A Babel, a Babble . . . Letters

Letters in response appeared in February 1990 issue.

Our direction

Thank you for sharing your conversation on the direction Stereophile is headed ("As We All See It," November 1989). Be assured that at least one reader is pleased with that direction, for the most part...Give us credit for enough intelligence to skip over the parts of reviews that fail to interest us.

Continue to demystify! Audio is fun, exhilarating, at times paradoxical, but not magic. The silly notion that publishing graphs of equipment performance will take away the mystery is, I suppose, akin to the one that analysis of Beethoven's use of Neapolitan Sixths and diminished sevenths in the "Appassionata" Sonata somehow precludes appreciation of the emotional content. That same Beethoven completed hundreds of tedious counterpoint exercises for Haydn and his other teachers. Similarly, the designer of that wonderful vacuum-tube amplifier had to know how to plot the load line and calculate the voltage gain—otherwise it would have taken him about 20 years to come up with a working model. This contemporary, New Age concept that art and science are mutually exclusive would have baffled Leonardo Da Vinci, Johann Kepler, and the members of the Minzler Society for Scientific Music—the most famous of whom was Johann Sebastian Bach
.—David Ligouri, Albany, NY

I agree that mystery obscures knowledge and that knowledge doesn't preclude emotion. But a small voice reminds me of Mark Twain's observation that learning the river's shoals and currents, in order to be able to navigate it, diminished the Mississippi's mystery.

Our sniping?

The sniping at The Abso!ute Sound by your writers does not make you look good. You've lowered yourselves to the same stupid name-calling chauvinistic reaction that Harry Pearson uses. Just because he is a child doesn't mean you have to be one as well. What you fail to realize is that his magazine is considerably more entertaining, informative, and readable than yours, despite all the hype on both sides
.—Edward E. Davis, Upper Montclair, NJ

Oh really?

Why is it that, among audiophile journals, The Abso!ute Sound seems to be the more authoritative and trustworthy? I know it's an opinion, a perception only. Yet a casual poll among local enthusiasts points toward a greater trust in TAS's than in Stereophile's comments on the sound of audio components. (Someone just said, "Of all the mags, TAS still seems to be the more credible.")

May I venture a guess? It's that Sea Cliff "magnifying glass"—that IRS Reference that HP has installed at Sea Cliff. Think about this. Why would I take Lewis Lipnick's word on the sound of the Levinson No.23 when he evaluated it on a pair of B&W Matrix 801s and on CD players while Harry Pearson evaluated it through the Goldmund Reference and the IRS Reference? The 801 is in the Class A category in Stereophile; then where would the IRS Reference or the WAMM belong—Class AA? (à la Moncrieff). My wish is to see a contender system at Santa Fe—one that audiophiles around the world can acknowledge comfortably as a "world reference." There are many other advantages for this installation—I'm sure you can think what use that system can be put to. Evaluation of the world's greatest recordings, past, present, and future; a reference to which your other reviewers can periodically attune their ears to besides live sound at concert halls
.—Yip Mang Meng, Singapore

From the sublime...

You guys sound like a flock of squabbling hens in your aptly dubbed "A Babel, A Babble." Can't you make your minds up to what direction you want the magazine to take? And the constant backbiting. Oh, I know, The Abso!ute Sound has wiped your nose on occasion. But by p.45 out of a 258-page issue of the November 1989 Stereophile, a number of pinheaded remarks about Harry Pearson, Mike Fremer, John Nork, The Abso!ute Sound, et al, were made by your staff and in letters to the editor. Really, you have nothing substantial to fill your pages with? "Pope of Sea Cliff?" What's this, "Hate Harry Pearson Month?"

Look, HP hardly needs me to defend him, yet some of your comments do deserve a view of "things as they are." For one, to suggest that TAS staff toe a singular, HP-directed sentiment is baseless speculation. To infer that internal dissent is stifled or nonexistent is to blatantly ignore the historical and continuing intercommentary between reviewers and the "Further Thoughts" summation that follows earlier comment. (By the way, TAS, and not Stereophile, evolved the concept of in-house reviewer intercommentary.) And two, Harry's footnotes rarely, if ever, undermine the reviewer's credibility. These I should think are terse, informative, and entertaining, and certainly excusable in the context given: to correct or focus the reviewer's observations.

Seemingly, your forum ass-kicks Harry out of green-envied petulance. Your staff's ignorant utterances transparently confuse fact with opinion. They attack the only critic who has successfully and consistently illustrated the complexity of auditory phenomena and the best achieved in high-end sound. No one else comes close, and you know that. And if HP is as pompous as some of you'd like to think, then first check your own closet to see who's free of sin. Besides, who are you to judge? You can't even get your editorial act together!

From your conference, it is obviously, astoundingly, redundantly, and embarrassingly clear that today's Stereophile has no focus. Worse, it breaks the eleventh commandment of publishing: "Thou shalt not bore." One can suffer through Stereophile and come out knowing less than when one began. Unlike what we observe with Stereophile's hapless state of confusion, HP proves that a "form" of direction and guidance is possible (and desirable) for both the magazine's staff and its readership.

For example, "technofreakism" is kept to reasonable levels. The inappropriate inclusion of incomplete and inadequate measurement (of the kind we see in Stereophile) presented as "fact" will surely fail to impress the knowledgeable, and just as surely confuse those who are not. Moreover, the stress on the use of measurement for correlating the audible is misleading (vide the frequency-response curves of cartridges with rising high ends which clearly do not sound "bright"). You do, in fact, know that the resolution of the best measurement gear is too coarse for the purpose and is likely to remain so for the near future. Don't you?

Rather than to fantasize, "If we wished hard enough, we'd be able to measure what we hear," TAS's clear and accurate commentary illuminates what its readers will hear. Consumers, as you yourself have pointed out, want guidance on what to expect from their expensive components. They don't listen to graphs! Besides, in its attempt to understand, The Abso!ute Sound has also published measurements by Martin Colloms, Richard Marsh, Bascom King, and Anthony Cordesman. I trust these names ring a bell. Not surprisingly, these efforts only proved the waste of ink and the reviewers' time. In sum, TAS's mission to report the sound of components and records in an accurate and consistent manner has been successfully accomplished...and (sorry if I ruffle your feathers) to a higher literary standard than yours.