I just recently read an article from a major audio magazine that once again gave me pause as to the logic or lack thereof for some of these “reviewer audiophile” types. (I’m not willing to give advertising to the article and author of it here and equally unwilling to violate my ethics and throw someone under a bus, so to speak, no matter if they are wrong about something or how much I may disagree with them).
In the article the author attempts to “explain” the “art of the reviewer”, but at the end it reads more like the excuse of the reviewer and why they are superior to everyone else in their own minds. The author states that no one fully understands why or how the sound of a particular component, composition or artists can affect us as powerfully as so many of them do and how and why music and sound moves us remains a mystery fundamentally. This is a good example of using a partial truth to further a personal agenda onto others. First of all, in my observation at least and backed up scientifically, audio components do not affect us or move us in and of themselves as the author attempts to equate them with music. Only music (which is sound of course), can affect us or move us, lyrics present or not. The two trains simply do not meet beyond the technical aspects. I don’t care how much jewelry an audio component is wearing or how much it cost, if you set it in a room even with the power on, but nothing playing through it, you will not be moved (except perhaps to leave the room).
While it is true that we do not fully understand how music affects us, we do at least somewhat understand why. I have written articles on this blog about it and others who know a thousand times more than I do have written about it too. There is both some physical science and metaphysical science behind it. Of course, like most audiophiles or reviewer type audiophiles, the author clearly shows that they have not done their homework.
The author also states that it is important that their words must allow those mysteries to emerge so that their readers are touched by both the magic of music and the genius that allows its power and message to touch us deeply. The author also states that the idea is to have the readers understand what is being described. Of course, it is true that writing style or more accurately conveyance is important, that’s a given. However, it is impossible for anyone to be touched by the magic of and message of music, by reading a description. It can only be experienced, which means listening to the music.
The author also states that “as reviewers tell their stories, they must remain aware that what each of us values as sacred may differ from what others value as sacred. If beauty is in the ear of the beholder, then perhaps the best critic or reviewer can do is choose words and images that enable readers to hear the component through the critic’s ears.” He also goes on to state that if reviewers can give readers a sense of what the reviewer values in sound and what touches him or her in music they may be able to find ways to have the reader feel the same thing that touches the reviewer.
First of all, beauty is indeed in the ear of the beholder and that is an important point to remember. Not all of us listen exactly the same way and we all like different things such as music styles, etc. Also, sometimes what we see can have influence on what we hear. It is also important to note that even by the simplest of physical science, it is impossible to hear what someone else hears, especially of only one person is hearing. For example, it would be impossible for me to go out and select a pair of speakers that you would like based on my listening. Just an off-hand example: Maybe I like horned speakers and you don’t. (For the record, I am not a fan of horned speakers per se’). For another example, maybe I like to listen to a lot of classical music, but you prefer Jazz, etc. All speakers are colored differently and what appeals to one person may revolt another. Secondly, we go right back to what I said before, it is impossible for someone else to feel the same “touch” from music for two basic reasons: 1) One can not feel the touch of any music piece of any genre’ just by reading about it, even if the person describes how it touches them in detail and 2) sometimes a piece of music will speak to one person differently from another.
The final “tell” is when the author of the article talks about a marker of critical success is when a “reviewer” empowers readers to make educated assessments on their own. The author also states that “one way is to establish relative critical standards on performance and gives an example of a $200 DAC vs a DAC that is 500 times that cost asking how can the lower priced DAC deliver musically rewarding sound quality the same as the more expensive DAC and “can two products at opposite ends of the price spectrum both deliver satisfaction?” (*This editor’s note: By the way, that answer is “yes”).
He goes on to ask, “if so, how do reviewers convey the relative worths of such very different products, while acknowledging that worth resides in the ears, minds and heart of the beholder”. A very important sentiment indeed, but the problem is that most reviewers either don’t bother with it or plain intentionally get it wrong because they are shilling for some make or brand, the author of the article included. The author ends his article thus: “Heady questions. As JA said, it’s not easy.”
This all reads like an excuse to continue shilling and not honestly describing or informing about products under a certain price-point and failing to mention what is opinion and what is fact and encouraging the reader to listen and evaluate for themselves. For example, the author of said article in question, with which I happen to be very familiar with their pattern and I know they would not so much as review anything below the very high four-figure area. It is ok to specialize in a certain price-range, but to suggest that everything else is not worth even mentioning or that the reader should follow the reviewer’s every command is tantamount to a dictatorship and we all now how things turn out with dictatorships and cults and such.
The last sentence the author writes is basically a cop-out. It’s almost saying: Why bother doing homework as a member of the journalistic community? Why bother being egalitarian while claiming to want to help everyone?
Like I said, it is ok to specialize in a certain price range or even certain equipment or a music genre’, but be intellectually honest about it.
I’m not shy about stating that I focus and operate within the “affordable range” and use my interpretation on what I consider affordable. You don’t see me trying to talk about gear out side that range nor dismissing it out-right without basis. Why would I waste the time?
Regarding music reviews, I have a different approach that I use that instead is geared towards encouraging readers to check out the music for themselves via whatever means they have on hand. I review albums from my personal library (I can’t afford new records). I give a little bio information from what I already know and if needed I will go to the internet and grab a bit more (always citing the source). I then talk a bit about the copy of the LP I have and give an idea of sound quality that I hear assuming the intelligence of my readers to know that it is not a standard by which to take literally. Everyone will hear different depending on their own media choice and equipment, etc. I then go through the songs giving what information I have and again, if needed, I will go to the internet for extra info, but I also tend to tell how the song makes me feel or the message I interpret from it and state that it is my personal opinion or interpretation. Again, assuming the intelligence of my readers to understand that they make get something completely different.
Music is very personal because it speaks to the soul, to our very being. Good artists know this and are responsible in their work. So, in my view, it is impossible for a reviewer to tell everyone how they are supposed to interpret or feel a piece of music as if there was an absolute right answer and wrong answer. Listening to music is not an exam.
Lastly, in the comments of the article left by other audiophiles I ran across another “piece of audiophile advice” several times that I just could not believe the level to which they have lowered themselves. At first I think it was mentioned with tongue in cheek, but then it got serious. What I am talking about is the notion or idea that if one wears glasses and listens to music on their system, the glasses can cause sound anomalies! This is absolutely ludicrous and another fine example of the crap that audiophiles come up with to push some stupid agenda into everybody else’s face. I thought I had heard everything, but this was new. All we have to do now is wait to see how this absurdly ridiculous idea circulates. Let’s see if it gets so far as for someone to come out with some ridiculous device or gizmo at an insanely high price to “solve the perceived problem”.
I will also note though that sprinkled in the article was some stuff that made good sense, too bad it was used to fit a personal agenda.