Listening #207 Page 2

Stereophile's enduringly healthy circulation suggests widespread support for the multiplicity of voices in our pages, and virtually every month that notion is confirmed by letters from our readers. Most of our reviewers have their fans and their detractors, and although it's been a long time since I've seen a letter demanding the head of this or that reviewer, we still occasionally hear from readers who want us to know they trust Herb or John or me or Mikey or Kal or someone else above all others.

Because the quest for wisdom is not a zero-sum game, it's possible for Stereophile to print, in a single issue, a review by Jason Victor Serinus (who relies exclusively on digital sources) alongside a review by me (who relies primarily on analog sources) without having to worry they'll cancel each other out, like those old married couples who vote for different political parties. Indeed, although it's always nice when someone writes in to say they agree with an opinion we've published, nothing makes me happier than letters from readers who declare their fondness for Stereophile writers with whom they disagree, or whose tastes in music or gear they find repellent. And, with apologies for what seems like boasting, we get letters like that all the time.

Look at it this way: Online and in print, Stereophile has a large readership. When someone writes in and says they never read my column, I don't put slightly less work—that reader's share—into the next one. Tempting though that may be. People who harbor a dislike of flutes tend not to avoid orchestral music because of it. At least the rational ones don't.

Does that mean Stereophile is willing to publish any old bullshit? Not at all. We make a living by gathering, packaging, and selling opinions, and we—the editorial we—have another overarching point of view: You deserve not to be insulted. So we're not going to give voice to people who would have you believe there's no difference between the sound of a battery-powered IC and a well-designed amplifier made from discrete parts. And at the same time, we're not going to tell you that putting a photograph of Pope Francis in your freezer will make your hi-fi sound better. Which is actually more like batshit.

Who gets to decide what is and is not bullshit? We do. Just as Supreme Court justices are paid to know pornography and hate speech when they see it, Jim and John and I are paid to know antimusic, antiscience, antiaudiophile nonsense when we see it. And we welcome your comments on how we might up our game, if and when need be. But I warn you: Speaking only for myself, there is one more type of bullshit, in addition to the ones listed above, that I refuse to abide, and that is anti-fun bullshit, as practiced by pedantic, unimaginative killjoys, and which is actually more like pigshit. If you want a magazine from which all wonder, joy, angst, love, awe, frustration, and fun have been leached, and in which the writing voices—not to mention the opinions—of all the contributors are indistinguishable from one another, then Stereophile is not your bitch. Trust me, you'll have no trouble finding other English-language magazines, albeit small-circulation ones, in which it is impossible to tell one writer from the other.

Social lubricant
Identifying various types of barnyard ordure isn't our only job. The number one job of any editor is a tie between making sure we're telling readers things in which most of them are interested, and telling things that are true.

With regard to the first of those, a good editor and a good teacher have one thing in common: They are both skilled at discerning what it is their audience is ignorant of but needs to know, and then taking responsibility for presenting that information with the utmost clarity and thoroughness, preferably in an entertaining and memorable fashion.


I have worked as a teacher and I have worked as an editor. And I am here to tell you, not only are half the people in those professions utter failures, but more than half don't even understand those most fundamental of their job requirements. In education, most practitioners are interested only in encouraging their charges to express their innermost feelings in as self-centered a fashion as possible—that and "leading them to learning" or some such dewy-eyed nonsense. Actual teaching, as a skill, is all but extinct. The world of editing is even worse off—present company obviously excepted. But that's a rant for another day.

As for our responsibility to tell the truth, that simple directive doesn't go far enough: We must convey the whole truth of the matter—the latter a concern that leads us, from time to time, to the sorts of experiences I describe in my review of the Rethm Maarga loudspeaker, elsewhere in this issue.

Our next-most important responsibility: When telling stories that have been given to us by someone else—usually a manufacturer or a distributor or a retailer—as opposed to stories that originate with us, we must make sure we are telling them right. That requires the right blend of letting the teller say what they have to say—quote them accurately, don't stifle them—with healthy skepticism as required. We can't get so wrapped up in a good yarn that we do not, from time to time, say something like "Are you sure you had time to stop and help a little old lady across the street between cleaning those stables and holding the world on your shoulders?" Or, "Precisely how do you know that that footer of yours turns vibrations into heat? Have you measured it?"

And finally: When an editor gets something essentially, profoundly, crazily wrong —and believe me, just like accountants and carpenters and wedding photographers and nurses and surveyors and clergy and baristas and teachers and bus drivers and captains of industry, we editors fuck up from time to time —it's usually because we didn't apply due diligence to one of those maxims. This weighs on me because in recent months I have been guilty of a lack of skepticism —this in my September 2019 column about an expensive replacement bearing for the Garrard 301, called the Buddha Bearing, in which I wrote: Unless they've been holed up in a storage unit somewhere, perfect-condition [original] Garrard bearings no longer exist, and common sense dictates that samples still in use are compromised by both the wear they have undergone and the practical limitations of the machine tools in use at the time of their manufacture.

Although neither the manufacturer nor its distributor suggested I should write any such thing, I got carried away with my enthusiasm for the new bearing and, well, extemporized. But in time, it occurred to me that my statement was haunted, Turn of the Screw–like, by the one thing that never made an appearance in my text: the word probably. Fact is, without at least making some effort to measure the presumed wear in my original Garrard grease bearing, I had no business suggesting an excess of such wear existed in my own bearing.

Good Catholic that I am, I was overcome with guilt, and my guilt compelled me to disassemble, clean, and reassemble the old bearing and see if I could detect any play—both the least I could do and, in this case, all I could do, since I lack the dial calipers and jigs needed to quantify my findings. This I did, and I'm here to tell you: I detected no play whatsoever.

There's a happy ending: Having now reassembled my old grease bearing and found it good, I decided to fill it with grease and return it to at least occasional duty. But I no longer had faith in the integrity of my tube of Garrard bearing grease, which was originally supplied with my 301: Bearings may not always exhibit drastic wear, but petroleum products do break down over time—and hell, that grease is more or less as old as I am. Luckily, at around the same time, I received a very kind note from reader and fellow Garrard owner Al Simon, who advised me to try a product called Phil Wood Waterproof Grease, which he uses on his own 1956 grease-bearing 301. As Simon wrote, the Phil Wood grease, which is designed for use with the company's own high-performance bicycle bearings, is "not too thick and not too thin: It's a 'Goldilocks' product. I've been using it in my 301 for close to three years with superb results. When properly applied it allows the strobe speed of my deck to be set just about in the center of the scale day in and day out during all four seasons in the calendar."

I ordered a 3oz tube of Phil Wood Waterproof Grease —it's available from for $11.55, plus tax and shipping —which turns out to be green (in color as opposed to techno-karma, although for all I know the latter is true as well). It's also a lot thicker than the stuff I had in there before, making it rather more difficult to apply. (The grease fitting that allows the user to replenish the well's supply of grease is also now more difficult to turn.) Having now been (self-)chastened for an excess of enthusiasm, and having absolutely zero interest in conducting a bearing-grease shootout either now or at any time in the future, I will limit my comments to: With the Phil Wood grease, my bearing functions properly and shows no signs of overheating—and my 301 sounds magnificent.


Bogolu Haranath's picture

As a matter of fact, what matters is, sound matters :-) .......

Gregam's picture

Thanks for an interesting (and refreshingly well-written!) article. On the subject of measurements and how or if they correlate to sound, I remember a comment by a friend -- no longer with us, alas -- who was adamant that what we hear *must* be measurable: "if it sounds good and measures well, it's good, if it sounds good and measures bad, you're measuring the wrong things" Regards

Kal Rubinson's picture

Daniel R. von Recklinghausen said that. MIT grad who, among other things, worked at HH Scott and KLH.

Jack L's picture

.....performance of the product at hand, or we publish measurements that, to a portion of our readership, don't appear to matter at all. Are such failures inevitable?" quoted Art Dudley.

Indeed, today's technology still fails to correlative objective measurement with human subjective perception of music. In other words,
we measure the wrong thing due to our very limited knowledge in human
aural perception,

So when I said repeatedly a tube amp measured 5% THD sounds much better than a transistor amp measured 0.0001% THD, please don't take me as insane. My ears beat the measurement.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be you could try listening to the Quad Artera Solus (reviewed by Stereophile), with CDs no less :-) ........

Jack L's picture


First off, I don't rely on whoever critics' recommendation. My ears do the judgement as my own ears listen to the music.

Secondly, QUAD or PASS etc are built with bipolar junction devices with kinked/kneed transfer property which is non-linear for music signal transfer. Critical ears, like yours truly's, do hear the sonic difference between sold state devices used in Quad, etc & tubes which is superior.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Ortofan's picture

... circuits using bipolar junction devices, do you then only listen to recordings made 60+ years ago before studios began using equipment containing bipolar junction devices?

Jack L's picture


Nada. Though vinyl is my love, I also play CD, DVD-audio, DVD & Blu-ray audio/video discs & YouTube streaming to update my enjoyment in the latest classical musical performances. Like it or not, vinyl beats the digital media in term of OPENness, engagement & being-there.

Home audio is an attempt to bring live performances back home since day one. Analogue music media with tube playback electronics get the job done closest possible as of todate.

Yes, from my 1,000+ vinyl collection (95% classical), I found older the
LP labels, better is the sound: OPENness, & being-there. The only reasoning is these recordings were made before the era of solid state devices.

I got over 30 LPs of various labels with digital mastering in 80s.
None of them impresses me enough in term of OPENness & engagement vs
the conventional analogue mastering.

Please don't argue with me until you have experienced vinyl as much as I have done so far.

Jack L

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Ortofan never listens to vinyl ....... Just kidding Ortofan :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... sense of "OPENness & engagement & being-there" you hear is not simply an artifact of the higher levels of distortion (and noise) inherent in the analog disc storage medium, as well as that from tube-type electronics?

What turntable, tonearm and cartridge are you using?

Ortofan's picture

... "kinked/kneed transfer property" of bipolar junction devices?
Please include an explanation of transistor biasing and operating point.

Ortofan's picture

... a tube amp with a measured 5% THD sounds much "better" than a transistor amp with a measured 0.0001% THD, do you mean "better" as in more accurate or "better" as in more pleasant?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Artera Solus' fast filter may provide sufficient harmonic distortion for tube lovers ........ See Fig.4 in measurements :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If you prefer even more harmonic distortion, get the Metronome DAC's, slow and super-slow roll-off filters ......... See, Fig.8 and Fig.9 in measurements :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If you want something less expensive than the Metronome DAC, but want similar amount of harmonic distortion, consider the iFi Audio Pro iDSD ....... See, Fig.7 in measurements :-) .........

Jack L's picture

...... as in more accurate or "better" as in more pleasant?" quoted Ortofan.

First off, we have to agree home audio is an attempt to bring live performance back home.

So I find tube amps bring me back the live performance closer than any sold state amps I have tried. More OPEN & engaging like being there in concert. So tube amps are therefore more "ACCURATE" in reproducing the live performance back home.

Anythings else, e.g. extended high low frequency range, etc etc are personal. Not the top priority.

Still remember when Sony & Philips started marketing their jointly newly invented Red Book CD in 1982 claiming CD was "Perfect Sound for Ever" !!!??? You still believe it today ????

Listening, but not specification alone, is believing.

Jack L

Ortofan's picture

... which solid-state and tube amps have you tried?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Doen't matter ....... Jack L's ears can tell the difference even with his eyes closed and even with blind tests ....... Jack L's ears always love tubes and analog playback gear :-) ........

b1gh1g's picture

No,we don't all have to agree with Jack L.'s law. The percentage of live concert recordings (classical, rock, jazz, etc.) to music created in the studio (and more and more the home studio) is minimal. I'm hoping to hear what the band and engineers created over time in a room full of microphones.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'We prefer truth, over facts' :-) ......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

.... and, yes .... we can handle the truth :-) ........

Turnerman1103's picture

Great read Mr. Dudley . Thank you
I really enjoyed the videos you posted from your home and listening room . Are there plans for anymore ? Hope so.

ken mac's picture

Google "Art Dudley Jazz Vinyl Audiophile" next week for a video series with Art.

Turnerman1103's picture

Thanks - will do !

Anton's picture


What is mind?

No matter.

What is matter?

Never mind.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Cliff Vandercave: Do you know what we do up here?
Fred Flintstone: No. Me and the guys have always wondered.
Cliff Vandercave: Fred, we interface, conceptualize, tenderize and prioritize.
Fred Flintstone: So, when do we eat? :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... he would have been aware of Phil Wood grease and tried it long ago.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

AD has been using PAM spray and/or WD-40 spray :-) .......

dc_bruce's picture

take what you do seriously. Not being at all sarcastic in saying so; other efforts one can find around the web -- including some long-standing names -- cry out, at the very least, for an editor, filled as they are with irrelevant sludge.
It seems to me that there are two purposes of criticism -- any kind, literary, film, music, audio equipment. The first is to define some sort of standard: what is "good" and what is "not good." Not everything is good; nor is everything "not good." The critic's job is to make the distinction.
The second -- some would say lesser --critic's function is advisory: should the reader spend her money on this movie, book, recording, piece of electronic equipment? Or would her money be better spent on something else? The critic draws on his greater (than the reader's) range of experience with the object of the review to make an evaluation that is worth the time to reading.
Of course, all of these judgments are subjective, so it would be unreasonable to expect them to be uniform. Regular readers of a reviewer's work, whether it be of film, music or sound reproduction equipment, eventually learn that reviewer's "taste," the sum of all of his priorities and preferences. Then the reader can determine whether his own tastes align with the reviewer's. The purpose of that is NOT to establish a screen for rejecting certain reviewers' work but simply to understand more fully the reviewer's work.

Mr. Atkinson does great effort to comment on the meaning of the measurements he makes and to attempt to correlate them with the report from the reviewer's ear. Despite this, it seems like we have a long way to go in making the correlation and those of us who recall the "super-low distortion" of the late 1970s know that, at least in that case, there can be too much of a "good thing." Or that the techniques required to produce super-low distortion result in other effects, not measured, that are aurally objectionable. Remember "transient intermodulation distortion"? At the very least measurements have some value in keeping everyone honest and in avoiding the temporary seduction of a sound that, initially is pleasing, or, at least "arresting." Like a child who wants ketchup on everything "because it makes it taste better." A lot of us who have spent decades buying and selling audio gear for our own use have, at some point, been seduced -- or arrested-- by "ketchup." One of two things seems to befall the audiophile who becomes seduced by "ketchup." The first development is that, eventually, to this audiophile, everything sounds like "ketchup" and he grows tired of that. I've been there. The second, alternative, development is that the audiophile's musical tastes either were or become limited to that species of music that sounds good with "ketchup," rejecting those genres or forms that don't conform. Real ketchup tastes ok with beef but not with fish or poultry. So, chances are the fish eater is. not going to be a fan of ketchup. In the interest of not offending any reader who has chosen to spend a few minutes on this piece, I have deliberately avoided identifying what I would consider audio "ketchup." But I think readers with any imagination would be capable of filing in those blanks.

With that, it's now time for dinner. Bon apetit!

Glotz's picture

I align with your observations about a critic's role and their respective 'taste'.

Mikk's picture

Stereophile is not your bitch.

Best line I’ve read in a long time, and cracked me up much more than I could possibly have anticipated.

Hopefully it won’t be long before T-shirts are available with the same comment.

In all seriousness, we’ll done to everyone at Stereophile- I depend on your reviews AND measurements for knowledge, entertainment, and purchasing guidance.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

One of the commenters on the S&V website said it all ....... He said 'Stereophile rules the hi-end audio world' :-) .......

JoethePop's picture

I rarely comment on reviews and columns in your magazine. I read what (and who) I feel is most likely to provide me with useful information, and feel no need to read the other reviews or authors simply so I can comment and "educate" those I may disagree with. I leave you as an editor to , as you say, decide what is and isn't bullshit. But when you make a statement like "In education, most practitioners are interested only in encouraging their charges to express their innermost feelings in as self-centered a fashion as possible—that and "leading them to learning" or some such dewy-eyed nonsense. Actual teaching, as a skill, is all but extinct.", then I feel inclined to call out bullshit. That is a very insulting and definitive statement that comes across as nothing more than a bitter old man telling all us uniformed how much better things were back in the day. I am not a teacher, but I know quite a few, and as a whole they are nothing like what you have described. They are some of the most dedicated and caring people I know, and take great pride in what they do given the constraints placed upon them. Are there some (maybe even a fair percentage) that are reflective of your statement? Sure. But what profession doesn't have their fair share of less than stellar contributors. Okay, old man rant done.

tonykaz's picture

I lived in England in the early 1980s where I discovered the Audio Mentoring of John Atkinson. I felt then that he was an important ( even critical ) contributor to making sense of all things relating to this wonderful audio hobby & experience. I ended up Gray Market Importing HFNRR to the USA and selling subscriptions ( thru the early 1980s ) . HFNRR was the best Audio Literature of it's day thanks to JA ( my opinion ) despite the entertaining writing of HP ( whose Magazine I also sold at my Retail Store Esoteric Audio )

Since 2011, I've felt that JA has quietly inspired and attracted a wide range of talented persons ( like Tyll, whom I still miss ).

Now, Stereophile begins a new Era of Mentoring with JA2, the content reads fresh & exuberent. The writers seem enegerized to push the Bar ever higher. Mr.Dudley is right, Stereophile is cutting it's own groove, god bless em!!!

Tony on Super Tuesday

rockdc's picture

Phil Wood grease has been my go to for a long time; in my previous career as a pro bike mechanic, for all my fishing reels, and for my Lenco PTP turntable bearing.....(stock, no thank you Jeremy / Buddha Bearing...)

shawnwes's picture

Quote: Footnote 2: I know what you're thinking: If only Stereophile could find a few more middle-aged white men.

Art, I love your writing and even more so enjoy your video reviews because it ads a second dimension of humanity to them.

That said Stereophile had a wonderful little treasure in Jana Dagdagan who's videography is second to none in the audio review business. She shouldn't have been let go. Not only was she really good at what she does but she added a much needed dollop of sweetness to the Stereophile roster. Unless it was her choice to move on it was a capital D Dumbass move IMO.

tonykaz's picture

Jana is creating that beautiful Darko Content, she remains part of Steve G's World and speaks nice about her time working with JA1.

Jana is a high def Video person, not a Print or english word person. Jana is all about lenses, 2K, 4K , editing, work travel and behind the scenes.

We are probably seeing Jana but not realizing.

Tony in California

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Old aged white men are running for Presidency ....... If AD runs for President, he would be the youngest white man running for President :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... must necessarily be inferior to a "well-designed amplifier made from discrete parts?"
Isn't the Sutherland PhD phono preamp a battery-powered IC design?

Perhaps AD should read the following about (op-amp) ICs:

CG's picture

Couple things...

First, I think that Art's comments about original Garrard bearings probably still stand. How many bearings have had the TLC applied to them over the years that Art's sample has? Some, but probably not all of them. Think of all the rough looking and running Ferraris out there in the world. Not everybody is wired to obsess over taking care of things. Certainly, you can find all sorts of comments plastered across the interweb thingy about wear and tear appearing on more recently produced bearings from nominally swell turntable manufacturers.

Second, this all asks the question: Despite the overall ickiness of a grease shoot-out, how does the Buddha Bearing sound with Phil Woods grease? Perhaps grease is the word...

Somewhat OT - My wife is a recently retired school teacher. She agrees with Art's comment on educators. Here I thought that she was the only radical teaching curmudgeon out there. Wrong again... (Side note to the side note - Her belief is that classroom teachers are encouraged, incentivized, instructed, whatever to be this way by administrators. In turn, these administrators are encouraged, etc to give this direction by school boards, who are driven to this by parents and tax payers. After a while, nobody in this chain knows any better.)

markbrauer's picture

I have been using Phil grease for over 40 years and, while I have no measurements to back up my opinion, I am certainly probably almost absolutely sure it contains no snake oil.

invaderzim's picture

Music is made with passion and it should be recreated with passion. Sometimes passion can blur with insanity. So I say once again, be crazy, be happy, enjoy the recreation of the music and all that it involves.

mns3dhm's picture

Will you find Art Dudley using two thirds of his monthly column to basically yell at his audience (again) and then the last third to review a tube of grease, so thanks for that!

Ortofan's picture

... seem as though he has become less urbane since becoming an urbanite?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

He became 'arcane' :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

All that noise, pollution and traffic in any city could make anybody 'insane' :-) ........

MT_Guy723's picture

As I sit here trying to type this out with tears running down my face from the series of BIG laughs your column produced, I am reminded of reviews by yourself and John Atkinson primarily that helped me immensely in putting together my system but more so in finding rare gems for my music collection. Your descriptions of test material and what you were listening for and what you heard taught me some very valuable lessons that I have put to very good use. Much of your test material also resides in my music library. My income has only allowed me to acquire components from the Budget list, but they have served me well over all the years I subscribed off and on to Stereophile starting back in the 1970s.

Comments like "we're not going to tell you that putting a photograph of Pope Francis in your freezer will make your hi-fi sound better" made me think of all the times I had to defend spending what I had on a better music system and and endless supply of vinyl and Cd material being shipped to my residence. Cables are the ones to take the biggest digs from a disbelieving public. All your humorous comments in this column reminded me of all those folks preferring to wallow in their ignorance instead of trying a few things... and being musically happier - as I did. I distinctly remember the day that my upgrade, larger gauge speaker cables finished breaking in and I could detect IMAGING being produced by my speakers. If I had had dentures, my teeth would have fallen on the floor.

My thanks to both you and Mr. Atkinson for your care in constructing your opinions and the guidance provided by your reviews. Also thanks for writing this particular column that let me know that you guys weather a lot more of the crap I get from loving high end gear than I do... and meet it with the requisite level of sarcasm that stupid criticism deserves.