Published: 1. July 2012, No. 98
“Stereophile” is one of the major ‘brands’ of the multi-platform publisher, Source Interlink Media, LLC. Although vast majority of the publisher’s magazines are addressed to car and bike enthusiasts, it is “Stereophile” that’s doing unexpectedly well.
Source Interlink Media is a real mogul – its portfolio comprises 78 magazines, 101 websites, 800 brands, 50 events, radio and television programs. Not to mention of course its mobile applications, Source Interlink Media (SIM). Despite this vast wealth it is the “Stereophile” website that turns out to be the jewel in the corporation’s crown, most often visited of all the publisher’s websites.
I’m sure that the success is in large part due to the two men: the manager John “Web Monkey” Iverson and Stephen Majias whose blog “Elements of Our Enthusiasm” rocked the web audience.
Stephen’s beginnings in “Stereophile” were humble – he made coffee, handled dispatch, etc. Step by step, slowly he climbed up, although – as is evident from my interview – he is not the type of career maker. His enthusiasm and his love for music, as well as a kind of ‘freshness’ makes him now, in my opinion, an equal staff member of the American magazine, next to e.g. Michael Fremer and Sam Telling.
As it turns out (see the interview) you can become a respected audio journalist entering the industry as a fully formed person, without having even a slightest idea what it is all about. Maybe that’s exactly what helped Stephen keep a happy medium between what’s published in print and what’s online? Without any prejudices, with an open mind and an idea for life Stephen comes off as an example of modern audio journalist. I hope that you’ll agree with me after reading the interview. And if not, then ... Well, so much the worse for the interview…
Wojciech Pacuła: For a start, please tell me a few words about American audio magazines – how are they doing? Don’t you have an impression that people working for print magazines hate those online based? I’m asking that since you are in unique position, writing for a print magazine and running your blog on the “Stereophile” website.
Stephen Mejias: I think print media, in general, is in decline as technology moves toward digital formats. Stereophile’s parent company, Source Interlink Media, is very much aware of the importance of digital media and continues to make much progress in that field. While our content is generally made available for free on our website about a month after it has been published, Stereophile is now also available for the iPad and iPhone. Our readers are early adopters: Our digital edition is selling very well. While our print circulation remains strong at around 70,000 paid subscriptions, our digital edition ranks among the leaders in all of Source Interlink’s magazines, a portfolio which includes Motor Trend and Automobile, among other major publications.
We feel that Stereophile should have a strong presence in both the print and digital worlds. We want to be available wherever and however people are consuming information. So, in addition to our website and digital edition, we have also built an active community through Facebook and Twitter. Source Interlink has also launched two new websites: InnerFidelity.com, based on headphone listening, and AudioStream.com, devoted to computer audio. A third, AnalogPlantet.com, will launch in June; it will be devoted to analog playback, and it will be edited by Michael Fremer.
I don’t think print magazines hate web-based magazines. Speaking only for myself, I am simply most interested in quality. If a web-based publication can offer a high-quality experience – good writing by intelligent, thoughtful, careful people who deserve my attention and trust – then I am all for it.
WP: Tell me something about yourself, e.g. how you started your work with Stereophile, etc.
SM: I started working with Stereophile 12 years ago. I was 23 years old, and it was my first job out of college. In school, I studied English, wrote poetry, played in a punk rock band, edited the music section of our student newspaper, and worked at the campus radio station, so Stereophile seemed like a good fit for me. At the time, however, I knew absolutely nothing about the hi-fi hobby; I had never even heard the word “audiophile.” After five years of proofreading content and shipping review samples, I took on a greater role with the magazine through our website, first as moderator of our forums and then through writing a weblog documenting my journey as a beginner audiophile. The blog was called “Elements of Our Enthusiasm,” and it quickly became a very popular destination for our readers. Soon after, I started attending hi-fi shows and writing more, both for the website and the magazine. In January 2011, we introduced my monthly column, “The Entry Level,” which focuses on affordable products. It, too, has been very successful – and a lot of fun for me!
Soon, in addition to my column, I’ll begin contributing full-length equipment reports. My first passion, however, is music. I’m absolutely addicted to music. The more music I hear, the more music I want. It’s a problem, but a good one.
WP: How is “Stereophile” different from other USA audio magazines?
SM: I can’t speak for other magazines, but I can say that Stereophile is led by an extraordinary man with a clear and strong vision; John Atkinson works harder and cares more about his work than anyone I know. He is largely responsible for Stereophile’s success and longevity. He has also put together a great team of contributors and freelancers. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this team. John has taught me to do everything with great care and dedication, and he has taught me that an editor’s priority must be his readers.
In addition, to my knowledge, there isn’t another US-based audio magazine that complements its reviews with such detailed technical measurements as those performed and analyzed by John Atkinson.
WP: Is there something that web based magazines could learn from print magazines and vice-versa?
SM: In broad strokes: I think print media, in general, has set standards for quality, authority, craftsmanship, and moral responsibility. All of this has come from decades of experience, growth, and hard work. Digital media has seemingly limitless potential and offers outstanding convenience, but it should not ignore the print world’s values and experience. In order to be successful, a website, just like a print publication, needs a strong leader with a clear vision. This person must be someone readers can trust.
WP: Tell me something about the US audio market - how is it different from the European and Asian?
SM: I really don’t know. Perhaps John Atkinson would have more to say about this.
WP: Could you please describe your reference system and explain the ‘what’ and ‘why’?
SM: My reference system is made of a Rega P3-24 turntable with a Rega Elys 2 phono cartridge; NAD C515 BEE CD player; NAD C316 BEE integrated amplifier; Parasound Zphono-USB phono preamplifier; PSB Alpha B1 loudspeakers; and Kimber Kable PBJ interconnects and 8VS speaker cables. (I also own an Exposure 2010 integrated amplifier and CD player.)
By most hi-fi standards, this is a very modest system, but it works well for me – I live in a very small (350-square feet) apartment in Jersey City, New Jersey, just outside of Manhattan, and I live a fairly modest life. Music is my main expense. I am also very interested in showing that a high-quality listening experience can be achieved without spending many thousands of dollars. I think my reference system is a very good tool for my column, “The Entry Level.”
WP: OK, so your system is budget-oriented. What would be your advice to people wishing to build their own systems without spending lots of money?
SM: There are many ways to build a good, affordable system. Budget-priced gear will often be more forgiving than higher-priced gear. My strategy in building a system was to read reviews, concentrate on component synergy, and pay attention to products that have stood the test of time. PSB and NAD have great synergy; matching the PSB Alpha B1 with NAD’s budget-priced C316 BEE integrated amplifier made perfect sense. Both the Alpha B1 and C316 BEE are new versions of products that far exceeded their own expectations. Similarly, the Rega P3-24 descends from a well-regarded design. Kimber Kable’s PBJ interconnect is a classic. I just don’t see how you can go wrong with these products. There are also great bargains to be found on the used market.
WP: What is more important in the audio system – the source or the speakers?
SM: I don’t really have a preference. I think both are very important.
WP: What’s your preference in terms of cartridge loading – transformer or active?
SM: I haven’t had much experience with cartridge loading.
WP: What are your thoughts about the future of audio?
SM: I think the future of audio, in the most general sense, will look a lot like the past and present of audio: Enthusiasts will continue to find ways of tweaking their systems, listening for the smallest improvements or differences, regardless of musical format and component category.
I think we will see more crossover products – components that are neither strictly analog nor digital, but that incorporate both technologies – and many more streaming/networking devices.
WP: Is the iPod generation able to convert to hi-fi systems?
SM: I think so. But, with few exceptions, hi-fi really doesn’t strike me as being a young persons’ hobby. Hi-fi requires, among other things, a dedicated living/listening space, the desire to spend one’s leisure time at home, and disposable income. Usually, these things come later in life. The biggest problem, as I see it, is that most young people don’t know that hi-fi even exists. It’s very important, therefore, to expose young people to hi-fi, to share with them our passion for music, high-quality sound, and high-quality experiences. With any luck, they’ll someday enjoy high-quality listening experiences, too.
WP: Do you think that the boom in headphone amps and/or DACs is related to the computer side of the market?
SM: Yes, definitely. More and more people are interested in getting the most out of their computer audio; a high-quality DAC then becomes a very important component.
WP: How about hi-res files - are they the future?
SM: Yes, hi-res files are a large part of hi-fi’s future, but so, too, is vinyl.
WP: Why vinyl?
SM: Vinyl offers excellent sound quality, but it also offers something that, so far, digital media cannot replicate: the wonderful tactile experience. Vinyl speaks to the person who wants to be deeply engaged with his or her music, who enjoys the rituals, who appreciates the imperfections, and who simply loves the physical object. There are many artists, too, who want to release their work on a physical format. Vinyl is the ultimate venue for them.
WP: So is there any future for CD?
SM: The Compact Disc is a format in decline, but reports of its death have been exaggerated. The format will stick around as long as there are people who’ll want to buy and sell it. It’s also important to remember that there are many parts of the world that don’t have reliable internet access.
WP: What do you listen to at home when chilling out?
SM: I listen to many different types of music. As I mentioned before, I’m really addicted to music, addicted to discovering new sounds. A lot of times, I just feel like I HAVE to know what a record sounds like. I mean, I just NEED to hear it. I like making connections between seemingly disparate musical eras and genres. It feels like fun – almost like a game – but it also feels important, as if making these connections will lead me to some hidden truth about life. I absolutely love hearing similarities between different types of music. When a mainstream rap producer, for instance, samples an underground rock track, it totally blows my mind. It excites me, encourages me, and just makes me feel good about the world. I love feeling that all people, places, and times are connected through music.
Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of hip-hop and electronic music (Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Nicolas Jaar, James Blake, SBTRKT, Zomby, Burial, etc.), but I also have a deep love and appreciation for all kinds of rock, folk, jazz, blues, and experimental forms.
WP: I know of your recent list of 101 best albums you recommend (see HERE). Could you narrow it down to 10 albums just for “High Fidelity” readers?
SM: If you’d really like me to narrow it down to 10, I’ll try to pick an interesting bunch:
- Nicolas Jaar, Space is Only Noise
- Four Tet, There Is Love in You
- Sonny Sharrock, Ask the Ages
- Robert Wyatt, For the Ghosts Within
- Sonic Youth, Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star
- Flaming Lips, Clouds Taste Metallic
- Mercury Rev, Deserters’ Songs
- John Fahey, America
- Pete Swanson, Man With Potential
- Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland (Hype Williams), Black is Beautiful
WP: What would you like to do – say – in 20 years? Any plans?
SM: In 20 years, I’ll be 54 years old. I imagine I’ll be doing a lot of the same stuff I’m doing now: Lots of reading, lots of writing, lots of listening to music and hi-fi gear. I hope to still be living in Jersey City, New Jersey, surrounded by great friends and family. I hope my listening room will be a little bigger and my record collection a lot bigger.