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Volume 3 No. 2
By Paul Messenger


  It's interesting to look back and notice how much our hi-fi magazines have changed over time. When I got my first job on a hi-fi magazine, as Features Editor on Hi-Fi News & Record Review

One could suggest that the Hi-Fi News of the time had got stuck in its hobbyist past, and not really come to terms with hi-fi's transition to a consumer mass market which had started in the early 1970s. Since its birth in 1956, Hi-Fi News had had the hi-fi scene to itself, but rivals started appearing in the late-1960s, and the goalposts started moving.

I well recall two facts emerging soon after I joined. The first was that a readership survey had revealed that the equipment reviews were actually the most popular part of the magazine. The second was that the circulation figures for What Hi-Fi had just overtaken those for Hi-Fi News. (Both were selling around 55,000 copies a month at the time – happy days!)

That said, Hi-Fi News still had the respect of the industry, and the stimulus of competition was probably valuable, as I believe the second half of the 1970s – John Atkinson, current Editor of Stereophile, joined a year after me, while John Crabbe provided a steadying influence on our possible excesses – may well have been the most creative period in the magazine's long history.

Hi-Fi for Pleasure had actually set the equipment review agenda, introducing multicomponent group tests by reviewers like Martin Colloms and Stan Curtis that were as much features as reviews and formed the centrepiece of each issue. Hi-Fi Choice material. While the ‘one topic' approach allowed considerable investigative depth, it was also something of a straightjacket – one reason why I enjoyed re-launching Choice as a regular A4 monthly at the end of 1987.

Give or take a few ups and downs, hi-fi's boom years ran through most of the 1970s and 1980s, with healthy circulations and advertising revenues. Things have become progressively tougher since then, especially since the arrival of the internet, but it's a testament to the staying power of the hi-fi hobby and passion that the UK still has six ‘on-paper' hi-fi magazines today, and each has established its own distinct identity. Equipment reviews remain the core element of all the magazines, but the hi-fi market never stops evolving, and magazines must reflect this to retain their readership. To my mind the current strength of the ‘high end' and weakness of the broad mainstream indicates that much of hi-fi is reverting to its pre-mass-market enthusiastled state. While HIFICRITIC will continue to include plenty of equipment reviews, it will also have a generous allocation of the sort of features which I believe fellow enthusiasts will find interesting.


Paul Messenger



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