The Acoustical Standard (with follow-up) Letters
Again, the Acoustical Standard
Editor: Perusing the April issue's schedule of High End Hi-Fi show events (p.77), I noticed the variety of "live-music" recitals on the agenda. I also noticed that none of them featured amplified instruments, which is, of course, as it should be.
But...if acoustical instruments are really what Stereophile sees as the sounds we should be striving to reproduce, how can John Atkinson continue to defend his view that rock material is suitable for evaluating the quality of reproduced sound?
—J. Gordon Holt, Boulder, CO
A misguided soul
Editor: Having read Mr. T. C. Willett's letter in your April issue (pp.17 & 19), it behooves me to write to you since Mr. Willett is certainly a misdirected soul, much in need of elucidation re: music.
There is no such "mystical leap" as he calls it between what is "reasonable" and what should be insisted upon when judging (testing) an audio component. Would he buy an automobile using bicycle or tractor wheels as the test of ride smoothness? Of course not! Can a rock band playing music through all means of electronic processors and amplifiers produce pure, timbre-correct tones when recorded in a studio? Not likely!
No one ever told Mr. Willett that "he" couldn't play rock music through his Apogees; so, who is it he refers to as "elitist snobs"? There are those of us who love classical music for its simple beauty and there are those, like he, who love rock music. Wherein lies the difference? Is Mr. Willett suffering an anxiety due to his lack of knowledge about classical music? Has he a phobia about learning to appreciate something which he (from his letter) knows very little about? Or is the music itself an intimidation due to its complexity? I have no way of knowing, but it does appear that Mr. Willett's annoyance with people like me who "only" use classical music to judge audio components is unfounded. I use classical music because of my familiarity with its sound! Personally, I haven't heard a great rock recording since about 1974. This is due to personal taste, not snobbery! I can certainly hear the differences between a Gibson Les Paul and a Fender Strat or Tele; I hear the difference between a Rhodes piano and a Yamaha synthesizer; I know a Slingerland drum kit from the electronic synthesizer. I just don't care to listen to them anymore.
Secondly, I can go to a concert hall twice a week to hear all forms of classical music, and I'm never in fear of ear damage. Go to a Guns & Roses concert and endure 110dB spls? Never: I want to maintain my hearing.
Mellow out yourself, Mr. Willett. Perhaps then all your phobias won't interfere with your listening pleasure. Personally, I wouldn't spend $20 grand to listen to what I don't like—would you? Nor would I trade a Mercury classic for a James Gang album. You are correct in your statement that maturity is not criticizing something of which you have a poor knowledge—so why don't you practice what you preach?! Give a listen to Bartók, Webern, Beethoven, etc. as I have given a listen (many times) to Def Leppard, the Yardbirds, J.J. Cale, the Mothers, and even the MC-5! I hope you can listen to Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Earl Klugh, Lena Horne, George Straight, Murray McLaughlin, in the same open-mindedness you have for rock & roll. Just don't get so heavy with people like me who don't use rock & roll for auditions. We have our reasons (and they are many), as you have yours. Lighten up, dude, or I'll send you Blue Oyster Cult records from the '60s that have to be played at +120dB to get the real deal!
—Owen Evans, Ottowa, Ontario
The rich cream of music's finest flower
Editor: E. J. Bernardini's letter, published in the April 1989 Stereophile (Vol.12 No.4), was unusual in that one does not often encounter a letter writer who appears to assign himself the status of a peasant. His "know-nothing" attitude, coarse language, and implied insecurity manifested themselves in his comment about "classical music" as "disjointed noise," and in his choler because Stereophile does not review enough jazz releases to suit him.
Music, like all major forms of creative expression, is organic, which is to say it develops, flowers, declines, and dies. As the principal cultural expression of Western civilization, great music in that culture has reached transcendental heights attained at no other time or place. Few serious musicians or musicologists would question that its apogee was reached in the monumental creations of a handful of great composers headed by J. S. Bach, perhaps the master of them all, and by H;uandel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms. These titans were surrounded by a court of lesser but significant and even magnificent composers. It all peaked in the period 1700-1900.
The language of Mr. Bernardini's letter was at times inelegant and even vulgar, perhaps in keeping with the status to which he appears to have assigned himself. Certainly his choice of music is his to make; it also may be appropriate to his level of comprehension and appreciation of great music. He professes puzzlement that people continue to buy the "old chestnuts" of classical music when, presumably, they should be buying, in his view, jazz or perhaps other forms of contemporary music. I suggest that people buy classical music because they continue to prefer the rich cream of music's finest flower to the water-milk of the aimless, pointless, self-conscious efforts by the practitioners of music's decline.
As for jazz—it is fine. It is true folk music and should be regarded in its proper role and place. I enjoy jazz at certain times, but I infinitely prefer Bach or Mozart. I am sympathetic about Mr. Bernardini's confinement to folk music and his stated inability to comprehend and enjoy great music. If my thesis is valid, then Stereophile strikes an appropriate balance in its reviews of new recordings.
—John C. Guenther, Stuart, FL
This subject has been pretty much argued out in the magazine's pages since it arose (this time around) from a freewheeling discussion at the Westchester County Audiophile Society in October 1988. But I can't resist one comment on an implication inherent in the above three letters: that correct reproduction of timbre is the only criterion by which to judge fidelity. There must be more to hi-fi reproduction than that, otherwise something like the 1976 KEF R104aB loudspeaker, which was always a superlative reproducer of instrumental timbre, would have to be considered a Class A contender in Stereophile's "Recommended Components" listing. (You only have to listen to that speaker to know that it doesn't scale those heights.)
And if timbre is only one of the means of judging hi-fi "goodness," then why should a reviewer be restricted to using music as a test source which predominantly reveals timbral problems? As I have said before in these pages, I impose no restrictions on the source material Stereophile's reviewers use to reach value judgments, I only demand that those judgments be correct.—JA