[SOUNDSTAGE!] Marc Mickelson is the
Editor-in-Chief of SoundStage!
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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
December 2005

We're Ten!

Ten years ago this month, a handful of audiophiles who frequented The Audiophile Network, an early online bulletin board, founded SoundStage! Doug Schneider was the driving force behind what was at that time a small website on which was posted the writing of this small band of early online audio reviewers. I was not among this founding group, but I can say with certainty that none of them thought they were all starting something that would be going strong in a significantly different form a decade later. In those days, SoundStage! was informal by design. There were no deadlines or review products, no editing or proofreading. Just a bunch of guys who thought they had something to offer on the subjects of music and high-end audio and wrote about the equipment and recordings they owned and enjoyed.

It was sometime in 1996 when I stumbled across SoundStage! I was working as a technical writer for a software company and would poke around the Internet on my lunch hour. I had an interest in writing about audio, but getting through to any of the print magazines at that time was difficult if your correspondence began with a pitch about becoming an audio reviewer. I know -- I tried, and not only couldn't get my foot in the door, but couldn't get anyone to tell me where the door was. Given this, I remember vividly writing Doug for the first time and asking about writing for SoundStage! He got back to me in less than two minutes and my involvement with SoundStage! began.

For the first two years, SoundStage! remained distinctly unprofessional -- the hobby of a handful of would-be audio reviewers. "Amateurs with day jobs" was our tagline, and we were proud of it. Certain people in the audio industry took notice of us, however, and soon we were soliciting review products and even posting a few ads. No one was getting rich, but SoundStage! was building a name, a fact that Doug and I talked about quite a bit. At that point, in late 1997, Doug was doing all of the HTML work, and I was doing all of the copy-editing and proofing. We did this just about every night after work and throughout each weekend. The site was eating up all of our free time, which led us to a crossroads: SoundStage! either had to become a business, which would give us and the writers something to work for, or it had to dissolve.

At about this same time, I was planning a move across the country, and Doug proposed that I become the full-time editor of SoundStage!, so that we would see if this hobby could sustain itself. SoundStage! had just enough money to give it this one try -- "the push to the summit," I have jokingly called it since. A few months later, Doug left his job as a computer consultant to develop the business side of what is now The SoundStage! Network, and our steady climb to where we are now began.

When I consider that ten years have passed, I am in awe. We are approaching 1000 equipment reviews, 800 music reviews, hundreds of columns and feature articles, and tens of thousands of pictures published. When I remember that not once in those ten years have we missed a monthly deadline, I am surprised. Computers break down and hard drives crash. Even so, on the 1st and 15th of each month, the latest SoundStage! content is online. More than anything else, I am proud of that.

However, it's not the only thing I'm proud of. In a few ways, SoundStage! has changed the way publishing for the high-end-audio industry is done. Before SoundStage!, the print magazines (a few of which are no longer around) had a stranglehold on advertising, which was very costly. We then began selling ads that reach readers around the world for a fraction of the cost of print advertising, and the demand has only grown. A few of our advertisers have been with us uninterrupted for greater than half of the time SoundStage! has been in existence.

Another way in which SoundStage! has changed the publishing landscape is our live show coverage. Again, the print audio publications dominated. They were the only information sources for audio enthusiasts who wanted to learn about products debuted at CES and other shows -- that is, until we started to write about shows ourselves, and later began to do so while we were attending each show, which is grueling work. We weren't the first to cover audio shows as they happen (that honor goes to Tyll Hertsens of HeadRoom, in case you want to know), but we have perfected live show reporting, I think. As with our twice-a-month updates on SoundStage!, readers have come to count on our daily reports from various shows around the globe. When we're a little late posting, you let us know. It's no coincidence that some of the show coverage in print nowadays looks like what we do online.

Perhaps the most significant area in which we have changed the way audio information is presented is our speaker-measurement program, which is accomplished along with the very knowledgeable staff of the National Research Council in Canada in that organization's well-used anechoic chamber. Some print magazines offer speaker measurements, but their value is inconsistent (some would say dubious) because of how the measurements are performed: in room, even outside, using software to approximate anechoic conditions. Why go quasi-anechoic when real anechoic is possible? This is what we asked ourselves, and Doug Schneider was able to reach an agreement with the NRC to pull it off. I don't exaggerate when I say that we publish the most accurate and reliable speaker measurements you'll see anywhere.

There are many people I need to thank for our ten years of publishing success, including all of our writers and, most of all, our readers. Without you, SoundStage! would literally not exist today. So here's to you -- and many more years to come. As long as you're out there, we'll be here.

...Marc Mickelson

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