1950: "The ultimate in disc recording is to make the reproduced sound as near as possible to the original..." (The founder of Audio magazine, C.G. McProud, in "Recording Characteristics," Audio Engineering, January 1950, reprinted in The 2nd Audio Anthology, p.67, Radio Magazines, 1954.)
A hot topic for discussion in recent issues of Stereophile has been the impact Home Theater has had on the High End. Some of the magazine's contributorsJ. Gordon Holt and Corey Greenberg, for examplehave written that the advent of Home Theater means that we should expand the audio context of the magazine to include reviews of video components (footnote 1). Others, including Bob Harley, Tom Norton, and myself, feel that we should stick to what we know and loveaudioand enter the new field only to advise Stereophile's readers on how to achieve the best sound from a Home Theater system. However, missing from the debate in our pages so far have been any comments from those in the business of selling and demonstrating high-end products and, increasingly, Home Theater systems. Accordingly, this month I am running a guest editorial from a man who perhaps typifies the high-end, specialist retailer: Ken Gould of Audio Nexus (footnote 2). Please note that Mr. Gould's opinions are his own and do not represent those of the magazine.John Atkinson
A psychological theory (footnote 1) that I've always been fond of is the one that proposes the perceptual/personality dimension of Sharpening vs Leveling. As defined by the early Gestalt psychologists, Sharpening is an exaggeration of differences, Leveling a minimization of differences. In visual-perception research on this topic, when test subjects were presented with an asymmetrical figure, some later recalled it in ways that exaggerated the figure's asymmetry (Sharpeners), while others minimized or eliminated it (Levelers).
Procrustean bed: a scheme or pattern into which something or someone is arbitrarily forced. Procrustes: a villainous son of Poseidon in Greek myth who forces travelers to fit into his bed by stretching their bodies or cutting off their legs.Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary
Much has been made of the influence that Linn, Naim, and Rega have had on our ideas about music-system hierarchies: Before they and a handful of other British audio manufacturers kicked off the debate in the 1970s, the conventional wisdom worldwide was that the loudspeaker was more important than the record player, amplifier, or any other link in the domestic audio chain, and thus deserved to be the object of significantly greater care and attention, not to mention investment of cash. But the Brit-fi approach was different, and ostensibly better reasoned: Because musical information that's distorted or dropped entirely by a record player, a CD player, or any other source can't be made right by any other component in the system, it is the source that must be considered the most important component of all, and to which the majority of funds should be allocated.
I'm sitting here in front of the trusty Toshiba 286 laptop on December 31, 1992, stuck with apparently incurable writer's block; in a couple of hours, we will be taking off en famille for the latest of Larry Archibald's legendary New Year's Eve parties. I wish I had something to write about for this month's "As We See It" essay; I wish...I wish...you know, there are a number of things I really wish for right now, yet I don't believe there is a component out there that can give me what I want.
Paul Gowan's letter in the October 1989 Stereophile hinted that, whether or not audiophiles enjoy music, it should be true that the emotional experience we derive from music is what really matters. There, barefaced, lies the problem: who are "we"? A well-known Latin epigram affirms that in matters of taste there is no point in discussion. And a Greek epigram (coined in fact by Max Beerbohm in his Oxford novel Zuleika Dobson) suggests that "for people who like that kind of thing, that is the kind of thing they like."
I had a wonderful chuckle while reading the reviews of the Finial Laser Turntable in the May 1990 issue of HFN/RR. Perhaps I should preface this by saying that, in the entire quarter-century since I became intensely involved in audio, I have always found the LP an unsatisfactory playback medium for music. As a regular concert-goer in Boston and an addict of WGBH-FM's simply miked, virtually unprocessed live broadcasts of BSO concerts direct from Symphony Hall, I never learned to ignore the many anti-musical distortions endemic to LPsthe ticks and pops, the inner-groove congestion and tracing distortion, the harsh mistracking of high-level climaxes and overcut grooves, the persistent static in dry winter air, the constant slight wow due to off-center spindle holes, the muddy bass due to resonances and feedback, the universal cutting engineer's practice of blending low bass into mono (which wipes out low-frequency hall ambience).
The whole field of subjective audio reviewinglistening to a piece of equipment to determine its characteristics and worthis predicated on the idea that human perception is not only far more sensitive than measurement devices, but far more important than the numbers generated by "objective" testing. Subjective evaluation of audio equipment, however, is often dismissed as meaningless by the scientific audio community. A frequent objection is the lack of thousands upon thousands of rigidly controlled clinical trials. Consequently, conclusions reached by subjective means are considered unreliable because of the anecdotal nature of listening impressions. The scientific audio community demands rigorous, controlled, blind testing with many trials before any conclusions can be drawn. Furthermore, any claimed abilities to discriminate sonically that are not provable under blind testing conditions are considered products of the listeners' imaginations. Audible differences are said to be real only if their existence can be proved by such "scientific" procedures (footnote 1).
If home-gallows prices keep coming down, people won't go to public executions anymore. The home brothel has reduced the amount of cash American men spend each year on banging strangers. And thanks to the home sweatshop, the CEOs of all the major clothing manufacturers have been forced to take pay cuts. (I mean, come on: It was either that or something totally unimaginable, like shipping American jobs overseas, or cutting healthcare benefits for the rank and file.)
As the person who "invented" subjective testing, I have followed with great interest the many articles in the mainstream audio press which purport to prove that none of us can really hear all the differences we claim to hear, particularly those between amplifiers. My reaction has usually been: "Why didn't they invite me to participate? I would have heard the differences under their double-blind listening conditions." I could make that assertion with supreme confidence because I had never been involved in any such test.
At the end of August, we watched as the number of registered users in our online forums quickly ticked past the 10,000 mark. Ten thousand registered users! While it might prove interesting to learn just how that number breaks down into men and women, old and young, subjectivists and objectivists, or any of several other demographic and philosophical divides, that would only obscure the point: In our online forums, there are over 10,000 members who are eager to share their enthusiasm for music and hi-fi. What a beautiful thing!
"Be like my friend Frank. He imagines that he's purchased certain productsright now he's imagining that he bought a pair of hard-to-get English speakers which he has read a review of but hasn't heard. This is ideal, since the speakers can sound better and better as Frank imagines more and more. When he tires of these speakers and gets excited about something else, he doesn't have to trade them in. He only needs to start imagining the next product." That was Sam Tellig's friend Frank, back in March of this year. No one could have said it better, but I have a followup.
Toward the end of the 1992 Summer CES in Chicago, J. Gordon Holt ambled into Audio Influx's demonstration room. He was curious about which PDQ Bach CD we were playing, as a fitting end to the show. We chatted about PDQ Bach live concerts and the grand-spoof entrances made by Professor Peter Schickele. Suddenly he said, "You know, these speakers sound real," going on to mention that he hadn't heard many real-sounding systems. I told JGH that most of what I heard at shows and in dealer showrooms nowadays was surrealistic sound.
I'm scared. I've just returned from a visit to the isle of my birth, Manhattan. As the spouse and I walked to Stereophile's offices to meet John Atkinson and Stephen Mejias for dinner, we passed some of the most valuable real estate in the country. It was hard to imagine that, if global warming continues at its current, ever-accelerating pace, the buildings we were marveling at will soon be below sea level.