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Confessions of a reviewer. The origin of music first took the form of simple auditory enjoyment. As the musical knowledge of listeners accumulated and their appreciation deepened, it traversed beyond auditory pleasure and became a soulful engagement and artful discernment, perhaps even intellectual interaction.

Hifi equipment was first designed as a tool to facilitate the enjoyment of music. When the audiophile quest for high fidelity became insatiable by constantly pushing for sonic improvements, it deviated from the soulful engagement and relegated primal auditory satisfaction to the back burner.

All audiophiles are human. Who can refuse to spoil themselves when wallets are bulging? Let’s upgrade for sure. The latest remixed audiophile software? Why not? The 10th reissue AQCD or Blu-spec CD will be old tech tomorrow. Stop print. Vinyl can be remastered. And every new reissue will have its fans because we golden ears can hear all the improvements. Mind you, the music is the same old wine. Our ability to appreciate music is pacing a treadmill that won’t take us anywhere. By the way, have you heard the glass CD? That’s really transparent. So they said.

But one thing audiophiles always know best is balance. Well, at least we all say we are listening to music, not the equipment. Some even advocate that we attend classical concerts more often, claiming that live classical music helps our judgment to tune up the sonic performance of our gear. Take note: tune up the sonics. That’s auditory again, not musical. Alright, I’m not trying to trap you or me. What’s wrong with being a sonic freak and audiophile anyway?

I admit that I do indulge in sonic bliss myself. But I know how that is completely different from live performances, especially compared to 2-channel stereo. Reviewers and audiophiles flaunt jargon like layering, imaging, depth and distance, size and proportion of the musical instruments, holographic soundstage. Some even judge the performance of a piece of gear or accessory based on whether it has the ability to reproduce accurately the shape of a vocalist’s mouth or the number of heads in a chorus. With the advancement of technical know-how in high-definition recording and reproduction, canned music is drifting further apart from live performances. In short, stereo is unreal.

I have to defend reviewers since I belong to their group. Like everyone else I do use the same jargon in my writeups. We have to dissect the audio palette and describe graphical details to counsel our readers to make informed decisions and minimize the risk of a wrong purchase. However it is not our intention to tell anybody to look for or focus on layering or holographic 3D imaging. We’d rather have you relax and enjoy your music. Peace of mind is the real Holy Grail of this audio quest.

More than ten years ago I was sitting inside the Roy Thomson Hall listening to a violin/piano duet recital by Gil Shaham and Orli Shaham. I assigned myself a special project that evening. I applied my best audiographic memory to imprint the sonic images to my mind. As soon as I was back home I turned on my audio system to play the Dvorak for Two CD whose programme is 80% identical to the live performance I’d just heard. Canned music had everything that audiophiles treasure where the live performance had nothing – in audiophile terms, real-life images were bloated and overlapped, proportions were inflated. In the music hall, music was a unified whole that could not be disintegrated.

Since hifi has progressed from monophonic to stereophonic playback, audiophiles have been pursuing their own fantasized sonic illusion. It has come to a state where this illusion is so real that in some people’s mind it has actually replaced the real thing. When fake is prettier than real, most people take it for real. And a stereo illusion can be so real that you become totally immersed in the music it has re-packaged. On one condition – you must be seated in the so-called throne position. A few inches outside the sweet spot will throw off the balance of golden hifi rules and the music becomes unlistenable.