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No. 181 June 2019

15 YEARS LATER
„High Fidelity's” 15th anniversary

'm a music lover. I am an audiophile. I'm an electronics technician. I am an acoustician - sound engineer. I am a philologist with a PhD. I am a reader. I am a journalist - specialist journalist, let's add. I am each of them individually and all at the same time.

Such thoughts come to me not so often, and this is because I try to stay on the ground and treat the skills I mentioned instrumentally - for work and for fun. Which, in my case, is often one and the same.

When you're reading these words, the "High Fidelity", magazine I founded in 2004 is already 15 years old. Its first issue was released on May 1st, 2004 and for me it was a culmination of more than half a year of efforts, fighting, explaining, head banging against the wall. Because back then there was no such magazine in Poland. There wasn't even one in the whole Europe.

The only internet magazines dedicated to audio, but I mean real magazines, not blogs or company websites, I knew back then were only three, and all were located in America: "6moons" and "Positive-Feedback Online" in the USA, and "Soundstage!" in Canada. It so happened that a few years later, my articles were published in "6moons.com", and for several years now I have been also a member of the editorial team of the "Positive Feedback", as a Senior Contributing Editor. As you can see - dreams do come true.

Since then, the world has changed beyond recognition. The audio industry has also changed, including audio journalism. Let's start with the industry.

Consolidation | I reach for the the Japanese magazine "Stereo Sound" from the summer of 2004 (No. 151). On the cover there is a picture of the Sonus faber Stradivari Homage loudspeakers, inside there is their test and an interview with the owner of the company, Mr. Franco Serblin. We couldn't have known at the time, that this visionary would leave us nine years later, leaving a void behind him. The company he founded, however, is doing great, probably better than ever before.

It was been acquired by the Italian investment fund Fine Sounds Group, along with such brands as: Audio Research, McIntosh and Wadia, and has been transformed into a large-scale manufacturer, not a small one anymore. On the one hand, it's good because the industry needs money, for example for research and development. But on the other hand, there is a part of me that wishes it never happened. The process, that Sonus Faber is a part of, the consolidation of brands in one hand, usually external investors, has become something normal today. Let me remind you that Dynaudio is now part of Samsung Electronics, same as the Harman International Industries.

Consolidating brands in one hand has also an "internal" dimension, so to speak, as, for example, Naim is currently owned by Focal, Roksan belongs to Monitor Audio, and Musical Fidelity to Pro-Ject. And these are only the best known brands in our country. So - from a scattered mass of small companies, new leading consolidated companies are beginning to emerge, and small manufactures will orbit around them./p>

Home cinema | Even more important change, however, in my opinion, was the one in thinking about the direction in which our industry was heading. In the "Stereo Sound" from 2004, we can find an after-math of what was going on all over the world - namely the multichannel revolution related to home cinema systems. It was - I'm not afraid to say it - a plague. But the plague, we survived and walked away from even stronger than before. We audiophiles, I mean.

Manufacturers, and hence distributors, were relentlessly pressing audio press to test DVD (and later BD) players, receivers and 5.1 systems. Often these were interesting proposals, we presented some of them ourselves, but the pressure from the market was so great that it seemed that the traditional stereo magazines would cease to exist. It's no coincidence that the largest magazine of this type in Europe, the British "What Hi-Fi?" back then changed its name to "What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision", and all other magazines have changed into magazines devoted to audio-visual products.

And you know what? Everything changed when this "bubble" burst. It turned out that once bought, the home cinema system turned into ordinary household appliances, that hardly anyone is passionate about, that deliver no emotions at all. And audio and music are the quintessence of emotions. So it did not surprise me when a few years ago the magazine in question returned (quietly) to the former name.

Physical media | To be honest, if you listened to what "Stereo Sound" had been offering over the years, you could pretty well figure out what the audio world would look like fifteen years later. This is an example of a magazine that remained faithful to its core mission and its DNA.

And the world looks like that despite the 2.0 digital revolution associated with audio files, the physical media still rule. In the magazine from 2004, you can find tests and reviews of both CD and SACD players. And? - and these media are still considered the top digital carriers of sound. Interestingly, the CD seemed to be dying out, because manufacturers ceased to produce transport mechanisms. Nevertheless, Pro-Ject has just announced the launch of a completely new CD transport, developed together with StreamUnlimited. It is a kind of new opening and one should expect new mechanisms, also available in the lower price ranges.

The SACD format has also found its niche, being treated in a similar way as turntables used to be. This is an ultra-high-end format for the most demanding music connoisseurs. 15 years ago it was still on the ascending wave, that quickly had a breakdown when the Sony withdrew from its promotion. And only 15 years later it took the place it deserves. Symptomatic for its development is the cover of the spring edition of "Stereo Sound" from 2019 - it presents the new top SACD player by Esoteric, the Grandioso P1X + D1X.

Mr. Jim Saito, Accuphase CEO, with a cover of our magazine in Japanese headquarters

The key information is that it features a brand new new mechanism called VRDS Atlas. And the development of such a mechanism is very expensive, which means, the company believes that it will be able to profit from it. D&M seems to think the same, because they offers their own SACD transports to other companies - they were used by dCS in the Rossini transport, and Accuphase modified it in its own way and also used in all new devices.

Journalism | All that I write about are matters that everyone can see and many "High Fidelity" readers are aware of these changes. Less often, I think, we pay attention to something that has an even greater impact on us, namely journalism. Under this concept, I understand the work of the broadly understood publishing industry, both online and printed.

I wish I could say that I remember the day when "High Fidelity" started, but I can not because I do not remember it at all. It was a very emotional time, not only for me, because just a week earlier my daughter was born, so the house resembled a madhouse, Poland joined the European Union, and I had no idea if there was anyone who would like to read about the audio on the internet .

The beginnings were difficult, because - as I remember - during the first three months only a few hundred visitors came to my website. At that time I had no idea whether it was a large number or not, but somehow I felt intuitively that there should be more interested people. Because the number was growing slowly, it indicated that maybe I should forget about it and get back to my main job, that is, writing tests for the "Audio" magazine. And yet I was drawn to the idea of my own magazine.

I think the point was, I could do it the way I wanted to, write about what I wanted and in the way I wanted. And these were times when in the case of internet magazines nothing was obvious and everything that I did was done for the first, maybe the second time. So I was not sure how to go about. I just had an idea of what the "High Fidelity" was meant to be - a magazine that I would like to read myself.

One of the text in the first issue of „High Fidelity” from May 1st 2014. A review of the Ancient Audio Harmony loudspeakers

Which from the start disqualified short texts. After all, there is no way to describe the sound, design, functionality, a goal of the device, evaluate it and summarize it in a few hundred words. The magazines that do that are more like mailing catalogs than audio magazines. What was important to me was how the device sounded. Although measurements are extremely important, just as the design is, theoretical assumptions are also important, but without proper sound they are just a fart in the wind, so to speak. The audio product must PLAY music.

This approach has been criticized for a long time. Some said, that people would not read such long texts on the internet, that they were looking for a brief description, preferably a summary. And it is true, all research confirms that we are becoming less and less focused and subjected to an excessive number of stimuli, we require a quick "reward", in this case - information. I accepted the reality but I decided that I had to do it my way, and for me the test must have been full, finished. I had to be proud of it every time. It had to be a text that I would find informative after some time, when I read it again, that would allow me to learn about products I would forget. So I write my texts as the topic leads me.

I also knew from the beginning that a full information about test conditions was important, that's why I offered reference devices, recordings I used for the test and other helpful information. And the test methodology itself is important - a thing that with time has proved crucial to the credibility of test results. Both the reference system and the methodology, i.e. how we listened, are a part of my every test.

„High Fidelity” reference system in my listening room – A.D. 2019

Fifteen years later, most of my dilemmas seem ridiculous and groundless. But only because - along with my colleagues from the other side of the pond - we have established certain rules and we have kept them. However, we encountered problems that we had no idea at the time existed, and among them the most important one that could be called a "journalist's complex". What is it? It is a conviction of many Internet users that everyone can and should write (also about audio). That's why there have been a lot of blogs, portals and then also masked advertising sites that pretended to be industry magazines. It is to be expected that over time, there will be more and more of them - some of them are already generated by "bots", that is, artificial intelligence.

This flood of disinformation is unprecedented and the Internet, which was supposed to be a space equaling opportunities, giving everyone equal access to information, has become a trap, a place where getting reliable information is extremely difficult. I have been surprised many time by people talking passionately about poorly written "articles", or manipulated ones, or ones that were just a lie. I still can not believe to this day, that some Internet users can not often distinguish a good text from a poor or simply put silly one. Because – please pay attention - it is not true that everyone should write. Sure, everyone is allowed to, but it doesn't mean they should.

This is in opposition to the idea popular in recent years that one should not judge, that egalitarianism means that everyone is treated in the same way. I think it's stupid, that it's made people lose their sense of good and evil, what's right and what's unacceptable. I could of course pretend to be "friends", mingle to score some points with readers. But that would be pointless, it's not why I started to write about audio equipment and music. I decided to do it to tell my readers the TRUTH. And so it is: there are only a few people that do a good job writing about audio. And even fewer honest among them. So when you find journalists who you really trust, stick to them, be loyal to them.

15 years of the „High Fidelity” | Perhaps it is a miracle that "High Fidelity" convinced so many people with its vision of the audio world, its sensitivity and its standards. We have readers not only in Poland, but also abroad, so that the number of readers is distributed between Polish and English versions almost equally - 40,000 IPs a month of each. We are also extremely lucky to have friends who appreciate what "High Fidelity" does. One of them is Shirokazu Yazaki-san, former chief engineer of TEAC, then Pioneer, and then SPEC Corporation, now retired.

SHIROKAZU YAZAKI

Dear Wojtek!

Congratulations, for your truly authentic "High Fidelity"'s 15th anniversary. I Tokyo the season we have been waiting for is already here. I am enjoying my morning walk with my dog, Nico-chan, among blooming cherries, despite the fact, that I am 72 years old.

As you know, I left SPEC COPORATION a year ago, and I'm enjoying my retirement now. Fortunately I have many friends around the world, also due to your review's, and those on „Jeff's Place”, a website you surely know. In November last year I finally completed building the DA30 (PX25A) SET monoblocks for Haralda-san. It's been in development for more then two years and I believe that it is one of my best works as I put all my knowledge and experience in it.

I am also working on description of the mono PX25A amplifier for Alan-san – it will be the fourth part of the article at Jeff's Place”. I discuss distortion and phase characteristics in power amplifiers in it. I hope you will find it interesting and informative and that you'll be able to use some of that knowledge.

One more thing – try to use one more „Real-Sound Processor” in your system, this time install it at loudspeakers outputs of your amplifier. I am sure you will observe interesting results.

Best regards,
Shirokazu

Shirokazu Yazaki-san decided to celebrate our anniversary and prepared a short series of his "sound processors", the AZ9EX model, finished with Urushi varnish. You will be able to see the first unit during the High End Show 2019 in Munich. I have already written about the fact that several companies, our friends, decided to prepare special versions of their products for our anniversary, and the SPEC AZ9EX Limited Edition will be one of them.

The first such product, however, was the Hollywood Trio album, with Larry Goldings, Darek "Oles" Oleszkiewicz and Adam Czerwiński, released by AC Records, where you will find our anniversary logo, and inside the cover you will find a short text regarding the label, written by truly yours :) Next two albums are in works.

Another product, the should be shipped soon, is the latest, limited power cable - Acrolink Mexcel 8N-PC8100. It will vary from standard version with some details, like completely black plugs, with out logo, as well as a wooden box. Only 15 pieces of this version will be made. The next “joint ventures” are coming soon. One of them will be a special version of the Haiku-Audio SEnsei 300B amplifier.

Me, Myself and I | During the fifteen years of the "High Fidelity's" operation, so much has changed that one could say that we live in a completely different world. I have already mentioned a few changes, and we could add a "streaming revolution" to them, that completely changed the musical habits of most people. On the other hand, it has been confirmed that our industry is extremely conservative. Attachment to physical media, including the return of vinyl record on a scale no one had foreseen, the blooming market for vintage devices and ones that are based on them, as well as still strong resistance against class D amplifiers - these are just a few of the most important ones.

On the other hand, there was another revolution when suddenly everyone started listening to music using headphones. A dozen or so years ago it was a niche method, used mainly in professional studios, treated by others as something weird. Today, everyone, kids, teenagers and adults use headphones. So it is amazing - by the way - that the publishers do not propose special versions of albums mixed up for this kind of listening – I can't really understand why.

Photo from „Hi-End.pl” magazine from (I think) 2001 – I was working at the time in hi-fi/high-end shop called Audioholic

I've also changed. Please, excuse me for coming back to my person once again, but this is probably the moment when I can say something about myself and not be perceived as buffoon. And it is justified in the sense that magazines, such as "High Fidelity", are sort of reflection of their founders.

Having said that, I'd like to say that I am happy that Marek Dyba writes for us, that from time to time we can publish columns by Witek Kamiński and Maciej Tułodziecki, that Bartek Pacuła is responsible for our news section, that for so many years we have been working so well Bartek Łuczak, who is responsible for the graphic side of the magazine. I would also like to thank the people who had worked with us before: Marcin Chmura, who worked with me on the first layout of the magazine and for a few years he took care of the technical side of the magazine, Krzysztof Kalinkowski, one of the editors writing reviews for us, Andrzej Dziadowiec, who for many years wonderfully translated tests to English.

In addition to the reference system and the music used during tests, an equally important element of the review is the person who actually assesses the device, and in the case of HF, this person who writes most reviews is me. So how do I assess reviewed components? It would be perfect if I could said: using the objective truth. However, we live in a world of subjective impressions and assessing audio components is one of such situations. The test methodology developed by me, a rich music library as well as experience allow me to narrow down the scope of "probability", i.e. that my observations will be true. However, this will never be a 100% true. It will always be in some part my truth.

I would like to say a few words about the criteria I follow, what I value and what I do not. During the test, I first try to get to know, understand and then describe the individual features of the sound - timbre, dynamics, selectivity, resolution, imaging, etc. This is sort of vivisection of the sound. In turn, in the second stage I try to understand what a given combination of features brings to the sound of the discs, above all on the emotional level. Music is emotions.

There are two possibilities if the sound of the device does not "engage" me: either the device is not very good or it is not for me. If it's the former, the basic elements of the sound I wrote about don't “add up” and I simply send such back without reviewing it. I do not have time for them. If it's the latter, the elements that I am talking about are presented in a very good way, and only when they come together, i.e. the end result, does not appeal to me. In this case, I'm trying to explain who may like such product, who it might be good for, and what music it should works best with. They do deserve respect and I am sure that there are people who will love them.

A diagram presenting the layout of my listening room.

However, there is a third category of devices - those that offer all these basic elements on a high level and, in addition, fit in my taste, in my understanding of sound. And, let's be honest, although I keep repeating that it's mine and only my opinion I actually believe that I'm right and that it's the right, real sound. Please forgive me, I really do not want to sound like a self-righteous idiot, but I would like it to be clear, otherwise all my writing isn't worth a dime: I have to believe in a product to recommend it, to assess it. I must also believe that I am right, otherwise we would find ourselves in a "maybe" world, and this is not my world.

My sound | So what is "my" sound? Its basic feature is resolution. This is an absolutely basic category eluding simple descriptions, extremely difficult to "improve" for designers. Resolution manifests itself in richness and a kind of "fulfillment". In such a sound a lot of things happens, even though we do not hear any details. Because the resolving sound is the opposite to highly detailed one. The resolving devices usually appear dark sounding. And yet there is much more information in it than in a clear and detailed sound. However, they are an element of something bigger, like colors, dynamics, differentiation. Therefore, you need a lot of experience and “maturity” to appreciate it.

Almost everyone who begins their adventure with protectionist sound, that is with audiophilism, thinks that the more details they hear in the sound, the better. The sound of their systems is therefore bright, distinct, transparent. But also severely hollow. Do not go this way, run away from such systems as far as possible!

The second element that I always pay attention to, is the color. It is related to what I described earlier - it must be balanced, but with a slight emphasis in terms of richness and warmth. The sound I am looking for and which my reference system delivers is based on the midrange, but the one that has the basis in the low bass and the resolving top. It must be saturated, that is, one with no "holes" and “shallows” in it.

It must also build up a certain whole. If something pops up from the sound or draws attention, it is a sign that it lacks coherence. And I do not like it. Also imaging is very important to me. It consists of both the classic "sound stage" and the "body" of sound. The former describes how the instruments and voices are arranged in the "visible" plan in front of us, and in the case of recordings with encoded binaural information also around us. The latter describes how we perceive individual sound sources, that is, how three-dimensional they appear to us.

This is an important aspect for me. I am not a "space-junkie", but I also know that creating music at home requires emphasizing this element of presentation. When listening to live music in a location, our eyes helps us offering up to 80% of information, and when we can't use the visual side, to “see” spacial aspects of music we need so help in a form of emphasizing differences - only then recordings seems credible and true.

And finally the volume of sound. This is the most elusive element, but also a key one for me. Volume of sound is an aspect related to imaging. It is about presenting instruments in such a way so that they are not just a small "pop" between the speakers, but so that they have depth, height, width, fleshiness (thickness). The instrument should have as large a volume as possible, though without exaggeration. Dry and bright systems almost never can pass this aspect correctly.

That's, in short, my view on music reproduction. Plus there has to be speed and dynamics.

15 years later | Fifteen years ago, the audiophilism seemed to be running out of power, out of options. The role of the most important medium was taken over by a DVD and young people turned towards video games. It also seemed that printed magazines wouldn't be around for much longer.

None of that happened. The DVD and its successor Blu-ray are important today, but not for us. The so-called "Custom" path is much more important. People still play a lot of games, it will not change, but also - again - they listen to a lot of music. Never before so much music has been available for so little money. And publishers who skilfully combine internet content with classic "paper" issues are back on the rise again. You can find a confirmation of that in the interviews which, over the last three years, I conducted in the "The Editors" series, with the most interesting audio journalists from around the world (more HERE).

A diagnosis directly concerning us has been confirmed though. The point is that audiophilism is a passion, often a lifestyle. Music is the most beautiful form of art and to hear it in all its glory, it must be reproduced on a high-class audio system. We deal with art at its best. And all it takes is to be honest in all of this. As simple as that. That's why I am a journalist, that's why I am an audiophile. And I am proud of it.

On behalf of the whole editorial staff of the „High Fidelity” I would like to thank you for the last 15 years and ask you for more!

Wojciech Pacuła
Editor in chief

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Our reviewers regularly contribute to  “Enjoy the Music.com”, “Positive-Feedback.com”“HiFiStatement.net”  and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .

"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

"High Fidelity" is an online magazine, i.e. it is only published on the web. For the last few years it has been published both in Polish and in English. Thanks to our English section, the magazine has now a worldwide reach - statistics show that we have readers from almost every country in the world.

Once a year, we prepare a printed edition of one of reviews published online. This unique, limited collector's edition is given to the visitors of the Audio Show in Warsaw, Poland, held in November of each year.

For years, "High Fidelity" has been cooperating with other audio magazines, including “Enjoy the Music.com” and “Positive-Feedback.com” in the U.S. and “HiFiStatement.net”  in Germany. Our reviews have also been published by “6moons.com”.

You can contact any of our contributors by clicking his email address on our CONTACT  page.

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