For a field based on science, high-end audio has a relationship with its parent discipline that is regrettably complex. Even as they enjoy science's technological fruits, many audiophiles reject the very methodsscientific testingthat made possible audio in the home. That seems strange to me.
In his "From the Editor's Desk" in the March issue of Stereophile's e-newsletter, John Atkinson recounts how, years ago, "erstwhile audio scribe Enid Lumley" demonstrated her pizza-box-tripod tweak at a hi-fi show. Lumley, JA writes, "placed the tripod atop a CD player and convinced her audience—including me—that the sound was better."
There's a widespread myth that writers who get published are more talented than writers who don't get published, and that musicians who make records are more talented than musicians who don't make records. But anyone with any talent who has ever tried to earn a living as a writer, a musician, or any other kind of artist understands that the correlation between merit and success is, at best, loose. Some successful artists are talented, and some talented artists are successful. But for every talented artist who manages to make a living there are a dozen more, equally deserving, who have no choice but to keep their day jobs.
Portland, Maine, my hometown for the better part of two decades, is a pretty hip place. We are not, for the most part, innovators in fashion, but we are early adopters of the more interesting latest styles.
For years now, what I take to be a Brooklyn style has been prevalent among the local twentysomething crowd. The hipper restaurants are full of pretty young women and bearded men in plaid shirts who, on the one hand, seem ready for the woodlot but who, on the other hand, seem too skinny to lift a decent-size chainsaw. Likely as not, they arrived on single-speed racing bikes converted for commuter use. Nifty machines.
Here's a question for a Stereophile.com poll: What's the best hi-fi value of the last 15 years? I'd bet that, 16 years after its introduction, Grado Laboratories' SR60 headphones would get more than a few votes.
Conventional wisdom has it that you should listen to an audio component, preferably in your own system, before you decide to buy it. But who, these days, has the opportunity to do this consistently? Even an audition in the store isn't guaranteed; I have to drive two hours to get to the nearest dealer with decent customer service and a good inventory of interesting gear. And though he generally stocks a fairly wide range of components, like any dealer, he carries only a small sample of all the hi-fi gear that's currently, in principle, available.
Most people are familiar, at least in outline, with the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea." In the story, the Queen decides that it's time for her son to marry, and the Prince—apparently a very fussy young man—decides that he can marry only a true princess, as measured by her sensitivity to small discomforts. It's like being an audiophile, but with peas.
At the extreme high end—Halcro, VTL, Boulder, etc.—reviewers gush about a lack of character. If you're paying $20,000, you want a preamplifier or power amp to disappear. At those price points we also want extreme, unfatiguing resolution, and noise that's well below what most people would consider audible. But at those prices, an absence of character is definitely something most people aspire to.