One of The Absolute Sound's greatest strengths since its founding 45 years ago has been its diversity of voices, opinions, and viewpoints. All our editors and freelance writers share a common passion for music and the quality of its reproduction, but we often hold wildly divergent views on the best path to realizing the absolute sound. For example, some of our writers believe DSP room correction is the greatest advance in audio in a generation; to others it's anathema. Even Jonathan Valin and I have our disagreements. I have revered Jonathan as a writer, editor, and human being since we began working closely together more than 20 years ago, and our views align on many topics. But we part ways when it comes to streaming music. He thinks streaming represents a cheapening of core audiophile values of connoisseurship and discrimination in building a music library. To me, it's a miraculous way of exploring new music.
Our writers also have different standards of value in audio components. Some of us are thrilled to listen to absolute state-of-the-art, cost-no-object components and report on what is possible at the cutting edge of music reproduction. For other writers on our team the prices of those components are offensive.
And then there's music. Between our staff of four full-time editors and 18 freelance equipment reviewers, we explore just about every obscure nook and cranny of the musical universe. And that's not counting our music writers.
These and the many other differences of opinion and sensibility among our writers are the lifeblood of the magazine. Can you imagine a TAS in which the writers hewed to a Soviet-style party line on every technology or viewpoint? It would be a pretty boring read, not to mention narrow-minded and insular. As an editor, I find this colorful diversity broadens the magazine's appeal. As a reader, the wide spectrum of thought challenges me and makes me reevaluate my preconceptions and biases.
Speaking of our editorial team, I'm proud and delighted that we have an astonishingly deep "bench" that has been contributing to TAS for a very long time. TAS writers with more than 25 years of experience include Anthony H. Cordesman, Neil Gader, Wayne Garcia, Robert E. Greene, myself, Dick Olsher, Paul Seydor, Steven Stone, and Jonathan Valin. Some of those writers have more than 30 years with the magazine (AHC, NG, SS). That's quite a lineup of heavy hitters. The benefit of such an experienced and stable group of contributors, to the magazine and to readers, cannot be overstated.
Joining this elite team of seasoned veterans are two new voices. The first is Allan Moulton, whose review of the Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 was last issue's cover story. Allan has a long history in the industry and enormous experience auditioning and setting up hi-fi, but the 705 was his first product review. That review would have been a homerun for even the most accomplished audio writer. I particularly enjoyed Allan's unique approach to describing his musical relationship with the 705. Conveying how a component affects the musical experience is more difficult than it sounds, but Allan's review was both entertaining and illuminating. Allan sent me this bio to share with readers: "Allan comes to us out of the Canadian Maritimes' dense salty air. He moved to the United States in 1998 to work at Goodwin's High End near Boston, where he remained for 17 years. He then held national market positions at both Kharma International (manufacturers of loudspeakers) and Musical Surroundings (distributor and manufacturer of products dedicated to playing records). We could say that Allan has experienced the hobby and industry of audio from nearly every angle. He has a graduate degree in Philosophy, a field he points out having no practical application, and whose pursuit results in the understanding that you know less… He informs us that he was recently self-diagnosed with a condition where he'll only live once."
Our second new writer is Drew Kalbach, a 23-year-old music lover who got the job by sending me a letter complaining that our definition of "affordable" was very different from his reality (see "Letters" in Issue 279). His letter was so well written and so passionate about music and audio that I contacted him to learn about his system, experience, and musical tastes. Drew is not only a huge music fan and audio enthusiast, he makes his living as a novelist and has an MFA in creative writing. I asked Drew to write a sample review to see if he had what it takes to be an audio critic. The answer to that question is in Drew's review of the $449 Wharfedale Diamond 225 speakers in this issue. Again, this is a remarkable debut for an audio reviewer. Although most of the TAS staff was writing about hi-fi long before Drew was born (a scary thought), he shares our communal values and brings a much-needed youthful voice to the magazine as well as an enthusiasm for discovering and writing about the very best values in entry-level products. There's a great line from Drew's Wharfedale review that sums up his approach: "If we want to get the next generation to fall in love with great sound, I think it's about time to accept that there's some seriously good, affordable stuff worth writing about." Amen.
I asked Drew to send me a short bio and here's what he wrote. "Drew Kalbach is from Philadelphia. He thinks silver is better than black, prefers poly inners to paper, and believes the phrase ‘yacht rock' was the worst thing ever to happen to Steely Dan. He didn't see a record play until he was twenty, and now he has more vinyl than anything else, which he'll regret when he moves. Music is the passion, gear is the hobby, but it's pretty close. He works at home with his wife, his four-month-old son, his black lab, and his turntable."
All our freelance writers have "day jobs" and write about high-end audio for enjoyment. Many of them are highly accomplished in their respective fields. For four of us on the editorial staff,—Neil Gader, Julie Mullins, Jonathan Valin, and me—TAS is our day job. Associate Editor Neil Gader has been connected with the magazine nearly since its beginning, and met Harry Pearson a year before he founded TAS, when Harry was a reporter for Newsday. Julie Mullins, who was raised in an audiophile home, joined us just over three years ago as Managing Editor and Digital Content Editor, after many years of writing for newspapers, global design and brand firms, and advertising agencies serving Fortune 10 companies. I came to TAS in 1999 after two years as Technical Editor of Fi, and before that, Technical Editor of Stereophile from 1989 to 1997.
Finally, I'd like to share with you my thoughts on my writing mentor, invaluable collaborator of 20+ years, and great friend TAS' Executive Editor Jonathan Valin. Jon is, by a wide margin, the best writer to ever tackle the challenge of conveying in words the experience of listening to music through an audio system. No one else comes close in my view. Jonathan routinely shatters the traditional confines of the product-review format to explore the meta-questions surrounding our pursuit of enjoying reproduced music. He doesn't just describe how a product sounds, he teaches you how to think about sound quality and music reproduction. His reviews are a challenge to delve deeper into the larger questions of what makes reproduced sound good or bad, rather than a simple trotting out of standard audiophile tropes about tonal balance, soundstaging, and the like. He has thought extensively about these questions and shares those insights through a writing style that is clear, accessible, and a joy to read. If you need an example of all these qualities, look no further than his masterful review of the Magico M3 in this issue.
I'm not finished. Jonathan's writing is informed by a truly encyclopedic knowledge of all kinds of music, an unparalleled 45-year history of listening to the high-end's most iconic products, a childlike enthusiasm for music and audio that remains undiminished after all these years, tremendous listening skills, a tireless work ethic, and writing chops honed in his former career as an acclaimed author of 11 novels. Jon also edits other TAS writers' prose (now with the help of Julie Mullins), clarifying it while leaving intact each author's voice. And then there's the thankless "shovel work" required to get the magazine out on time every month, also shared with Julie. It's a rare and remarkable amalgam of skills that is perfectly suited to his job.
If you like reading The Absolute Sound, Jonathan Valin deserves much of the credit. Every magazine editor should be so fortunate, and every person to have such a friend.