Kudos should go out to Fremer on defending audiophiles as music lovers first & foremost. He's right; Teachout's dismissal of him seemed almost purely based on Fremer's being an "audiophile." I'm a newbie to the hi-fi world, so I was surprised that the term "audiophile" had a negative connotation. Here's something to consider, though, for a more balanced look at the situation. Such a negative connotation on the word "audiophile," and the reductive binary of "audiophile" vs "music lover" stem also from within the hi-fi community as well. In the past month, I've had the pleasure of visiting many audio dealers, and each dealer or salesman invariably positioned himself to be in either one of those two camps. The reviewers often align themselves according to this dichotomy as well. It seems to me that the problem is also and at least a self-perpetuating one.
A few months ago, I interviewed The New Yorker mag's classical music critic Alex Ross in a public forum at Columbia University about his excellent book The Rest Is Noise. I know that his position on listening to portable music is similar to Teachout or Tommasini's, and he listens to regular mp3s through the iPhone. The reasoning goes, that convenience compensates for the degradation of SQ, that every recording is essentially an approximation anyway. I've also thought the same way until recently, so I can see where they're coming from. Prior to getting into this hobby, I listened to the music that moved me, made me think, and not too many times have I really analyzed the SQ. Didn't deter me from my enjoyment of the music at all.
Yet such reasoning is flawed, of course. If you extend that logic, then you can say that EVERY medium of art is an approximation (books, paintings, etc.) of a genuine experience, so shall we all compromise the quality of the medium? No. The point of making art, or consuming it, is to get CLOSER to the experience, as intensely and passionately as you can. In my short experience, I've learned that certain hi-fi equipment lets me get closer to the real thing. I went to the Radu Lupu recital at the Carnegie Hall last week & there's no way that listening to a Radu Lupu's CD through hi-fi gear can match the experience. But it gets us nearer to the experience than 128 mp3 files through iPod earphones.
One thing I regretted about Fremer's response to Teachout was his series of analogies at the end, i.e. why drink crappy generic wine when you can have a finely aged one, why drive a crap car when you have the Ferrari, etc. etc. At least in the rejuvenating scene of classical music today, much of its vitality comes from the open-hearted, democratic spirit, the all-encompassing hybridization of music. That's why Gramophone gives a serious praise to a solo album by Glenn Kotche, Wilco's drummer, and that's why so many people are attracted by the music of Osvaldo Golijov, which incorporates popular music. That's why Alex Ross's book on classical music in the 20th century is on bestseller lists for months, infiltrating top 50 in Amazon rankings, because he can draw brilliant links between classical music & popular (he's equally adept at writing about Dylan or about Radiohead employing Wagner's Tristan chords, etc.). Fremer's analogies unfortunately goes against this democratizing spirit, and links the hi-fi hobby to a kind of elitism, although unintended, and I didn't like seeing that. Because I'm not into this hobby with the mindset of a Ferrari owner who cannot suffer plebeian cars; I do it simply for the music I love, which is Fremer's ultimate point after all. He should have just done away with those metaphors.