Winner of one of ASCAP's 33rd annual Deems Taylor Awards for excellence in music journalism, 6moons commentator Chip Stern has been writing about all manner of musical instruments, pro sound recording/HighEnd audio gear and progressive music for over 25 years, establishing a popular reputation for his colorful prose, musical insights and fair-minded approach.

Born in New York City in 1952, Stern grew up in Plainview, Long Island, listening to his parents' extensive collection of classical music.
"I loved Bach's piano music, and the symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms. But when I was three years old, RCA released Fritz Reiner's rendition of Bartok's Concerto For Orchestra and that just blew my mind. I would make my mother play it for me over and over again and would conduct along with a spaghetti baton", he recollects with a sheepish grin. "Yet as complex as the music was, I was hearing all of these other parts and singing along."

With only three records possessing a Jazz pedigree in his parents' collection (Frank Sinatra's In The Wee Small Hours, Sarah Vaughan's Sings Sammy Cahn and Dinah Washington's Sings Fats Waller), Stern took a circuitous root towards developing a progressive/modern Jazz consciousness, hearing Motown and R&B at summer camp while developing a taste for folk music. This eventually led him to study the guitar and seek out the work of Bob Dylan, The Byrds and Simon & Garfunkel. During college, he became fascinated with the heady electric blues-jazz-rock improvisations of The Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Led Zeppelin, which oddly enough led him to John Coltrane's roiling free form work, Ascension.

"Then one night at the college radio station, I heard Bird & Diz, and when Charlie Parker came swooping out of the sky on "Bloomdido", the proverbial light bulb appeared in a cosmic thought balloon - here were those other parts I'd been hearing as a kid listening to all of that classical music. There was an immediate connection. I was fired up to learn everything I could about Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk and the whole Jazz heritage." In short order, Stern discovered Mingus Presents Mingus, Sonny Rollins' East Broadway Rundown and Saxophone Colossus, Miles Davis' Miles Smiles and Bitches Brew, Tony Williams' Lifeteme, Emergency and Turn It Over, Albert Ayler's New York Eye and Ear Control, The New York Art Quartet ("I used to employ that disc to scare away prospective roommates"), Ornette Coleman's The Art of The Improvisers and Free Jazz, Ellington's In A Mellotone and The Money Jungle, Lester Young/Coleman Hawkins' Classic Tenors, Jazz At Massey Hall, Max Roach's The Many Sides Of Max, The Best Of Count Basie on Decca, and The Louis Armstrong Story, Volume 4 with Earl Hines. "A couple of months later, I'd worked my way back to Louis' "Basin Street Blues", "Weatherbird" and "West End Blues". I was hooked."

During college, Stern married and had a child. He then began exploring the guitar and bass guitar again in earnest, soon devoting himself to a study of the drums. When a fellow drummer read some music pieces he'd written and volunteered that "You write better than you play", Stern tried his hand at writing about the music from a musician's viewpoint, beginning with prescient features about Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin's Shakti and Jack DeJohnette's New Directions for The Village Voice. In due time, he penned reviews and features for every important music publication including DownBeat, Rolling Stone and Musician. It was with the latter publication that he developed an international following through his provocative reviews and much-heralded features on the likes of George Clinton & Funkadelic, Julius Hemphill, Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Ginger Baker, Bill Frisell and Joni Mitchell. His features on drummers for other publications -- such as his pieces on Max Roach, Jo Jones and Art Blakey -- are considered among the best ever penned on these giants.

Stern has worked in every area of the music business -- from HighEnd audio and record retailing to acting as world music importer and magazine editor -- and since 1996, has been a contributing editor for Stereophile, writing about both music and audio gear while doing feature work and musical instrument reviews for JazzTimes. Stern recently became a senior editor on both the 6moons and Positive Feedback web sites, and is currently developing an all-inclusive web site of his own: [c]HIPSTER[n]DotCom: SOUND SIGNATURES -- All Things Music.

In 1994, Stern produced drummer Ginger Baker's first Jazz recording, the best-selling Going Back Home for Atlantic (with Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell). He's long championed an inclusionary point of view about Jazz as part of the greater fabric of the American musical experience. He writes provocatively about the European classical tradition, progressive popular forms and third-world music as well. A passionate advocate of the best music from the heady experimental days of the '60s and '70s, he refuses to play into the notion of Jazz as some sort of dusty museum piece. "Perhaps too much is made of the notion of originality", he states firmly. "Not everyone can be an innovator, but like Satchel Paige once said, 'Just because you're ordinary doesn't mean you have to be common.' So to me, you can never have enough individuality in Jazz - that's its lifeblood. I mean, by all means, let's honor the giants of the past, but the best way we can do that is by recognizing that they were contemporary artists who mirrored their times and followed their own muse, and to try and do that in our daily work -not to simply recreate what they did. There's a 'Jazz attitude' that manifests itself in the search for a personal voice, in how you relate to other musicians in a collective situation no matter what the context of the music. Anything that precludes that give and take of ideas, or circumscribes what sources you are allowed to draw from is anathema to me. Jazz at its best has always been a music of inclusion."

"Likewise in HighEnd audio! The whole point of the exercise is to deepen one's involvement in the experience of music. Sophisticated gear is great fun. We're all captivated by the latest and the greatest, the most technically advanced and expensive.

But it's all a means to an end, not an end unto itself. People have been led to believe that you have to possess a small fortune to enjoy real high end audio. Or that you need some sort of special spiritual connection - magic ears.

I've always thought that to be a wraith of balderdash. The key to good audio is system synergy - making your compromises work for you. Once you've come to appreciate the nature of a great audio system, you can readily understand how to achieve analogous results at something resembling real world budgets; reduced in scale perhaps, but not in sonic involvement. This is not quantum physics. Those snobs who go around with their noses in the air about 'common' equipment only marginalize the market and limit the growth of our industry. I'm as captivated by top-of-the-line gear as anyone, but I'll always be committed to making the experience of high resolution/high value gear more palpable to readers, and letting them in on all the fun. When it comes to HighEnd audio, something this much fun should be shared with as many people as possible."

Chip's personal system analysis

Because my 12' W x 20' L x 10' H listening room is devoid of convenient outlets -- and the 20 amp dedicated lines are in the adjacent room-- I employ a 25' run of custom AC cord in the form of a JPS Labs Kaptavator Outlet Center. It extends to the base of a massive wooden table just behind my double-tiered PolyCrystal amp stand and my reference loudspeakers of the moment, the Joseph Audio RM7si Signature MKII.

In the center of this low-slung table, I have stacked, from top to bottom:

  • an Equi=Tech Q650 Balanced Power System
  • a Monster Cable AVS 2000 Automatic Voltage Stabilizer
  • and an Equi=Tech 2Q Balanced Power System. (If you want to ascertain my detailed thinking as to the technical background, sonic attributes and musical performance of these revolutionary power products -- which are most definitely not line conditioning devices -- you'll have to reference the June 2003 issue of Stereophile for a peek at my formal evaluation.)

The Equi=Tech 2Q is plugged into the Kaptavator Outlet Center with a 20 amp/Hubble-plug version of the imposing JPS Labs Aluminata AC Cord (which, in my experience, is the ultimate power cord for any high current application). My Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300 Power Amp is plugged into the 2Q with its own 20-amp Aluminata. The AVS 2000, which has its own massive, hard-wired power cord, is plugged into the Kaptavator Outlet Center, and the high resolution Equi=Tech Q650 is plugged into the AVS 2000 with an ultra high resolution, active-shielding equipped version of the Synergistic Research Designer's Reference2 AC Cord.

I then plug two 15' runs of Kaptavator Outlet Centers into the Q650, one into the analog output, and one into the digital output to eliminate crosstalk. I then extend onto the side wall where my dual PolyCrystal Equipment Racks are located - all of my front end/low current devices are thus plugged into the AVS2000/Q650.

I employ Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II Interconnects (for their sweetly voiced purity, liquidity and resolution) and Gargantua II AC cords throughout the front end, which at this point in time is comprised of a Rega Planar 25 Turntable (with a Rega RB600 Tonearm and a Grado Statement Master Cartridge) a Rogue Audio Stealth Phono Pre-Amp, a Marantz PMD430 Portable Cassette Player/Recorder, a California Audio Labs Delta Transport/Alpha 24-bit/96kHz Vacuum Tube DAC, a California Audio Labs CL-20 DVD/CD player, and a VTL 5.5 Vacuum Tube Pre-Amp.