It seemed a bit like the game of Telephone: Someone at the head of a long line of people whispers a sentence or two into the ear of the next in line, who in turn passes it along. By the time the last person in line repeats aloud what they think they've heard, the message is often barely recognizable to the first person.
High-end audio is not a rational construct. It is a sensory experience that leads to emotional engagement. In slightly different words: High-end audio is not about a concept, but about the experience of having our emotions engaged. The difference between reading about a high-end audio system and hearing great recordings played on one is almost as big as the difference between reading a love poem and falling in love.
Tom Swift is a talented young loudspeaker designer. Tom believes that he has never been able to prove exactly how talented he is, because the company he works for refuses to build the cost-no-object loudspeaker he's been doodling designs for (on company time).
Getting a name check from the mainstream press can be a good thing. But as Wes Phillips wrote in his blog on February 5, "to paraphrase Mason Williams on winning an Emmy Award, 'It's like being kissed by a girl with bad breath—you appreciate the honor, but...'"
The debates may be old, but they're not tired. They rage on with a virulence that suggests there's plenty of life in these old dogs yet. Online forums and Letters to the Editor are filled with them: objectivist vs subjectivist, engineer vs audiophile, double-bind vs doubly blind. The divisions may be artificial or downright specious—false dichotomies perfectly set up for cheap shots—but that doesn't dissuade people from drawing sides, driving stakes into the ground, and firing off volley after volley of accusation and retaliation.
Michael Fremer's review of the AudioPhysic Caldera III loudspeaker in this issue (p.81) reminded me of a subject I have written about many times in the past: what happens when a manufacturer submits a faulty sample for review. I formalized Stereophile's policy on this matter in late 1988, following both an unfortunate series of reviews in which the samples either arrived broken or broke during the auditioning, and my learning about how much went on behind closed doors at other audio magazines, where reviewers and editors too often appeared to collude with manufacturers.1 I wrote back then that:
Although you're reading this in October, I had to write it in the middle of summer's dog days—what Washington journalists used to call "the silly season," not so much because there's anything inherently funny about August, but because, in pre-AC DC, all the legislators went home then to escape the heat and humidity, leaving the press corps with little to write about other than "man bites dog" stories.
I've never lived in New York City, but I've visited often, especially the Upper West Side, where my wife's grandparents lived for many years. There's a little jazz bar there, on Broadway near 106th Street, aka Duke Ellington Boulevard.
The first epiphany I experienced in blind audio testing took place in the Dunfey San Mateo Hotel, in Northern California. We were stuffed into a largish, well-lit room in which dozens of listeners sat in chairs, and others stood around the back or sat on the floor. Up front were two large B&W Matrix 801 speakers on tall stands spaced far apart, behind them, opaque curtains hid a small pile of audio equipment. John Atkinson and Will Hammond stood at stage left.
On mornings when I can get up early enough after a late-night listening session, I take the last express bus from my Brooklyn suburb to Stereophile's Manhattan office. An inveterate people watcher, I notice that while my fellow travelers and I don't form a traditional queue at the bus stop, preferring instead to mill around in something that resembles a jelly donut, we still enter the bus in the order in which we arrived at the stop. The balance between individualism and social necessity is thus preserved.