Listening #83 Page 3

I'm on record with the opposite point of view: English suits me just fine, thanks. If, as is parroted time and again, our noblest goal is to compare reproduced music with real music, then it seems hypocritical to suggest that a vocabulary that has served the latter for centuries is somehow not up to the task of describing the former. Indeed, generations of composers, musicians, musicologists, and listeners have managed to convey their meaning without such expressions as macrodynamics, image structure, dimensionality, or grain.

So I've tried, whenever possible, to avoid the jargon of subjective reviewing. But I haven't always succeeded—and the reason for that, I've come to suspect, is that my point of view contains a flaw: Domestic playback cannot, in all intellectual honesty, be compared with live musical events.


An example: Most unamplified musical instruments disperse sound in every direction, behaving in accordance with a complex relationship between wavelength size on one hand and the size and shape of the instrument on the other. Most loudspeakers, for their part, are directional over at least some frequencies, and their dispersion patterns are comparatively easy to model and predict, thus paving the way for such words as beaming and diffraction.

So it turns out we really do need a few words all our own. But only a few.

12. On the day after Christmas, 2007, the New York Times published this observation by film reviewer Neil Genzlinger: "[Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem] may not be classic sci-fi like the original Alien, which it has in its DNA, but it's a perfectly respectable next step in the series. [The] directors and . . . the screenwriter give the humans in the story much more attention than they received in the first film, which makes for a far more watchable movie." No one can explain the clunky prose, but a team of theologians has suggested that God Himself spoke through Mr. Genzlinger that day: The Almighty had grown so disgusted with the current state of film criticism that He decided to make the genre obsolete with one stroke of the reviewer's mighty pen.

13. Participation in the popular "Critic's Corner" forum on will no longer interfere with the late-afternoon reruns of Matlock for one pugnacious retiree: In July, the moderators there essentially invited Richard BassNut Greene to crap in his hat and wear it backwards. The problem: Several times a week—often several times a day—Mr. Nut posted windy, hysterical, and confrontational messages that attacked the honesty and intelligence of anyone who believes that different amplifiers actually sound different from one another.

It's fair to say that most of the other posters on "Critic's Corner" disliked Richard BassNut Greene, although those few who shared his Garfield-caliber sense of humor appeared more tolerant than the rest. In any event, Mr. Nut was an unwitting poster boy for those of us who say: If you don't care for audio criticism in general, or a certain magazine or writer in specific, then please, by all means, do not read that which you profess to dislike reading. To continue to do otherwise is either to emulate the behavior of the high-school girl who declares and demonstrates faux hatred for the boy she really loves in a pathetic quest for his attention ("Critic's Corner" has at least one of those, too), or to manifest a similarly pathetic desire to shape the likes and dislikes of others, especially those who seem to be enjoying life more than the reader. (The February 2009 issue of Science reported on a study, led by Hidehiko Takahashi, that demonstrated that schadenfreude, of which the above may be a variant, is demonstrably linked to feelings of envy at a neurocognitive level.) Whichever end of the latrine it falls into, it sure as hell isn't pretty.

14. The single most important goal of every living thing is to reproduce. (That, in itself, explains a lot.)

J. Gordon Holt, who died in July, didn't only create America's first subjective-review audio magazine. For a number of years, Gordon himself was the first, and only, subjective-review audio magazine. One is reminded of the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: "I carry my own church about, under my own hat."

Gordon's singular idea bore fruit. Between 1962 and now there came a seemingly endless line of children: The Abso!ute Sound, International Audio Review, StereOpus, The $ensible Sound, High Performance Review, The Audio Critic, The Audio Amateur, Hi-Fi Heretic, High End/Sounds Like†. . ., Positive Feedback, Sound Practices, Audio Adventure/Play, Listener, Ultimate Audio, The Hi-Fi Reader. Some of those children survive, and some have passed away. None look entirely like their dad, or even each other. None.

In 1985, the year I first met Gordon, I agreed with virtually everything he wrote. Twenty years later we had a grudging agreement that the sun rose daily, but agreed on little else. Stereophile is the lucky child whose dad had a point of view, and if getting along with him was difficult at times, getting along without him won't be a walk in the park, either. We will never cease to miss J. Gordon Holt.

E.M. Forster wondered: Can we separate works of art from their creators?

Not really.


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.