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INTERVIEW in “The Editors” series


Position: Managing Editor
Magazine title: “Image HiFi”

Published since: 1999 r.
Publication frequency: monthly
Country: Germany

tel.: 089/8941845-24

udio magazines are called differently: for some they are a monthly, for others they are simply a magazine, while there are even those who refer to them as a “newspaper”. From the publication frequency point of view they are most often monthly publications, although all Polish print magazines have traditionally had a summer vacation break, and publish a July/August joint issue. It is much harder to determine the type of Internet-based audio magazines, as most of them are simply web portals or are published irregularly, like “”. The exceptions to that are the following monthly web magazines: “ToneAUDIO”, “”, or “High Fidelity” that you are reading now. For me, audio publications will always remain magazines. The online “Oxford Dictionary” defines a magazine as “a periodical publication containing articles and illustrations, often on a particular subject or aimed at a particular readership.”

This is how I understand “High Fidelity” – as a monthly and a magazine. This is also the case of “ToneAUDIO”, which is my model publication in terms of layout and pictures (graphic design). However, many years earlier, even before Internet magazines came to be regarded as publications and not as blogs, I saw and was enraptured by a German print magazine published in Bavaria, “image hifi”. The quality of photos, their layout and interplay with the text, fantastic covers and, finally, the whole idea seemed very interesting to me. In my opinion, this is one of the best looking audio magazines. As quickly as I could, I arranged an interview with the then chief editor, Dirk Sommer. The interview was conducted during the first High End Show in Munich, and was published in print by Polish “Audio”.
Actually, you should remember Dirk, as an interview with him was also published not so long ago in “High Fidelity” (see HERE). Recently, quite by chance, an opportunity presented itself to come back to "image hifi" and ask a few questions to better introduce the magazine as well as the interesting German market. I conducted the interview (via the Internet) with Helmut Hack, an editor in the rank of Executive Director.

Wojciech Pacuła: Tell me something about yourself, your career and your background.
Helmut Hack: Well, actually I’m just a guy who loves listening to music and who refuses to grow up. It’s as simple as that, so I wouldn’t speak of any career. Before I joined “image hifi” in 2008, I worked as a journalist for the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, a Munich-based daily newspaper, and as a taxi-driver in Munich. Playing with audio-gear is something like a bad habit, like smoking that’s hard to quit. I’ve been hooked on it since I was probably 13 or 14 years old. But I’m no technician; I clearly come from the emotional side. The technical side has always been just a means to an end, which is to hear something that sounds good, to compensate for the outside world that seems to be caught in a kind of everyday loudness-war. Of course, I feel attracted to fine made record players and tube-amps, but if it comes to the point where I close my eyes, it doesn’t matter whether it’s valves or Mosfets, all that counts is how it sounds.

Tell us briefly the history of “image hifi” – how did it start, who was behind it, etc.
“image hifi” was founded in 1999 by Rolf Winter, a hi-fi-enthusiasts and photographer, who still shoots all the pictures for the magazine. Since then it's been the home of critical and aesthetical hifi-journalism. If you take a look around there, you'll notice that many of the leading hifi-writers started their career in “image hifi”. Our former chief editor, Dirk Sommer, was among the founders as well as our current Uwe Kirbach.

Speaking of Dirk Sommer, can you tell us why he quit?
That was quite some time ago and I was not an inner-circle member back then. I used to write reviews as a freelancer and did admire the work of our former chief editor Dirk Sommer a lot. In fact, I got some very useful advice and handy tips from him. But as you might know, Dirk Sommer has a great passion for the recording process and is nowadays a very successful producer of audiophile recordings. From a different point of view, one might say, he switched position to the other side of the speakers. But, as a matter of fact, he is still running “”, a highly regarded online audio magazine.

How and why did you change the direction of “image hifi”?
I didn’t change the direction at all, but I tried to make some small corrections. First we (it’s more correct to say „we“, as “image hifi” is not and has never been a one-man-show) overhauled our layout to achieve a more classy and spacious look that suits the elegance of our reviewed devices even better. Second, I’m especially focused on the writing style of our authors. “image hifi” reviews should always be a pleasure to read, they should be written witty, with individual quality and eloquence. L’art pour l’art in this case is not a bad thing. I think high-class-audio-equipment should be honored with reviews, which are written damn well and show some cultural or intellectual background. Not because this is necessary, but because it’s more fun for both – the author and the reader. My aim is that all image-authors are proud of what they are doing, because their opinion is taken seriously. In my humble opinion, there is no need for a high-gloss-fanzine in which everything is great and fantastic. I believe in the freedom of speech and I am a child of the Enlightenment. Therefore I know that there has to be a shadow somewhere even in the brightest light. For example, there is no such thing as a perfect amplifier – for god’s sake, it would be the end of our hobby and my job. I try to speak clearly about disadvantages of the reviewed equipment, because this is the way to achieve improvement – sadly not every manufacturer takes notice of this chance

How e-magazines differ from print magazines? What we can learn from each other?
Well, I don’t know, maybe the fact that the latter are printed? You know, last week I saw a print-magazine edited by bloggers and thought: Uh, print is the new online? Seriously, online-journalism has its major advantages in its quickness. One is able to publish the news online the moment they are happening. Take a look at the videos posted recently from countries like Syria, Turkey or Egypt and you will know what I mean. Traditional newspapers with their professional way of working could never achieve such an impact. Also, you online-journalists may talk about issues that are actually happening, i.e. the death of Lou Reed, the new pope, elections or whatever, and your readers will be able to follow you straight away. In my case, I have to be very careful what to write about, because in maybe six weeks, when our magazine starts selling, my readers will have forgotten what happened weeks ago and therefore will not get my hilariously funny and sharp-minded comment on it.
Furthermore, your bunch of “online-journalists” don’t have to do research, because nobody believes in what you write anyway (just kiddin’ – at least a bit); print-authors on the other hand should better be writing the truth, because once it’s printed, it stays forever or as long as the next issue arrives. Again, seriously: I think magazine-journalists should use the time they have for an article to really do a proper old-fashioned research and to ideally know a lot more about the subject than what can actually be found in the article (but you might read it between the lines). Because I know that readers can “feel” the depth of an article. This is something they claim for in a printed magazine and don’t really expect from a quick internet-surf. Last but not least: “image hifi” has some pictures in it as well, which are so explicit that even hardcore-audiophiles who have seen and done everything will get sweaty hands looking at them on nice, clean, thick and glossy paper – go try this online

What is the most irritating thing about e-magazines for you?
Everything’s for free!!! How shall we compete with that???

On a different note: do you see a future for independent audio stores? Can they compete with online sales?
I don’t know. Will there be any future at all, in which goods are being sold? Is capitalism the end of history or is it just a step (in the wrong direction). I know what I’m supposed to say, small independent stores should focus on brief guidance and consulting, they have to install systems plug and play for their customers to make them lifelong-buyers and they have to take care of the system even after it is sold and paid for. And I really hope this is going to happen now and then, but I have already had different experiences. And I think it’s ridiculous to ask the customers for an “anti-capitalistic” behavior to save the small market from suffering. To make it clear: Everybody tries to make as much money as possible and to spend as little as possible – these are the rules of the game. Every manufacturer, independent or global player, has to follow them. I do have deep respect for manufacturers that try to produce their goods fair in terms of human rights, environment and durability, even if it costs them more money. But they will have to use this as a marketing-instrument, otherwise they are not following the rules of the game. Nothing is just good, it also has to bring profit. So I find it very arrogant to look down on people who buy cheap on the internet.

Spending more money than necessary on something is a luxury not everybody can afford. Okay now, what’s gonna be the future? I hope there will be some kind of cooperation between independent and online stores. Can’t the online-seller pay the store-owner a kind of consultation fee as soon as the customer buys online? How about that? Independent-stores change to showrooms, where customers can hear exactly the product they want to have (not the one that the store-owner has to sell) and order it online afterwards.

And what about computer audio - is PC a good environment for the audio signal?
Of course not, who told you so? For years now, we Audiophiles have been trying to free the music captured in the computer. And why? Because computer-programmers are nasty, ugly ignorants who just eat cold pizza and drink big coke-bottles and have no cultural sense at all, and don’t give a damn about good sound. But nevertheless, it’s gonna be the future of music reproduction, therefore it’s time to fight back. We need Audiophiles to design computers right now!

How does audio signal processing differ from normal computer processing? Or maybe it doesn’t?
Music reproduction is extremely complex, and that’s the reason why cables, amplifiers, stands, styluses, record players an so on, have an impact on sound quality. Do you really think a standard-PC cares for that? No. As I said, we need Audiophiles designing PCs, even if they don’t want to.

Is there an upper limit for audio files in terms of bit depth and sampling frequency?
Just a technical question that leads in the wrong direction. First of all, what is most important is a producer who knows what he’s doing. Second, my vinyl records don’t have bits and bytes on them, so why should I accept artificial digital limits? Infinity is the limit!

How about DSD – is there a chance for it to become a widespread format?
It seems so. But remember the SACD story! In the end it will be – as always – a question of profit and not one of music lovers’ needs. So, I don’t care. I prefer to blame the music industry afterwards, as soon as it wrecked a good format just to fit it in its contracted mind

And finally, how long will physical media (CD, Blu-ray) be with us?
Vinyl will stay forever, CDs were born dead – we just haven’t realized it so far..

What is your home audio system?
A good one that reproduces music not frequencies and makes me shiver any time I listen to a beloved record. But I guess you’re keen on material, you want names and prices and spectacle, don’t you? Here we go:

  • Turntable: Feickert Analogue Firebird
  • Tonearm: Scheu Classic
  • Cartridge: Audio-Technica AT50ANV
  • Phono Pre: Lehmann Audio Black Cube Decade
  • Preamplifier: MFE Tube One SE
  • Power Amplifier: DNM PA3S
  • CD-Player: Revox C221
  • Soundcard: Edirol FA 66
  • D/A Converter: PS Audio Digital Link III, King Rex UD 384
  • FM Tuner: Sansui TU-X701
  • Speakers: Steinmusic Masterclass SP 1.1
  • Cables: Audiophil, Musical Wire, Audioplan, MFE, DNM
  • Accessories: Sun-Leiste, Steinmusic Tuning, Finite Elemente 1000 Hz-Resonator, Acoustic System Resonator Bronze & Silber, Schumann-Resonator, Clearaudio Smart Matrix record cleaner

Could you list 10 must-listen albums for the readers of “High Fidelity”?
Just 10! That's ridiculous, which ones should I choose? I'll do it quickly, without thinking too much about it, and I try to avoid some widespread classics

  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, No More Shall We Part
  • Marvin Gaye, What's Going On
  • Andre Williams & The New Orleans Hellhounds, Can You Deal With It?
  • Magnolia Electric Company, Josephine
  • Johnny Cash, At San Quentin
  • Hank Thompson, Songs for Rounders
  • Hank Williams, No More Darkness
  • Bettye LaVette, Do Your Duty
  • Otis Redding, The Dock of the Bay
  • Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Frenzy

What is your review methodology?
I always try to get inspired by the component itself. Sometimes it speaks to me, sometimes not. So not every review is equal in terms of quality and writing style. A good sounding turntable makes it easy to write about it and a lush and harsh playing Class-AB amp makes it nearly impossible to create an entertaining story about it. That’s all right with me, readers might as well read between the lines whether I enjoyed the test or not.
Most of the time it’s not possible, but I really do like not knowing the price of the component at the time I start reviewing – this I quite a big issue, because a price-tag will influence your opinion, no matter if you want or not.
The second thing is listening, and then listening and afterwards I listen again. That’s the only way to find out whether a component suits my needs (which are not always the needs of our readers, but it is very hard to communicate that); there is no such thing as an objective audition, so I don’t try to do that. This is for the magazines with measuring diagrams – they don’t have to listen, because they do have objective measurements.
My most serious methodology that always helps me to find the weak points is: Pretend to be a dork and start right at the beginning. There is no visible power button! Where can it be? There are vacuum tubes coming out of my CD player! What are they doing there? /p>

In your opinion, will young people go for high quality audio or not? How can we push (or maybe pull) them?
Kind of funny, it's always old men asking this question. What's their goal, why do they care how the younger generation prefers to listen to music? I remember that in former days the old folks complained about the style of music the youth was listening to. Nowadays it's exactly this former youth who got older and is now complaining about the sound quality of music that young folks are listening to. Is it really the nature of old men to always get grumpy and to tell everybody how they have to live their lives? Why should we (or I) push or pull anybody somewhere? Speaking for me: I'm glad most of the time that nobody is pushing or pulling me and I try to hold it this way with other people. Try to see it from a different angle: Why should a fifteen year old girl who is a big fan of the heavily compressed music of, say, Lady Gaga invest in high-quality audio gear? To hear her favorite music much worse than over her iPhone in a cheap dock with crappy speakers? Got me? High-End HiFi would deconstruct the bad sound of modern charts productions – so, from the point of view of the young girl, what's the sense of it? HiFi is for old men – this will not change until the music industry remembers the good productions it used to publish. Twenty years from now, High-End audio will be a geeky hobby of a few strange old men. Don't blame the youth, blame the music industry.

Last but not least – “image hifi” is published in Puchheim; could you tell me something about Puchheim?
Puchheim is really nothing special, just a small town a little west of Munich, where I live. Puchheim seems to be the end of the world as we know it, but in fact it's already one step further.

In “THE EDITORS” series we have interviewed so far

  • Dirk Sommer, „”, Germany, chief editor, interviewed HERE
  • Marja & Henk, „”, Switzerland, journalists, interviewed HERE
  • Matej Isak, "Mono & Stereo”, chief editor/owner, Slovenia/Austria; interviewed HERE
  • Dr. David W. Robinson, "Positive Feedback Online", USA, chief editor/co-owner; interviewed HERE
  • Jeff Dorgay, “TONEAudio”, USA, publisher; interviewed HERE
  • Cai Brockmann, “FIDELITY”, Germany, chief editor; interviewed HERE
  • Steven R. Rochlin, “Enjoy the”, USA, chief editor; interviewed HERE
  • Stephen Mejias, “Stereophile”, USA, assistant editor; interviewed HERE
  • Martin Colloms, “HIFICRITIC”, Great Britain, publisher and editor; interviewed HERE
  • Ken Kessler, “Hi-Fi News & Record Review”, Great Britain, senior contributing editor; interviewed HERE
  • Michael Fremer, “Stereophile”, USA, senior contributing editor; interview HERE
  • Srajan Ebaen, “”, Switzerland, chief editor; interviewed HERE