Things That Audiophiles Do, But Shouldn't
Many a long year ago, when I was probably about sixteen, my father went over to the home of his friend, Ozzie Palermo, to hear his new Hi-Fi set. (Yeah, Hi-Fi set; that was back when the hot setup for everybody other than us early Hi-Fi Crazies, was a one-piece "console" radio-phonograph with built-in speakers.) Ozzie had just bought it, and was showing it off to anyone who would listen. (Judging by when this probably happened, it might even have been "a stereo", which, in itself, would have been both an oddity and a bragging-point in those days). After my father got there, listened, and dutifully said "ooh" and "aah" at appropriate intervals, Ozzie apparently asked him something like "Say, isn't your son a Hi-Fi Fan, too?" and when my father, cornered, admitted it, Ozzie wouldn't be satisfied until he (my father) called me, told me about his (Ozzie's) new Hi-Fi, and got me to listen to Ozzie demonstrating it over the telephone.
Needless to say, what it sounded like was... my telephone. Ozzie was picking up the sound of his set with the single microphone of his telephone handset and relaying it by the telephone electronics at his end, to the telephone electronics at my end, to come out through the teeny-tiny speaker of my telephone handset. How could it possibly sound like anything else?
That was silly, but I guess he was so happy with his new toy that that it never occurred to him that the only way I could ever really hear his system was by actually hearing his system.
What's interesting to me is that even today, more than six decades later people are still doing the very same thing, albeit by different means. How many times have you seen somebody on Facebook, YouTube, or one of the audiophile group sites even some so-called "reviewer" post video of a system being played as a demonstration of what that system sounds like? How is that any different from what Ozzie Palermo did so many years ago? Of course, the sound now is probably better I can't imagine the sound of any set of computer speakers (at least the "outboard" ones) not being better than the speaker in an old telephone handset but, however good it might be, it certainly isn't even remotely like the sound of whatever system the sender is trying to demonstrate!
Another thing that I've never understood about audiophiles is how so many of us can as Ozzie Palermo or any of those other, later people, might have been doing rely on somebody else's opinion about how good a system or its components sound.
If you just want somebody to listen to what you've already got so you can "show off" or brag about it, that's perfectly fine and completely understandable, but if you're seeking validation of your own opinion by somebody else's ears or, even worse, if you're willing to let somebody else's judgment a reviewer's for example affect what you're going to buy, you might be making a terrible error.
The perfect proof of this is the story of how I got to have three pairs of Acoustat Model 1+1 electrostatic speakers:
I and my friend Tony DiChiro, then president of Kinergetics Research and still one of the greatest designers our industry has ever known, used to have joint listening sessions, sometimes at his house, sometimes at mine.
This worked because not only was our equipment very similar, but our listening rooms with just one seemingly minor exception were nearly identical. Both were living room/dining room combinations, of almost exactly the same dimensions, partially open to the left, with the dining room separated from the living room by, in my case, a center wall with a fireplace in it and pass-throughs to the dining room on both sides and, in his, a short stub wall on either side of the room and a center pass-through to the dining room.
Both of us had a couch for listening at the back wall of the living room, facing the dining room, and had our speakers in the same positions just in front of the wall(s) separating the rooms, and about eight or nine feet apart.
Tony liked the sound I was getting from my Acoustats, and, when Jim Strickland, Acoustat's designer, announced that he was coming out with new, improved transformers for them, Tony decided to get a pair of 1+1s for himself and I asked him to order another pair for me, too.
When they came identical speakers from the same batch, ordered at the same time we both hooked them up in our regular positions and set them to burn-in. On Acoustats, this would normally take about a week, but after two weeks, while mine sounded just fine, Tony said that his still didn't sound right. I suggested that he give them some more time but, when, after two more weeks, that still didn't work, I went out to his house to listen and see if I could offer any help.
When I got there, the speakers seemed to be working properly, but they really didn't sound right, so we loaded them into Tony's van and hauled them to my house to put them up against my Acoustats both pairs of them.
At my house, they sounded great, so, instead of loading them back up and carrying them back to the Valley to Tony's house; I just bought them from him. Which is why I now have three sets of Acoustat 1+1s. (NO, they're not for sale. Mine, MINE, I tell you!)
The interesting part is that, a few weeks later, Tony called and told me that he had ordered a pair of Bruce Thigpen's Eminent Technologies Model 4 speakers (sort of double-magnet Magnepans); that they had arrived; and that they sounded great. I went out to hear them, and they sounded SO great that I thought I might want to get rid of all of my Acoustats and get a pair of ET4s. As a test though, we loaded the ETs onto Tony's van, took them to my house and set them up. They sounded... awful. The Acoustats even the pair that I had bought from Tony, that hadn't sounded good at his place clearly and obviously out performed them.
So what's the lesson to be learned here?
Easy: When two industry professionals men who make their living by knowing how to listen and what to listen for can come up with entirely different conclusions about the exact same speakers either the same actual pair (the ETs) or two pairs of the same model (the Acoustats) just by playing them in different rooms, it becomes obvious that the value of buying High-End audio equipment based on the opinion of a friend; of some reviewer; OR EVEN YOUR ON OWN EXPERIENCE WITH THE SAME PRODUCT AS HEARD IN SOME ROOM OR ON SOME SYSTEM OTHER THAN YOUR OWN is negligible.
Add to that the facts that different people listen for different sonic characteristics, on different music than you might, and that we all have different tastes and preferences, anyway (Remember the old saying that "One man's meat is another man's poison"), and it all comes down to just one thing: TRUST NO OPINION BUT YOUR OWN, DERIVED FROM YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE WITH YOUR OWN EARS, ON YOUR OWN SYSTEM, IN YOUR OWN ROOM.
The opinions of others can be of value, but probably only to "rule-out" things not worthy of trying. And even then, they might be correct but not applicable for you. Again, think how two perfectly great brands/models of speakers, that sounded wonderful elsewhere, got "thumbs-down" responses when played in the wrong room.
Ultimately, only you can be the one to determine what's best for you. When you do, you can put together your system; turn it on; lean back; and in precisely the way that gives YOU the very most pleasure...