Demo Or Downfall
Editorial By Robert Harley
"Publish or perish" is a
well-known phrase in the academic world -- if your work isn't published in
professional journals, your career will perish. The high-end audio industry
should adopt a parallel mantra -- demo or downfall." That is, the only way for
high-end audio to thrive is to demonstrate, to one customer at a time, the joy
of hearing music wonderfully reproduced.
There's simply no substitute for hearing your favorite music
recreated with an involvement and intensity you never thought possible. The
demo allows you to instantly "get" what high-end audio is all about -- a
phenomenon I've written about previously ("Ten Minutes in the Sweet Spot").
Hearing descriptions of high-end audio, reading magazines, or looking at
pictures of great gear will never begin to convey that electrifying experience
of connecting with music at a deeper level. I'll bet that every one of you
vividly remembers your first high-end experience and the resulting epiphany.
You instantly knew that you had
to have the gear that would deliver that thrilling experience night after
The fact that there's no way for music lovers to discover
our hobby or for manufacturers to find new customers other than by
demonstration leads to the inescapable conclusion that the high-end audio
retailer is the linchpin of the entire industry. It's the retailer who's on
the front-line representing high-performance audio, and who is essential to
The retailer isn't just vital to the industry's health -- he's
also the surest path to your long-term musical satisfaction. There's no
substitute for the value added by a skilled and caring dealer. When I'm asked
for specific equipment recommendations I always begin by saying: "Shop for a
dealer, not for equipment." That aphorism reflects my belief that if you find
a great dealer, you'll end up with a great-sounding system.
It's no secret that high-end dealers have had a rough time
over the past ten years. The first blow to the industry came, ironically, in
the form of home theater. Many traditional dealers were tempted by the huge
influx of money from homeowners wanting "media rooms," and whole-house audio,
lighting, and control systems. Sound quality was a distant afterthought. When
the fever for home theater cooled, many dealers were left high and dry.
The second blow, of course, is the current economy.
Lately there's been a resurgence of the traditional values
espoused by high-end retailers, and many who converted their store's
two-channel listening rooms into theater demo rooms have switched them back to
music rooms. Performance-based audio, and the musical involvement it delivers,
is ascending as customers tire of the shallowness of remote-controlled
lighting and whole-house in-wall speakers. Music is a universal human need
that transcends the latest technological fad.
There are many outstanding high-end retailers who deserve
our recognition and support, and we intend to spotlight these exceptional
dealers in the coming months by publishing profiles of the country's best
audio stores. In the meantime, I encourage you to develop a long-term mutually
beneficial relationship with your local stereo shop. You'll not only end up
with better sound; you'll also be supporting the vehicle that will bring the
high-end audio experience to a new generation of music lovers.
I'm deeply saddened to report that Stereophile
founder J. Gordon Holt passed away on June 20 at the age of 79 after a long
illness. HP has written a remembrance in this issue, and I wanted to add my
own thoughts on Gordon's contribution to our field.
The word "contribution" is far too weak; Gordon created,
from scratch, the entire profession of subjective audio reviewing. He was the
first writer to honestly describe how products sounded and to elevate the
listening experience over measured performance. To accomplish this, he had to
invent an entirely new language to convey to the reader how an audio component
interpreted the musical experience. It's that same language that we use today
-- and take for granted.
Gordon's writing was a model of concision and clarity and
wit. He had the ability to explain in a sentence what many writers failed to
convey in a page. I had the great fortune of working with Gordon as Stereophile's
Technical Editor from 1989 to 1997. On a personal level, he was a role model
and mentor. In the larger view, the high-end audio industry wouldn't exist as
it does today without J. Gordon Holt.
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