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Inter.View with John van der Sluis, publisher and chief Editor of the Dutch magazine Audio & Technique

by Lucio Cadeddu

LC >
May you tell our readers how's the situation of the HiFi market in your Country?

We started our magazine in 1982, at that same moment the CD was introduced.
The marketing people told us that quality was superb, much better than the good old long play records. The shopkeepers in our country told their customers that for ultimate results they should buy new equipment.
Because the bass reproduction was much better one should also buy bigger loudspeakers.
The result was a booming market up till around 1986. Then came the so- called *midiset* and again the market (low end that is) was booming.
Many women saw as an advantage to get rid of those big ugly black 43 cm equipment! I think that a lot of people realized afterwards that they were the victims of smart marketing and had bought something worse than what they had before.
Anyway the market in Holland went down around 1990 and was halved in three years time.
The only company with constant sales was Sony, which is now the biggest having some 40% of the total sales in Holland.
In the mean time we experienced the reintroduction of tube equipment in the High End sector in 1984. Also new High End transistor designs were introduced and the "specialist HiFi dealers" thought that there was a lot of profit to be gained. But the High End market also decreased in the beginning of the 90's.
A lot of shops and importers went down the drain. Some importers thought that their dealers did not sufficiently market their products and then started buying their own shops. HiFi dealers saw this as dishonest competition and started to import equipment on their own. A lot of American and British manufacturers don't hesitate to sell to anybody as long as money comes in.
So now we have a very diverted market in Holland. You may buy good products which, without your knowledge, is not supported by a distributor. Hence the question rises: What about service or aftersales?
I think we have a major problem there. Some High End consumers were able to import themselves by ordering via fax or email. In that way one may save a lot of money but then there is no service at all.
We now see some very small firms starting to service High End equipment and/or modifying it. So in that way one may get a living out of that!

LC >
How do you see the situation of the HiFi press worldwide?
We at TNT-Audio don't accept advertising of any kind, how do you consider the relationship between advertising and magazines?

At this very moment there is a small minority getting (AUDIO) information from the web. Most people who want to be informed read magazines. Those, socalled *Special Interest*, magazines are depending on advertising.
There's nothing new in that, every newspaper or other printed medium does have the same dependance. Most Dutch HiFi magazines suffer from lack of advertisements, respectively the very low prices which are paid.
This is partly caused by the market situation having fewer distributors. And especially while there are fewer High End distributors with less money than in the past.
The other Dutch magazines therefore publish socalled *tests* with only "good" results. Every month one can buy "better" equipment!
Some distributors are very pleased and then advertise.
From the very beginning the editorial people of A&T wrote honest and independent articles, not influenced by advertisers that is. Moreover the A&T staff consists mainly of engineers with an electronic background.
Our comments therefore are biased by our technical views. We not only measure but also look at the circuitry to get an opinion. We still measure a lot, but the audible sound quality is of major importance.

LC >
It is always difficult to write BIASED reviews. Sometimes one falls in love with a component and hence he finds hard to describe it in a objective way.
This is a common problem for every HiFi reviewer. What is your point of view on this topic?

I, personally, hardly "fall in love" with anything (besides a good conductor and a good orchestra playing my favorite music, live!). In 90% of the tested equipment there's "something rotten in the country"! Be it a forgotten resistor or whatever.
My problem, and that also goes for some colleagues, is that we hardly find something extremely good. There are some exceptions, but few.
Objectivity? No, that's impossible. But careful readers know who writes an article and in what way an editor is biased.

LC >
During the last years the HiFi community has showed some interest for the DIY audio. Many audiophiles have started designing their own components or, at least, tweaking the commercial products.
How do you consider this fact? Do you believe that in a market where hi-end audio has become outrageously expensive, the interest for cheap DIY project has increased as a conquencence?

A lot of people "think" that tweaking is a solution to improve the sound quality. As most equipment is commercially manufactured, hence the circuitry in it is biased by marketing engineers, there's often few to gain.
If someone wants to use his soldering iron and cutter it's all right with me, but bad circuit design will last sounding ugly.
On the other hand we publish some tweeks now and then (look at our site!). For instance we hate muting transistors. But cutting them out (CD-players) will not remove the commonly used op amps. (We do have an elegant solution to make an op amp perform better. It's on the web within a month).
High End is expensive? Sometimes but not always. The other way around is to build something in your own backyard, or in the attic or basement. Nothing wrong with that. The problem is that even good electronic engineers don't know how to handle audio.
I know of some magazines publishing circuits and/or loudspeaker designs which in the end gives a sound quality far less than a (even low end!) commercial product. So a warning needs to be given.
There are some good ones, okay. Tim de Paravicini had a good design two years ago (sold kits via HFN&RR). But again it's one of the few.
By the way, recently I auditioned a very good recording of a piano recital. It had "something" in it I never before heard on records. There was detail, air, in short amazing! The amplifier was made out of wood and metal. The head shell had a diamond tipped needle. The record and the record player were made by the same person: Thomas Alva Edison. Ever heard of? He did this around 1912.

LC >
At Audio & Technique you design and build HiFi components aimed for the DIY-addict. May you briefly summarize your ideas on HiFi design/tweaking?

We try to construct something which matches well known high end quality.
Who needs another Sony, Philips or Pioneer product? To keep costs low we design without a lot of features, keeping in mind that some people seem to try it out under extraordinary conditions. So it should be full proof. It may be short circuited or driven over the edge. The left out features for instance are (active!) current limiters, output relays, electronic switches etc.
We think a lot about what effects are to be gained or avoided by certain circuitry. Some of our designs took years of development. And we don't publish when we're not satisfied. In 1992 we started the design of a single ended triode amplifier. Now we are busy on the fourth prototype.
And not satisfied, therefore no publication! Our current A18 power amplifier also took 5 years.
Sometimes one can have luck. One of our latest speaker designs originated from a sleepless night, was built in two days and outperforms a lot of commercial products. That's luck. The first loudspeaker took three years.
We are careful about tweeks (or tweaks!). There are simple things which cannot harm anybody, such as building your own cables. Or apply some damping material into electronics. To tweek inside some circuitry might be dangerous as the good willing amateur doesn't know what he's doing.
Furthermore circuits from different sources are different. So the same tweeks may not apply.

LC >
You recently set up your new Web site. Which are your plans for the elctronic edition of Audio & Technique? Do you consider the Web as a medium to expand the virtual audiophile community?

We will publish on a regularly basis on the web some of the articles and opinions as published in the printed magazine.
The site is rather new and a lot of work has to be done to make it appealing to the surfing community. I don't think that the audiophile community will expand. I do think that the worldwide knowledge of audio lovers will expand as (good) information becomes more easily available.

I thank TNT for this opportunity and I surely hope you will continue these interviews at your independent web site.

Courtesy John van der Sluis for TNT.

Copyright © 1998 Lucio Cadeddu

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