The Acoustical Standard (with follow-up) The Acoustical Standard part two

John Atkinson responds:
Heaven forbid that anyone interpret Gordon's essay as being a statement of Stereophile's policy, as I feel that this vision of the role of hi-fi is too narrow, even self-defeating. As I see it, there are two major flaws. First, when he talks about the use of nonclassical music in equipment reviewing—and many writers, including myself, do make considerable use of rock and jazz—he is confusing what hi-fi components are for with a writer's need to choose program material that reveals aberrations or performance virtues. As the editor of this magazine, I would rather a writer be correct in his conclusions rather than adhere to a narrow party line about what music is philosophically or—horrors!—socially correct if the result is a review which fails to inform the readers.

If the Sheffield Drum Record, or Famous Blue Raincoat, or Joni Mitchell's Blue, or Kraftwerk's Autobahn, tell the reviewer more, for example, about the soundstaging abilities of a component, or its dynamic capabilities, or the tuning of its bass than, say, the Telarc Alexander Nevsky, then the reviewer is obliged to use such "unpure" source material. In fact, one aspect of JGH's reviews which to me is conspicuously absent is that his strict adherence to the classical-only policy outlined in this essay often fails to tell our readers about the continuous dynamic capabilities of the equipment under test.

This is not to say that the opposite is true, that one can do a complete review only using nonclassical music. How, then, can a reviewer judge tonal aberrations and timbral alterations? A major failing, for instance, of Ken Kessler's reviews in HFN/RR is that he fails to adequately cover this aspect of performance. But a reviewer should stress components in every possible way, and if that means departing from Gordon's strict party line, then that's the way it must be.

Second, and more important, while I don't disagree with Gordon about the importance of a hi-fi system being able to reproduce the sound of a classical orchestra correctly, I just don't think that that is its prime role.

The fundamental role for a hi-fi system is to enable its user to enjoy recorded music in the home. Being tonally correct is part of this, but not all. Plenty of hi-fi components out there meet JGH's criterion of being able to reproduce the "sound" of live, unamplified classical music, but nevertheless fail miserably at conveying the musical content of that sound.

Accuracy may be desirable, but it is only relevant if the system can convey the emotion in music, Gordon. Who cares whether a component is "accurate" or not if its owner can't stand listening to it? "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!"

Gentle readers, what do you think? Should we continue to use nonclassical music in our equipment evaluations?
John Atkinson