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Back in early spring I stupidly -- okay, very stupidly -- sprained my ankle while running. At two o'clock in the morning. The injury was bad enough to keep me off my feet for a few weeks. While I convalesced, I found myself spending more time reading and actually participating in a hifi forum, an activity I generally try to avoid. One thread that caught my attention was on the Stereophile forum. The subject under discussion was the Furutech deMag device. In brief, Stephen Mejias shared his experience of a day at Michael Fremer's where they listened, among many other things, to an LP before and after it was treated by the Furutech device.

The thread started innocently enough: "Last week, JA and I took a trip to Mikey Fremer's place. I write a bit about it here. You might be interested to know that we played around with the Furutech deMag. We only had time to try it with one LP, but, with that one LP, it made a big improvement."

Can you believe that these two sentences would generate over 700 replies and 1,000 views and include statements like "Unfortunately, as far as the hifi hobby is concerned, the "shit-throwing" will never cease" and "I take the many comments supporting the above alleged experiment from people who should see the same flaws as an indictment of the teaching of Science by the American educational system". An indictment of the teaching of Science by the American educational system? Holy crap! Some of the people posting weren't even American! Sacre bleu!

Let me cut to the chase. What became evident as I tried to wade through the debate is this. The people on the 'science' side of the argument are more interested in the theory of sound and perception than they are in the actual experience of listening to music on a hifi. Let me quote from recognized authority Siegfried Linkwitz from his Letter to the Editor in the June Stereophile: "Steve Guttenburg correctly pointed to recordings as the most serious limitation in the attempt to reach audio nirvana."

Putting the ideal cart before an imaginary horse (or cow as it were)
If we want to understand the scientific/objectivist point of view, I think this simple quote from Mr. Linkwitz gets us a long way in a few words: recordings are the greatest limitation to audio nirvana. My initial reaction to this statement (which remains my reaction to date) is huh? WTF? I always thought recordings were the reason for home audio in the first place, not the other way around. After all, what good is the greatest nirvana-inducing hifi if all you can play on it are test tones?

The wealth of recorded material dating back to the 1930s with the general availability of the 78RPM record is one of the most essential records (pun unavoidable) of our human experience. Like books and art. Perhaps the greatest thing about our musical history is that we have easy access to it with the drop of a needle, the push of a button, the turn of a dial or the touch of a screen. And whatever it is that music embodies, it is revealed to us through the experience of listening. Not measuring or testing, just listening. It seems to me that some objectivists are looking for hifi nirvana through the wrong end of the musical cow.

If I can boil the opposite side of this argument down into a simple statement of purpose, I'd do so borrowing from a conversation I had with Peter
Qvortrup of Audio Note: Your hifi is only as good as its ability to play your worst recording. This point of view is rooted in the passion for the discovery and appreciation of recorded music as it exists, relishing our musical history as a record of our human condition with all its frailty, scratches, pops, ticks and less than ideal measured performance.

I can say with the utmost certainty that I have zero interest in a better hifi experience if that experience necessarily excludes the ability to listen to Music. And I capitalize Music to differentiate it from the abstract idea of sound because I'm talking about the Music that has helped shape and change the world we live in. The Music that has helped start and stop riots, the Music that people have loved for centuries and the Music that has inspired others to change their lives. I'm talking about the Music we all can hear because it has been recorded and preserved just for that purpose. And sure, some of it may not sound as good as others but it's not sound we're listening for. It's not sound
that makes all this worthwhile. The Art in Music is in the music, not the sound.

If you think you can reach audio nirvana by elevating sound above Music, I'd suggest you've stuck your head up the ass of a cow in search of a better moo. I know, I must be an anti-scientific dolt. And to add insult to injury, my interest in hifi is simply to get the most musically engaging experience from every single piece of recorded music I choose to listen to.

Measurement versus Perception
Getting back to my journey into the heart of hifi forum darkness, the Furutech deMag debate ultimately played itself out into two camps. Objectivists were looking for a better measured, repeatable and verifiable experience while the subjectivists were left looking for a better perceived experience. Neither side was able to prove anything. Except that there are clearly two sides.

We're reminded by the objectivists time and again that our senses deceive us and are the root cause of personal bias. Further, this bias makes it impossible for us to objectively evaluate hifi gear by simply listening to it especially if we're also looking at it. We can, according to our staunchest objectivists (I'm wondering if there are any other kind) remove this personal bias from the hifi equation by performing unsighted listening tests; i.e. single- or double-blind tests. The argument goes that if we want to focus on sound alone, there's no other way to know what we're hearing.

Once you see a piece of gear, a boat load of bias will inform what you're hearing as much and possibly more so than what you're actually hearing. We're also reminded that every other field of scientific inquiry embraces the use of blind testing. Only audiophiles remain in the
dark ages of sighted listening tests. No scientist worth his/her salt would ever rely on a combination of their senses all messily mixed up and comingled to make important life-altering decisions such as what speaker to buy and who to marry. It's also interesting to note that the other group of people who view their sensual apparatus and the act of experiencing with it an invasive distraction are ...monks. But I digress.