As We See It

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John Atkinson  |  Sep 15, 2020  |  3 comments
Issue 54 of The Absolute Sound, cover-dated July/August 1988, had arrived in my mailbox. I had been warned that this issue contained a report from Stereophile's third hi-fi show, which had been held in Santa Monica the previous April. Although it wasn't listed in the issue's table of contents, I found the show report on page 186, written by Michael Fremer, who was listed on the magazine's masthead as "Senior Editor: Pop Mix."
Jim Austin  |  Aug 12, 2020  |  20 comments
Listening rooms are real, imperfect places. Their character arises from their defects. I like real, imperfect things (footnote 1).

Not that there's such a thing as a perfect listening room. Every domestic listening room shares the same basic problem: Its most fundamental nature—its size and shape, the amount of space it carves out—results in resonances that can profoundly alter the sound of reproduced music, especially in the bass.

Jim Austin  |  Jul 15, 2020  |  231 comments
After completing a PhD in electrical engineering at Imperial College London, Floyd E. Toole joined Canada's National Research Council (NRC), where he would stay for more than 26 years doing audio-related research. He continued his research at Harman International after leaving the NRC in 1991. When Toole left Harman in 2007 (footnote 1), Harman kept the work up under NRC alum Sean Olive—which fact surely has much to do with the excellence of their current loudspeaker lineup.
Jim Austin  |  Jun 17, 2020  |  9 comments
Photo: Sasha Matson

In April 14, 1895, Mahler's Symphony No.2, "Resurrection," premiered in Berlin (footnote 1). Mahler wrote a program for this symphony prior to a performance six years later, in Dresden. Here is what he wrote about the first movement, Allegro maestoso:

"We are standing near the grave of a well-loved man. His whole life, his struggles, his sufferings and his accomplishments on earth pass before us. And now, in this solemn and deeply stirring moment, when the confusion and distractions of everyday life are lifted like a hood from our eyes, a voice of awe-inspiring solemnity chills our heart, a voice that, blinded by the mirage of everyday life, we usually ignore: 'What next?' it says. 'What is life and what is death? Will we live on eternally? Is it all an empty dream or do our life and death have meaning?'"

Jim Austin  |  May 12, 2020  |  44 comments
On Sunday, March 22, at 8pm, the state of New York shut down, governor's orders. Here in the Big City, most stores are closed—even Starbucks, or at least the ones near me. In my neighborhood, up on Broadway, a grocery store is open, and a drugstore, a hardware store, and a couple of bodegas. Some bars and restaurants are open for takeout only, some advertising COCKTAILS TO GO in big black letters painted on bedsheets—New Orleans comes to NYC. (Meanwhile, New Orleans itself, also a coronavirus hotspot, apparently is desolate, the bars closed, a hard thing to picture.)
Jim Austin  |  Apr 20, 2020  |  42 comments
The High End 2020 show, scheduled to take place in Munich in mid-May, was canceled due to concerns about the coronavirus. The California Audio Show, which usually takes place in late July, is also off, although the reason for its cancelation isn't clear. And as we've just learned, AXPONA, the biggest show in the Western Hemisphere, has been postponed from its original dates (around the time this issue hits mailboxes and newsstands) to the second weekend of August.

The reason, of course, is concern about the spread of COVID-19.

Jim Austin  |  Mar 17, 2020  |  12 comments
Some Stereophile readers will surely remember—some may even have in their collections—Christian Marclay's 1985 vinyl release Record Without a Cover, surely one of the oddest records ever, right up there with the dying-rabbit record and the seven-inch single that's tinted yellow by the band's actual urine.
Jim Austin  |  Feb 20, 2020  |  29 comments
In the 1980s, the CD nearly pushed the LP to extinction. Nearly. For all the claims of "Perfect Sound Forever," the main thing offered by the CD was convenience.

Then, in the mid-1990s, the MP3 and the Internet made it easy to extract and distribute the information encoded on a CD. Secret websites raced to be the first to distribute free MP3s of new recordings, sometimes even before they were released. This went on for years, undermining record-company profits, before Napster came along and gave the record industry a high-value lawsuit target: no more suing widows and small children.

Jim Austin  |  Jan 14, 2020  |  4 comments
My first exposure to current-mode phono preamplification was maybe a dozen years ago, when such products were new. The one I received, though nicely packaged, was not ready for prime time. I never smelled smoke, but I never heard sound, either: If it wasn't DOA, it was at a minimum DSAA—Dead Soon After Arrival.
Jim Austin  |  Dec 18, 2019  |  35 comments
Subjectivist audiophiles have long maintained that long-term listening is necessary to assess the quality and character of an audio component. Scientific testing methodologies such as ABX, which require quick and conscious evaluation of a change in the sound, have long struck many of us as insufficient, seeming to miss much that affects our enjoyment of music.
Jim Austin  |  Nov 12, 2019  |  23 comments
"There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind . . . the only yardstick by which the result should be judged is simply that of how it sounds."—Duke Ellington

Before I became Stereophile's editor—when I still had time for such things—I would occasionally pack up a camera and some lenses, get in my truck, and drive, usually south, in pursuit of good images and sounds. I'd spend a couple of weeks on the road, stopping to take pictures whenever I came across a picturesque town or valley or an abandoned drive-in theater. I'd try to end the day in some city or town that was likely to have live music. A couple of times on every trip, I'd find myself approaching an especially musical place: Clarksdale. Memphis. New Orleans.

Jim Austin  |  Oct 15, 2019  |  39 comments
One of my biggest surprises since I became the editor of Stereophile—and so started focusing more on all things audiophile—is how often I find myself thinking about the ethics of this hobby. This is unusual for me: I dislike moralism and prefer aesthetics to ethics.
Jim Austin  |  Sep 17, 2019  |  26 comments
Yup, you're in a strange position, all right. You're in love with a girl who is no more.—Haruki Murakami

The quote above, from Haruki Murakami's novel Kafka on the Shore, is addressed to Kafka, a 15-year-old boy who has fallen in love with the teenage ghost of an older woman. The woman is still alive, but ever since the death of her lover many years before, she has existed separate from her spirit. Falling in love with ghosts is something I've done often, starting at about Kafka's age.

Jim Austin  |  Aug 15, 2019  |  22 comments
If you're a music fan—and if you're reading this, you probably are—you've heard this already: On June 11, the New York Times Magazine published an investigative report about a 2008 fire that destroyed a vault at Universal Studios in Los Angeles.

Workers were repairing a roof on an oft-reused movie set, heating asphalt tiles with a blowtorch. Protocol required the repairmen to stick around for one hour until the asphalt had cooled, to guard against fire. But shortly after they left, a fire broke out. Hundreds of firefighters fought it, pulling water from the lake once inhabited by The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Jim Austin  |  Jul 16, 2019  |  2 comments
By the time you read this, Munich's High End 2019 will be a distant memory. Yet as I write this, having just returned from Munich, the experience is fresh in my mind. It's the most compelling audio topic I can think of, crying out for commentary.

Munich is to audiophiles—to this one at least—what New York's 5th Avenue is to Black Friday shoppers. It's the audiophile version of flying through a canyon with a wing suit on. It's a giant rush, audio cocaine.

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