Remember the old mathematical riddle about moving a football from a hundred yards out to the goal line? Known as Xeno's Paradox, it goes like this: if each time the ball is moved it travels half the distance to the goal, how many moves will it take to get there? The answer: an infinite number, because no matter how many times you cut the distance to the goal by half, you'll always be some infinitesimal distance away from it.
Some folks claim to have actually seen the legendary Bigfoot, the enormous, manlike beast said to roam the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest. Others have stood in his footprints or plucked foul-smelling patches of hair from trees he has recently passed. A few have gotten close enough to take vague snapshots or shaky video clips of the beleaguered creature. One or two attest to frightful chance encounters with him. His size alone has given rise to rumors that he is dangerous, but no firm evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this.
In his April 16, 2001 website essay "Where's Our Freedom of Audio Choice?" reader Jim Tavegia railed against the ubiquitous policy of manufacturers only allowing their products to be available through selected retailers. "If I'm willing to pay the UPS costs, it should be my prerogative to buy equipment anywhere I please," he wrote. This echoes a controversy that appeared in the print magazine 15 years ago. The affair started with some innocent-looking text written by Audio Cheapskate Sam Tellig in the December 1985 Stereophile (Vol.8 No.8):
I'm starting to hate computers. They take up all my time. Whether I'm writing, preparing classes to teach, toying with computer-generated music, managing finances, or (too often) upgrading hardware, I'm spending too much time in the computer chair, not enough in the listening chair.
Wandering through Tower Records the other night, I was struck by the amazing diversity of music available to us. There's music from every part of the globe, for every taste and interest, from "show-me-the-good-parts" compilations of classical highlights to obscure releases by unknown artists. There's music for the ecstatic, music for the angry, music for the straight, the gay, the bent, and the twisted. The subcategories replicate like rabbits, as if in a demographer's nightmare. Genus spawn species, which quickly mutates into subspecies, race, tribe: cult begets subcult.
The year was 1948. As a six-year-old, I haunted record stores with my Uncle Stan. A quiet bank teller from Manchester, England, childless himself and quite overpowered by my Aunt Emily, Uncle Stan shared with me his love of music and movies.
I walked through my local Best Buy recently and didn't see one stereo receiver. Boomboxes, table radios, surround-sound gear, and computer speakers were everywhere. But the hi-fi staple of the 1960s and '70s—the plain-vanilla two-channel receiver—was not to be seen. Even if one or two were lurking there, the fact remains that high-quality two-channel audio is now so disconnected from consumer electronics that it's hardly at the "high end" of anything at all. It's a world unto itself.
In a dark, smoky office, a desk lamp beams a cone of light onto papers, books, pipes, and notepads. A theoretical physicist hunches over his desk, half-illuminated, visualizing the world inside his equations.
Call me naÏve, but I thought the Hi-Fi Wars were merely in-house squabbles. Yes, meter-carrying objectivists and wide-eyed subjectivists can carry on worse than Republicans and Democrats in Congress. But I always figured that once someone cues up Dark Side of the Moon or Kind of Blue, the partisanship subsides as we revel in our common passion for music and sound. C'mon, everybody—group hug! Okay, I exaggerate.
Mary is a scientist living in a distant galaxy. She and her fellow humanoids are just like us, but their knowledge is highly advanced. It's so advanced, they've solved the most daunting problem in science—understanding the brain and mind. They know everything scientifically possible to know about the brain's neurons, its architecture, and how consciousness, ideas, feelings, and memories occur. Perception and sensation are understood, too. Mary knows exactly how light and sound waves become colorful visions and beautiful melodies. On her planet, aspiring neurobiologists are out of luck. There's nothing more to aspire to.
During the late 1950s, when high fidelity exploded into a multimillion-dollar industry, product advertisements bragged about bringing the orchestra into your living room. Apparently, no one realized what an absurd concept it was, but there are still many people today who believe that's what audio is all about. It isn't. There is no way a real orchestra could fit into the average living room, and if it could, we would not want to be around when it played. Sound levels of 115dB are just too loud for most sane people, and that's what a full orchestral fortissimo can produce in a small room.