I remember the first time a worried audiophile came to me for help. It was many years ago at a consumer tradeshow.
The fellow—let’s just call him Ed—was concerned because a system in a room sounded wrong to him. That was particularly upsetting to Ed because he had been assured by the owners of the room that the system was near-perfect. That if he didn’t hear that perfection then something was wrong with him (as opposed to the system).
Ed came to me for help. Would I give a listen and offer an opinion?
We traipsed down the hall, walked into the room, and listened. Ed was right. The sound was aggressive, forward, amusical to a fault. A wall of loud high fidelity.
The owner of the brand spotted me and smiled.
“What’cha think?” he asked.
“Not really my choice of music. Could we try something a bit gentler, perhaps with a vocal?”
Now the fun begins. The vocal was not a lot different than the wall of sound first on offer, but at least it was music I was familiar with. Norah Jones, if memory serves.
“Very revealing,” said I.
That was good enough for us to be given a hall pass to leave.
As Ed and I walked back to our room he asked me, “you found it revealing? So he was right?”
“What did you hear?” I asked.
“It still sounded all wrong. Completely the opposite of your room where the musicians sound live and in the room.”
“Right,” I said. “The last piece he played was very revealing of that fact. I just didn’t want to finish the sentence and make him feel bad.”
In later years I came to understand that brand owner’s idea of great audio was to bring the sound as far forward as possible. That to him, that represented what was right and best and natural.
Who’s to say what’s right and wrong?
If our ultimate goal is to reproduce the sound of live music in our rooms, then ultimately it’s how we each perceive that sound.
Right for him may not be right for me.
PAUL MCGOWAN / PS AUDIO