We’re all involved with the world we live in. Friends from 20 years ago? Hey, nice to see ya, put on a little weight I see. Generally, you hang with your crew, although you might miss the bigger picture that way.
I wrote for Stereophile from 1993 through 2002, and I remember my experiences fondly, including the pure pleasure of listening to music on all that wonderful audio equipment. But I hung with my tribe and never fully appreciated the crucible in which Stereophile was formed. It’s a genuine saga; cue Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to Once Upon a Time in the West.
It all began with J. Gordon Holt, of course. He wrote for and then became audio editor of High Fidelity. But he was disillusioned with the ads-guarantee-positive-reviews equation. He soured over the coddling of an advertiser’s component that blew up three times under test. He left in 1960—I imagine him leaving in something of a huff—and went to work with Paul Weathers, who’d made the first available frequency-modulation phono cartridge as well as a clearly superior ceramic model. But Gordon found the grass no greener on that side of the fence.
JGH said later, “Okay, if no one else will publish a magazine that calls the shots as it sees them, I’ll do it myself!” He added, “I must have been out of my mind.”
He was, he did, and the grand adventure began. The Stereophile, as it was known at first, sallied forth in October 1962 with Vol.1, No.1. It was, fasten your seatbelts, dedicated to subjective listening, and of course, that exploded into a fireball of controversy between subjectivists and objectivists that rages even today. What a ruckus. Please, people, if your system makes you happy, that’s the right sound for you no matter which “side” you’re on.
The first “Recommended Components” followed, in Vol.1 No.5—the Thorens TD 124, a new version of which is reviewed elsewhere in this issue, was the only Class A turntable listed—just as Philips introduced the Compact Cassette for “dictation.” I call that ironic.
Skipping ahead a few years, Stereophile put out irregular issues as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in stereo took the world by storm. Many of you will remember when the album landed with a bang. It was partly responsible for a rise in hi-fi sales, a sector where the major Japanese brands owned the mass market, lock, stock, and barrel. You remember those gigantic 20-footlong receivers, right? Oh, you’re trying to forget, sorry.
Surround sound launched in the early ’70s to vast global indifference. No one was buying their act. In ’76, John Atkinson abandoned his music career and was appointed news editor at Hi-Fi News & Record Review. In Vol.3 No.12 from 1977, the leadoff equipment review was of the Rogers BBC LS3/5A loudspeaker. Vol.4 No.1 dropped The from the magazine’s name, celebrated 15 years of publication, and was the first to include ads from manufacturers, more for everyone to argue about.
Two important lessons: Any enterprise needs funds to run, and audiophiles are passionate people.
In 1982, Larry Archibald bought Stereophile with JGH staying on as editor and chief tester and set the goal of producing 10 issues per year. The magazine had 3200 subscribers. When Dick Olsher came aboard in Vol.5 No.2, things were a bit of a shambles. Larry said, “Gordon’s output was … unreliable, and I realized that more than just a good business mind would be needed to fix things up.” Rolling up his Harvard-trained sleeves, he got to work, running his own business during the day and Stereophile at night.
That same year, John Atkinson became editor-in-chief of Hi-Fi News and Record Review and Perfect Sound Forever launched in Japan to much ballyhoo and soon, enormous controversy.
It was 1983 when Tom Gillett began the “Audio Cheapskate” under the name Sam Tellig, the most popular writer at the time and a pro at circulation-boosting promotion. JGH reviewed the Sony CDP-101 CD player and declared, “There is no doubt in my mind that this development will ultimately be seen as the best news serious music listeners have had since the advent of the LP.”
JGH knew how to stir the pot. He always pulled my wife Kathleen aside at shows, and they’d start in on the dry martinis. Those two had their little secrets.
In the mid-’80s, Larry Greenhill and Anthony H. (Tony) Cordesman joined Rancho Stereophile along with magazine advertising veteran Ken Nelson. Steven Watkinson signed up, and Don Scott began his legendary series on FM tuners. Tony Cordesman began his amusingly titled “Long Year’s Journey into Wire” in 1985, and Richard Lehnert signed on as copy editor. Fevered audio chatter centered on Bob Carver’s claim that he could make his cheap solid-state amp match the sound of costly Conrad-Johnson monoblocks (Vol.8 No.6)—and the crowd goes wild. I seem to recall that the amp blew up a few times.
Then, in a smoky back-room at Rao’s (just kidding), Steve Watkinson suggested that LA persuade John Atkinson (henceforth JA) to pick up, move across the pond to Santa Fe, and lead Stereophile into the future. Not much of an ask, right?
Circumstances were just so when LA and JA shared a fateful ride from Las Vegas to Santa Fe in 1986 that they arrived with an agreement in hand, a start date, and a fresh plan for the magazine.
Esteemed former fighter pilot Thomas J. Norton, affectionately known around the shop as TJN, and also Major Tom, joined the team. I roomed at a show with TJN, and a more considerate guy doesn’t exist. Knowing I’d stumble in late and probably somewhat incapacitated, he’d leave the bathroom light on and the door opens a crack. He popped out of bed at 6 the next morning like bread from a toaster. We laughed a lot; I think I tickled his funny bone.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
KEN MICALLEF KLH Model Five LOUDSPEAKER
In May of 2019, I heard about a promising jazz vinyl and hi-fi estate sale happening on New York’s Upper East Side. Little did I know then what treasures the dig would yield.
20 YEARS OF THE BEST-SOUNDING INDIE ROCK
KALMAN RUBINSON Dirac Live 3 ROOM-CORRECTION SOFTWARE
Adoption of DSP-based speaker-and-room correction in home theater—a parallel universe to audiophilia—is almost universal. It’s easy to understand why.
JASON VICTOR SERINUS Antipodes Audio K50 MUSIC SERVER
On the face of it, playing and streaming digital music files is a straightforward process.
The RAAL-requisite HSA-1b headphone and speaker amplifier
OMA’s K3 direct-drive turntable and custom Schröder tonearm
LESLIE ANN JONES
RECORDING’S FUTURE NOW
AUDIO NEWS & VIEWS
TechDAS Air Force Zero
Jamie Lee Cussigh of Triumph Of Death on learning to trust her instincts about bass
WIZARDS OF OZ
The Australian trio The Omnific make music like no other band—with two bassists, a drummer, and a whole lot of genius. We meet Matt Fack and Toby Peterson-Stewart
When ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill left us on July 27, he left a legacy like few others. Jamie Blaine pays tribute, and we revisit words of wisdom from Hill himself
Anna Achimowicz is a bassist, physiotherapist and health professional. We ask her how to do what we do without injury
A new book on Duran Duran’s Rio album highlights the role of bassist John Taylor, a hero in our community. Author Annie Zaleski digs deep into the pleasure groove
Who wouldn’t cherish a signature bass as luscious as this one? Dan Firth of Cradle Of Filth talks through his new acquisition...
IN THE Groove
GIOVANNI BOTTESINI, DOUBLE BASS CONCERTOS (DYNAMIC, 1997)
EMISSIONS FRIENDLY UPGRADES FOR THE 2020 DURAMAX
LONDON BASS DISPLAY
Clash bassist Paul Simonon’s smashed Fender is now on permanent view
US GOVT TO PROBE ZOOM'S $14.7B FIVE9 DEAL FOR NATSEC RISKS
A U.S. government committee that reviews foreign investment in telecom is probing video conferencing company Zoom’s $14.7 billion deal for cloud call center company Five9.