The Shun Mook Affair Letters Again! page 2
Having followed your reviews of new and unusual accessories for many years, the Shun Mook disc reviews started me wondering. I'm a firm believer in modifying and tweaking audio systems, but despite the questionable audibility of some of the accessories marketed as high-end "fix-its," I can't remember a review in Stereophile in which an item was found to have absolutely no effect at all on a system.
In the automotive field, where exotic spark plugs and gasoline additives are all the rage, it seems there is always a modest percentage of items that prove useless or mystical in their performance claims. In the same vein, is it improper to expect that a modest percentage of passive audio devices sold to rejuvenate a system would do nothing as well?
Without trying to sound critical, when was the last time Stereophile reviewed an accessory with unusual claims and found it to be completely benign?-
--Bryan Little, Richmond, VA
The Tice Clock did singularly fail to impress some of us, but your point is well-taken, Mr. Little.---JA
Stereophile Vol.17 No.9, September 1994
Re: Barry Willis's "The Art of the Scientific Illusion," Vol.17 No.5, p.49:
All told, Mr. Willis's essay was one which I read with great interest and some amazement. Reading the lines and between the lines of Mr. Willis's argument, I gathered:
• Truth and advertising, as products of Western rationalism, can be poles apart in high-end audio as much as elsewhere; Shun Mook Audio, as a manufacturer, probably uses deceptive advertising to promote its products. If advertising techniques were people, one would never take those described by Mr. Willis home to meet Mother---and Shun Mook products would probably be barred as well.
• Shun Mook products are analogous to Mr. Willis's baseball player's lucky socks such that, when they're used in a system, their user is engaging in behavior differing little from the baseball player's reliance on and utilization of his lucky socks---although the discs probably aren't given to rotting, at least within the user's lifetime.
• Some belief systems are not far removed from a sleep of reason which allows a frolicking of monsters. Underlying those systems are older needs which outlive any system in which they reside, and which are capable of taking residence in subsequent systems as they develop. These older needs are monstrous because they're irrational. Shun Mook products stand in relation to these monsters. The popularity of the discs is not based upon their efficacy, but rather upon the manufacturer's ability to capitalize on the irrationality of their users' needs and beliefs.
• Without a basis in logic of the Western variety, a product's foundation may be absurd or non-existent. Shun Mook products have their cousins in Peter Belt's innovations.
• When the act of hearing has been short-circuited by whatever means for whatever reasons, one can fall back upon an underlying belief system to provide the information necessary to evaluate a product. Apparently, it doesn't do to examine closely the reasons for the short-circuit. Mr. Willis allows that some good has come out of the system from which Shun Mook products were supposedly developed. It has also produced vagaries, such as drinking powdered rhinoceros horn dissolved in liquids. If asked whether Shun Mook's products resemble the good or the questionable, one would have to tilt toward the questionable, given the tenor of Mr. Willis's argument. Precisely what Mr. Willis's evaluation would involve in terms of tests and their nature, as well as who is to do the testing, are unresolved or yet to be resolved. Presumably, Shun Mook products must remain in limbo until Mr. Willis provides the answers. How the company can remain in business given these limitations isn't addressed.
• Because Shun Mook products are "mystical" objects, according to Mr. Willis, their inherent virtues must be ephemeral or non-existent.
My guess is that 20 minutes of Mr. Willis's time at WCES provided insufficient exposure to Shun Mook products to permit a meaningful audition, and, hence, not enough information was available to dwell fairly upon what the implications of those products might be. Certainly Mr. Willis gave no indication that he offered those products any time beyond his experience of them at WCES. The upshot was an expression of views which didn't seem to differ much from those expressed on Internet, as related by Mr. Willis.
The one appeared to be derisive on the basis of a stated prejudice; the other was derisive of the same products by unstated implications based, quite possibly, upon similar prejudices. Both served to denigrate Shun Mook with possibly neither having troubled themselves to listen to the products for an extended period of time in favorable surroundings. Such may well be the prerogative of Internet surfers. With Mr. Willis, however, such a failure would have to be considered as indicative of an exquisite irresponsibility, given his association with Stereophile, and given the impact of such a writer's negative views upon a manufacturer's financial viability.
Mr. Willis, himself, may be after what he terms "the Convincing Illusion." Logic, however, would dictate that not every audiophile is consciously or unconsciously pursuing this quixotic El Dorado. Some, by the dictates of circumstance, might have to be content to listen at home to music which otherwise might not be available, given its uncommon performance in a concert or recital hall. The joy that recorded music provides by way of an audio system---whatever its components---may be its reason for being. The "Ultimate in Realism" and "Convincing Illusion" might constitute a garden of earthly delights for some audiophiles, but for others, one or both may be completely beside the point.
Contrary to Mr. Willis's intimation, Shun Mook may not be relying on a posited need to believe or on a need for magic, ritual, and mystery to move its products. Those products may be doing what the manufacturer claims they do, and, thereby, that above-mentioned joy would be increased. What users of Shun Mook's products hear with those products in their systems doesn't have to be based on the users' psychic contributions to those products---notwithstanding Mr. Willis's own beliefs in the matter.
There is a melancholy irony in the fact that Mr. Willis, who strongly lamented the current prevalent brightness of recorded sound in his "Toys for Boys?" essay [Stereophile, Vol.16 No.1, p.101], finds himself unable to employ the products capable of taming that egregious characteristic. If the vitriolic tenor of "The Art of the Scientific Illusion" is any indication, perhaps Mr. Willis, given the passion of his remarks, is less to be blamed than comforted, since the essay may have more to do with his unconscious projections onto the Shun Mook product line than with the exercise of his rational faculties. Self-respecting Hindus, I think, would point to his predicament and to his pain as being illustrative of maya, but not without an accompanying chuckle of compassion.
---Charles Grossmann, Oakland, CA