Slap in the face

Paul McGowan writes: Some years backI wrote about a new power amp technology that simply blew my skirt up to the point where I have cleansed the listening room of anything but this product to amplify the Maggies.  The decision to consider doing this took about 10 seconds: I knew immediately this was it.  I then spent nearly a week pinching myself to make sure it was real – a battery of tests, listening to cuts I formerly couldn’t stand to hear, new cuts I had never heard – all in an attempt to uncover the dirty little truth that what I was hearing was too good to be true.  It is true, my fears unjustified.What cues slapped me in the face to make this decision?  How did I instantly know this was something extraordinary?  I’ll tell you in this post but let me caution you that for serious listeners, the process is different for each of us.  This revelation that we each know extraordinary performance in a different way took a lot of years and conversations to figure out – and during the process of realizing this interesting fact I had many troubling days filled with self doubt.  Why didn’t I hear what someone else heard when it was so obvious to them and brushed right past me?

I think the answer lies in how we recognize patterns that relate to reality.  My cues that tell me what I am hearing is live or recorded are probably different than yours.  I am extremely sensitive to image placement and audible pattern memory.  For example, when I am on my morning walk into work I can tell the location of sounds around me as well as instantly know what created the sounds – the starters on different cars are immediately obvious to me: Chrysler starters vs. Subaru, vs. GMC, 4 cylinder engines vs. V8′s, different birds, how the neighborhood I walk through normally sounds vs. anything out of the ordinary.

Others pay no attention to this but use other means to identify and register their surroundings every moment in the day.  It is something we all do in our own way and when it comes to a high-end system and recognizing a good performance and a bad performance I believe the same holds true.  We each hear something different that cues us into the window of “closer to the truth”.  For some it’s pacing, others tonality, and still others it’s imaging.  For me, I fall into the latter.

So when I switched on the new power amplifier module I was evaluating, which had been gain matched to within a 10th of a dB to the reference power amplifier, I almost fell over when the speakers literally disappeared.  I don’t mean a little, but 100%.  They vanished, no sound coming from them whatsoever and the music totally divorced from the source.  Cut after cut I went through and the same thing occurred.

So concerned was I that something was wrong I had engineering check and recheck and still, it’s perfect in all respects.

This was a major slap in the face and I’ll keep you informed if anything comes of it.  For now I am feeling a bit selfish listening and enjoying but heck, there’s gotta be some bennies to the job!