pl | en

No. 104 January 2013

AUDIOPHILE IN THE READING ROOM, OR AUDIO MAGAZINES

Sometimes we carry certain convictions or certainties so naturally, it seems we were born with them. They are frozen deep inside us as mosquitos are in amber – fixed, unmoved and clear. These could be patriotism, faith, political orientation, or even the football club we support. Once assimilated, they become our second nature. And it takes a really moving event to change it.
And although all the questions I’ve posed – and many others, too – are very interesting, I would like to focus on something we’ve grown so accustomed to, we don’t even notice it. I’d like to look at audio magazines and what their role in our “universe” is.

The first surprise in store for me when I started researching the topic was how few definitions of the word “magazine” there are. I thought I knew exactly, what a magazine is: an illustrated, colorful journal, printed on high-quality paper, published once a month or every two weeks. This definition meant a lot to me, as it was what I had always perceived audio magazines (colorful, illustrated publications intended for a specific audience). The early editions of “Hi-Fi News”, “Stereophile” and the Polish “Magazyn Hi-Fi” broke the conventions of that definition, being fully black-and-white. However, they are all printed in color now.
Oxford English Dictionary defines “magazine” as: “A periodical publication containing articles by various writers; chiefly, a periodical publication intended for general rather than learned or professional readers, and consisting of a miscellany of critical and descriptive articles, essays, works of fiction, etc.” Encyclopaedia Britannica adds to that some historical background, stating that “at the end of the [18th] century specialized periodicals began appearing, devoted to particular fields of intellectual interest, such as archaeology, botany, or philosophy.”
What have we learnt then? That ‘magazine’ is a ‘periodical publication’ and can be devoted to a particular field of interest. Hence, ‘audio magazine’ would be a periodical publication, most often published monthly, more rarely bi-monthly (e.g. published between 2001-2002 "Hi-End.pl") or quarterly (see - Japanese "Stereo Sound"), fully dedicated (majority of magazines) or mostly dedicated (e.g. American "TONEAudio") to issues and problems related to sound reproduction. We might make this definition more specific and distinguish between audio magazines intended for general,"home" audience, hi-fi/high-end magazines, and magazines for professionals, or people working in the recording and post-processing studios, etc. We will limit our discussion to home audio.

With the definition down, we’ve scored home. At least, so I think. This “home” is a pretty feeble and temporary structure, though, because we are witnessing with our very own eyes, a revolution in the way information is distributed – the Internet being a major cause factor.
Printed journals can be traced back to the XVI century, when the journal “Notizie scritte” (meaning “written news”) was being released in the Venetian Republic. The journal was hung up in public places and the payment for it was called “gazetta” (derived from the name of a small coin). In the 17th century, the first journals in the true sense of that word’s meaning were published – it was “The Spectator”, a British paper released from 1828.
As you can see, the world had time for many changes to take place. The biggest one is yet before us, though, and it is connected to the migration into the Internet. One of the biggest such declarations-through-actions is permanently moving, in January 2013, the 80-year-old “Newsweek” magazine to the Web. It is neither the first nor the last case – it is, however, one of the most commented, as it concerns a very powerful title, almost an icon in periodicals. There are other, equally respectable magazines, such as the Swedish “Post Och Inrikes Tidningar”, which was published from 1645 but is available only electronically since January 1st, 2007. In the audio world, the most notable example is the monthly “Positive Feedback Magazine”, available in print until May 2002, and only electronically since June this year as “Positive Feedback Online”

The printed press, especially the more luxurious, will probably still be printed for a long time. So will be free newspapers, whose only income is from being handed out to people on the streets and the advertisements within. It seems that the whole “medium” will change its formula and turn Gutenberg’s invention into an American “patent”. And along with this process proceeding, we’ll be faced with new problems that we hadn’t faced up until now. In the case of audio magazines it would most probably be credibility.
Having conducted through all 2012 a series of interviews under the title “The Editors”, I’d asked the interviewed – whether they were part of the printed press or the online press – what they could learn from each other. The answers were surprising, at least to me. In most cases – although there were some notable exceptions – you could notice both an explicit and an implicit reluctance to one or the other publishing method.

Srajan Ebaen (“6moons.com”, online magazine) was very reserved and limited himself to only pointing out the differences in costs of information distribution. Michael Fremer (“Stereophile”, both a printed and online magazine) also noted this aspect, but said the differences between printing and Internet standards are more important. He says the Internet’s problem is lengthiness and over wording, while the discipline imposed by printing limitations is a positive thing. Interestingly enough, he believes pretty, printed magazines will always be with us, because a reader receives and interprets information differently, depending on whether he’s reading on paper or on a computer screen. Martin Colloms (“HIFICRITIC”, printed magazine) was a lot more harsh in rating the free –he emphasized this aspect especially – information swimming in the ocean of bits and bytes. He said: : “Free opinions vary in quality. The practiced readers can usually work out who knows what they are doing and who doesn’t. There is the quick rush, and then there is more leisurely perusal of quality printed writing.” Thus, like Fremer, he noted the difference in information perception and filtering. Ken Kessler (“Hi-Fi News & Record Review”, printed magazine) went even further, saying: “Any moron with a mouse can contribute to an online magazine. Print journalists have to get past editors and lawyers. Some webzines are OK, but I’m suspicious of most of them.” It’s worth noticing what Kessler calls online magazines – he calls them “webzines”, expressing his scorn for them. It suggests that it’s not a serious occupation, but rather something done by kids for other kids, and by idiots for other idiots.

It’s worth noticing what Kessler calls online magazines – he calls them “webzines”, expressing his scorn for them. It suggests that it’s not a serious occupation, but rather something done by kids for other kids, and by idiots for other idiots.
My conversation with Stephen Mejias (“Stereophile”, printed magazine) was a breath of fresh air in this stuffy atmosphere. Maybe it’s due to his young age, or maybe just some virtues he was born with, he was able to look at the question from a much broader perspective. I’ll quote his opinion fully, because I think they could be a good starting point for any discussion on this topic: “I think print media, in general, has set standards for quality, authority, craftsmanship, and moral responsibility. All of this has come from decades of experience, growth, and hard work. Digital media has seemingly limitless potential and offers outstanding convenience, but it should not ignore the print world’s values and experience. In order to be successful, a website, just like a print publication, needs a strong leader with a clear vision. This person must be someone readers can trust.”
As Steven R. Rochlin (“Enjoy The Music.com”, online magazine) noticed, printed magazines could learn something from the online ones: “Everything. Nothing. Probably somewhere in the middle. As the saying goes, “The more you know the less you understand.”
It seems age is truly the dividing factor in supporters of one or the other technology. This line doesn’t just divide the audio world, but the whole world in general.

It seems age is truly the dividing factor in supporters of one or the other technology. This line doesn’t just divide the audio world, but the whole world in general. In one of his recent columns for the (still printed) Polish edition of “Newsweek”, Zbigniew Hołdys, contradicting the words of Mejias, said, “Words on the Internet carry no weight” adding, later, “Will the Internet portals taking up the place of newspapers be able to cope with that task? I don’t know. I don’t even know if they will want to.”


I focused on the dualism of modern audio press, but I’d like to return briefly to the old-fashioned audio press. What is this type of writing, what its job is, and what its place in the audio world is – I’ll try to convey my point of view in a few words.
Audio magazines are very specialized, i.e. directed towards a very limited audience. Even the monthly, British “What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision” released in 68,000 copies (in its golden age) is a magazine for specialists, even though the language used is very straightforward; the tests are short and to the point, and the grading system is legible and adjusted to the needs of a regular consumer. Audio is, after all, a rather specialized occupation. We would of course like it very much that equipment for musical reproduction absorbed as many people as it did in the 80s, but that will never be the case. Even then it was mostly about status, about “filling” some gaps in a room’s furnishings, and not the audio itself. Audiophilism has always been an elite thing.

To put it in perspective, let’s look at the printing numbers. We’ve mentioned WHF already. The American “Stereophile” magazine is printed in 60,000 copies, half of them in China. British magazines have significantly worse scores: “Hi-Fi Choice” comes out with 12,000 copies, “Hi-Fi World” with 17,000 and “Hi Fi News” with 14,000. There’s another magazine, “Hi-Fi +”, but I couldn’t find any data regarding its printing output. Let’s add “The Abso!ute Sound”, with 40,000 copies printed – but it is published irregularly, with 10 editions a year. Let’s also remember the fact that only 80% or less of the printed magazines are actually sold. The numbers are surprisingly high in Poland – “Audio” declares to print 25,000 copies (although I’m not able of verifying that), “Audio. Video” prints a verified 15,000 copies, and “Hi-Fi i Muzyka” prints 6,000 copies (also verified).
All of them are united in one problem, though – dropping sales numbers, not catastrophic yet, but increasingly so. Saying that according to the “ABC” consumer magazine the sales of “What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision” dropped by 14.3% in 2010, meaning only 47,444 copies are sold monthly, is enough. This trend has been going on for a while already.
All audio magazines are united by common contents. The core of each magazine issue are reviews. While in other specialized magazines this type of text played a supplementary role, in audio magazines it is dominating. In the exercise book to the textbook Po polsku („In Polish”) for the second grade of the middle school, co-authored by my wife, we find a simple definition of a 'review'. It is a “statement in which one gives information [...], at the same time expressing his or her own opinion on it”. Another type we can often find is so called feature article or column, less rigorous formally journalist text on problems interesting to the readers. We will find a lot of this type of material e.g. in "Hi-Fi News & Record Review". And, to round it off, an interview or “A meeting of persons face to face, esp. one sought or arranged for the purpose of formal conference on some point” (Oxford English Dictionary).
Audio magazines rely on reviewing audio equipment, often including music album reviews. Currently published magazines nearly in 100% attach most significance to reviews based on so-called auditions (editorial Auditioning – a short introduction to atypical behavior, see HERE). It is an observational method of testing equipment based on comparing to a reference equipment through listening to selected musical samples and tracks. A reference may be a live music performance and/or reproducing the same recordings on the reference equipment. Some magazines supplement auditions with laboratory measurements. However, even when the measurements are very poor yet auditioning confirms that a given audio component is capable of high quality reproduction of emotional and musical content of a recording, audition is given priority, based on the assumption that apparently we don’t yet know what to measure and how to correlate the results. Such situation often happens in "Stereophile."

Audio magazines differ from one another in format, language, copies printed, accents on the different kinds of articles, and preference towards measurements or auditions. They are all connected by the common conviction that you can point out why one product is better than another, though. This is what the oldest magazines, like “Hi-Fi News & Record Reviews” which celebrated its 50th birthday in 2005, and “Stereophile”, which turned fifty years old this November; but also the youngest, mostly online magazines are based on. We need to become convinced on our own which product to choose, who to trust more, and who less, through an in-depth lecture, comparing test results with your own auditions and through reading various titles. Only then do we get the big picture of a situation. It seems that most of the counterarguments that the journalists working for printed magazines use are already outdated. Indeed, in the beginning, when nobody knew the difference between a blog, forum, portal, and magazine, you could’ve had doubts about the credibility of information found online. That is changing nowadays. The fact that all major printed magazines have their online counterparts, and even launched new titles available solely on the Internet, such as Michael Fremer’s “AnalogPlanet”, released thanks to the “Stereophile’s” publisher is saying enough. I think that things are getting better in this area. An audio magazine must play a rectifying part between the manufacturer and the customer. It is not equivalent to either and you could live without one. I don’t know if it would end well for everyone, though. To do their job well, however, they must be reliable and true. And that is best felt on the Internet. In printed magazines the text is handed from hand to hand so many times, it loses most of the characteristic traits of what the author wrote, becoming a collaborative piece; even if it is signed by one person. Online magazines, on the other hand, are cheap in their upkeep because very few people work for them. It’s a downside, as the editing, adjustments and proofreading are usually done by one person. Its upsides include the fact that the text is always the author’s own words.

One way or another, audio magazines are very hobby-centric. Audiophilism is a way of life, and therefore audiophile magazines are important to us (audiophiles, as that is who I primarily am). I love holding the latest edition of “Stereophile”, “HFN”, “Stereo Sound” in my hands; smelling them and feeling their weight. I cannot deny, however, the fact that most of my time searching for information is spent online. I am not alone in this, either. And that is a direction we are all probably taking. Regardless of whether we side with the ‘printers’ or the ‘online dwellers’, let our motto be what Steven R. Rochlin, the online publisher of “Enjoy The Music.com” told me as early as 1996: "There is only one lesson for all of us: CONTENT." Amen, brother.

SOURCES
  • Agata Hącia, Jolanta Malczewska, Joanna Olech, Lucyna Adrabińska-Pacuła, Po polsku. Literatura, język komunikacja. Klasa III, Wydawnictwa Szkolne PWN, Warszawa, 2010.
  • Oxford English Dictionary. Second Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1989.
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com.
  • John Atkinson, 50 Years of Stereophile, "Stereophile", Vol. 35 No.11, November 2012, p. 3.
  • Ken Kessler, Steve Harris, Sound Bites, IPC Media 2005.
  • Interviews published by "High Fidelity" in 2012 in "The Editors" series:
    Srajan Ebaen, "6moons.com" (Switzerland/USA), Internet magazine, see HERE
    Michael Fremer, "Stereophile" (USA), print magazine, see HERE
    Martin Colloms, "HIFICRITIC" (Great Britain), print magazine, see HERE
    Ken Kessler, "Hi-Fi News & Record Review" (Great Britain), print magazine, see HERE
    Stephene Mejias, "Stereophile" (USA), print magazine, see HERE
    Steven R. Rochlin, "Enjoy The Music.com" (USA), Internet magazine, see HERE
    Cai Brockmann, “FIDELITY" (Germany), print magazine, see HERE
    Jeff Dorgay, "TONEAudio" (USA), Internet magazine, see HERE
  • Wojciech Pacuła
    Editor in Chief




    TO ALL THE DEAR READERS OF “HIGH FIDELITY”, TO OUR FRIENDS, ACQUAINTANCES AND THOSE WE HAVE NEVER MET, THANK YOU FOR YET ANOTHER YEAR YOU HAVE SPENT WITH US.

    IT’S AN HONOUR TO WORK FOR YOU, HELP YOU WITH CHOOSING YOUR AUDIO COMPONENTS AND MUSIC ALBUMS, AND SUGGESTING THE BEST SOLUTIONS TO YOU.

    WE HOPE TO MEET AGAIN IN THE NEW YEAR 2013 WITH EVEN MORE READERS.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

    THE EDITORIAL STAFF

    About Us

    We cooperate

    Photo

    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.

    enjoythemusic linia positive-feedback linia hifistatement linia

    ALL PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE TESTED DEVICES ARE MADE USING THE EQUIPMENT OF THE COMPANY



    Digital camera:
    Canon EOS 5D MkIII

    Lenses:
    EF-16-35/L II USM
    EF 100 mm 1:2.8 L IS USM


    The site is powered by