Imposters

November 1, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

At some level, we're all imposters. We fear our projected self-worth—the way we present ourselves or the way we believe others see us—doesn't live up to expectations.

In my 74 years, I haven't met anyone that doesn't to some extent suffer from what is commonly known as Imposter Syndrome. Maybe it's a fear that our HiFi systems aren't as good sounding as we believe, or maybe it's what holds us back from offering advice and opinions (despite the wealth of knowledge we each hold in reserve).

The outward image we project is almost always a combination of guarded talents and knowledge depth sprinkled with a smidge of hopeful confidence. We don't want to set expectations too high for fear of embarrassing failure yet we don't want to go too low and be ignored.

It's probably not as bad as you might suspect.

When it comes to our HiFi systems and how good they sound, I suspect they are far better than most of us inwardly fear.

In fact, if you're reading this blog post you are most likely one of the few experts on audio systems in the world (relative to the other 7 billion of us). You know more about sound and high-performance audio than just about anyone on this planet.

And that is quite an accomplishment.

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33 comments on “Imposters”

  1. I don't know if it's really that much of an accomplishment.
    Technology may change but the principles of home-audio don't.
    If you've been involved with Hi-Fi as a hobby for 45 years & in sales for 22 years & you've not
    learned the principles involved & those principles have not become second nature to you by
    now, then there's something seriously wrong with your learning ability &/or your memory retention.
    I still get a warm & fuzzy feeling when I've helped someone make the right choice & they then
    sincerely thank me.

    There's one regular contributor here who knows a lot about music (live & recorded) & home-audio
    gear (theory & practical) but he still prefers for someone else to set up his home-audio rig...
    go figure 😉

  2. It is most unlikely to find human beings featuring a sane amount of self-criticism- especially in a society characterized by permanent self-marketing which requires a huge talent for camouflaging & tricking & bluffing/deluding. 🙂

  3. Paul's outlook is that of the salesman.

    Some of us, mainly the professional types that include doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, surveyors, architects, financial advisors and many others, only give and opinion or advice if we are sure to the best of our knowledge that it is correct, and if we are not sure we get a second opinion or otherwise keep our mouths shut.

    Being, according to my wife, borderline aspergic (and I tend to agree except perhaps not borderline), I don't actually care what other people think about my audio system, my only interest is what matters to me and those close to me. I only have one friend with an audiophile system and it's not something we discuss.

    If FR is talking about me, I probably know as much as any consumer spending a chunk of their cash on a product that gets a fair amount of use. I have zero theoretical knowledge, I don't know how a loudspeaker or an amplifier works, never used a soldering iron.

    Paul does his sales thing online because in his main market he does not have dealers. When I bought PS Audio it was from a dealer 100 miles away, which is a long way in the UK. I've only ever used 2 or 3 dealers, and only because they never talk technical to me. They plug stuff in and I/we listen. So I am no more expert than the next person listening and deciding if they like the sound. My main dealer has invited me to a presentation on Thursday by the sales guy from Wilson (a Mr McGrath) and their new speaker, the Alexia V. I hope he lets the speaker do the talking.

    p.s. I would expect any local dealer to install my hifi, and they do. It's called customer service and, in the case of Wilson speakers, it's a particular skill they are trained to do. Likewise, I buy white goods from a local company that installs, I have no interest in plumbing.

    1. Hello Mr. Spectrum,
      I believe that the of knowledge that you bring to this
      forum about home-audio, day after day, says otherwise.
      Using a soldering iron has little to do with it.
      And even someone like 'CtA' knows how an
      electromagnet works inside a fixed magnet.

      1. Audio forums are frequented by science and engineering types. My formal education in science ended before my 16th birthday and I have a degree in Economics. The only thing I remember is the citric acid cycle and, being really quite good with an HB, my dissection drawings were works of art.

        Don't confuse consumer knowledge with technical knowledge, just like some people know every detail about motor cars and can't change a tyre.

        Most of my comments tend to be from the consumer viewpoint, like my rejection of SACD/DSD. It may be great technically, but virtually all consumers rejected it. I actually bought a DSD capable DAC to try it out.

      1. Salesmen talk. I've got used to it. The good news - the demo is round the corner from Wigmore Hall, Isabelle Faust and Antoine Tamestit are performing and I'll be there for a most interesting and innovative programme.

  4. Starting with the 4th double spaced line and down the phrase that jumped in my mind was the old line “blowing smoke up one’s skirt”. 😀 (puffing up someone or ego inflating)

    As far as hi-fi fear goes there’s a mighty fine line between being humble, having humility, and being a condescending know it all. (It’s mostly in the self presentation)

    Part of the self doubt anyone may feel regarding their system may be related to the fact that there is always a subliminal in the back ground push for better. (marketing?) That’s just something that has to be dealt with.

    The continual quest for individual knowledge should never end. If one finds total contentment with the sound presentation of their individual system then maybe that’s audio nirvana. Even if that total contentment is short lived and then the individual hi-fi quest continues.

  5. I have over 50 years of experience recording and playing music. Countless devices have been exchanged over the decades and there have been a lot of acoustic ups and downs. As a result, a tremendous wealth of experience has been built up. I don't know about other music/hi-fi freaks, but what do you do with your wealth of experience and how could this treasure be salvaged and made usable for the general public?

    1. The genuine science (and there seems to be little new) may get published and technical innovations may be protected by patents (if they meet the threshold), or simply kept in-house and not disclosed.

      As a consumer product, information about audio is spread like any other consumer product (print, online, trade and consumer shows, user groups).

      I wouldn't lose sleep over the loss of individual experience. Numerous entire civilisations and much of their knowledge has been lost to humanity over the millennia, so a few opinions about cables won't make a lot of difference.

      My guess is that what we think of as hifi systems will get replaced by something better, like a virtual reality headset, or in my case an invisible system buried in the walls. There is only one thing certain about the future (except death and taxes) and that's that it will not be what you expect.

      1. Steven, Some of the things you say shock me. You have commented many times here that you do not understand the electronics and mechanics of home audio systems and that you rely heavily on your dealer to make things right in your setup. Yet, IYO, there has been little new science in home audio. I will give you that Maxwell's Equations are still used and that they were discovered over 100 years ago, but do you have any idea of all the technical advancements that have been made in the last 50 - 70 years that make home audio systems so much better today than anything that was available in the past? To portray it as trivial is not very professional.

        1. I appreciate there is a lot of innovation. I have some seriously innovative products, more innovative than stuff people here mostly use. I would question how many audio companies, if any, have published pure science and as a matter of fact very few register patents.

          I see a lot of refinement, a little innovation and almost no invention. Most hifi would be easily identifiable if taken back in a time machine to 1983.

          Perhaps the biggest innovation is with Class D amplification, which is cheap, small, and ultra-efficient. It's been around since the 1960s, it just needed Phillips and some independent engineers to make it good enough for a low noise application consumer audio. I've been using Class D for most of the time since 2009. Do I know how it works? I've not the faintest idea.

          I have 50 units in my house made by Zuma.ai. An incredibly advanced system, packing seriously good wireless audio and lighting systems into a product the size of a can of coke, for under $500. The irony is that, for a serious piece of electronics, the notable invention (and it is patented) is the spring system holding it in the ceiling.
          https://vimeo.com/548365420
          This single product appears to have at least registered 6 patents.
          https://patents.justia.com/assignee/zuma-array-limited
          I wonder how many patents PS Audio has? What function do they relate to?

          1. Steven, Take your time machine back to before the introduction of optical disc technology ( CD's, SACD's, DVD's, bluray discs ). I realize you do not see things the way I do . You see a speaker that looks like a box with a tweeter, midrange and woofer and you say nothings changed. I see the same speaker and see all of the material science advances that make the enclosure, the baffles and the drivers themselves so much better. I wish I could give you my way of seeing things.

    2. I think there are a couple of ways to look at this, but one of them might fit better than the others.

      What about the self journey? How much value do you place in your own travels through life? It's been my experience that when you serve your own needs and goals, practice generosity and kindness to others, you can't help but make your life and the lives of those around you better.

      Maybe that's enough?

    3. I don’t know, write a book? It’s a problem for us all. We spend a lifetime gathering knowledge but when we go, it goes with us. Fortunately there are others to follow in our footsteps.
      When I retired all my years of job specific knowledge, for example process information, became redundant overnight. It’s the experience’s, ethics and life lessons that stay with you.

      1. Once upon a time, before Google, we would pass that knowledge on to the
        next generation so that the young ones could stand on our shoulders...as it were.

  6. IMO the best way to live between the imposter syndrome and the hybris of being always right with one‘s decisions, is, to have a good overview (in terms of listening) about what’s possible on the mainstream market and aside of it and to be aware of the strengths and limitations of one’s own choices.

    Many just mainly know one setup for years (their own) and maybe several weaker and the one or other top notch but badly setup show system.

    To know even if just few, but highly optimized setups at different price levels, usually helps most for having a balanced assessment capability of own and other‘s achievements.

  7. Well thank you Paul, I’m feeling so much better now, must be careful though, I don’t want to appear smug. ‘Smug’, it’s an amusing word with all its negative connotations.
    In an old newspaper article about smugness I found this quote from the play ‘Major Barbara’ by George Bernard Shaw. “He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.”

    1. Thanks, Richtea. The whole point of the post was to offer a bit of encouragement that is well deserved but almost never acknowledged.

      It amazes me sometimes the responses I get.

      In particular, Steven's response that Paul comes from a salesman's approach. That had me scratching my head when applied to this specific post.

      1. Sometimes picking out one word only is enough to create one’s own very different storytelling with a completely different, sometimes always the same topic. There are masters in that, but probably we all do it once in a while 😉

      2. I can only speak for myself Paul, but offer this perspective.

        Many times when someone is offering what is intended as praise or encouragement, but without really knowing me, it often feels like they have some alternative motive that benefits them at my cost. The lines can be easily blurred when someone like you who is not only the voice and face of PSA with product intro’s, specs marketing, etc, but also has a genuine interest in people and their HIFI experience.

        Todays post could easily had been addressed to avid fisherman, ham radio operators, golfers or any other slew of interests that people have. The largest percentage of people reading here have more than just an idle curiosity in home audio, so it’s of interest to them. The level of expertise even within your typical posting group can vary widely.

        For me personally, count me in the group of not liking to be ridiculed, but also as I’ve aged, becoming much more thick skinned and now ‘just consider the source’.

        As far as my system sound, for the first time in quite sometime I’m content. I owe that to hints and ideas I’ve gotten here, the PSA forum, and PSA sales. 😀

        As far as audio expertise - I’d consider myself an audio “mucker” comparatively speaking.

          1. You know what's quite an accomplishment Paul?
            The fact that you present a new topic here every day for 12+ years...OK, sometimes there is some repetition...however, big picture...THAT is quite
            an achievement.
            Kudos to your sir ✌

  8. Paul, I certainly enjoy your posts and videos. Thank you. Now that I'm retired and have time to sit and listen to the music, I marvel at how busy you are and I wonder if you have any time just to sit, unwind, (if you even know what that means), and listen to the music. Just pondering, Maggie Man

    1. I do though I have modes. Being busy and multi-tasking is my normal 12 hour days. That's what keeps me going.

      When I get into the listening room I just turn it off and for an hour or two, I relax and enjoy.

      I have also found a joy in mixing music in the mixroom at Octave Records. It has become my favorite room and I relax and enjoy music as I work it into something amazing.

      Thanks for asking.

      1. Paul, thank you for your kind response. I'm glad that you take some time to stop and listen to the music. At our age that is certainly good for our bodies, minds, and souls!!
        Maggie Man

  9. This morning‘s post rings true to me. I tend to puff out my chest on occasion as I’m retired now and I look back at my prior accomplishments and let people know about them instead of being modest but I always listen with interest to what others have to say as well. Some people are quite interested in what I have to say while others roll their eyes and try to back away from conversing. I don’t believe I’m alone with this issue, but one thing I can say with reasonable
    certainty is that that my music system sounds better than good enough for me. If I still had the type of money that I did years ago, you bet I’d be buying more equipment yet I never purchase any component for bragging rights. My purchases that I make are for me and my love of music and my big boy toys. I’m also confident that everything I tell people is the truth. I don’t exaggerate anything that I say to overcome this insecurity.

  10. I tended to verbally volunteer my vast amounts of ‘knowledge & wisdom’ far more frequently in my younger years - when I had considerably very little of either.
    But Paul is correct, my limited but self-overblown ego’d know-it-allism of audio knowledge WAS more than most people I knew.. However when I did meet some who was generations ahead of me, it was a humble opportunity to STFU, eagerly listen and absorb all I could. Small town, no internet, no audio stores (yet), we had to pass the torch.
    I was young, cocky and thought I knew everything, but along came our town’s first real hifi store and then the internet - showing me that I was really just a one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish guy.
    Wisdom is a dish served slowly. And I’ll bet you still end up leaving a fair bit on your plate.

    Ooooh, the festering wisdom…

  11. My ears are very smart. They are the best test instruments for all components, especially speakers. Listen to the best out there and then trust your own ears in deciding what sounds best for the dough that you are plucking down.

    Consider vintage used over new if you're getting a bargain price.

    Use common sense when positioning your speakers in a room and use your measuring tape.

    Listen to recommendations by the speaker manufacturer but try different locations. The speaker manufacturer recommendations are just guidelines, they don't know every room their speakers will be in or the associated equipment being used.

  12. One thing you know is that you never stop learning. Every system is unique, and has its own set of bottlenecks that prevent optimal playback - the journey is to 'debug' what's in front of you, and extract the most out of it; and the set of experiences you've had to date guide you - but may not be enough to give all the answers.

    The most important skill to acquire is to be able to listen to a rig, and hear its issues. What is it getting wrong, how much distortion is clearly obvious, in what ways is it failing to deliver low level detail clearly enough? You may not be able to fix things with a snap of the fingers, but you now have a clear view of what needs to be addressed; so long as you make progress in edging towards subjectively competent reproduction of what's on the recording then you have no need to feel that your efforts are not up to scratch ...

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