jim Austin  |  May 16, 2023  |  6 comments
This, Stereophile's June 2023 issue, is the 50th I've produced as editor. That seems like a lot—yet the four-plus years it took have flown by; it seems impossible that I've done this 50 times already. Still, the main thing it makes me think is how inexperienced I remain: It will take another 28 years to match JA1's record. That's unlikely to happen: I'm not sure when I'll retire, but I hope it will be before I turn 87. What have I learned? I've learned a lot about producing this magazine, and I've gained a lot of detailed knowledge, especially about specific hi-fi components. I've gained some broader knowledge, too, including a deeper appreciation for the crucial importance of the time domain in hi-fi—of the fact that music happens in the time domain and we experience it there. In the very best systems, that fact is respected and exploited.
Jim Austin  |  Apr 11, 2023  |  4 comments
This month's music feature, by Mike Mettler, is an interview with John Doe, best known as cofounder, in 1977, of the legendary punk band X. During X's long recording career, Doe's urgent voice has offset the starkly contrasting voice of co–lead vocalist (and songwriting partner) Exene Cervenka, who was Doe's girlfriend before she joined the band; it's one of the most recognizable sounds in punk. Over 45 years, X has continued to record (sparingly) and to evolve, from the literate punk of Los Angeles—to me one of the great albums ever, in any genre—through Wild Gift, which leans toward country, to Under the Big Black Sun, which went in several directions at once: rockabilly, funk, folk, pop, and beyond.
Jim Austin  |  Mar 16, 2023  |  14 comments
At the beginning of the 2022 novel Checkout 19, by Claire-Louise Bennett, I encountered some ideas that resonate in interesting ways with my recent experience of recorded music. . .

I've been bringing home too many records from the record store, or too many CDs from the CD shop, for decades—so many that it's difficult to focus on just one, to listen to it again and again, to give it the attention it deserves. In the era of streaming—of having a sizeable fraction of the history of recorded music at your fingertips for $10–$20/month—the temptation is especially acute. It's too easy to move among favorite bits of our favorite music—especially when, as is too often true of audiophiles, we're so eager to hear how a favorite moment in this or that piece of music sounds on our system, now that we've added in that new component.

Jim Austin  |  Feb 14, 2023  |  22 comments
There has been much discussion lately about ChatGPT, the machine-learning– based chatbot from OpenAI. Some experts say it will soon make human writers obsolete. Will that include human hi-fi reviewers?

I decided to engage ChatGPT in an exploratory conversation; think of it as a sort of job interview.

Jim Austin, Robert Baird, Phil Brett, Tom Fine, Anne E. Johnson  |  Feb 09, 2023  |  0 comments
Peggy Lee: Norma Deloris Egstrom from Jamestown, North Dakota (Expanded Edition); Blancmange: Private View; Weyes Blood: And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow; Pit Pony: World to Me; Various Artists: Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver
Jim Austin  |  Jan 27, 2023  |  29 comments
If you're reasonably handy, you can probably build your own digital-to-analog converter. It won't cost much, and if you're careful, and knowledgeable enough to understand and follow some rather technical instructions, or if you have patience enough to follow advice from a few different online discussion forums—and the judgment to distinguish the good advice from the bad—then the DAC you make may end up sounding very good.
Jim Austin  |  Jan 17, 2023  |  9 comments
Since writing about Manhattan's renovated Geffen Hall in this space in our January issue, I've attended two concerts there. I thought I'd report back. The first of the two performances—the hall's "Grand Gala" concert, though they didn't invite me to the fancy dinner afterward—included works by young Puerto Rico–born composer Angélica Negrón (You Are the Prelude) and Ludwig van Beethoven (Symphony No.9). The second included works by Stravinsky (Symphonies of Wind Instruments), Bartók (Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion and Orchestra, with Daniil Trifonov and Sergei Babayan), and Sibelius (Symphony No.7).