As Reviewers See It Page 8
Balgalvis: I have a comment here. I have been on vacation, totally divorced from all types of music except mostly hard rock and hillbilly type music—which I happen to get tired of very quickly. It was just absolutely exhilarating when I heard a jazz station suddenly appear on a regular car radio. It was such a welcome breath of fresh air—and it was totally musically involving. On a car radio. I didn't need anything else at that moment.
Holt: I want to ask everybody here, how many of you have ever had the experience of listening to maybe a car radio, or any kind of "system" where you didn't expect anything from it in terms of quality? And have the music really get to you?
Lipnick: Of course.
Holt: So my point is that that is not a measure of the fidelity of a system.
Atkinson: Unless there's something that car radios do right in general that sophisticated high-end systems do wrong. [laughter] I'm serious!
Deutsch: I've been trying to clarify in my own mind what I want from a piece of equipment. The closest that I've been able to come to, answering the question of whether I want it to sound "good" or whether I want it to be "accurate," is that I want it to create the illusion that I'm listening to a musical event and to minimize the impression that I'm listening to electronic sounds. And good equipment for me is that which, for a wide variety of records, manages to create the impression that years ago there were people who recorded music and they are communicating that music to me. The engineers may have used mikes that were perhaps peaky or there were components in the [recording] chain that were adding distortion, but [the effect of] those components is minimized and I'm able to communicate with the music. Other pieces of equipment may be very good at revealing just how bad the mikes were, but miss out on communicating the performance the way that I imagine it.
Take, for example, the recording of Gordon recorded with all those different microphones on the first Stereophile Test CD. I listened to it on one piece of equipment—I won't mention what it is—and I was made so aware of how different these mikes were and how terrible they all were. However, the quality of Gordon's voice was communicated better through another piece of equipment; while it still allowed me to listen to the mike colorations, they did not intrude as much on the communication, on me getting the feeling that, yes, this is what Gordon sounds like.
Balgalvis: I don't know how other people review, but I am sure that there are repeat passages to which we listen. I would have to say that, yes, you want to listen to those records and that type of music which involves you, but at the same time I would have to say that if you listen to something five, six times at very great attention to how it differs from one component to another, the musical involvement takes a back seat.
Atkinson: What I wanted this discussion to examine is something that Gordon implied a couple of years ago. He wrote a piece saying that the whole thrust of the High End seems to be going wrong. I think so too. Because there are so many high-end components made which to me are unmusical in their sound, yet their designers say, "Boy, these're accurate!" [And it is indeed confirmed in reviews that these components are extremely uncolored, that they depart very little from absolute neutrality.]
I am very much disturbed that it is possible to put together for $2000, say, a musically satisfying system that doesn't seem to do many things wrong—its sins are of omission—yet audiophiles and reviewers would look at every one of these components and say, "Not as good as the best available, because it's not as accurate." And yet those components in that system are actually more accurate because they let the listener through to the music. There are components which are "better" in every way than those components in that they are more "accurate"—[meaning less colored, more neutral]—yet you cannot put together a system around them which enables you to enjoy the music...I feel that the entire audio industry is in danger of leading music lovers into error by their adherence to this magic word "accuracy."
Holt: The thing is, we're always bandying the word "accurate" around. I mean, "This is more accurate than that," and so forth. Listen, to me live music, which is my standard, I happen to like the sound of. So to me anything which reproduces that to my liking is accurate. That's all I can say.
Lipnick: I brought up the point in a preamplifier review, saying, "Is it better or is it different?" But the fact is that if you can hear more of what went on in the performance through one piece than another, it will be more involving. Now in some cases it will not be as pleasant...but it [does bring] me closer to the performance...
Atkinson: That reminds me of the story—I believe it was in Kennedy's Elgar biography—where a recording was being made of one of the large pieces Elgar wrote for the Three Choirs Festival in which there was a bassoon solo. Before the solo, there was a passage where the bassoon was playing away; the recording engineer rushed out and said to the conductor, "I can't hear the bassoon at this point. Can you ask him to play louder or we're going to have to put a spot mike on him." The conductor turned and said, "You're not meant to hear him. Elgar wrote this quiet passage so that he could get his lip in to be absolutely ready for the solo." There are components, for example, which are so "accurate," they enable you to "hear the bassoon" even when you're not supposed to!
"More" is not always "better."