Big, Beautiful, Fluttering Hands

A contributor to our forum has made a fine argument for the case that "the future of high-end audio, if it has one at all, is inexorably linked to video." And he cites my recent discussion of the Burwen Bobcat as proof.

Oh dear, if this is the impression I've made, I've certainly done something wrong. But, wait: Jon Iverson tells me there is no "wrong." Jon Iverson says, "There is only better." So, I guess I could have done something better.

Clay White, aka Cheapskate, writes:

The ears no longer decide. The eyes have it.

Stephen M, whom I consider an admirable representative of his generation and certainly one well acquainted with high end sound offers support for that conclusion. He reported in his blog a recent visit with Mark Levinson where he was treated to lots of music played through a Burwen Bobcat and some impressive reference level equipment. He told us a lot about what he saw and virtually nothing about what he heard. He even shared photos of what he saw on the assumption, one might suppose, that seeing was of paramount importance to us too. The next blog entry — a fairly long and well written one — dealt largely with a movie he'd seen. The ears no longer decide.

Thank you, Clay, for this very well-written and thoughtful response. You've made me think about a few things, and have prompted me to dedicate even more space to something I wanted to finally leave alone. This, then, is my attempt at making things better:

We can't forget the other audience that I'm writing for. The other other audience. I'm not only writing for audiophiles who — you must know, you really must know — have absolutely heard this all before, in some other form, despite the fact that it seems there are some out there who so desperately want to believe that a $99 computer speaker playing music through an equalizer of sorts can really sound better than a six-figure system. Come on. Can that really be true?

Maybe. Maybe it can be true — I'm as romantic and as hopeful as anyone — but I'm also skeptical; it's part of my complicated nature.

I feel it's necessary to paint pictures of the people involved in this silly and wonderful hobby. If I can do this and show how someone like Mark Levinson, for instance — somewhere behind his white curtains, fluttering hands, and methods of persuasion — is, afterall, human and beautiful, then perhaps I've found a way of bringing music to people who have little or no interest in high-end audio. I gave out the best that I saw of Mark Levinson, albeit over a very short period of time, with the hope that everyone who read what I had to say would be so much more interested afterwards.

Interested, that is, in the person, and by extension, interested in his passions and products. The things that I wrote and the tone that I took were given to me by that time spent with Mark Levinson. At the time, I felt as though I could have written nothing more, and in no better way.

For the audiophile who wants to hear more about the music Burwen Bobcat makes, there will be some other writer. And that writer might even be me, but not today. And, besides, the audiophile who wants to hear the music that Burwen Bobcat makes will somehow find a way to hear a Burwen Bobcat. But what about the person who has never heard of Mark Levinson or Burwen Bobcat? That person, I believe, might be more interested in hearing about who Mark Levinson is — where he and his passions live, surrounded, as they are, by tigers and women.

And so, I went way out of my way to discuss anything but the music. This was my choice. And when Mark Levinson made the point that I could have done more for the readers of Stereophile had I actually discussed the music — But what else would Mark Levinson say? — I went further out of my way to discuss anything but the music. And, yes, this is also part of my complicated nature — I'm wildly independent and freakishly stubborn — but it was my choice. My choice. My choice, not because I believe that seeing is more important than hearing (I don't), but because what I saw was, to me, really more beautiful and interesting than what I heard.

In one of his comments, Mark Levinson notes that we all seemed "amazed" by the music conveyed by Bobcat. Of course, it's perfectly acceptable for him to say that. And maybe it can be argued that I was somewhat deceitful in allowing him to believe that I was so impressed. (I didn't mean to.) However, one should also note that, among all that I did or did not say, I certainly never said anything about being amazed. To be perfectly clear now, I'll tell you this:

was never

I was more impressed by the size of the space. I was more impressed by the furniture across the floors. I was more impressed by the paintings on the walls. I was more impressed by the delicious food, the interesting conversation, and other things that I'm still choosing to leave out.

Perhaps I should have told you that while we listened to music, Mark Levinson spent so much time making suggestions concerning what I should write. And to say that he was simply "making suggestions" is, again, my way of — perhaps like the Bobcat itself — obscuring truth for beauty. And when he wasn't making suggestions concerning what I should write, he was telling me what I shouldn't write.

Right there. That right there. Maybe that's part of the problem. Maybe that's why, as John Atkinson notes in his January "As We See It," the median age of our reader has increased from 38 to 48 over the past 19 years. And don't think that I haven't held tightly to that statistic from the moment I read it, wanting and hoping desperately to do something to change it. What young, enthusiastic, intelligent, vibrant person in his or her own right mind would want to simply be told what to think? Who would want to be used, manipulated, coerced, sucked dry? We are not so stupid, not so easily impressed. If this is about bringing digital music back to life, if this is about bringing the industry of high-end audio back to life, then we have to be moved to feel that there is a reason — a true and beautiful reason — to bring it all back to life.

And how do you think that made me feel? When Mark Levinson gave me suggestions as to what should be said — how this whole thing should be presented to the high-end audio industry for the betterment of the entire world of technology, and for all the little girls and boys around the globe, too — how do you suppose that made me feel?

Well, how would it make you feel? And what would you do about it? What would you write? Would you write about his big, beautiful, fluttering hands?

Because that's what I did.

This is no collaboration, Mark Levinson. You can have your own blog, if you want one. They come for free.

And one other thing: my name is Stephen. Not Steve. It says so right there on that business card I gave you:

Stephen Mejias, Assistant Editor

Ali G's picture


Monty's picture

Perhaps Mark L. was also conveying his passion for the sound of the Bobcat and obviously excited about what his educated ears were telling him. As we all know, when you hear something exciting you can barely keep from climbing on your roof to scream about it. That whole passion for sharing thing, yaknow. It would be hard to resist the opportunity to channel those views through the most visible and respected magazine in the HiFi business. I do absolutely respect your willingness to go with your gut, but is it not possible you misread passion for self serving manipulation?

Stephen Mejias's picture

>Perhaps Mark L. was also conveying his passion for the sound of the Bobcat and obviously excited about what his educated ears were telling him. That was definitely part of it, yes. That is exactly what I was trying to convey, when, for instance," I conclude the February 2nd entry: ""Mark Levinson is in love. He is in love with music and life and with the way music and life sound through the Burwen Bobcat. That much", I believe," for sure.""

Clay White's picture

How would I feel if Mark Levinson had presumed to tell me what to write and what not to write, you ask? Resentful as hell. Even at my advanced age where we're generally able to ignore truly boorish behavior, I'd have probably provided him with a description of my resentment.How do I feel after reading your response to my post? Like Pandora first of all, and secondly somewhat apologetic. Clearly, the content of your blog entries is YOUR CHOICE. Nor am I critical of the choice you made. I simply reacted to it.That said, Monty's observation in the forum regarding the popularity of home theater ties in with what I'm seeing in my area. I live in a Chicago suburb of less than 50,000 population which now boasts not one, but two custom theater installation businesses. One had, at the outset, been a Musical Fidelity dealer. They've dropped the line. No demand for equipment at that high price level.I hope I'm wrong about the eyes, but I'm afraid I'm not.Keep writing. We like reading your stuf

David Nighorn's picture

A stunning bit of anger there! I didn't know that you had that in you. It was refreshing and my respect for you has doubled. A true writer is not coerced or influenced to abandon their true feelings and direction. Please keep writing!

WonkoTheSane's picture

I was just wondering where he bought a $99 dollar silent pc. Sorry, just the geek in me showing up.

Ward's picture

AV vs. A alone: I think it speaks highly of the importance of music over movies and video that Apple has, for so long, concentrated on audio in its iPods. Sure, the latest versions have video, but they are first and foremost audio playback devices. As Steve Jobs said on multiple occasions, you may watch your favorite movie 10 times in your life, but you may listen to your favorite album hundreds of times. Also, Stephen, if I haven't mentioned it before, I'm very pleased to see Stereophile reaching younger, and I hope your blog is the first of many efforts in that direction.

JIm Tavegia's picture

Clay is right on target. The masses are video driven, but I am over the fight about why this has taken place. Many people do not get their cancer screnings and that is certainly more important. We each pick our poison. Audio is harder. You must anguish over players and amps, properly position speakers, deal with room EQ if you are fanatical," convince the significant other what you are doing is meaningful and that ""it doesn't look than bad""", determine where you listening sweet spot is, and then enjoy your creation. Video: find a place to hang it on the wall and wal-la! Usually not much of an argument from the significant other here. It takes up so much less space than the old tube set. The visual improvement in HD IS significant. This is not gnat farts at 50 feet different in audio, it is easily discernable. I believe if you gave most people $2k to spend and HD LCD TV would be loaded into the vehicle most of the time. A $2K audio system, almmost never. I like my IPod, but a newer video version matters litle.

Monty's picture

If you think about it," the introduction of MTV ushered in the connection of music and video to a whole generation of people. I can remember the almost instant change in how music was presented. Most people I knew didn't have their stereos hooked up to the boob tube and when I hung out at one of my bud's place it was MTV in the background instead of ""it's your turn to pick an album."" In the early days", MTV actually played music videos...non stop, with the exception of a quick introduction or corny line from one of the VJs. Good sound wasn't required and nobody fooled themselves that what they were hearing was anything more than a visual version of the ass kicking tune on their album. At first, we all watched and listened to the videos for a bit and would eventually turn down the sound and put on an album. Now, we have an entire generation that was raised on MTV and many who have never cued up an album and have always had a home theater system. Visual was part of the music experience for them from the start.

Buddha's picture

Well, I am not very good at reading emotion (just ask Mrs. Buddha) and right now," yours seems very ""complex."" The best I can do in that regard is try to make things rhyme...I can't tell if you are mad or sad or feeling like you'd been had. First", of course your blog entry was visual - we gotta read it, and you can't post how it sounded but you can post how it looked. It's not as if your CES report demonstrated the demise of pure audio because you focused on taking pictures. In any new listening environment, they will be all sorts of visual and tactile and olfactory and taste experiences that occur, but they are (were at Red Rose, too) the product of seeking out the sound. The sound was reason. I liked how your blog talked about things that weren't just the sound, good audio writing is about the atmosphere, the ambience (that last 'e' in the word is pronounced 'ah', by the way.) It's about sensing more than just hearing the timbre of the room, the quality of the air, the hypnotic feeling of being immersed...

Buddha's picture

...immersed in a listening environment. There's nothing better than being in a room like that. I think going to a listening session heightens all the senses. (Oops, I meant the second to last 'e' in ambience.) So, again, your report was dead on - it was an experience and you described it perfectly, especially given the media by which we are limited. The sound is what brings us to the table, but it's not the only dish! OK, so, you've been in this industry for a while," what happened that made this a negative? Somewhere in the haze of what you called the ""chemistry"" of commeraderie and what you would expect as salesmanship that happens during a journalistic appointment"," you seem to be having a ""Catcher in the Rye"" moment. I'd say that it was Mr. Levinson's job to try and meld his message into yours. CAVEAT SCRIPTOR. I think I know Mr. Levinson's agenda", but now I'm cloudy as to what yours was. I don't mean that harshly, but I'd love to read about the what the differences are between what you had in mind for...

Buddha's picture

...for the evening and how it turned out. Did you have any internally conflicting agendas or expectations? As a hypothetical journalist, I would have the expectation that some salemanship would be in force. I'm sorry to see you angry, and I can't figure out exactly why. My first guess would be that you feel like he missed out on Stephen the person, and tried to work Steve the journalist? Sharing the audio journey is fun, I hope you keep writing about this topic. There's more of it to be told, methinks. Well, then again, maybe this is all just too much flu medicine talking. I blame you, by the way, weren't you sick while you were in Vegas? Something about 5 week incubation periods. Thanks alot!

Buddha's picture

Pardon all the garbled syntax.