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linden518
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Fremer vs. Teachout

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.

trevort
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Re: Fremer vs. Teachout

Thoughtul, well-written post! I read it twice: your balanced but discriminating perspective is an asset to the forum.

linden518
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Re: Fremer vs. Teachout

Thanks, ttt, for your compliments. And especially for the star! I always wondered how one ended up w/ one of those...

dcstep
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Re: Fremer vs. Teachout

Great post SelfDivider. I spent an hour yesterday exploring your web site and highly recommend it to others on this forum.

About MF's analogies I actually think they're quite apt. Take the Ferrari. To a non-car guy or anti-car guy, all Ferraris and all Ferrari owners are the ultimate symbols of materialism at its worst. Indeed, many owners couldn't properly drive their cars to save their lives, but, in the right hands, it can be a fine instrument that does things that few other cars can come close. The ultimate Ferrari owner/driver is many-time world champion driver, Michael Schumacher. What else might MS drive? Well, anything he wants, including the ultimate performance car from his native land Mercedes.

Audio has some of the same image problem. People building a $4 million home often "throw in" a $300,000 AV system with all kinds of capacity that they could never hope to use, much less understand and appreciate. What if the owner of said system is conductor of the Berlin Phil and actually listens to music on his system? We'd have a totally different view.

No one denigrates a virtuouso concert violinist owning a multi-million dollar violin, but what if the same violin were owned by a 30-year old hedge fund manager that just received a $40 million bonus from packaging mortgages into securities that few could understand.

Like it or not, we're associated with a hobby that many consider elitist. Unfortunately, I've met more than a couple audiophiles that seemed elitist to me, buying certain components because "they could" rather than because it increased their enjoyment of music.

Keep up your great contributions. Please, please, please.

Dave

linden518
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Re: Fremer vs. Teachout

Good point, Dave. I actually know what you're talking about in regards to a certain type of audiophiles, as I've met a few of those (I live in Manhattan, after all.) The Ferrari analogy fits them all too well. But I guess I'm speaking for some of the others, who are just... you know... ordinary except in our quest for the best possible sound. As for me, that kind of analogy doesn't sit well with me b/c basically, I can't identify with it.

There will always be the kind of elitist audiophiles who upgrade ad nauseum "just because they can." But I think there is a way for us to challenge that kind of a status quo notion of audiophiles, and I think Fremer's article was an important step forward in that regard, despite those analogies at the end. I guess I can go back to classical music as an example. Before LA Philharmonic hired Esa Pekka Salonen, the orchestra was in a rut. Fighting dwindling attendance, it kept programming the old standards. Classical music was for old, rich elitist people; the youth attendance was negligible. Then Salonen came in, really shook up the status quo. Put in a lot of bold, contemporary music, challegning programs. (I'm also thinking of Michael Tilson Thomas at SF, etc.) The public - gasp - liked the change. The youth attendance skyrocketed. It rejuvenated the orchestra as well as the downtown life there. Classical music wasn't just Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, but also Saariaho, Steve Reich and Golijov. As such, classical music just becomes "music," especially when you hear outfits like LCD Soundsystem pay homage to Steve Reich (i.e. the song "All My Friends.")

I think you're right that the status quo notion of "audiophile" seems almost inextricably linked to a kind of elitism. Can that preconceived notion/bias change? I may be wrong and/or foolish, but I don't think it has to be that way, and I hope it doesn't stay that way.

P.S. - Thanks for reading my blog, Dave!

dcstep
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Re: Fremer vs. Teachout

Audiophilia may be reaching a "tipping point" where it might come out of the shadow of the elitist image. The iPod generation (my daughter and many millions of other 20-somethings) is starting to notice "good sound" vs. compressed sound.

I don't know the demographics, but I suspect that www.head-fi.org is populated by a mostly young audience. The forum is incredibly vibrant with over 1000 posts per hour, I'm guessing. These people are as serious about their headphones, DACs, headphone amps, iMods (modded iPods), etc. as we are our turntables, amps, speakers and cables.

There seems to be a wave of people buying into the concept that quality matters. Maybe, just maybe, being an audiophile will stop being an old fart's sports (sorry to those of you under 60 that don't techinically qualify yet as OFs). My daughter is a geek and the head-fi cadre are not your average young people, but the wave seems big.

Let's cross our fingers and see what happens.

Dave

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