60 Years of Stereophile!

It was September 1962. In the UK, the Beatles were recording their first single, “Love Me Do,” at London’s Abbey Road Studios. And in the US, a young journalist, J. Gordon Holt, born in North Carolina but raised in Australia from 1935 to 1947, had become dissatisfied with the advertiser-friendly atmosphere at High Fidelity magazine, for which he had been the audio editor. Holt quit High Fidelity and, after a brief stint with phono cartridge manufacturer Weathers, published the first issue of what was then called The Stereophile. Cover-dated September 1962, its 20 pages contained one equipment report (with four graphs), five record reviews, five feature articles, one classified advertisement, and an editorial leader in which JGH, as he was to become known, wrote: “The Stereophile isn’t a showcase for advertisers. It is the readers’ own publication. … If you read our announcement, you have a pretty good idea of what we stand for. Honesty, integrity, and all that.”

“Okay, if no one else will publish a magazine that calls the shots as it sees them, I’ll do it myself,” he later recalled thinking, adding, “I must have been out of my mind!”

Six decades later, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are still touring (though not together), and the magazine JGH founded, now just called Stereophile, is celebrating 60 years of continuous publication (footnote 1).

This longevity is a rarity in magazine publishing. When that first issue appeared in readers’ mailboxes, there were three dominant audio magazines in the US: High Fidelity, Audio, and Stereo Review (then called HiFi/Stereo Review). High Fidelity was published from April 1951 until July 1989, when it was bought by Stereo Review‘s then-publisher and shuttered. Stereo Review was first published in 1958, with the title HiFi and Music Review. In 1999, it merged with Video magazine. In 2000, it was retitled Stereo Review’s Sound & Vision—then later just Sound & Vision—to emphasize its change from an audio magazine to one covering home theater as well.

Audio started life in 1947 as Audio Engineering, then dropped the word “engineering” in 1954. Audio‘s final issue was a combined February/March 2000 issue, after which it merged with Sound & Vision. In a strange twist, Stereophile‘s then-publisher bought Sound & Vision in 2013; Sound & Vision is now owned, like Stereophile, by AVTech Media, which also publishes the only English-language audio magazine that has exceeded Stereophile‘s 60-year (so far) lifespan: the UK’s Hi-Fi News & Record Review, which published its first issue in June 1956.

What could lie behind this magazine’s longevity? In an article I contributed to Hi-Fi News & Record Review‘s 50th anniversary issue, in June 2006, I wrote: “Monthly magazines, with their focus on the new, the exciting, the cool, are inherently ephemeral things. Some readers react to this reality by merely glancing at a few features as the magazine wends its way from mailbox to recycling bin. However, other readers pore over each issue’s content, using it to stay abreast of what is happening, to feed their passion for the subject. Such readers are drawn to a publication that shares their passion, that doesn’t talk down to them, that is unfailingly honest with them, that informs and educates as it entertains, that gives them more than they expect with respect to both breadth and depth of content.”

These words have applied to Stereophile since its founding, coupled with J. Gordon Holt’s vision that the optimal way to judge audio components was to do what end users did: listen to them! “Dammit,” Gordon said, “if nobody else will report what an audio component sounds like, I’ll do it myself!”

The audio space was simpler in the 1960s. In its first 12 issues, published as Vol.1 from September 1962 through May 1966, Stereophile reviewed 84 products from 36 manufacturers, doing a relatively complete job of covering what was available then. By contrast, the magazine’s 12 issues published in 2021 (Vol.44) contained reviews of 125 products from 101 manufacturers and couldn’t come close to being comprehensive. Even so, other than stablemate Hi-Fi News, there isn’t an audio magazine that can rival the depth of Stereophile‘s audio product reviews.

Of the 36 brands reviewed in Vol.1, several have been in continuous existence since: Bang & Olufsen, Beyerdynamic, Grado, Koss, Marantz, McIntosh, Nagra, Neumann, Ortofon, and Shure. The reviews in 2021 included products from Marantz and McIntosh, as well as some from other brands that have been in continuous existence since Stereophile‘s first issue was published but weren’t reviewed in Vol.1: KEF, Klipsch, SME, and Sony.

J. Gordon Holt, who passed away in 2009, created not just a magazine but a community of what came to be called audiophiles. Stereophile‘s team of contributors has played an important role in that community. There have been too many to list here, but I will mention those who are no longer with us and who played major roles in creating the magazine’s identity through those 60 years: Art Dudley, Margaret Graham (Mrs. Holt), Peter W. Mitchell, Wes Phillips, Robert J. Reina, Rick Rosen, John Swenson, and Steven W. Watkinson, as well as art director Daniel Bish, managing editor Debbie Starr, and advertising representative Ken Nelson.

Another writer who also played a major role at the magazine for more than a quarter-century, but who is very much alive, is analog guru Michael Fremer. His first Analog Corner column appeared in July 1995 (footnote 2), and in 2012, he was hired as a fulltime staff member, not only to continue contributing Analog Corner and equipment reviews but also to edit AnalogPlanet.com, Stereophile‘s sister website. Sadly, Mikey (as he likes to be called) resigned from both Stereophile and AnalogPlanet.com in June. His final column appears in this issue, along with his final review, of the humongous Gryphon Apex Stereo amplifier.

All of us at Stereophile wish Mikey well in his new ventures.

Footnote 1: You can find a timeline of Stereophile’s first 40 years here and articles celebrating the magazine’s 500th issue here and here, and a related photo gallery here.

Footnote 2: Analog Corners through November 2005 are archived here; from October 2017 onward they can be found here, with earlier columns added each month.

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