The Audio Cynic

Everything Matters; Nothing Matters

Issue 39

Audio is art and science. It is art. It is science. It is both. It can be neither.

After spending most of my life in this biz, it is evident to me that audio can be pretty much anything you want it to be: fulfillment of dogma, pursuit of fanciful mysticism, or on that very rare day when the stars align…music?

I’ve found that in spite of frenzied assurances to the contrary, yes, goddamnit, everything matters. Even with the most straightforward A–>B digital system, there is room to tweak/improve/polish with cables, grounding goodies, power clean-up, whatever. It is frustrating and maddening and beguiling. It is both heartening and depressing. It leaves room for improvement, and teases and mocks with the oh-so-maddening awareness that there will always be room for improvement. ALWAYS.

It is not for the faint of heart. It’s no wonder that audio is seen to be the realm of obsessive tweakers. Honestly, it kinda is—no?

As I’ve said before, I’m a gestalt guy: things either sound right, or they don’t.  I can and do turn and leave at demos of million-dollar systems if they just don’t sound like music to me. I’m not fond of dressing cables and cleaning terminals and nudging quarter-ton speakers with a hip-check, a centimeter at a time, no matter how rewarding the results. I’ll plead arthritis, if nothing else. I’m happy to let another more patient soul deal with it all.

Having said that, even at this late stage of the game, I’m particularly sensitive to digital distortion and artifacts, and frequently call BS at new of the latest wizardry and algorithms. Is what comes out music? If not, I could care less about the elegance of your theories.

So: as is true of most things in life, one can either find an amusing beguilement in the incredible, ridiculous complexity of it all, or find it a frustrating dead-end, a road towards insanity and depression.

I find it easier to just approach this stuff the same way I approach a hummingbird, darting and hovering in front of me: it’s a miracle, full of ineffable beauty and magic.

I’ll never understand it all. And I’m not sure I’d want to.

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