WAJ on AUDIO - for truth in hifi / stereo / high-end audio


High-Fidelity vs 'Tastes & Preferences': The Big Lies in Audio

by W.A.J.

This concept of catering to 'tastes and preferences' in high-fidelity audio is a disingenuous construct of the mainstream audio-press. By constant repetition, it has been encouraged and drilled into audiophiles' consciousness, legitimizing 'bad' habits, and further contributing to the lowering of standards in the realms of high-fidelity.

Sure there's a place for it (especially at mid-fi level, for the casual user) but less and less so the higher we go in audio. And even so, there's much too much emphasis placed on it, by these mags. It has gotten to the stage now where audiophiles cannot have a conversation without 'tastes and preferences' cropping-up somewhere along the way. This is disturbing.

As far as I'm concerned, the concept of a so-called high-fidelity system, or component, designed to cater to 'tastes and preferences' is all a load of bona-fide B-S. It's an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. There's no provision for tastes and preferences in a truly high f-i-d-e-l-i-t-y system.

High Fidelity and High-Fidelity systems: Let's look at this term. Let's look at the meaning of the word; 'fidelity' - 'faithfulness'. This is the original aim of high-fidelity; faithfulness, true to the original sound of voices and instruments as they performed live - in the reproduction of the recording of that performance.

As I've pointed out elsewhere, the prospect of a member of the audience adjusting the sound of an original performance is never ever an option. This is impossible. And, obviously, any significant deviation from the sound of the original voice or instrument, for whatever reason, cannot be a faithful or truthful reproduction of the original. (This is not an opinion. It's recognition of the obvious fact). Therefore, such reproduction cannot be termed 'high-fidelity'.

In light of this, can anyone find a provision, within the concept of 'high-fidelity', for manipulation to suit one's 'tastes' and/or 'preferences'? Sure one can manipulate one's system to suit tastes all one likes (lots of treble, threadbare mids for 'detail', etc.) but then that system will be something other than a system closely approaching fidelity to the original sound - certainly not high-fidelity, really. 

The practice of encouraging and catering to tastes and preferences (innocently initiated, in regards to the mid to lo-end of audio, and still innocently continued by some) is now mainly a marketing ploy corrupted by disingenuous elements of the mainstream audio-press in order to sell more wares.

Left to their own designs, pretty soon these mags may also be welcoming and having their favorite manufacturers catering to 'bass-junkies', etc. And why not? Bass-junkies, with their boom-boxes and monster auto-systems, also are seeking to satisfy their tastes and preferences (for bass, in this case) so if these mags have already lowered the standard to cater to the tastes of high-frequency 'fans', detail-'fans',  and others, then what what would stop them from lowering standards even further to ligitimize boom-boxes as high-fidelity systems? It's the natural progression. (Thus facilitating more flawed products to sell for their favorite manufacturers. More on this later).

There's no fidelity, no faithfulness, no truth in sound reproduction displaying significant deviation from the original sound. Therefore, if there's not a high level of fidelity to the original sound, then such deviant reproduction cannot be termed 'high-fidelity'.

In this original concept of high-fidelity, the aim was/is to reproduce the full spectrum of the sound of a performance, from the perspective a member of the audience at that original performance. The full spectrum implies; all the bass, all the treble and, most importantly, ALL of the midrange.

I stress ALL of the midrange because this is the most important region of the spectrum, contrary to what many believe, thanks to the audio-press with their twisted emphasis on 'balance'. (Those of them who actually know better are being blatantly dishonest in advocating this aural balance , with relatively equal levels in bass, mids and treble. More on the subeject of 'Balance' is here).

Most of the sounds in nature and in music reside in the midrange, perhaps as much as 90%, in my estimation. (Subsequent to my first article expressing this view, I found a piece from a writer I respect - Stereophile magazine's founder, the late J. Gordon Holt - opining that 85% of the sounds of music are in the mids. Close enough).

Compromise in a system's performance may be tolerated at low-bass and high treble (sins of omission only, where there's relatively little musical content) while still attaining a high level of fidelity, as  studies have shown. But compromise can never be tolerated in any portion of ALL the midrange (neither in the upper-bass, or lower-treble). Such compromise is detrimental to a system's ability to reproduce performances with a high level of fidelity. Again, such a system cannot be described as a 'high-fidelity' system, in the strictest terms.

All of this may sound alien to our modern way of thinking. But this argument is supported by the facts in reality. There is an extremely popular misconception fostered by the press, again, that lean so-called 'neutral' mids, pristine and elevated highs, and deep lows somehow imply advanced levels of accuracy. This is a fallacy, really. The lean mids alone, as evident in most modern speakers, militate against any semblance of true accuracy, despite superficial appearances, and despite popular conventional thinking, listening-habits, and 'preferences'. [Here's a link to an article, elsewhere, expressing similar views, by the late (great) J.G. Holt, previously mentioned.]

It is a fact that reproducing ALL the midrange was a priority in the design of speakers at the dawn of hifi. Virtually all of the best designs from the 1930s thru to the early 60s were lacking at deep-bass and high treble. Yet, all of the best designs of that era excelled at reproducing ALL of the midrange. They also excelled at dynamism. They excelled at reproducing sound with a high level of fidelity. They excelled at 'high-fidelity'. Consequently, they excelled at replicating realism.

Accuracy and lifelike-realism - high fidelity - in music-reproduction, was the main focus of designers of the best systems during that era. It's the reason they coined the term; 'high-fidelity'. And they actually achieved this goal to a remarkably high level.

Any of the best speakers from that era will outperform, in realism, any of the very best conventional speakers from the modern era. Hard to believe? Well, here's the proof and here, here, and here. And there're a lot more similar instances. The best speakers of that era were/are true to the original concept of 'high-fidelity', this explains their realism. Most modern conventional speakers are not, and this explains their lack of it.  

To validate their intrinsic deficiencies, manufacturers and the press dishonestly encouraged and promoted the concept of satisfying 'tastes and preferences' - a concept promoted mostly to sell these speakers on the 'strengths' of their deficiencies and falsely enhanced excesses, ironically.

What's missing from modern speaker reproduction? Why is this so? Where did we go wrong? What are the solutions? What are the better choices for the most in realism? These are all issues which have already been addressed in a 4-part series of articles beginning with; 'From HiFi to High-End: What's Wrong?' (Parts 1-4). Articles on; The Altec A7..., the Lower-midrange... part 1 and especially part 2, The Ultimate Speakers..., High-End Audio on a Budget..., also touch or expand on these issues. So we'll not go into those details here. Instead we'll just squeeze in a quick overview, for the purpose of continuity:

Basically, designers from the previous era did their sums right. They obeyed the laws of physics and came up with the most efficient means of reproducing sound in the most lifelike and realistic manner possible at the time (and still today). Importantly, they recognized the overwhelming importance of reproducing ALL of the midrange accurately. They also recognized the overwhelming importance of high-efficiency, and the role it plays in facilitating lifelike dynamics. These factors are absolutely critical to realistic reproduction - high fidelity.

Features of this basic concept included; large enclosures facilitating lifelike bass and lower-midrange tones, large and efficient mid-woofers facilitating bass and lower-midrange tones (again) and also dynamism. This is the basic template, as the laws of physics prescribe.

If we consider that there can never be more than one answer to any one mathematical problem, then we'll recognize that there can never be any alternative to that original template. Any such alternative (utilizing boxes and cones) will be severely compromised in several important areas.

And this is what we have today from modern speakers - severely compromised performance, in regards to dynamism, lower-midrange tonality & detail, and overall realism.

Lowered Fidelity for Profit: Ever since the late 1960s, modern designers have been fruitlessly trying to re-invent the wheel, so to speak, for the purposes of convenience, aesthetics, and profit.  But since there can never be two right answers to one mathematical problem, they'll always remain at a severe disadvantage at all the really important aspects of performance. (An oval wheel or anything other than geometrically-round, regardless of lavish adornments and hype, will always be less capable than the original mathematically-corect design. Such is the magnitude of their handicaps on the course they've chosen, for profit.

Yet they've long opted to conceal these handicaps with deceit, and brazenly promote their handicaps as assets, aided by highly-influencial elements of the mainstream audio-press, of course).

Since many people were averse to accommodating large enclosures in their homes, modern designers found a way to extract bass from small boxes, leaving dynamism by the wayside. They also found that stereophonic imaging was enhanced with the use of small drivers in slender boxes, thereby also leaving the lower-midrange by the wayside. They now had the basics of a system which was of a more convenient size, facilitating more consumers. These systems were also cheaper to produce, facilitating a larger profit-margin.

But these systems can never compete with those conforming to the original concept of high-fidelity, and in accordance with the laws of physics. They lack some of the most important requirements for realism; dynamism and lower-midrange prowess. And this is the reason why ancient systems from the 1930s outperform them in realism today. A disgrace, really. But no real mystery.

In my opinion, what they should have done was this; produce these smaller compromised systems for the majority who could not accommodate the better and proper large systems. And tell the people the truth; that the performance of these small systems is really compromised. And for those that wanted the very best in performance, they should have  continued to develop on the work of the masters; those large systems from the previous era. The same large systems that put them to shame today.

Instead, what they opted to do was/is conspire with the mainstream audio-press and lie to the general public. They devised this scheme purporting that one size fits all, basically. That the ultimate in performance can be attained by embellishing undersized 7" mid-woofers, and undersized enclosures/sub-enclosures, with so-called 'exotic' and so-called  'expensive' materials. And for the utmost of the ultimate in performance, all they need to do is double-up these undersized 7" drivers and their subwoofers, adding more embellishments, of course, enticing people into thinking these accoutrements enhance realism - at exorbitant costs, of course. 

You may have noticed that virtually all of the very best of world-acclaimed speaker-systems, with realistic claims to lifelike realism, from; Acapella, Avantgarde, Magico, Martion, Tannoy, Edgarhorn, etc., they're all modern takes on the old designs. (This is no accident or coincidence). They're all large. And they're all highly efficient. With current technology, the very ultimate in realism can never be achieved in any other way than that charted by the old masters (who did their sums right) since the 1930s.

Conventional small-coned aspirants to this level stake their claims mainly on soundstaging, bass-response, middle-midrange 'detail', and treble 'air'  - NOT on overall realism - they cannot approach those above in that all-important aspect.

Those above, however, cover virtually all the aspects conventional aspirants excell at and, additionally, supply all the dynamism, lower-midrange tone/detail (some better than others, here) and overall REALISM, conventional aspirants cannot begin to touch. This is the reality!

'Tastes & Preferences'; Promoted by a  Prostituted Press:  Now let's take a closer look at the mainstream audio-press' role in all of this. The reality is that they've been in bed with the manufacturers for decades. They've long sold their ethics like prostitutes selling their... And they've conspired with the manufacturers to give us the shaft.

They are the ones who came up with this term, and the concept of satisfying 'tastes and preferences', and they did this to assist in selling more, and also more categories, of their masters' products, and also to sell more of their own magazines.

Kindly recall that there is only one standard for realism; the closest facsimile of the original event - this is the aim of high-fidelity. Kindly recall that anything significantly less, or more, than that is not closely representative of the original reality and, therefore, is NOT high-fidelity.

By circumventing the concept of high-fidelity in order to indoctrinate audiophiles with this concept of satisfying tastes and preferences, the press has opened up a bold and lucrative new world for themselves and their masters.

Over the decades they've cunningly shifted the focus from the original concept of authentically realistic sound-reproduction - true high-fidelity - since modern speakers couldn't really provide it. The focus is now on the relatively minor aspects of sound reproduction, in line with modern speakers' abilities. And in doing so, diabolically, they actually suggested the tastes and preferences it might have been fashionable for audiophiles to have (in keeping with the limitations of their masters' modern speakers, of course).

For instance, to validate the ineptitude of modern speakers' small mid/woofers, they actually told people (and old magazines exist to bear this out) that the fuller tones of the properly designed large systems were/are inaccurate. And people actually believed this sh.. - still do too. So people actually found themselves 'acquiring' a taste or a preference for lean mids, thinking that their preference was/is in in line with accurate reproduction.

They told people that the leaner mids (which is the only type of midrange such small drivers can produce, coincidentally) were/are more 'neutral' and 'detailed'. Both of which are lies, lean mids may seem neutral mainly because they're actually incomplete and deficient of the critical lower-mids. And, pertaining to 'detail', small drivers may be quicker in the leading edges at mid-bass, but they also lack the realistic 'weight' of the pre-existing larger drivers (I'd, therefore, call it a draw, on this point). But, at mid frequencies, no small cone-driver could ever be as quick and detailed as the typical midrange horn utilized by many of the best pre-existing large systems.

However, what's most disgusting and dishonest about the-above, is that they turned on the realistic lower-mids of the large systems claiming that the more lifelike lower-mids of large systems are manifestations of inaccuracies and colorations. This they branded with the term; 'warm'.

Today, audiophiles actually boast about the lack of the lower-mids in their systems, claiming that they certainly wouldn't want 'warmth' to cloud their mids. This is the extent to which we've been brainwashed by these devious manufacturers and the prostituted mainstream audio-press. (Of course, more 'warmth' than realism requires is not what I'm here advocating - that would indeed be inaccurate, as would an excess in any other region - the treble for instance).

Many manufacturers also hyped-up the treble response in speakers (not necessarily in extra-ordinary decibel levels per se, but in tonal-balance - see the article; 'The Trouble with Treble in Audio..'). At the same time there was/is also a thrust in the area of phono cartridges where moving-coils, known to display a rising top-end response, were/are heralded as the most desirable (by the press, again, of course).

This, of course, catered to many people's 'tastes' for the undeniable sweetness of the elevated high-frequency (encouraged and validated by the press, naturally). A combination of the two would surely sound pretty. But, truthfully, the 'balance' is askew, in the context of reality. This is not really high fidelity.

It's no accident that manufacturers and the prostituted press have down-played realism, and maximized, to the point of excess, soundstaging, detail, and high-frequency-'air'. It's absolutely because modern small-coned speakers are incapable of true realism (to the extent that others were/are). Therefore, this is why realism - high-fidelity - has been sidelined, and tastes and preferences for; lean mids, acute soundstaging, and high-frequency 'air', have been vigorously introduced, established, encouraged, and promoted, by a prostituted press, on their, respective, favorite manufacturers' behalf.

Modern small-coned speakers' lack of lower-midrange capability, and dynamism - two of the most critical requirements for realism - is the reason why the concept of 'high-fidelity'/realism has been effectively 'murdered' by the press to promote tastes and preferences.

I reiterate: The main point of the preceeding in this segment is that; the mainstream audio-press are the culprits who indoctrinated people with the concept of satisfying tastes and preferences in audio-reproduction. And more significantly, they also indoctrinated people with the specific types of tastes and preferences they deemed fashionable/acceptable for people to have. And, just as significantly, they skillfully and cunningly guided these tastes and preferences to coincide with the limitations of their masters incompetent modern speakers. Audiophiles have, effectively, been tricked, hood-winked, bamboozled.

Those audiophiles who're satisfied with the capabilities of the typical small-coned modern speaker-system, in terms of satisfying their tastes and preferences, need not be concerned with what's being said here. Such preferences are certainly relevant. I absolutely respect such choices, and wish you continued satisfaction with said choices. The sentiments are sincere.

My focus is on others, like me, who seek overall realism - high-fidelity - as their number-one priority, with sound-staging, etc., occupying a secondary category. My own experience is unique in that; I'm frequently exposed to live acoustic music in a setting where I can compare my system with the live sound in real-time. (Listening to a live performance and, then, returning home to listen to one's system is extremely inadequate and inaccurate, compared to a real-time A/B comparison - as studies have also shown). In doing the former I quickly came to realize that my extremely 'highly-acclaimed' and respected speaker-system, among the very best in existence at the time, was/is ridiculously incapable of sounding like the real thing (speaking-voice reproduction was better than most, though, but could have been better still). In repeated bouts of utter frustration, I actually felt like tossing that system out the door. It ended-up supplying nice sounds in the back of my car - a fate which led to its demise. (As it turns out; the sun is the enemy of plastic cones placed under the glass of a fast-back sports-car, unfortunately. Who'da thunk it?).

The two most outstanding aspects of what that speaker-system lacked, compared to real music, were most definitely; lower-midrange tone/heft/detail*, and dynamism. But it was/is still better than most today, with the very same type of sound and overall tonal-balance. Listening to several of the popular and similarly highly-rated alternatives (B&W, Heybrook, Infinity, Quad, etc., etc.) only confirmed their identical limitations, and their equally dismal ineptitude at convincingly replicating those live instruments. Some were/are quite outstanding in their own ways; Quad, and my own Spendor, especially, and Magnepan too - but then, two of these are panels, and the only coned speaker was actually reputed to be one of the best of this (small-coned) type at lower-mids - not good enough, though, compared to the live sound, and by far. (*Note; the lower-midrange tone/heft of real music is the same lower-midrange tone/heft the audio-press describes as 'too warm', in the large speakers that preceded modern counterparts. And since that of real music is the tone and heft the large speakers replicate, perhaps they'd also be barefaced enough to describe the actual sound of real instruments as 'too warm', compared to the so-called 'accuracy' of the lean-toned modern small-coned speakers - I wouldn't put it past them. They tactfully avoid challenging the relics' realistic dynamism though - that subject is generally avoided, like the plague).

This is only the 'tip of the iceberg' as to the reasons why I'm so absolutely sure that no small-coned modern speaker can fully duplicate the realism of a live un-amplified musical event - absolutely NONE! Satisfying specific tastes and preferences is their speciality, really. This is the harsh reality. (Others have hinted at this, now I'm stating it directly - again - this is a fact we all must face. I'll take the flak). 

No wonder this concept in regards to 'tastes' is so enthusiastically promoted by a prostituted press - with realism suitably downplayed.

They (the prostituted press) are actually terrified of other speaker-types which actually sound more realistic, as these would pose a threat to their lucrative arrangements with their favorite manufacturers. And so they will work deliberately and energetically to eliminate any threat from any speaker that is 'sufficiently different' and really realistic in tone, balance, and dynamism - in opposition to their own carefully-crafted 'values' for people's 'needs and tastes' - as you'll see played-out in the next segment.

But every now and then, an ancient relic turns up at a show and outperforms all the 'edge of the art' small-coned monoliths. That's when these hypocrites will express shock and suprise that such a thing could occur, and then they try to pass it off as a fluke. Others of them try to pretend it never happened, they try to ignore it to cover their embarassment. And then they shamelessly go about selling, with rave-reviews, the same flawed products that were so comprehensively outperformed by the relics - it's business as usual. How much of a hypocrite can one be, really? And how dishonest?

If one already has one of these systems then by all means continue to enjoy it, some of them are very good at the things they do. They're ideal if those things, by themselves, actually satisfy the listener. This is the only scenario where the concept of satisfying tastes and preferences is relevant, as I've indicated. Some of these are truly amazing, in their own way, and demand respect and admiration from others, including me.

The problem is that many who're genuinely seeking realism, as I was, end up with any of the vast majority of these systems which feature the type of sound so vigorously promoted by the mags to satisfy the very same types of 'tastes and preferences' that they've also vigorously encouraged and promoted (in lieu of the actual realism, which such system cannot supply in full measure). 

Do not allow the audio-press and their masters to fool you into thinking that even those amongst the most expensive of such systems actually present the ultimate attainable realism in audio-reproduction. That distinction belongs to others from another era, as we've seen (refer, again, to the relevant links) and to their present-day representatives. 

In order to sell more of their speakers, manufacturers and their prostituted accomplices highlight aspects of each product's performance (which are actually flaws, more often than not) and tell consumers that they're catering to their diverse tastes and preferences. So if an individual likes excessive treble, no problem, there's a flawed system which will cater to that taste. If there's another that thinks hyped bass is rad, no prob Bob, there's a system for that guy too, at a price. If a guy likes lean analytical mids then, hey, the world is full of those, just pick any one. And so it goes on. Many flawed systems have been sold, and continue to be sold, under the guise of catering to 'tastes and preferences', many mags too.

Instead of educating the consumer in regards to the true aim of high-fidelity, they encourage and legitimize endemic and/or idiosyncratic proclivities (of the deviant sort) under the guise of catering to 'tastes and preferences', in order to sell even more of these flawed products, and flawed magazines.

It's now gotten to the stage where gullible audiophiles feel compelled to find themselves a taste or a preference (after all, it's the fashion these days) or join others in theirs. Hyped high-frequencies from bright speakers and some M-C cartridges is an extremely popular one, always with room for one more on the band-wagon, and encouraged by writers of magazines who should know better.

It's been so long, I can scarcely recall the last time I've seen it really stressed in any of the mainstream mags that high-fidelity is really about replicating realism. Because of the ineptitude of these systems, overall-realism is downplayed. (If pressed, they'll bare-facedly tell you these are realistic, though. Then they'll quickly switch to tell you about how they can identify the color shirt of a particular musician on the left of the sound-stage, and the sound of a pin dropping from said shirt, right there in the room, thru the latest 'TrebleExcess model Lean-Mids4U' speaker-system, just in for a review). It's all about hyped imaging, hyped detail and hyped trebles. And, of course, it's also all about satisfying tastes and preferences. This is all the rage now - thanks to the prostituted-press.

Consequently, from many audiophiles, all you can hear is talk about sound-staging, detail, high-frequency 'air', and talk about your tastes and my tastes. Your preferences and my preferences. Realism be damned but yet, ironically, many still want to lay claim to it if, per chance, the subject ever arises. How can one eat one's cake and still have it? Either one opts for realism/high-fidelity, or for satisfying one's tastes and preferences. One can't have both.  No system can be realistic while also satisfying one's taste for enhancement, or omission, of any area of the frequency-spectrum (subject to the exceptions previously mentioned) it's impossible.

Thanks to these mags, audiophiles are now so brainwashed with this concept of tastes and preferences that one even expressed to me, at a popular audio-forum, that his realism is likely different from my realism, and that no two persons realisms are likely to be the same. And he was dead serious about it. I couldn't believe it - this from an otherwise intelligent man, judging by his writing. It seems these mags are on a quest to turn us all into blithering idiots - from audiophiles to bona-fide audiophools. He never replied after I informed him that realism was/is ABSOLUTE - perhaps it had something to do with the incredulity in the tone of my reply.

This situation is not to be taken lightly. Look at it seriously; the audio-magazine is there to educate and inform the audiophile. If the mags are teaching crap, then that's what we'll end-up with; many audiophiles whose heads are filled with crap (like 'your realism and my realism').

Even the concept of tastes and preferences, in high-fidelity, is a load of crap, as we've already pointed out. Sure, there's a place for tastes and preferences in audio, but not in genuine 'high-fidelity'. It's not only a contradiction in terms. It facilitates, legitimizes, and most disgustingly, actually encourages the lowering of standards in high-fidelity. The concept of satisfying or catering to 'tastes and preferences' is just another way of telling people that anything goes, in 'high-fidelity', literally.

But these are the things they'll do in order to sell their masters' products, and their magazines. They have no interest in improving standards in the industry. They are the ones largely responsible for the degradation of the pre-existing standards in audio. And this degradation of standards explains why a 70-odd year-old relic can still outperform the very best conventional speakers made today.

It is said that newspapers are the guardians of democracy. The reasons are self-evident, so we won't waste time discussing them here. But in similar fashion, our audio-magazines are there to be, among other things, the guardians of our industry, in the interests of the people, the consumer, their readerships, the audiophile - all one and the same.  If they hadn't sold-out, prostituted themselves, to the manufacturers, if they were pointing out the crap their masters have been foisting upon us, if they were properly educating their readerships, then this degradation in standards could not have taken place.

We would not have 70-odd year-old relics beating the crap out of modern speakers which are alleged to be representative of the state of the (modern) art, the cream of the crap (no, that's no typo). And we certainly would not have intelligent people brainwashed into talking about 'your realism and my realism'. Nor would we even have intelligent people constantly talking about tastes and preferences in a discipline where the aim is (was) at absolute realism - lower down the order, yes for sure, but certainly not anywhere near the top of this discipline.

It's about time audiophiles realize that these mainstream audio mags are not our allies, they are not working on our behalf.  They are the mouth-pieces of their favorite manufacturers. They operate as the public-relations and marketing branches of their favorite manufacturers. They have made sweet deals with their masters, and they work assiduously to promote and protect their masters' interests.

Other promising manufacturers with outstanding products superior to their masters' are deliberately ignored or discredited. They're certainly not highlighted by these mainstream mags, unless forced to do so. Instead they're left in the cold to rot as their businesses crumble, and audiophiles are deprived of those better-quality products, without even being aware of them. This is no accident!

Now The Tail Wags the Dog: And now we address the final insult. We now address the shinning paradigm of how bold and brazen these mags have become. We now have reporters dictating to bright enterprising designers in regards to how they should design their speakers (ensuring stagnation at this low standard) if they want their products to be exposed by said mags. Basically, this is what it boils down to.

As highlighted in a previous article (the final segment of which could be regarded as part 1 of this segment) the editor of a powerful mainstream mag had been resisting repeated appeals from it's readers for a review of certain speakers which were garnering raves from other sources. The editor claimed he would not review these speakers because they were 'sufficiently different' from those he believed to be in line with his readers 'needs and tastes', that he saw no sense in expending resources on such a review.

The speakers in question are from Zu. I'm not arguing that they're the best, but their virtues are undeniable, and certainly relevant to audiophiles who're in real pursuit of realistic reproduction, as against those content with merely satisfying 'tastes and preferences'. They utilize fullrange 10" drivers augmented by super-tweeters. Their sonic characteristics are similar to those of the 70-odd year-old relics which dusted some of the best of modern speakers. They are full-bodied in tone and extremely efficient and dynamic. They are the direct antithesis of currently popular speakers in that they sound more like live music. And unlike most modern speakers, their 'balance' is also more akin to real live music - similar to the butt-kicking relics.

In his rhetoric, the editor implies that the popular speakers, such as the mag recommends, obviously, and such as he claims caters to his readers 'needs and tastes', are somehow ideal for said readers. But we all know that if 70-odd year-old relics kick the butts of the very best of these, then there's certainly cavernous room for improvement, to say the least. So how can he be claiming to be excluding 'sufficiently different' alternatives on the pretext that the speakers such as the mag endorses are ideal for his readers' 'needs and tastes' - especially when those same readers are clamoring for a review?

Does anyone still doubt that these mags are largely responsible for the retrogression and current stagnation in audio-related standards? Leave aside, for the moment, the multiplicty of other sinister implications intrinsic to this scenario. And consider that this is just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the practices of the two most powerful mainstream audio-magazines, along with others, of course.

And now we find reporters dictating to designers as to how they should design their speakers if they want to be reviewed. At the very least, this seems to be the message being conveyed, among other things. Talk about the tail wagging the dog!

Here's a paraphrasing of a question from a reader, and the editor's response - very accurately paraphrased, of course:

Seemingly perplexed by the editors resistance to the prospect of a review of Zu, the reader wondered if everyone didn't design speakers with the goal of reproducing music in the most exacting and emotionally compelling way.

The editor replied that if one is designing a speaker for one's own personal use only, then yes, it could be said that one's goal is to reproduce music in the most exacting and emotionally compelling way. However, to fully achieve that goal, the design will be so tailored to one's own specific needs and tastes that the speaker will likely be found to be unlistenable by anyone else.

He continued to say that a speaker designer who wishes to make speakers that appeal to a large number of listeners has to balance all aspects of speaker performance so that no one area is too compromised. And that the designer must accept that this will also mean that no one area will achieve its maximum performance. However, if  the designer knows what he is doing then enough potential customers will find enough of what he has done satisfactory enough for their needs and tastes to keep him in business.

He claimed that this is the reason why there are so many loudspeakers on their Recommended-Components list and that this is why the question of; What's the best speaker, is meaningless. The best speaker for one audiophile will not be the best speaker for another with different needs and tastes. 

But he also claims that  there is strong evidence that general listener preference in speaker design follows an established pattern. And that in that context, the Zu design philosophy is sufficiently different from that pattern that he doesn't believe their speakers will satisfy enough of the mag's readership to justify the mag's investment of resources in a review.

Analysing B-S: As one or two readers expressed, in protesting the mag's stance in that thread; one would've expected that a mag's role is to inform readers as to what's out there.  The question of their interest in buying the product is highly irrelevant. A magazine's primary duty is to supply the information - the more diverse, the better. (Actually benefiting the mags' own potential for increased magazine-sales, I might add).

In agreeing, I would also add that the editor's claim to the belief that these speakers will not satisfy enough of the mag's readers 'needs and tastes' to justify a review, apparentely, adds credence to the view that some of these mainstream mags act more as marketing branches, or sales-reps, for some manufacturers - to sell their products - while denying exposure to others. This is a view held by some. 

And many of those manufacturers with products 'recommended' by these mags would logically be the ones expected to enjoy more 'support' from such mags, in this unfair scenario, since the mags endorse or 'recommend' their products. Naturally, in return, one would expect these manufacturers to also 'support' these mags and writers, substantially. If this is so, then this would be a quite profitable situation for these mags and the 'lucky' manufacturers alike. But would the mags go so far as to exclude others in furtherance of promoting those they 'recommend'? Apparently???

The ed wants to confine reviews to those products he thinks his readers should, or would, be interested in buying, obviously, since he's adamant about catering to his readers' 'need and tastes'. This is coming from the horse's mouth.

Arguably, a mag operating in such a manner is no longer functioning as a newspaper, bringing all relevant news to the people without undue censorship. Such a mag would basically be functioning as a sales-brochure, obviously, for those lucky manufacturers such as the mag endorses or 'recommends' (since, by his own admission, the ed is averse to commissioning a review of a product 'sufficiently different' from those he endorses, 'in the interest of his readers', as he claims). Am I not understanding correctly? (We wouldn't want to be misrepresenting the actual verifiable facts here now, would we? Other than the facts, any necessary speculation is exactly that; speculation - yet, also based on the actual facts).

What do they care how many readers' needs and tastes will be satisfied by these speakers, so long as they do their duty in making people aware of what's available, and satiating people's curiousity? (And selling more mags in the process too).

With the preceding as a backdrop, would it then be fair to assume that there's no profit in promoting/reviewing a speaker from a manufacturer other than those 'recommended' by the mag since this would be, effectively, promoting an outsider, to the detriment of those 'recommended' and, consequently, to the detriment of the mag itself, in terms of such conventions which may exist?

And could the editor's allusion to a manufacturer's satisfying enough customers' 'needs and tastes' to keep him in business be some sinister warning for others to toe the 'needs and tastes' line or risk being strangled out of business, owing to lack of exposure, by powerful mags. But then, does even toing that line guarantee any such exposure, in light of other factors in evidence?  Also, could the ed's stringent requirement for manufacturers' conformity to 'an established pattern' (which is proven inadequate, in sonic-realism) and his like requirement for manufacturers to satisfy 'needs and tastes' (which is a flawed concept in regards to high-fidelity/realism) be further indication of the press' goal and role in ensuring stagnation and in ensuring further degradation in standards, respectively, pursuant to their own agenda? Once again; from the horse's mouth!  

OK, in his last two paragraphs we seem to have the mother of contradictions. And the step-mother too: The gentleman claims the reason for the many speakers in the mag's recommend list is to satisfy 'different needs and tastes' - the best speaker for one is not the best for the other. This begs the question; if the mag is truly so interested in satisfying different 'needs and tastes', then wouldn't such a mag be happy to accommodate a 'suffiently different' speaker to satisfy those with like 'needs and tastes'? Not enough to justify a review, he claims (we've already dealt with the 'sales-brochure' aspect that such a stance implies).

But then, apparently to further counter his previous contradiction he inadvertently offers another contradiction: He claims that listener preference (i.e; one singular collective-preference of all those listeners who he already told us had different preferences - 'different needs and tastes', necessitating the mag's multiple speaker recommendations) follows an established (singular) pattern that differs from that of these speakers he opts to exclude.

"Oh, what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice....."

Also (whether this aspect of the above is actually true-enough, or whether the mags are aiming to make it even more true) I'd tend to wonder if 'listener preference' doesn't follow this 'established pattern' because it's shaped by powerful magazines which direct these listener/readers in the direction the mags want them to go - thereby establishing the 'established pattern'. And whether these magazines don't manipulate this scenario by making a practice of shutting-out 'sufficiently different' alternatives for said reader/listeners, thereby ensuring the readers' continued focus in the desired direction - the 'established pattern'. The evidence, here, clearly seems to point in that direction.

And here again we come upon this eternal repetitious reference to 'needs and tastes' (three times in just four short paragraphs) no wonder some readers seem so brainwashed. (The power of repetitious suggestion; it's a well-proven tactic, in phsycology, subliminal messaging targeting one's  sub-consciousness. I wonder if...? Naw). And note the, likewise, inevitable application of that other word; 'balance', albeit in a somewhat different context, on this occasion. 
Oh, and; the question - What's the best loudspeaker - is meaningless,
we're told. Really?

And obviously we're no longer aiming for one standard, everything must be sold, so... the best speaker for one audiophile will not be the best speaker for another with different 'needs and tastes'.

And finally, the mag obviously seeks to make a flawed concept seem more relevant, more politically-correct, by substituting 'needs' for the word; 'preferences'. But what needs; big-room, small-room? Easily addressed. The emphasis overwhelms the context - a probable sign of ulterior motives, especially in light of the obvious stretch to validate the same concept others refer to as (the slightly more blatantly ridiculous, in the context of high-fidelity) 'tastes and preferences'. And what 'tastes'; the 'tastes' for elevated 'airy' trebles and restrained lean-mids, as endorsed and encouraged by the mags, for instance?

 [Incidentally, now I know for sure where that guy got the notion of; 'your realism and my realism'. My gosh!]

But more importantly: Can there be any doubt as to the obvious motives, and the deeper implications, regarding the actions played-out in the scenario illustrated immediately above? Can there be any doubt that this is not an isolated case, by only one mag, and that other products, of all categories, routinely suffer the same fate? Can there be any doubt as to why this is so?

And, looking at the broader picture as outlined here, can there be any doubt as to the fact of, and the reasons for, the lowering of standards in audio, and as to who're responsible for it? Can there be any doubt as to why the concept of 'high fidelity' has been contaminated with the contradictory concept of catering to 'tastes and preferences', and by whom? Can there be any doubt as to why we've retrogressed, and subsequently stagnated, to the extent that 70-odd year-old relics routinely prove their superiority over the very best of modern conventional speakers?

Can't people really see all of what's been taking place? 

This is depressing, really.

I give up!


Copyright 2012