At the start of my teaching career, I discovered that it was more difficult to maintain order in a sixth-grade classroom early in the day than at any other time. First thing in the morning the kids were noisy and aimless, and banging my open palm on the chalkboard for their attention worked only once. So I gave my students that which most children crave, consciously or un-: a simple, clear explanation of what I expected of them.
What I expected of themin the short term, at leastwas this: They were required to answer three new questions, written for their benefit on that still-vibrating chalkboard, at the beginning of each and every school day. If the children didn't hand in their answers before the first-period classes began, I would not accept their homework from the night before, thus earning them a score of nothing. On the other hand, a good record of correct or at least entertaining answers to those morning questions would, I promised, be used to nudge upward any borderline report-card grade at the end of each quarter.
There's home cooking on one side of the hedge and fast food on the other, and the world moves farther from the former and nearer to the latter with each passing day. So it goes in domestic audio, where virtually every new milestone of the past quarter-century has pointed far more toward convenience than toward quality.
Depressed? Don't be. Those of us in the perfectionist community have a history of dealing with such things, howsoever slowly and inefficiently. (footnote 1). We're getting better at it, too, year by year. An example: Chord Electronics, of sunny southern England, has now brought to market their Chordette Gem D/A converter ($799) which they offer as an affordable means of getting perfectionist-quality sound from computer-music files.
When you play recorded music, you have before you a work of art with almost no physical existence at all; reconstituting it requires electricity, which will itself imitate the musical continuum represented by the bumps in the groove or the zeros in the datastream. When you listen to recorded music, you are listening to your household AC, and better AC equals better playback. That sounds obvious to me and you, even as it sends the technocodgers into paroxysms of puritanical indignation.
As with so many other things, from cell phones to soy milk, the idea of a portable MP3 player was something I at first disdained, only to later embrace with the fervor of any reformed sinner. But not so the idea of a high-fidelity iPod dock: Given that I now carry around several hundred high-resolution AIFF files on my own Apple iPod Touch, the usefulness of a compatible transport seemed obvious from the start. Look at it this way: In 1970, whenever I bought a music recording, I could enjoy it on any player, in any room in the house. In 2010, why shouldn't I enjoy at least that degree of convenience and flexibilitywithout resorting to a pair of tinny, uncomfortable earbuds?
The English public may not like music, but they absolutely love the sound it makes.Sir Thomas Beecham
Just as car magazines are filled with descriptions of how fast their subjects don't go and how surely they don't stop, magazines such as ours are filled with descriptions of how neutrally our subjects don't play tones, and how precisely they don't place images in space.
If you've followed their story here and elsewhere, you probably know that Tokyo's Shindo Laboratory (footnote 1) has a reputation for defying the two most monolithic of all high-end audio commandments.
One more word for unhappy consumers, in any marketplace, who confuse praise for the new with rebuke for the old: 20 years on, I continue to admire the best qualities of my Linn Sondek LP12 turntable (itself not the first LP12 I've owned). I smile to think of all the records I enjoyed during those two decades.
One of my favorite parental duties is dispensing advice that's calculated to make me sound wiser than I am. Among those pearls: Every so often you should change your point of viewyour philosophiesjust to see if your opinions can stand the strain. In doing so, you may discover a few things that are better than you expected them to be!
Over the years, Stereophile and its writers have been taken to task for doing, thinking, and saying any number of things. We've been raked over the coals for enjoying acoustic music, electric music, old music, new music, light music, serious music, and music God put here as a test, just to see if we're smart enough to hate it. We've been taken to the woodshed for comparing new products to known references; for failing to compare new products with known references; for borrowing known references for the purpose of such comparisons; for taking advantage of professional discounts so that we can buy and keep known references for the purpose of such comparisons; for being out-of-touch naÔfs who haven't owned enough gear in our lives to know anything about anything; and for being spoiled, materialistic pigs who have owned so many things that we've lost touch with The Common Man. We've been assaulted for loving analog, dissed for loving digital, tasered for loving tubes, sucker-slapped for loving solid-state, and mauled for loving mono. We've even been impeached, indicted, secretly reassigned to a new diocese, and flown back to Russia without an adult guardian for being overly concerned with current events.
A clever engineer with an interest in home audio says that the real obstacle to high-fidelity sound is the adverse and unpredictable way in which speakers interact with most domestic rooms. To address that need, he brings to market a loudspeaker that disperses sound in a new and original way. Controversy ensues. Controversy endures.