When the tabloids or evening news cover the latest celebrity wedding where actor sweethearts dropped a cool half mill on the festivities, nobody in their right mind accuses the press of endorsing the ridiculous expense. It's simply news. (And if the regularity by which celebrities live on front covers is any indications, it's very popular news as well.) When audio reviewers cover expensive components, a certain contingent of chatroom commentators immediately insinuates that such coverage equals endorsement as though there was a rally going down to sign people up against their will. If the component under review performs well and the writer dares to say so? Now these readers take him to task for making recommendations nobody can afford or couldn't do better with for less. All the while they forget that reporting news is what the press does, not worry about whether you'll like the news or agree with them.
Ideally, news are presented in an objective fashion. That way, the news consumer can let the facts speak for themselves. If the reporter attaches personal interpretations of what he believes those facts to mean, this should be done separately. Now the reader can distinguish between raw factoids, evaluative interpretations and the slant of personality which such interpretations introduce. This also is a key ingredient of audio reviews. Our readers expect not only detailed sonic descriptions. They want an educated opinion about value and ultimate standing in the grand hierarchy of what else is available and how things compare. A good review thus will attempt to cover both parts and keep them somewhat separated. This allows the reader to disagree with the writer's interpretative judgment and solely consider the descriptions of sonic signatures - what did the piece actually sound like in a given system.
It's here where the naysayers get confused. The moment their favorite targets accept assignments of expensive stuff, it's no longer news. Somehow, it's become instead an insidious ploy to help manufacturers sell overpriced, under-performing crap. Now let those writers accept an affordable assignment for a change. Let them conclude the sound is really good. Aha. Time to load the missiles. The poor shmucks who bought the expensive stuff these writers reviewed just two months ago - shouldn't those innocent punters feel terrible buyer's remorse now? Indeed. Anyone who buys a $20,000 anything on the advice or recommendation or write-up of strangers should feel terrible remorse. They've disowned an adult's responsibility to make their own decisions and piled 'em on someone else. Suffer remorse for your own actions. It really is that simple. Audio reviewers present the facts as they hear 'em. You interpret what those facts should mean to you. It's a clear-cut separation of responsibilities.
Let's put things into perspective. The only difference between really good mid-priced components and the esoteric exotica is scale. As long as we're talking average-sized rooms, requisite SPLs without distortion can easily be achieved without too much effort. In that realm, things have gotten maxed out a long time ago. For the exotic stuff to fly requires exploding the scale. You need room to demonstrate where it excels: filling even cavernous spaces with realistic volumes sans compression or distortion. A Ferrari belongs on the race track, not in 5:00PM rush-hour traffic. Huge speakers and the massive amps that drive them belong into mansions. That's where they can begin to justify their expense. Stick 'em into a 14' x 20' room and not only will the right speaker at 1/5th the price perform just as well, it might arguably perform even better.
Respecting scale and not buying more than you really need is the secret of good sound and how to save money. Many audiophiles acquire far more power and speaker than necessary. Admittedly, it's easy to get carried astray by the lure and promise of the new and fancier. It's true too that writer-enthusiasts look at their involvement in this hobby as a journey. It remains inspired by a lot of chance encounters whose outcomes are unpredictable. Some of this resembles debate training. Your instructor asks you to argue in favor of Hitler having been a decent human being. Impossible, you shudder. But if you approach this as a serious exercise in honing your debate skills, you will learn something useful. Among aspects pertaining to the subject, you will also learn that this process doesn't require personal belief in the concept. It merely demands that you make a case for it by assiduously collecting evidence.
A lot of audio reviewing is like that. You consider what kind of customer would appreciate the component under consideration, in what kind of circumstance it would most shine. You need not personally believe in its design approach or execution or be able to afford it. You simply collect evidence and build a case. If evidence mounts to make a "case of guilt", you try that on as well, for argument's sake and to see how it fits. After due deliberation, you then present the evidence and your recommendation to the jury. That jury is your audience. Your readers may agree with your recommendation or not. That's not only their right but outright responsibility. After all, audio writers aren't judges. Far from it. We're mere observers and reporters. Certain chatroom commentators should remember this. We respect their own intelligence, decision-making abilities and sense of discernment far more than they seem to do for themselves.
By the same token, we reserve this very freedom for ourselves - for making choices, modifying personal values and pursuits, engaging certain experiments, following where curiosity leads us. To learn means to try and experience, to get challenged and changed. In audio, to find out what's possible means to play at the bleeding edge through loan exposure or ownership. To find out how much of what lives at the bleeding edge can be returned into the more affordable realm means experimenting. To question your own beliefs could even mean making a deliberate case for that which your beliefs customarily exclude. This is a very useful exercise to broaden your own insights. It could modify your beliefs or you might even buy wholesale into a replacement set of concepts. That's all part of our individual and private journeys. It's no different from what audiophile hobbyists do over time all the time.
There's one tiny difference, of course. Reviewers ride out their journeys in public. Their readers are invited to share in this process to learn while others will merely use the same opportunity for ridicule and flaming criticisms. To each his own. As far as this site goes, the spirit of why we have come together as a group and do what we do is one of sharing and passion for a common hobby that binds us together. Its table is loaded with an immense variety. We sample whatever moves us - expensive, affordable, simple and complex. In the end, it's about enjoying the journey, the people you meet and the music you introduce each other to. That's all. It's a very small endeavor that holds meaning only for the diminutive minority who deeply cares about music playback and audio. Or as Denis Leary said in the art caper The Thomas Crown Affair to Rene Russo's insurance investigator: "The week before I met you, I nailed two crooked real estate agents and a guy who beat his kids to death. So if some houdini wants to snatch a couple of swirls of paints that are really only important to some old silly rich people - well, frankly, I don't give a damn. Oh - and don't stiff us for your phone bills."
|In the grand scheme of things, audiophiles are silly rich people obsessed by swirls of paint who sometimes forget to keep things in perspective - like the mundane phone bill. Okay, most of us are anything but rich but you get the idea. Ours is a fringe community. Why not focus on that which connects us? Some of our greatest critics are the ones who turn us into gurus (which, if you've ever met a real one like Jiddu Krishnamurti, Adya Shanti, Adi Da or Osho, you'd find silly, distasteful and ripe with ignorance). Then they comment on whether we're for real or not, have seen the light or are lost in darkness. This whole game only works if you turn us into something we never claimed to be in the first place. All we are is fellow travelers on a little back road that's surrounded by truly grave issues of life in general and our personal lives in particular. Maintaining perspective on that is important then...|