One of the hardest -- and most inexplicable --things a reviewer is faced with is the reluctance whereby audiophiles own up to trusting their own ears. I can't speak for other reviewers, naturally. Still, I imagine they feel equally ill at ease over being approached as the priest, therapist, investment advisor and guru some readers seem to insist is the only proper way to interact with reviewers.
Do you ask your parents' confirmation that you're in love or do you rely on your own weak knees and heart palpitations? Do you really trust the car salesman's pitch or do you rely on your own test drive plus feedback from other owners about reliability? Do you dispatch a high-dollar cashier's check to an unsolicited broker solicitation over the phone, about the latest sure-fire IPO? Or do you carefully identify an investment broker by checking his record and then cross-reference your own research against his recommendations?
Why is it that your God-given sensual gifts for perceiving sounds with your own two ears are regarded with so much mistrust? Why doubt your own abilities to make an audiophile decision you'll have to live with and pay for with your own hard-earned scratch? When you visit Electric Avenue, do you have any problems determining which flat-panel monitor looks best to your eyes? When you visit an art gallery, do you give a damn about the curator's artsy-fartsy ramblings over the artistic merit, visual persuasiveness and investment validity of a particular painting? If you fall for the no-name artist's smallest piece tucked away in the corner as though ashamed of itself, do you analyze your reasons for your preferences? Or do you pull out your check book and consummate the deal for the painting you like? Is it not true in fact that any attempts by the sales staff to convince you of the superiority of another work raises your blood pressure?
What makes audio different from buying a watch, a fragrance for your beloved, an Afghan rug? In either case, the only criteria are that you like the sensual reaction they stimulate in you, find no fault with the workmanship, consider the money asked a fair value and can afford to foot the bill. What makes audio different?
Could I talk you into considering Sushi when you hate raw fish? Would you not take offense if I belabored your fancy of Riesling and insisted that a Burgundy was the only wine worth drinking? In fact, I seriously doubt anyone could talk you into not innately trusting your own physical responses when it comes to food and drink. You know what you know which is to say, you don't agonize over the why of your personal tastes and inclinations. You simply indulge them.
Why should audio be any different? It's not rocket science. It's not a life-threatening disease that requires white-coated specialists to properly diagnose and medicate. Nobody's got better ears than you when it comes to enjoying your own system. If you can't hear what someone else claims to hear, why worry? Do you think I lose sleep over that you might consider the house I live in too small or funky? Of course not. I don't give a flying gnat over what you or anyone else might think about that. I love it, it serves my needs, I can afford the rent, that's all I have to know.
|The world's most famous audio reviewers could visit tomorrow as an inspection team and proclaim my system crap and my hearing questionable. Do you think I'd enjoy my rig any less once those experts have hauled their pompous asses up the stairs and out into the crisp mountain air? Then why should you put any serious stock in anybody else's opinion -- your neighbor's, your boss', your parents', so-called experts' -- when it comes to your own stereo? You either enjoy it or you don't. That's all you need to know. If you don't enjoy it, mix and mingle with your local audiophile community to sample different flavor of other people's systems until you figure out what kind of listener you are - tubes or transistors, two-ways or big-ways, warm or detailed.
|Never question your own reaction. Never worry about justifying or explaining it. It is what it is. If soundstaging is your thing, indulge it regardless of whether famous reviewers tell you that it doesn't matter. If you're into adrenaline rushes, go for it and disregard those fools who would tell you that real music is far less exciting than what you have put together. This shit's supposed to be enjoyable. Why invite strangers into your bedroom - er, music salon? Why entrust your bank account and ears to people whom you've never met?
Frankly, this misplaced reluctance of trusting one's own aural enjoyment is something I simply don't get through my thick skull. Like all the other moonies, I'm just an ordinary Joe who happens to love music and has figured out a way to turn his passion into a vocation and job. That's it. I don't worry about whether you like my system or not. Neither should you worry whether I'd like yours. We're all adults, we all make our own decisions. This whole audio thing is merely one part of a well-lived existence that includes literature, movies, art and sports. Then we die. Should something of us survive that transition to look back over our earthly existence, I seriously doubt we'd fret over having owned the wrong HiFi rig. I'd rather imagine we couldn't even relate to such concerns. I do, however, imagine that whatever true satisfaction we derived from enjoying music listening during our earthly days would have left nameless impressions that served to broaden our capacities for self-forgetfulness and ecstasy. Enjoyment is its own justification and explanation. The more analyzing and explaining we throw at it, the more we kill its potency and innocence.
The most visual example thereof I can share is a scene in the Jackson Pollock flick with Ed Harris. The painter has his first high-society show and overhears some art critic reading all manner of abstract concepts and artistic deliberations into his paintings. Pollock nearly chokes. He didn't have any of those thoughts or obtuse worries. He simply painted without any premeditation, rationalizations or higher meanings. While there are 1001 ways to approach painting, listening to music needn't be any more complicated than Pollock's instinctual way of painting - in which case art critics and reviewers become nothing more than obnoxious white noise you should tune out and banish from your consciousness lest they poison what's essential - your private enjoyment of your favorite music. Don't trust your fears - you can't screw up. Trust your ears. They know.
If you're one of those people whose enjoyment of viewing a painting is significantly enhanced by reading up on the artist, there's equivalent education you can pursue about your favorite composers and performers. If a course in color theory enhances your appreciation of fine art, you can apply a similar intent to your abilities of listening discernment. You can endeavor to become a better listener. That's all extra and adds a mental/conceptual dimension to engage the other half of your brain. But it's not essential. It can arguably even interfere if you don't also learn how to turn it off. By all means pursue becoming a better listener if that's part of what's important to you about this hobby. But why doubt your gut-level reflexes and automatic pleasure reactions now? Trusting someone else takes time. Trusting yourself if you're old enough to read this should already and patently be the case. Yes?