40 years and count­ing…

There’s four decades of her­itage be­hind What Hi-fi?

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Insider -

In 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Woz­niak founded the Ap­ple Com­puter Com­pany, James Cal­laghan be­came Bri­tain’s Prime Min­is­ter, Con­corde’s first com­mer­cial flights be­gan, the Ice­landic cod wars were at their height and there was a sum­mer drought in the UK.

But most im­por­tantly of all, in Oc­to­ber that year the first is­sue of

What Hi-fi? hit the shops for the princely sum of 35p. Hay­mar­ket Pub­lish­ing, our par­ent com­pany, al­ready pub­lished Hi-fi An­swers – aimed at hi-fi en­thu­si­asts – so was keen to ex­pand its cov­er­age to in­clude the more main­stream hi-fi mar­ket.

What Hi-fi? was con­ceived as a mag­a­zine buy­ing guide in the mould of Hay­mar­ket’s other big con­sumer ti­tle, What Car? (founded in 1973). The first is­sue’s front cover boasted: “The only mag­a­zine to list and price ev­ery avail­able hi-fi unit.”


This was a mag­a­zine aimed at the main­stream buyer, not just the hi-fi specialist, with a fo­cus on test­ing prod­ucts at af­ford­able prices. That ethos con­tin­ues to this day, with ev­ery­thing tested on a “sound-per­pound” (or “vi­sion-per-pound”) ba­sis.

Back in the 1970s, Hay­mar­ket had three hi-fi mag­a­zines: Hi-fi

An­swers, Pop­u­lar Hi-fi and What

Hi-fi? (see time­line). Re­mem­ber, this was a world be­fore the CD, in­ter­net, mo­bile phones, lap­tops and many of the other gadgets we take for granted to­day.

Home en­ter­tain­ment largely re­volved around telly and mu­sic, the lat­ter prob­a­bly on vinyl or cas­sette. Many a stu­dent would spend their grant on a bud­get turntable, amp and speak­ers.


By the 1980s, What Hi-fi? had be­come so suc­cess­ful it de­cided to launch its first an­nual Awards (1984), an event which has gone on to be­come one of the high­lights of the in­dus­try’s an­nual cal­en­dar. Win­ning an Award has a huge im­pact on a prod­uct’s suc­cess and our much-cov­eted five-star ratings are recog­nised all over the world.


A decade later three mag­a­zines be­came one, with Au­dio­phile and

High Fi­delity (as they were then known) be­ing in­cor­po­rated into

What Hi-fi? This was the time when home cinema was be­gin­ning to take off, with the first do­mes­tic DVD player go­ing on sale in Ja­pan in late 1996. Bulky CRT TVS were still the norm then, of course, but sur­round sound ex­isted in the form of Dolby Dig­i­tal, with the Laserdisc version of Clear and Present Dan­ger fea­tur­ing the first home cinema Dolby Dig­i­tal mix in 1995.

Hay­mar­ket de­cided to tap into the grow­ing home cinema mar­ket and launched its own ded­i­cated AV ti­tle, VTV, in 1996, fol­lowed by DVD, a film mag­a­zine in 1999. These were both sub­se­quently rolled into What Hi-fi?, which was re-branded

What Hi-fi? Sound and Vi­sion in 2001 to re­flect the grow­ing im­por­tance of TV and home cinema re­views in the mag­a­zine’s cov­er­age.


With the ar­rival of flatscreen TVS, home cinema en­joyed a boom in the early 2000s. In­ter­na­tional ex­pan­sion of the mag­a­zine con­tin­ued, with five over­seas edi­tions – in­clud­ing What Hi-fi? In­dia, launched in 2005. But by 2008 it be­came clear that the in­ter­net was be­com­ing an in­creas­ing chal­lenge to print mag­a­zines. That year our web­site, whathifi.com, un­der­went ma­jor de­vel­op­ment with the introduction of on­line re­views, news and videos for the first time. Since then, our on­line pres­ence has grown mas­sively, with the web­site now reach­ing up to 2.5 mil­lion unique users and de­liv­er­ing 15 mil­lion page im­pres­sions a month. And of course you can now watch whathi­fitv on Youtube, fol­low us on face­book, Twit­ter, Google+ and In­sta­gram and chat with fel­low hi-fi and home cinema en­thu­si­asts on our fo­rums.

The next 40 years

Since we pub­lished that first is­sue in 1976, the num­ber of dif­fer­ent prod­ucts we test has grown hugely – we now have 31 prod­uct cat­e­gories in Awards con­tention, and 5000 re­views on­line, cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from bud­get head­phones to flag­ship 4K TVS.

Since the 1990s, all re­view­ing is done in-house in our own be­spoke lis­ten­ing rooms, and What Hi-fi? re­views have be­come far more in­flu­en­tial to­day than they were back in 1976. We never lose sight of the fact that our ad­vice is what mat­ters most to you, our read­ers.

So to those of you who have re­mained loyal to us over the past four decades, a very big thank you. Here’s to the next 40 years.

We first tested Dolby Dig­i­tal in the home on Laserdisc

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