Hi-Fi History: Some Things Never Change

The website World Radio History is a treasure trove of information, containing scores of PDF copies of old audio publications too numerous to count.

If you, like me, enjoy reading through the history of hifi reviewing, I cannot recommend a very long look into the pages of World Radio History highly enough.

As you can see from the opening image, a snippet from High Fidelity Magazine‘s  inaugural edition c.1951, not much has changed in the intervening 70+ years (!) in terms of the Us v Them attitude of some hifi enthusiasts—”What position are you going to take on pentodes vs. triodes?” Boys will be boys. [footnote 1]

“You can’t fight in here, this is the war room!” —Dr. Strangelove

I suppose men, and it’s always men, can’t help adapting their high school sports attitude of winners and losers to a hobby whose ultimate goal is enjoyment. On the bright side, being passionate about hifi is about as harmless a passion as passions go. [footnote 2]

My personal hifi review reading history, as most regular reader’s know, dates back to Art Dudley’s Listener Magazine and Joe Robert’s Sound Practices.

I am fortunate to own a complete sets of Listener and Sound Practices, including a signed copy of the first slim Listener Winter 1995 volume. I am a collector of things, that’s my grandfather’s hammer, and I value history and the objects that speak to it, which helps explain my love of records, books, classic hifi, and art.

vintage Listener stick-on tattoo

I was even more fortunate in having the opportunity to spend time with Art Dudley, as a friend, colleague, and mentor. Art edited a few of my pieces for Stereophile magazine and that process, which on a few occasions included a phone conversation(s), played an invaluable role in my hifi writing education. This, in brief, is an important part of my hifi history.

From High Fidelity Magazine (1951):

“Now, lest you fear that HIGH-FIDELITY may follow too serious a vein, let me say that we shall not forget the primary purpose of fine audio reproduction, which is to entertain.”

From Listener (1995):

“A magazine about hi-fi, just like any other pastime, ought to reflect that subject at its best. If the magazine isn’t any fun, or if it’s of little use in getting pleasure out of that pastime, then what’s the point?”

And here’s something I recently wrote:

There is no wrong way to listen to music on the hifi because it’s a personal matter. We’re not putting together our hifi’s for some universal purpose, some greater good according to some master plan. We are putting together a music-making system that pleases us. The nature of this pleasure being purely personal.

And I’m sticking to this notion of pleasure as the ultimate goal of hifi and offer over 70-years of hifi reviewing history as supporting evidence. But that’s not to say that any and every other goal that uses other words for describing this same thing are somehow wrong, whether that be a focus on the means for these same ends or the science in service thereof. That’s (still) entertainment.

One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other. —Jane Austen

1. I have as much interest in arguing over music reproduction as I do in trying to breath underwater
2. I did receive a number of threats of physical violence, one death threat, and a few hopes for financial ruin because of a review I wrote about Ethernet cables. Fortunately they were as empty as the heads of the people who made them.