The Shun Mook Affair BW page 2

That statement is not as stupid as it may seem---it's at the very core of the audiophile's fascination with music and the perceived characteristics of the devices that reproduce it. Belief and perception are two mutually dependent interactive variables---they feed and influence each other, and neither can be wholly separated from the other. If a baseball player believes that not washing his "lucky socks" will improve his batting average, then it will; his belief sets up a series of positive assumptions and expectations which will have a positive effect on his performance. He will wear those socks all season long until they literally rot off his feet. The power of an audiophile's degaussed and cryogenically treated CD is just as real as the ballplayer's lucky socks, and just as dependent on his belief to work its wonder.

In the Dark Ages, Europeans believed in sorcery and alchemy, in lead which changed miraculously into gold, in demons, witches, and evil spells, and in a galaxy of angels who watched over men toiling on a flat earth, from whose edge heedless sailors might fall into everlasting torment. These were realities for them. So strongly did their beliefs influence their perceptions that they brought forth a whole world of supernatural beings. Sadly, when belief in a fetish or ritual vanishes, so does its power. Over a long period of time, "superstition" reluctantly yielded to reason; with the ascent of science came the retreat of the angels. One model of the world superseded another, and the world itself was changed.

What did not change was the fundamental human need for magic. In this regard we are no different from the Europeans of a thousand years ago, or our nomadic ancestors of a million years ago who wandered the African veldt. We smugly assume that technology will solve all our problems and provide every comfort, that all the important questions have been answered. Yet inside each of us is the embarrassing need to believe. So we make niches for magic and disguise them with socially acceptable technobabble. We really don't want everything explained away---we still want mystery and ritual.

The audiophile is able to indulge this need to her heart's content and not suffer the kind of ridicule heaped upon those who croon about seeing the face of the savior in a billboard-mounted plate of spaghetti; her object of veneration is technical, modern, electronic, state-of-the-art, and incomprehensible to the uninitiated. But scratch the surface a little, and you quickly discover how great a faith she possesses (footnote 2).

It seems that any system treatment or add-on can be justified as long as its purported benefits are expressed in the patois of Western rationalism. For example, the Combak Harmonix tuning devices have been promoted, auditioned, reviewed, and discussed in what appears, superficially at least, to be within the wide perimeters of audio science. Thus, they acquire a degree of respectability, even though they appear to have no more basis in logic than any of Peter Belt's famous innovations (footnote 3).

Shun Mook's products are being summarily rejected because the belief system they're based in is different from traditional Western thought. This isn't fair. Until we become familiar enough with the belief system in which they were developed to have a "feel" for what they can or cannot do, we cannot really evaluate them. Out of this same belief system came acupuncture and herbalism---healing practices from traditions which were fully developed before Western medicine existed. When acupuncture began making inroads in North America, it was rejected by Western physicians as "meaningless," "impossible," and "preposterous," because it was outside their sphere of reference. Now that it has been subjected to enough controlled studies to document and verify its benefits, acupuncture enjoys widespread acceptance in modern medical practice, especially in California. On the other hand, this same belief system holds that drinking a potion of powdered rhino horn will improve one's virility. But virility, like a baseball player's batting average, is in part a function of belief.

Footnote 2: It's shocking to discover how many audiophiles and hi-fi gurus (especially retail salespeople) lack even the most basic understandings of electricity, electronics, acoustics, or fundamental industrial processes. Yet they can talk enthusiastically for hours about these things.

Footnote 3: Incidentally, on the subject of belief and magic, a recent Beltism: It turns out that the proper color for painting the edges of CDs is not green, but lavender. And not all the way around, but just a little bit anywhere on the edge. And not even on every disc---just one treated disc in the whole collection is sufficient to benefit them all. Do you remember "Just one drop of WonderSolder anywhere in your system will make an amazing difference"? The operating principle is the same as that of homeopathy: A single drop of an herbal medicine is diluted an infinite number of times, until not one molecule of it remains in the glass of water, but the water is nonetheless "charged" with its essence. Question: If I know you, and you tint one of your discs, does the benefit accrue to me too? Is the power of belief that strong?

jvjessen's picture

Edit: Stuff like this really should require a blind test with multiple staff to give a more credible review.

ishis's picture

It's fun reading these old letters written by foaming-at-the-mouth Nay-Sayers, 26 years later. Other manufacturers of accessories (vibration control, room-tuning discs, etc) that have been proven to work in the years that followed, have gained the respect of Audio Lovers everywhere. People have to be open-minded about new ideas and discoveries of things we were not aware-of before. If you 'dump' on things you do not understand, you just sound stupid later!