I'm always amused as well as bewildered by the strong criticisms and bashings which Stereophile and some of its writers elicit in certain on-line chat rooms with utterly predictable regularity. This isn't so dissimilar from the ubiquitous claims of "better than the Wilson Sophia" or the older "blows away Wadia". As our own Jules Coleman explained in his recent review of the Reimyo/Combak CDP-777, benchmark products serve the function of watersheds. Their arrival delineates and separates the scene in which they occur. There's a before/after scenario just like the Christian B.C./A.D.
It's easy target practice to attack the status quo. But make no mistake - to actually become the status quo, to turn into the benchmark or dominating presence is not only impossibly hard work but the secret goal of every ambitious firm in the world. To be considered the best, the next Wilson in the loudspeaker arena, the next Meitner or dCS in the digital field, the next Krell or what-have-you in amplifier land -- that which sets the presently effective standard against which everybody else is compared -- is what each artist and business aspires to.
|For every real and constructive criticism of such institutions that have "arrived", there exists an unalterable counterpoint: Everybody else's activities and successes or failures in the same arena are measured against theirs. Such firms become the de facto yardstick or context that allows the new-comer to compete, to carve out his or her own little niche. Without a prior landscape wherein to stake your own flag, there|
|is no claim jumping or staking out of anything. Hence those who provide this context, who create and establish this landscape and its boundaries with the famous peaks, valleys and popular tourist spots (imagine cannons there instead of stationary binoculars, with a dime slot to take cheap shots), they need to be acknowledged for the fundamental and ongoing function they serve. They establish identity and expectations and provide rules and conventions for the operative world they govern.
Take our own little venture here. Without SoundStage!'s pioneering work on the web, we wouldn't exist. Without the patterns Marc Mickelson and Doug Schneider established a long time ago for on-line audio publishing, we would have lacked the means to evaluate their solutions to specific challenges, to conceive of our own. "Better" or "different" or "alternative" or "choice" only exist in the context of comparison. It mandates that somebody else already be on the very stage you intend to mount for your own performance. If somebody were to belabor a certain product mix of reviews in Stereophile or SoundStage!, the new mag or 'zine that doesn't attract the same criticisms -- or perhaps even gets lauded for doing things differently -- owes the new example it sets to its predecessors.
|In the most fundamental of terms, black can only exist if there is a white. Diehard 'whities' should never forget that their allegiance to white is possible only because their hated black exists. Professional Stereophile bashers owe their unpaid jobs to the very thing they love to attack incessantly. No Stereo-phile, no Stereophile bashing. It's really quite the game. 6moons' specific focus and feel are possible only within the context of those who have come before. To be the new kid on the block is possible only because there is a block, with elders that make you the youngster by comparison. Our own arrival on this scene likewise sets certain patterns which those who come next will use to improve upon, to alter or discard altogether. If you consider the inclusion of CD artwork in audio reviews, by Positive Feedback On-Line and DaGogo, you'll appreciate this working mechanism in an example we pioneered. It's all about inter-dependence. It's all about coexistence.
|Once you appreciate this inexorable fact of life, the former adversarial position of opposites, of either/ors, morphs into an understanding of complementaries wherein black doesn't oppose white but complements it. With this very basic insight come both tolerance and appreciation. You understand that the role you're given to play depends absolutely and fundamentally on those whom outsiders might regard as your bitter foes or competitors. No enemies, no friends. But such adversarial binary thinking should truly be outdated and passe in our 21st century. In reality, foes and friends dance the endless dance of interdependance and polarity without which their respective identities and activities would dissolve.
The Western archetype -- of the son murdering the father to make his way in the world and carve out his own destiny independent of paternal influences and conditioning -- has its polar opposite/complement in the Eastern appreciation of one's elders whose wisdom and council is sought and respected. Taken to the extreme, either approach defaults into stagnation. Figuratively killing off the elders to annihilate the status quo turns you into a mercenary rebel without a cause. Slavishly sticking to the status quo kills off progress and variety. Grasshoppers and other aspirants to the perennial wisdom must walk somewhere in the middle where the opposites merge into oneness without conflict.
|In practical terms, 6moons owes its existence to those who came before, particularly Stereophile and The Absolute Sound -- without whom audiophilia and High-End wouldn't exist, period -- and SoundStage! whose founders pioneered on-line audio publishing and real-time show reportage. What's more, this very article owes its existence to the Stereophile bashers on Audio Asylum without whom I wouldn't have felt prompted to pen this column. Can you appreciate the endlessly revolving game in all of this? There aren't any penultimate positions at all but merely relative ones. If you enjoy our reviews of obscure, little-known products, this focus is possible only because others already cover the mainstream very successfully. Eliminate their coverage|
|and ours would be terribly flawed and woefully incomplete. Enjoy the high amount of images we embed in our reviews? This seems novel or different only because others use less pictures. Find our organic color scheme and graphics refreshing? That's only because others have decided on a more conservative approach. I'm sure you can see my point by now. With our 2nd anniversary as of this month, it was about time that we openly acknowledged the broad shoulders of those upon whom we stand and to whom we owe our particular niche; whose writings and vocabulary were formative in our own development; and whose ongoing work provides context for our own, not as a lone voice in the wilderness but as a small part in a much larger chorus.
In particular, I need to acknowledge John Atkinson of Stereophile [above next to Wes Phillips and behind Michael Fremer] who untiringly finds it in himself to engage even his worst bashers in civilized dialogue time and again. If ever there was a poster child for what it means to be a scholar and a gentleman, his conduct and granting of time in a very busy profes-sional schedule surely merits special recognition. Hats off, JA! Without you and your publication, our industry wouldn't be what it is. The simple fact that you and Stereophile are the most obnoxiously vilified audio publication in the world means you're one of the most important voices in High-End audiophilia. The hordes of naysayers would otherwise move on to a different target. The day 6moons garners just 1/10th the hate-mail attention you so proudly collect and answer, I shall consider us as having arrived, too. In the meantime, we're playing endless ketchup in your shadows. Keep it up!