SSI: Final Words from Stephen Mejias

One of my favorite moments of SSI 2010 came during Saturday afternoon's outstanding "Ask the Editors" session, when a member of the audience asked the panel about audio nirvana. What components or systems, if any, had helped us achieve that elusive, mythical state when everything is perfect and right? I sat up straight in my seat and buried my fingernails into the palms of my hands, anxious to offer a response. When my turn to answer came, I stuttered, overwhelmed by the moment, but I think I said enough to communicate the idea that audio nirvana is a fleeting target, one that depends more on the listener's mood and ability to be moved and less on the system or individual components within any particular system.

Hi-fi, as much as it's about Ohm's Law and as much as it's about system synergy and as much as it's about room dimensions and format wars and everything else, is about people; hi-fi is about us. We build systems that we love, to play back the music that we love. And when we know what we love, we are all right.

As a member of the press attending a hi-fi show, it is all too easy to fall into a pattern where we are simply going through the motions, nodding our heads and asking: "What's new here? And when will it be available? And what type of drivers does it use? And how much does it cost?" These questions are necessary, but if the point is to better understand a manufacturer's goal and, therefore, to understand his or her idea of why music matters and what makes music beautiful, then these questions are simply not enough. We have to go deeper. We have to travel over language barriers and insecurities and emotional walls, in order to find common ground. And, at the same time, we have to open ourselves to that other person. This is music we're talking about, after all, and music is an emotional, personal thing.

There were many fine systems on display at SSI 2010, and every one of those systems was put together by one or more people working together for a common goal. On Saturday afternoon, during that outstanding "Ask the Editors" session, in response to a question about audio nirvana, I talked about my experience in the Hathor Acoustik room. I had never heard of Hathor Acoustik; never even heard of the design partners, Luc Allair and Pierre Murray. Allair's speakers looked ordinary, his product literature was all in French, his accent was heavy. But nothing could obscure Allair's love for music, nothing could conceal his respect for music. In stops and starts, we talked about driver materials and cabinet resonances and music. And when I sat down to listen to Beck's beautiful "It's All In Your Mind," played back through Allair's speakers, sourced from Naim electronics, I was ready to be moved by the song.

Now, everything Allair had talked about made perfect sense; I understood where he was coming from. Through song, I explained to the "Ask the Editors" audience, Hathor Acoustik and I had found some common ground, and in doing so, I had achieved just one moment of audio nirvana among many at SSI 2010, the most enjoyable hi-fi show I've ever attended.

Larry's picture

Yes!! Music is truly universal!BTW, any chance of posting those questions & responses?

Sasha K's picture

Hi Stephen, I'm glad that my question got that reaction and response out of you. I did understand and appreciate your thoughts, and beyond that you made the point that I hoped you would. The point being that audio nirvana does not always have to come from the 45,000 dollar system, but rather that if the right song is playing and the conditions are right then nirvana can come from well almost any system, assuming you fall for the music. Anyway thanks again for your consideration and answer, as well as the rest of the ask the editors team. Being one of a vanishingly small number of music loving audiophiles at the show under 25, (im 22, and have been a hifi lover since 15 or 16) it's nice to know that my question, views, and thoughts on audiophilia and music still have a place in a hobby heavily dominated by a considerably older generation. It's sad that it seems that audiophiles are slowly dieing off and one day I may very well be alone.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Larry: I think Francois Caron of the Canadian Public recorded the event, but I'm not sure where or when he'll be making it available. Let's keep an eye out for it at the Canadian Public website.Sasha: Because you are a young audiophile, your views on music and hi-fi are extremely important. And I think you can take comfort in the fact that, as long as there is music, there will be those who value it as much as you, and you'll never really be alone. Music is good, powerful stuff.

Nick's picture

it was a good question, thought for a sec how I would answer it.