Man Bites Dog
The mainstream media consistently distorts and
sensationalizes high-end audio — when it chooses to cover the subject at
all. We've all seen the newspaper and magazine articles that portray those
of us who pursue musical realism in the home as wild-eyed fanatics, out of
touch with reality.
The latest in this long and unfortunate procession is the "Portals" column in the January 16th Wall
Street Journal. The title, "If You're Not Insane About Sound,
Maybe You Can Just Go Crazy," reflects the author's agenda. In the second
paragraph, "Portals" columnist Lee Gomes sets the stage with this
definition: "Audiophiles, as you probably know, are the hi-fi zealots who
think nothing of spending $50,000 on a turntable. I've learned over the
years that audiophiles actually come in two varieties: the totally insane and
the merely crazy."
First, I don't know any audiophile, no matter how
well-heeled, who would spend even a fraction of that amount on a turntable
without extensive deliberation. Second, note that the price and the
product-category examples were chosen to elicit the greatest sense of shock
and alienation. The definition could have read "Audiophiles are music lovers
who will spend $2000 on a pair of carefully chosen loudspeakers that sound
more like live music" but that's merely a "dog bites man" story.
Just before the 2006 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, a reporter
from the Denver Post
interviewed me for an article he was writing about the show. Before the
interview began, I implored him to report on the industry accurately rather
than sensationalize it with accounts of $100,000 loudspeakers and $20,000
cables. Journalists often take the easy way out, I told him, by using the hook
of a few high-priced products that represent only a small niche within a
larger industry rather then learning what the field is really about. I then
laid out for him my view of high-end audio:
· High-end audio is for anyone who enjoys music.
· High-performance audio doesn't necessarily mean
high-priced audio — a quality system from specialty manufacturers can be had
for not much more than mass-market commodity hi-fi.
· Anyone can tell the difference between mediocre and
superb sound quality — it doesn't take a "golden ear" to hear the
· The better the quality of the reproduction, the deeper
the listener's connection to the music.
· The value of hearing your favorite music wonderfully
reproduced night after night cannot be overstated.
Yes, it's possible to spend $100,000 or more on a pair of
loudspeakers, I said, but sensationalizing that fact does a disservice to the
I read the story in the Post
two days later and, of course, it opened with an account of an audiophile who
spent more than $100,000 on a pair of speakers. The tone of the piece, as with
other mainstream coverage of high-end audio, is akin to the writer putting on
a freak show for his readers: "Look at how bizarre these people are."
Reporters are looking for the sensational because that's
what's "newsworthy." They need an "angle" on which to hang the
story, and pointing to audiophiles as wackos serves that purpose. Oddly,
however, mainstream journalists don't have a problem reporting favorably on
other expensive goods and services such as exotic cars, gourmet food,
vacations, hotels, yachts, and spas. In fact, they exalt these products and
experiences as something to aspire to.
Another factor driving the anti-audiophile agenda within the
mass-market press is the writer's attempt to position himself as the consumer's advocate. By reporting that high-end audio (particularly cables,
the mass-media's whipping boy) is a waste of money, the writer appears to be
protecting readers from a consumer scam.
The mainstream media could more accurately write about the
schoolteacher who owns a modest, yet musically rewarding system — made up of
a high-quality integrated amplifier, CD player, and bookshelf speakers —
that was priced well within his means. The article could convey how much this
hi-fi system has enriched its owner's life by serving as a more faithful
conduit of the musicians' expression. It could mention premium cables
costing less than $100 per pair that sound significantly better than zip cord.
Such an article could describe how much more rewarding it is to buy from a
skilled and dedicated specialty-audio retailer who helps you find just the
right system rather than from a clueless appliance-store clerk handing you
boxes over the counter.
that story wouldn't sell many newspapers.