Listening #83 Page 2

Then came the coup de grâce: Last year, blogger Robin Goldstein submitted an entry for a fake restaurant—and won an award. Osteria L'Intrepido could now legitimately display a Wine Spectator award in its window, if only it existed. Perhaps more important, Goldstein points out, the wine list he created for his fake restaurant was, intentionally and unmistakably, sub-par.

Wine Spectator's executive editor posted a response on the magazine's website. Surprisingly—at least I was surprised—he refused to admit any fault on his magazine's part, and in fact rather contentiously stood his ground, suggesting that the only wrongdoing was Goldstein's "hoax." A casual sampling of posts in the thread suggests that the majority of readers agree with Wine Spectator on the matter.


There has been no word so far as to whether to expect a series of Wine Spectator awards for "Sommeliers Who Give Really Good Hugs."

7. Almost every day of my life I listen to recorded music using the playback gear that I'm fortunate to own—and at least one product that's on loan for the purposes of writing a review. The latter falls into one of three categories of more or less equal size: things I've heard about and requested on my own; things offered to me by their manufacturers (or distributors, or key retailers); and things that John Atkinson has specifically asked me to review. Only once in the past seven years has a product come my way that I didn't write about in Stereophile: a loudspeaker that, counter to its designer's claims, proved not to be a commercial reality. Everything else I've tried has made its way into these pages.

Twice a year I get an e-mail from JA, reminding me of all the products that I and my fellow Stereophile contributors wrote about during the previous six months, and asking which, if any, I would enduringly recommend—and to what extent. Then, for a number of days after, John and Stephen Mejias burn the midnight oil to compile my responses and those of everyone else into a "Recommended Components" list.

I listen to everything I recommend—sad that I would have to say such a thing!—and I do not recommend everything I've listened to.

When, some 70 days later, that issue of Stereophile hits the newsstands, a handful of apparently unemployed men go into what can be described only as anal-phylactic shock. Research continues, but the phenomenon remains unexplained.

8. First made public in 1990, Godwin's Law is a clause that purports to disqualify any debater, no matter how well informed, who makes reference to Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, Eva Braun, or Colonel Klink in framing his opponents' arguments.

As you might have guessed, Godwin's Law wasn't really coined as a neutral codicil intended to maintain decorum and keep debates on track. It was developed to protect one point of view in particular: People who would presume to tell others which criteria of audio playback—flat frequency response, dynamic range, bass and treble extension, "soundstaging," or whatever else—should be most important to everyone else, especially to audio critics.

Some of those people are sneaky about it. They promote their preferred criteria—and with these folks, it usually is flat frequency response—by describing favored products as pan-industry benchmarks on which all future products must build. Other such folks are more overt, sniffing that the critics and consumers who don't share their criterial rankings are simply and sadly not at all interested in fidelity.

Most playback products tell some truths, and all tell some lies. When a consumer or a critic decides and declares honestly which truths are most important to himself, that subjective ranking does not in the least diminish the validity of his objective assessment of a product's performance. A timbrally neutral product that plays music with no sense of drama is neither higher nor lower in fidelity than the timbrally colored product with great dynamics. Anyone who suggests otherwise really is a Nazi.

9. What's the difference between a reviewer and a critic?

Most domestic playback products are designed and built in a distinctive manner, each to each, and made using distinctive materials and component parts.

Most domestic playback products have a sound all their own.

The effectiveness of most domestic playback products very much depends on the rest of the system with which they will be used, as well as the room, the climate, and the physiology and psychology of the listener(s) in question.

A reviewer is qualified to discuss the middle one; a critic can do all three.

10. Two flies are resting on a pane of the single window in the men's room of the largest-volume audio salon in Manhattan. One fly says to the other: "Hey, man: What's the best system you ever heard in this place?"

"Wow," says the other fly, pensively. Then, after a long pause: "Wow. I don't know."

"Well, I know," says the first fly. "It was Quad '63s, driven by early Mark Levinson electronics and a Linn Sondek LP12 turntable with a Linn Ittok tonearm and a Dynavector Ruby cartridge. The cables were Peterson Emeralds."

Another long pause. "Nice."

The first fly rubs his front legs together in the miserly gesture of all flies. "How about you?"

Two hours later—a quarter of his lifetime!—the second fly answers: "Duntech Sovereigns with Krell monoblocks, a Spectral preamp, and a Goldmund turntable and arm with a Koetsu Rosewood Signature cartridge."

A pause. "Have you in fact heard that combination?"

"Not really."

11. In taking stock of our impact on the hobby, some critics have observed that "the creation of a language for describing what we hear" will be the legacy of certain critics, if not of the audio press as a whole. Remarkably, the observation seems intended as a compliment.


richard bassnut greene's picture

Your character attack naming me in the pages of Stereophile reminded me of a child throwing a tantrum.


I challenge you to demonstrate to witnesses that every electronic audio component and wire sounds different to your ears, under controlled listening conditions BEFORE you publish verbal character attacks.


If you prefer, ask someone else with better hearing to stand in for you.


That would mean all comparisons would have SPL matching and all brand names would be hidden.


Unless you somehow manage to demonstrate much better hearing ability than hundreds of other audiophiles who have tested their hearing skills in the past three decades, I expect most of the time you won't be able to identify which component is A, and which is B.


The fact that you may BELIEVE all audio components produce different sound qualities has nothing to do with reality -- anyone can claim extra-sensitive listening skills -- but ONLY people who really have such skills could demonstrate them to witnesses in a controlled comparison of audio components.


Sure it may be fun to BELIEVE all audio components sound different when one's hobby is collecting audio components, but then fantasy baseball can be fun too!


Two-channel audiophiles are a shrinking group of (mainly) middle-age white men with strong cult-like beliefs -- anyone who questions their beliefs may be verbally attacked and slandered in a cult-favorite magazine.


Perhaps it made you happy to launch a character attack in your column?


However your character attack doesn't change the fact, demonstrated repeatedly to witnesses over three decades, that the "everything sounds different"belief is nothing more than overactive audiophile imaginations (and also A-B volume differences, since few audiophiles attempt to eliminate them when comparing audio components). 


Fantasy Audio (everything sounds different) may make many audio component collectors happy -- everything sounds different because 'we know what we hear and couldn't be wrong' ... while Reality Audio (many components sound the same) is audiophiles comparing audio wires with brand names hidden, for one example, and no one ever hears a sound quality difference, unless one wire is playing music louder than the other!


If you can't demonstrate your high-end audio beliefs to witnesses under controlled listening conditions, I suppose all you have left is character attacks on fellow audiophiles.


There are many audiophiles whose experiences during controlled listening comparisons (where personal boasts that everything sounds different MUST be demonstrated to witnesses, rather than merely claimed to be a fact) differ greatly from your everything sounds different beliefs.


Reality Audiophiles may question Fantasy Audiophile beliefs, but we do not stoop so low as to use public character attacks as our primary debating tactic.