HE2005: The Great Debate

Some say it dates back 50 years, to when the late David Hafler introduced a tube amplifier with a "better-sounding" ultralinear output stage. Others claim it goes back to the introduction of electrical recording and playback in 1927, when Gramophone magazine's founder and editor, author Sir Compton McKenzie, thundered that electrical reproduction was a step backward in sound quality. But whenever it started, the "Great Debate" between "subjectivists," who hear differences between audio components, and "objectivists," who tend to ascribe such differences to the listeners' over-heated imaginations, rages just as strongly in the 21st century as it did in the 20th.

As Stereophile was founded by J. Gordon Holt on the basis that audio components should be judged on how they sound, it is not too hard to guess on which side of the debate the magazine stands. But perhaps the so-called objectivists have a point: When some subjectivists claim that everything makes a sonic difference—even the material from which an amplifier's volume control knob is made!—isn't it time to take a step back?

Accordingly, Stereophile editor John Atkinson invited someone who has made criticizing the magazine on the Internet almost a full-time job over the past few years, Arny Krueger, to debate him one-on-one at the forthcoming Home Entertainment 2005 Show as to where the line should lie between honest reporting and audio delusion.

Krueger, a long-time member of the Southeastern Michigan Woofer and Tweeter Marching Society, long a home to audio skeptics, operates websites devoted to the idea of computerized blind testing and soundcard testing. He is skeptical of many if not most audiophile claims. He even doubts that SACD and DVD-A offer any sonic advantages over the 23-year-old CD standard, other than surround channels, and completely dismisses LP as a 21st-century audiophile medium and tubes as a modern amplification technology.

Not surprisingly, Atkinson and Krueger have clashed many times on the Internet and even in Stereophile's "Letters" pages, but never in person. Now they will be able to, Krueger having accepted JA's invitation.

The debate is provisionally scheduled to take place from 2:30pm to 4pm on April 29, at the Show venue, the New York Hilton at 55th Street and 6th Avenue, and will be made available to those unable to attend in person either as a webcast or as streamed audio.

We look forward to the flames of the debate generating light rather than heat. Let's get ready to rumble!