I feel honour bound to
begen this editorial with a short acknowledgment of the debt of gratitude that
all hi-fi journalists owe to J. Gordon Holt, the father of subjective audio
reviewing, who passed away in July.
Born in 1930, Gordon got involved with the
mainstream American audio/hi-fi magazines just as they were getting going, but
by 1960 he had become disenchanted by their practice of linking editorial
coverage with advertising spend, and putting the commercial interests of the
publisher ahead of those of readers.
In 1962, on the apocryphal wing and a prayer,
he launched Stereophile, a small subscription-only magazine dedicated
to ‘telling it like it is'. He'd have been the first to admit he was a
better editor, writer (and cartoonist) than publisher, but managed to run it
almost singlehanded for the next twenty years. Tackling hi-fi with honesty and
integrity, he set the agendas for both subjective reviewing and indeed the
whole development of the ‘high end'.
Although he sold the title in 1982, Gordon
remained closely associated with Stereophile for the next 17 years, and
had the satisfaction of seeing it outlast and take over from those mainstream
magazines he'd left some decades earlier.
I only met Gordon once, briefly, at a US hi-fi
show, so didn't know him personally, but his philosophy, attitude and
dedication first and foremost to his readership has had considerable influence
on myself and other hi-fi journalists.
Although the world today is very different from
the way things were in 1962, the example set by Stereophile has
certainly influenced HIFICRITIC. We too have taken a zero advertising
stance, as Stereophile did early on, ensuring that our sole duty is to
our readership. We also share a preference for devoting the budget and
pagination to the words rather than the pictures, and in exploring the outer
reaches of the ‘higher end', where the main action
seems to be right now.
Where we do differ from that early Stereophile,
or perhaps more closely follow the example of today's journal, is in the
diversity of our content. Product reviews remain a cornerstone of
course, as they are for all hi-fi magazines, but we take off any formatting
shackles, include relevant technical backup, and allow them to breathe more in
the manner of a feature.
This issue explores some recent developments in
the outer reaches of both digital and analogue sources. For some readers
(including the Editor) these components are too costly to consider purchasing,
but I still believe that they deserve the sort of detailed examination we can
give them. Without exploring the capabilities of the ultimate equipment, we
can't set a reliable context and establish a benchmark for assessing the worth
of the sort of components that ordinary people (including yours truly) can
afford. Such an approach doesn't always provide good news. We also reviewed
three pre-amps in this issue, all from reputable brands and all costing a
fairly substantial sum of around £3,500. Frankly, the listening test results
were rather disappointing, when compared both to significantly more expensive
pre-amps and also to cheaper passive control units. Such findings won't win us
any friends in the hi-fi industry, but they were arrived at with honesty and
integrity, and, crucially, in the interests of our readers.