In Stereophile Magazine’s March issue John Atkinson opines about the goals and challenges of reviewing audio equipment: a challenging task to do it as well and as thoroughly as does John. I have always admired his measurements plus listening approach to high-end audio as being really down to earth and informative.
At one point in the article he asks the question “how do reviewers assess the quality of products they write about?” He goes on to point out the standard answer is “by comparing them to the sound of live unamplified music” – a concept popularized by Harry Pearson then of TAS.
That’s the same reasoning I use as well: “does a piece of gear get me closer to the real thing?”.
John argues that the whole process of two channel recording can never get us close and therefore holding equipment to this standard doesn’t make any sense. He would prefer instead to figure out what the intent of the designer was and report on how close he got and how that product works in the reviewer’s system for a given set of music.
While I respect his opinion and certainly agree with him that our current method of recording and playback will never achieve a live presentation in the home, I disagree about his conclusion.
If I put my consumer hat on and pickup a review of a piece of kit, the designer’s intent on a piece of equipment is certainly interesting but not all that relevant to me. And likewise, I am certainly interested in a reviewer’s opinion on how that product sounds in their system and with music I can buy and try for myself, but I still want to know the big question in my mind – how close does this get me to believing it’s right in the room? Perhaps that’s just a personal bias but it’s a question I always ask.
I know we can’t get live music in our home with the current recording and playback chains but half the fun for me is getting closer and closer to it.
Every once in a while I am transported somewhere else when I listen to music – even if I know it isn’t real.