Two weeks ago, I wrote some rambling nonsense about how Stereo Review magazine, to which I had subscribed for a startling twenty-nine years, finally became irrelevant to my existence. At the time, I had assumed that the magazine's owners and I had simply grown in different directions, that my particular needs weren't being addressed and that it wasn't any big deal that they weren't. But it occurs to me, after a fortnight of hindsight, that there may have been some other factors involved.

There was once a magazine called High Fidelity. While rival Audio staked out the hard-nosed hardware buffs and Stereo Review tried to steer a middle course, High Fidelity was first and foremost a magazine about music, and more specifically classical music. There was a perfunctory pop section, but HF knew its primary audience: the guy who was willing to pay moderate-to-big bucks to duplicate the experience of the concert hall in his living room. The ability to build a Dynaco power amp or to discourse fluently about different manifestations of Dylan didn't mean as much to a High Fidelity reader as the chance to hear all 104 symphonies the way Haydn intended.

Now, of course, High Fidelity, the magazine, is gone — absorbed into Stereo Review at some point, as I recall — and truth be told, high fidelity, the concept, seems to be every bit as dead. The concert hall in the home has given way to Home Theatre, and they don't mean Molière or Ibsen; they mean Lucas and Spielberg. To some extent this is understandable — how can you replicate the "original sound" of purely electronic instruments that have no sound of their own, only samples? But it's created a cultural vacuum of sorts along the way. I was never quite snooty (or wealthy) enough to be an audio snob, but I do admit to a certain sort of grudging admiration for their particular brand of purism, and I'd like to think that they're as appalled as I am at the mass market's complete and utter lack of interest in sonic realism. There was a time when graphic equalizers were used to correct anomalies in one's listening room, to bring the music that much closer to reality. Today, they are used mostly to pump bass notes into the walls and into the next lane of traffic. This is music? This is madness. And while I would never suggest the creation of a Federal Department of Acoustics, I wish some influential individual could convey the notion that there is some value in quietness, too.

The Vent

17 September 1999

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 Copyright © 1999 by Charles G. Hill