Listening #33 Prickle Alert!
The last time I wrote about digital music technology in Stereophile—my equipment report on the dCS Delius D/A converter and Verdi La Scala transport in our January 2005 issue—I wasn't prepared for the negative response I received from some quarters. Not that I was surprised or even terribly dismayed by the drubbing I took for my opinion of the musical performance of DSD—I'm very impressed with it, other people aren't, and that's all well and good—but I was astounded when a couple of very agitated fellows accused me of being an apologist, of all things, for upsampling.
My crime: I wrote about it.
Here's the thing: When I describe an audio product in my column or in a Stereophile equipment report, I do my best to explain—really explain, from the ground up—the technologies that make it special. So it was with the dCS components, which hang their hat on the upsampling peg. Because of that, and because I think it's more fun to discuss technology than it is to slog through page after page of blather about "colorations" and "soundstaging," in my review I wrote about upsampling. I researched the snot out of it, during the course of which I learned that there is something less than a consensus as to how or why it works (or whether it actually does), even among its most ardent supporters. And I did three things:
1) I noted that very fact;
2) I found the small area where the different explanations converged and fashioned the information that remained into a working definition; and,
3) in describing the perceived benefits of the technology, I did something that any decent journalist does: I attributed. Which is to say, I asked people questions, and then, when I wrote out their responses, I made sure to say things like "According to so-and-so" and "So-and-so believes..." In trying to understand the design process, I solicited the opinions of the designers as to what they believe is and is not important, is and is not the right thing to do, in a product such as this.
What I got in response was spittle like, "Dudley's promoting upsampling: Somebody needs to rope him in." (By the way, why is it that whenever the pastymen get angry, they show it by referring to other men by their last names only? It sounds like Junior High gym class—and that, my friends, gives me the creeps in a major way.) The responders' motives were obvious: They happen to be experts, and I had made the mistake of failing to acknowledge that in our pages. (Can't you just picture it? "This new product uses a cathode follower—but I have to caution all of my readers that FatBoy, Journeyfan, and CoolDude69 say that a cathode follower is a no-no!") The world of audio is their forum, their lily pad, from which they hold forth, and any amount of time spent reading the opinions of someone else is time that could have been spent listening to the King of the Pond.
Guys, guys, guys: If you're interested in domestic audio, please read anything and everything you can get your hands on, and judge for yourselves. If you're smart enough to plug in an amplifier, you're smart enough to decide for yourself which sources of information are credible or not.
Two final points:
1) I stand behind everything I wrote in my review of the dCS Delius and Verdi La Scala: My description of the technologies at work, like my description of my opinion of the products' performance, was accurate; and,
2) just because I'm writing about USB vs S/PDIF or nonoversampling vs oversampling or digital vs analog or rock vs classical or charcoal briquettes vs propane doesn't mean that I'm taking a side, unfairly or otherwise: It means I write for a living, and I'm describing someone's product, someone's point of view. Maybe it resonates for me, maybe it doesn't. Who knows? At the end of the day, that shouldn't even be important to the person who wants only to listen, who wants only to find the greatest musical enjoyment—or who just wants to have a little fun reading about it.—Art Dudley