Armchair quarterbacks

June 10, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

The classic armchair quarterback can be a valued member of any team. Their dispassionate views often add value to those actually making the plays.

But making the plays, designing the equipment, making the tough decisions of how to get from point A to point B is a very different challenge than what a critic faces.

What designers, engineers, and craftspeople bring to the table is hands-on experience—the hard-won skills to successfully bring a new product or service from an idea to a finished piece.

When I share my knowledge and experience of designing and building products with the HiFi Family it comes from a desire to help others see what I see without their having to spend 50 years accumulating it.

I truly love the role reviewers, critics, and armchair quarterbacks play. They are not mired in the detritus of sorting through the years of successes and failures.

I do wonder sometimes if they've forgotten the differences between passing judgment and actually envisioning, designing, building, and producing that which they judge.

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22 comments on “Armchair quarterbacks”

  1. I think there's a generational shift from a time when consumer products like automobiles and hifi could be fixed and upgraded, if not built DIY, to the point now where you need a special computer to do the simplest job on an automobile and if you take the lid off your hifi you invalidate your warranty. So whilst 50 years ago many consumers were interested in HOW a product works, these days consumers are only interested in WHAT it does, and the MORE it does the better.

    As far as reviewers are concerned, given so many products now use the same or very similar technology, their role seems far more subjective, concerning what a product brings to the consumer, rather than the technicalities of what makes it work. It may boil down to which product is considered to have the more user-friendly app, which these days is often the hardest and most time-consuming aspect of product development.

  2. To the ultimate Armchair Quaterback ('CtA')'re up 🙂
    (We still want to know what supremely accurate, internally powered,
    DAC'd & DSP'd high-end loudspeakers are you currently employing
    as part of your state of the art, SOTA, home audio set-up)

    1. Hello Jabba de Rat,
      123 kilos of wasted space. Not one neuron dedicated to thinking carefully or with insight.

      Why do you care what I have? Worry about your very ancient mid fi that makes you happy. Or get on a diet, be nice to your suffering wife.

      1. Let's see, "123 kilos of wasted space":

        Using a vacuum energy density of 6.4E-27 to 7.2E-27 kilogram per cubic meter (John Baez, 2011: What's the Energy Density of the Vacuum?)

        With 2 significant figures, that works out to a volume of 1.7E28 to 1.9E28 cubic meters. For a sense of scale, that is at least 12 times larger than the Sun by volume. One big rat.

        Or did you mean to use "kilos" as 123000 cubic centimeters of "wasted space" (c.g.s. system) instead of the more commonly associated kilogram in colloquial English. Using a typical human average density of 1.01 grams per cubic centimeter, this works out to 124000g/274lbs. Still a big guy.

        For future reference, kindly be more precise (colloquial English definition) in the nomenclature used for you insults.

  3. It’s about time you came out with a post like this. So many of us want to judge others because it doesn’t cost us anything to open our mouths or put our opinions in writing without knowing everything going on in the background.

    There is a big difference however in being an armchair quarterback watching a football game versus making comments about a specific electronics product design or presenting a new design to further your craft.

    When you’re watching a football game you can see the whole field in front of your eyes and watch the whole game minute but minute from beginning to end so judgments may be quite visible as you’re watching the entire game. This type of armchair quarterbacking is usually very passionate though. On the other hand armchair quarterbacks critiquing so much of what goes into a design from beginning to end in design meetings, researching the latest developments in field, learning how to incorporate new technologies to create a better quality outcome and so many other headaches and heartaches in crafting a finished product may not be seen or understood by the casual observer. It’s easy to talk but not so easy to do.

    1. Well said! I see no relationship between armchair quarterbacking and critiquing or reviewing. The game of football, basketball, soccer, hockey and other team sports where the action is quick, requires very accurate timing and split second decisions is nothing like researching, developing and building audio gear.

      I get very upset with many armchair quarterbacks because they have never played the game. Unless you have put on the pads and played the game you have no idea what you are talking about when you say the QB, the receiver or the running back should have done this or that.

      When it comes to consumer audio gear anybody who buys the gear is qualified to say that the like the way it sounds or they don't, that the controls work well or they don't, that it was easy to install or it was not. It does not matter if you have 30 years of technology R & D experience like I do or if you were an English teacher like the late great Art Dudley was. If you have used the gear you are qualified to say what you think of it.

  4. The armchair quarterbacks I know in sports are anything but dispassionate, particularly with football where the term originated. Many might even be called rabid!

    1. I my adopted state of Nebraska (adjacent to and east-northeast of Paul's adopted state of Colorado for the benefit of international readers of Paul's Post), the official state religion is 'Husker football. This is, of course, an exaggeration, but not by much. And the enthusiasm is contagious. This ex-patriot Jay Hawk joins in proclaiming the mantra, "Go Big Red!"

  5. Our Audio Club heard a system with a pair of high cost speakers. Nobody loved them. Nobody I spoke with could enunciate exactly what was wrong and the reason. Just “too much bass”.
    It’s easy to be a critic of audio gear. But very difficult to do it properly.

    1. If a group of you had a listening session and came to the same conclusion then unless you were sitting in armchairs I wouldn’t call you armchair quarterbacks. You came, you heard, you commented.

    2. Your right. You all knew you did not like the speakers because they had too much bass, but you could not say what caused that. Now, if you were John Atkinson who has a degree in engineering and has worked decades first at HiFi News and Record Review ( British ) and then Stereophile ( US ) reviewing, measuring and writing about audio gear you would have noticed that the speakers are ported and were too close to the back and side walls and that was making the bass boom. So, you and your audio club are not qualified to write for an audio magazine, but if you posted a google review of the speakers that said simply that when you heard them they had too much bass, that would be a fare review.

  6. I wondered if the couch girl was asleep because she had just read all of the posts and comments. 🙂

    In regard to the post words…Is there a difference between critique and passing (pun intended) judgement?

    1. maybe the difference is in the intentions?
      Critique is often meant to be constructive and helpful.
      Passing judgement often seems to communicate an inflexible position.

      As for the girl on the couch.....
      having a beautiful model in the listening room gives new meaning to "finding the sweet spot" 😉

  7. Hi Paul and Everyone,
    Your observations are, in my view, an aspect of a larger problem in our culture, which is an epistemic one. A rich, easy and confrontational read on this topic is "The Death of Expertise" by Tom Nichols. I think everyone in our society, including us experts (in whatever field we can legitimally claim specialized knowledge) can benefit from Nichols' overview of this endemic and malignant issue.

  8. Odd thing. This thread made me remember an invention someone I knew wanted to manufacture back in the late 60's...

    It consisted of a flexible thin slide out type drawer that one would place under the cushions found on couches and armchairs. What it did was to collect lost coins that fell out of pockets while the person sat. That way one did not have to start digging to see what was left behind...

    He named it 'the armchair- quarter back." He failed miserably at marketing it. Those he tried to get interested in investing just sat on their fat asses.

    1. Man holds a 25 cent coin in the open palm of one hand and repeated pummels it with the fisted other hand, becoming the original quarter pounder.

      -- Richard Overstreet (c. 1975)

  9. After all of that being said and finding truth with each statement, I have absolutely no comment.

    And with that let's all "Just Listen" (for a while ok 🙂 )

    Oh yeah, what girl, on what sofa and where would I find her? 🙂

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