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  • joelha

    Guest Editorial: Why did audio stop being about audio?

    How many forum threads on this site (and others) devolve into heated exchanges about whether people actually hear what they say they hear? Without “proof”, listeners are often mocked, insulted and their experiences discredited.

    Challenges range from assuming the listener has been influenced by expectation bias (I believe it will sound good, so it does sound good) to faulting his unwillingness to rely on measurements or blind testing.

    What bothers me most is reputations are attacked so casually. Everyone from Chris Connaker (one of the most decent people I’ve known in the industry) to reviewers and manufacturers are accused of lying, cheating and taking bribes. People, whom I suspect in most cases haven’t even heard the product they’re attacking, will smear the reputations of others they probably don’t know. Those who are attacked rely on their reputations to earn a living. That’s to say nothing of the personal attacks on the listeners themselves. And the attackers attack anonymously. Unless the case is black and white i.e. I sent you money and you never shipped my product or there are repeated, unresolved product defects, trying to ruin a person’s name is evil. Nothing will undo a person’s life faster and more effectively than giving him a bad reputation. And doing it anonymously and without hard evidence is cowardly and arrogant. In such cases, it’s highly likely the charge is far more unethical than the action being charged.

    Some will say measurements make their case open and shut. But there are too many examples of how measurements fall well short of telling the whole story. There are tube amps with 3% - 5% distortion that sound better to many than amps with far better measurements. Are those products a scam? Vinyl doesn’t measure nearly as well as digital and yet many strongly prefer its sound. Should fans of vinyl be told that turntable, tonearm and cartridge makers are scamming them as well?

    For some of my audio choices, some would say I’m deluding myself. Let’s say I am. If I’m happy with my delusion, why should the nay-sayers care? It’s an audio hobby. Why can’t I enjoy my system and post about my experiences, allowing others to judge? The nay-sayers might say “That’s fine, we’re just posting to protect others from being taken in.”

    Fair enough. But these are not always cases of “I have one opinion and you have another”. Many of the arguments are too heated, personal and frequently repeated to only be about audio.

    I believe these debates are about religion and before you conclude that I’ve lost my mind, consider the following:

    Many claim they have experienced God or have witnessed miracles with little or no evidence. The debates concerning those claims are often very intense and personal. Challenges commonly include: Where’s your evidence? Where’s your data? Only because you want to believe do you believe.


    Sound familiar?

    This is why I believe the challengers care so much. Allowing audiophiles to post their subjective conclusions without proof brings them one step closer to accepting those who relate their religious experiences without proof. For them, science is god and a subjective conclusion upends their god and belief system. They fight hard so that doesn’t happen.

    This is audio folks. Whether I think I hear something or not isn’t that important. If my audio assessment matters that much to you, I’m guessing you’re anti-religion and/or anti-God. That’s fine. But that explains why something as innocuous as describing the sound of someone’s ethernet cable could elicit such strong and often highly inappropriate comments.

    I’m old enough to remember this hobby when people would meet at audio stores to just listen and schmooze. We’ve lost too much of that sense of camaraderie. We may differ on what we like, but we all care about how we experience music.

    Whether I’m right or wrong about any of the above, would it hurt to return to the times when people’s disagreements about audio were friendly? Can we stop assailing the reputations of the people who rely on this industry to care for their families and employees? Can we respect the opinions of those who differ with us by not trying to shut them down with ridicule?

    It’s not about “religion”. It’s just about audio.


    - Joel Alperson

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    I think the quality of the recording is more important than all this expensive gear.  Good recording sound good.  They can sound a bit better on a inexpensive system that pleases the consumer.  



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    The recording is a test of the system playing it. Not the other way round. "Halfway there", expensive gear does the job well enough to make you aware of every tiny flaw, in everything. But not well enough to allow one to discard the irritating shortcomings, and let the music alone come through ...

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    On 12/18/2019 at 3:13 PM, The Computer Audiophile said:

    I'm with you on this. But, many people who also enjoy our wonderful hobby don't care. They use their ears and are 100% OK with this method of evaluation. This is a tough thing for many (not you specifically) to accept. 


    Except they don't 100% use their ears.

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