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March/April 2001


The Intro
The Heart Of Our Hobby
Editorial By Art Dudley


  Apart from reminding Listener's readers how seldom I have been arrested compared to George W. Bush (the score stands at "zero" to "three that we know of"), I vow to keep the following observations as non-political as I can.

Today's concern goes to the heart of our hobby. Specifically, what should we, as audiophiles, be doing with our hi-fi gear? Should we use our stereos to lay bare every nuance of sound on our recordings, as faithfully and thoroughly as technology allows? Or should we use them as we would a drug, to achieve a musical bliss-out whenever the fancy strikes us?

And: Is it acceptable for us to even think of these as separate goals?



The old musical kicks-vs.-fidelity to the master tape argument has been around longer than Goldie Hawn, and it gets trotted out at least every other week on the various internet hi-fi forums. But a recent and very thoughtful letter brought it to the fore for me. Reader Bruce Winstein reacts to our review last issue of the Naim CDS CD player, in which I observe that the CD5's strengths are sufficient to "take a borderline-uninvolving disc and kick it up to another level, where it grabs your attention and keeps your mind from straying until the music is over." Winstein responded as follows:


Maybe the "borderline-uninvolving disc" shouldn't be "kicked up to another level." Might it be that the next Naim CD player will "be so true to the original that it takes discs that I had thought very involving but now realize were colored by my previous player?"


My first reaction when I hear that set of criticism is, Hey, go pick on the surround sound guys: They're the ones who are perverting things all to hell for the sake of sonic giggles. Which is true. But that doesn't let me off the hook.


So then:
I believe that sound reproduction equipment distorts not only the sound of music but the very musical message itself-the pitch and timing information that is of utmost importance. I do not believe that hi-fi gear can enhance, say, the sense of rhythm and pacing in a recording:* I believe that the best it can do is to get all the way out of the way, and allow one hundred percent of the sense of flow and momentum and verve of the original to come
through unabated.

More often than not, of course, the opposite happens, and the timing information in a music recording is diminished - not just quickened or slowed consistently, but essentially distorted.


*This effect is largely misunderstood: How many times have you heard someone suggest that the Linn LP-12 turntable has good rhythm n' pace only because its amplitude response has a peak in the upper bass? Once would be too often because that's not just wrong, it's stupid-wrong.


—Art Dudley














































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