22 March, 2012

Letter from NYC 2012 (22): Observations and Feelings

Letter from NYC 2012 (22): Observations and Feelings
Talk Digital: Much Ado about Nothing, CAS and Measurements

Friends, I have so much to report, yet everything takes time, and time is on the short side these days, with family duties that have to be duly attended to. But I must tell you I feel I am turning over new leaves, and several articles in the mental pipeline shall be more than worth their salt, I pledge! But first...

Audio - Science, Religion, or Metaphysics?
After more than two decades of encounters with audiophiles of all kinds, I can say for most of them, if not all of us, the approach is a combination of all of the above. Audio beliefs can often be based on sheer faith that comes alarmingly close to religious cult. When it comes to this kind of thing, why don't we read what sages from a simpler age has left for us?

Kierkegaard on Feelings and Observations, relevant for audio? Remember the great philosopher behind the masterpiece Either/Or? I invoke his views on the inadequacies of human observations:
  • (from wikipedia entry) "...The scientist can learn about the world by observation but Kierkegaard emphatically denied that observation could reveal the inner workings of the spiritual world. In 1847 Kierkegaard described his own view of the single individual:
    God is not like a human being; it is not important for God to have visible evidence so that he can see if his cause has been victorious or not; he sees in secret just as well. Moreover, it is so far from being the case that you should help God to learn anew that it is rather he who will help you to learn anew, so that you are weaned from the worldly point of view that insists on visible evidence. (...) A decision in the external sphere is what Christianity does not want; (...) rather it wants to test the individual’s faith..."
Unfeeling Digital Apologists I refer to those digital advocates out there who fanatically follow measurements and routinely tout the superiority of the newest DAC on the block (particularly those CAS folks on head-fi forums), and who cite all kinds of measurements in the case against vinyl (without even having heard a good analog setup). If you're one of them, I think you need to read the rest of the article on Kierkegaard. Like religion, music is a spiritual matter, and measurements/observations do not even begin to tell the story, indeed even hinder us in our quest for fulfilment. Think, why do some people still employ non-oversampling and 16-bit chips (I can assure you those "obsolete" methodologies can yield good results)? Why vacuum tubes, why single end? Why does vinyl still sound better? These people are not mad, they know the right thing because they utilize their feelings in their search for perfect sound, which shall never materialize if one only concentrates on numbers.

Perils of Internet Research If one extrapolates from Kierkegaard, the problem with many audiophiles, particularly younger and computer-savvy ones, is that they read too much and feel too little. Or should I say, the problem is audio experienced through others rather than through oneself. There is no quick way to find out what is the "best", except to find out oneself! Come to think of it, this is a generation of audiophiles without much personality, true experience and hence true opinions.

Get in touch with the music. If something is said to be good, but does not sound or feel right, then it is probably not good, at least not the right thing for you. Learn to trust yourself. No hifi virtues can compensate for music that does not feel right.

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