Numbers and tastes

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I lost 10 pounds! Relevant if you weigh 100 pounds, not so much if you weigh 300.

Numbers employed to help me make a purchasing decision have little meaning; yet they are used over and over again.

I remember the Japanese receiver onslaught in the 1980's. Great specs, low cost, a lifeboat in a sea of expensive high-end equipment. That was the promise. The product delivered very poor sound quality and would not have represented a bargain even if free. Distortion of 0.001% when typical high-end gear was lucky to hit 0.1%. 100 times better distortion should equate to 100 times better sound but the opposite was true.

What was happening was the result of an incomplete story. Those low levels of distortion were achieved at the expense of increased distortions that weren't being measured such as TIM and SID; little known villains contributing to bad sound.

So we moved away from specs as a guideline for purchase decisions and relied instead on the opinions of others we trusted, found in the newly minted high-end audio publications like Stereophile and The Absolute Sound.

Some specs relating to the system have always been relevant: how many watts is a power amplifier or AC regenerator?

I would advocate caution when using numbers to judge equipment and be wary of anyone proving something to you with them. The fact is, we don't have numbers that can tell us if something's going to sound good in our systems.

We also don't have numbers that will tell us if we're going to like the taste of something better than something else.

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Paul McGowan

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