Just What Is High End? Letters

Letters in response appeared in Vol.14 No.10, October 1991

Well said, Bob!
I have been a subscriber since 1983 and have seen contributors come and go. Arrivals and departures have been welcomed over the years, as have "columns and corners." Of course, there have been regrettable losses as well.

Robert Harley's July "As We See It" is an opinion that provoked me to write. RH has clearly, honestly, and passionately explained what defines "high-end" audio, giving us all a new and better defined tool for argument. Well said! Well done!

In the relatively short time RH has been writing for Stereophile, it is his reviews, etc., that I most enjoy. His sentence structure (certainly better than mine) is an element that makes for a pleasant read, along with straight-ahead information that seems beyond any doubt.

Congratulations on jobs well done.
---John Gambardella, Laguna Beach, CA

Bob's wide of the mark
I feel compelled to comment about Robert Harley's "Just What is High End?" essay in the July Stereophile. I started reading this piece with great anticipation, as I usually find RH's writing interesting and germane. In this case, however, he is wide of the mark by several light years when he defines high end in terms of the relationship between the equipment designer and the product. Surely any definition of high end must relate only to the sound that a component or a system is capable of producing. I will not attempt to define this "high-end sound" beyond stating the obvious: its main ingredients are 1) the similarity of the reproduced music to the sound of a live performance, and 2) its ability to emotionally involve the listener in the music.

There's no doubt of the role that dedicated and talented designers play in achieving this quality of sound reproduction, but they can hardly serve as its definition. In theory, and occasionally in practice, mass-market companies can produce a component that is truly musical. Is such a product to be denied the "high-end" label simply because its designers don't meet Harley's criteria of caring and involvement? I think not.

A (usually) satisfied reader,
---Peter G. Aitken Durham, NC

The music always comes first, Bob
In reading Robert Harley's article "Just What is High End?" (July '91), I found myself disagreeing with some of his concepts. It is always difficult to absolutely define anything and any such efforts are to be admired. Such attempts will always find themselves wide open to scrutiny and criticism.

With this in mind I overlooked many of my qualms regarding his opinions. His heart was in the right place and I was not seeing crimson red. That was until he moved into "musicality" and the statement, "But for those to whom music is a vital part of their existence, musicality is very real." That one got to me.

For people who love music like myself (it is at least as essential to me as it is to him), the music always comes first and foremost. Rather than further try and explain what my distress was about, let me quote your own Richard Lehnert from the very same issue: "Sound? Sorry. Anyone who cares how a Bob Dylan album sounds probably wonders how he could've gotten so famous with such an awful voice. Not relevant." Mr. Lehnert possibly overstates the case (a concession to sound quality is made in a footnote), but does capture the essence of my thoughts. I do understand what Mr. Harley is trying to say. The manner in which it was conveyed, however, struck me as sounding very elitist, the kind of stuff that turns me off to many audio-related articles. Is the music coming out of a high-end system any better and more important to its listener than the music coming out of a "box" on the street corner is to its listener? If I do not possess or desire to possess a high-end system, then is music any less important to me?

Other than that, great July cover!
---Harvey Levine Bronx, NY