40 years and counting…
There’s four decades of heritage behind What Hi-fi?
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