September 1, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Living in our little audiophile bubble means that everything we obsess over seems normal. It isn’t until we step outside the bubble and view our little world through the eyes of an outsider that one begins to realize just how far removed from the crowd we are.

Terms that seem obvious and normal to us like soundstaging, transparency, resolving power, and bass extension engender either head-scratching or outright contempt.

Head scratching makes sense to me. Imagine trying to explain to someone used to listening on consumer audio drek how imaging works.

It’s the outright contempt that always boggles me. Someone who has never heard a high-end system—usually a pro in the audio or recording world—seems to get really heated about the terminology we use. In fact, I have been told that we are akin to the devil for spreading such egregious lies about a system’s ability to produce a holographic soundstage divorced from the speakers.

Why would this cause anger?

I suspect they somehow feel threatened.

What’s your experience been like?

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45 comments on “Outsiders”

  1. ??? Isn’t holographic sound staging the core goal of all home theatre recordings and mixes??? And what about those car stereo systems featuring some 20 DSP controlled loudspeakers?

    1. Indeed, Paul, it is. However, that makes sense to people. They understand how multiple speakers placed around the room makes for a holographic sound. They’ve heard it at the theater.

      But now convince them this is possible with two speakers….

      Credibility starts to wane.

      1. Indeed, Paul, it’s all about credibility – and physics/psycho-acoustics of course! Wave-field synthesis tells that you need some hundred wide-banded loudspeakers positioned around the listener in order to recreate a 3D-sound field in your listening room. Thus for me these multi-channel home theatre formats have low credibility to. As with normal stereo it’s all about specific sound effects (see: phantom images) – no wonder that home theatre formats require “effect speakers”. The only 2- or 4-channel concept having credibility concerning the recreation of the 3D-sound field at the (single and lonesome) listener’s ear only is “ambiophonics” (Ralph Glasgal) and the approach of Prof. Edgar Choueiri (BACCH SP2) however requiring a specific recording technique. But: chacun á son plaisir!

  2. I must admit Paul that I was not aware of this sort of ‘anger’ to the extent that you mention & that is evident on YouTube presentations & has been witnessed here on ‘Paul’s Posts’ by the likes of ‘CtA’ & his ‘sclaningham’, amongst a few others, until I joined your site & became a regular member of Paul’s Posts nearly three years ago.
    However, I must say that I was never that much involved in what we as audiophiles, or mere audio-enthusiasts, call high-end home-audio gear.
    If I hadn’t experienced a holographic 3D soundstage & pinpoint imaging from a pair of Harbeth loudspeakers & an Audio Alchemy DAC back in 1993 there’s good chance I might still think that many, including you, are talking snake-oil out of your arses (asses) when trying to convey the magnificence of such a phenomenon.
    I think that for many novice & wannabe audio ‘folk’ you have to experience Jesus Christ before you can believe in him; if you get my meaning.
    I can only assume that they get angry because they feel that they are missing out on something that,
    with their high level of intelligence, they should be able to grasp.
    People with issues; possibly deep-seated FOMO 😉

    1. Anger? Nope. It is contempt for the nonsense you propagate here.

      I remember when I heard Carver’s Holographic preamp and noise control. It looked like the one from Phase Linear but the “holographic” effect was an amazing trick. I loved that preamp! I got it with the M400 amp, the little “magnetic”, which actually blew up twice. It was fascinating to see people when you switched the Holographic control on and off.

      I am not missing out on anything. I still have somewhere my Revox linear tracking turntable, my beloved B77 Open Reel, my Tandberg TCD330 cassette deck. Thousands of records. I have a huge box of silly wires, Cardas, XLO, Kimber. Still connected an Arcam FMJ as some DVD-A’s cannot be uploaded to the Mac Mini. Plus other old equipment, such as Classê preamp, PS Audio amps. Should sell all this old stuff. Except my B77.

      The issue, is that sometimes to improve the sound you have to research and study. Golden ears are very fallible.

      The experiment with MoFi is the best I have seen even if done by accident. Nobody, not even the cantankerous Kremer could tell he was listening to digital. It was only some poor guy who figured out there was a manufacturing inconsistency. NOT about the sound.

      In pharma and in the related regulatory world, there is a new area of interest called “Real World Evidence”. It attempts to find ways to investigate whether the results of drugs in clinical trials match those results in the “real world”. You need to find out proper datasets to do so. The Scandinavian countries have more expertise on this area as they always had natural datasets about their inhabitants. Does a drug in a double blind placebo controlled study achieve the same or similar results in real life? This is what it is attempting to resolve.

      In this case, we get a natural RWE study. MoFi obfuscated a little about the records, but not a single person, regardless of the expense or “resolving power” of the equipment was able to tell. Even when told, they continued to attack. The had most of the digital records as the “best sounding”. It is a classic example of RWE answering an important question. Golden ears don’t work. They are not golden. It is a clear example of “sighted, primed” bias.

      Why should I be angry that you believe that you are special”? I find it preposterous that you believe that 1.5 cm of a tiny wire in a fuse is audible.
      It is amazing that most of this past middle age white men squealed like piglets that they were lied. Of something of NO consequence! If anything, they thought it sounded better. They are upset that they were lied! Imagine! But, statistically, half of them (probably) will be supporters of TFG. And they don’t care about that guy’s lies even if they ARE consequential.

      Why are humans so gullible? Are we gullible by nature or is our critical thinking education so poor that we fail to realize when we are conned?

      I went from the audio mythology to a science based approach the time I wanted to improve the sound quality at home. I was exasperated by the wordsmithing of subjective reviews. I need to replace an amp when a storm got some water through a window and that water made its way inside the amp. I researched and discovered the ICE based amp from Paul. To understand ICE, I studied the technical aspects of Class D. From there going to Hypex or Purifi was easy. And shocking!

      I sold my Theta and got an RME. Then I had to decide between a Benchmark and an Hypex based. I needed lots of power at low impedance as my “woofers” (unfortunately) have very low impedance. My Alta Vista (Counterpornt based) couldn’t deliver enough so Hypex I got.

      No fancy wires, small box. Lots of power. Using REW to make sure the sound was correct.

      I’m just waiting so I can go from streamer to speakers without anything else soon. This is clearly my last traditional setting. My office system is almost there, from the computer to a small DAC to powered monitors.

      Go waste money in wires and amplifiers that should be already transparent. The world is going to be different soon. You already know about wireless KEFs, or ethernet connected D&D, Genelecs, Neumanns… No DAC necessary, no amps. Even Paul tells you that ethernet doesn’t require fancy wires.

      1. Oh dear!

        The recalcitrant, wilfully antagonistic, name dropping, Googling, mostly deaf moron is back!
        I meant to ask you the last time you made an appearance here (Aug 26) how’s your sclaninghag going?
        Well I hope.
        We haven’t haven’t heard from her here since December 2020.
        Does she still start every sentence with, “My husband says…”?

  3. Most good speakers that ever made Stereophiles class A-D and many that didn’t can produce sound in space detached from the speakers. Some just do it more clean, dynamic and effortlessly than others and with better tonal balance, deeper bass transparency and detail. Some expand the soundstage wider than others. No two speakers sound alike. It’s a matter of taste but many don’t even know there are so many flavors of speakers to choose from. People who just want the loudest most powerful budget systems think that is what quality is. They could careless if a less loud system sounds better and they don’t even know that there are loud systems that also combine super high end quality. If they cannot afford it they are uninterested. Unlike audiophiles who are interested even if they cannot afford it and they try to get the best bang for their buck using the best as a reference. The outsiders are not like us where we spend the most we can afford on our systems. They have more important things to spend their money on.

  4. I derive immense pleasure from my hi-fi, so much that if I was marooned on a desert island it would be my choice of luxury item, provided I could power it, oh, and get CD’s delivered. 😉

    Such enthusiasm could make me want to convince my neighbour about the benefits of a good system so he could derive similar pleasure. But he has a young family and enjoys holidays in his caravan. Do I want him to convince me about the benefits and joys of caravaning. No I don’t. 🙁

    So much these days it seems everyone is trying to convince everyone else of their beliefs. My experience, away from here, is to leave people to discover what they enjoy for themselves. 🙂

  5. It’s the nature of people. The average person, is usually skeptical of any additional detail, or effort to expand their already amazing self-grandeur Google based knowledge base, thus will doubt the skills of ANY competent SME (Subject Matter Expert). Audio is a great example of how Audio is overshadowed by Video. The same person, will use a $300 Sound Bar with their 100″ $2800 4K HDTV. They can visually confirm a better image, but are unable to audibly invest in the superior Sound that comes with that Image, claiming they cannot hear a difference, but can surely see a better Video image. These same people can take a sip of a $500 Glass of French Bordeaux, and say that they cannot taste the difference between a $8 Bottle of Red. The same old story over and over again. Climate change is sort of similar. People cannot accept facts, until they themselves are floating in Water, or see the Beach erode from the Porch of their Million Dollar Beach Houses. The best antidote, is to seek like minded people and stay away from the doubting Thomas syndrome and don’t worry about them. Darwin eventually takes care of them.

  6. We all remember that first time. Yes, for that too, but for this post I’m referring to that first time we sat down and heard that holographic soundstage. The moment before you heard it, you weren’t an audiophile, but in an instance you were hooked and had to have more. But for those virgins that have never heard the wonderful presentation of a finely curated system, they don’t get it and may not care enough about music to ever seek it. Man am I glad I found it but I agree with Paul, people look at me weird when I try to explain it to them.

  7. I wonder how much of the impressions in today’s post are from the audio enthusiast self point of view.

    when I run into people who have even a small interest in audio they’re usually inquisitive in generalities. Instead of talking in minutia and great detail I let them lead the conversation. Things only go as deep as they want before the conversation turns elsewhere.

    You don’t hear someone, like say a physicist, complaining about people who don’t have an interest in electron spin, or quantum mechanics, or their field of expertise.

    Being excited about what intrigues and floats your boat is normal. Expecting everyone to understand the jargon or formulas or minutia of your area of interest or expertise seems unrealistic, or at the very least border line arrogant. That may be one of the reasons why there are so many cliques in human society.

    1. I learned this about 35 years ago. Bizarrely for my age at the time, I was on the Board of a public company. Boards usually have at most one area specialist, whether Sales & Marketing, Operations, Finance, Legal, and their role in Board meetings is to explain things in their area of expertise to people who aren’t. I learned very quickly that anything you say has to be framed as what they need to know in terms they understand. Don’t do that and you will lose them at best, irritate them at worst. It’s a lesson I apply daily.

      Most professionals have to learn how to explain technical issues to their non-technical clients. If the client does not understand, then it’s not the client’s fault, it’s the professional who doesn’t know how to communicate effectively.

  8. I think that some of these terms are poetic nonsense. So “transparency” is one, but if you explain it as the reduction of background noise and hiss, to get the “noise floor” as low as possible, it is easy to understand. I would describe it like early morning mist evaporating, revealing the landscape.

    Likewise, “stereo imaging” is easy to describe and even easier to demonstrate (just play the first 10 seconds of Autobahn). Soundstage is much harder and I’m not sure I understand it that well. I think anyone who has been to a nightclub can understand what deep bass is, and why it is not something you would necessarily want in your house.

    I think Paul’s problem is wanting to try and explain stuff to people who aren’t that interested. I have a friend who likes music, goes to concerts and things, but does not have a stereo. He has a beautiful 60 sqm man-cave at the end of his garden, where he chills, works and drinks whisky. He listens with what Paul calls “consumer audio drek”. He was over for dinner a few weeks ago and was curious about my stereo, so we spun a few records. He was amazed at what he heard. He’d never heard anything like it. I didn’t try and explain anything. I assume he would have understood, he does have a doctorate in something scientific. There was no need to explain.

    When something sounds good, it doesn’t need explaining. I buy most of my audio equipment from a dealer and this is how it works. The dealer never tries to explain anything technical, his clients like me just listen to stuff and see if we like it or not.

    Using all these words is necessary if you are trying to market or sell through print or video. When you actually listen to audio equipment they become necessary.

    1. Could it be that Paul’s problem is that most music lovers just listen to the music (not sound) while dancing or being involved in other activities (jogging, driving a car, tinkering, etc.); only a minority is focusing on a minimum sound quality; and even a much smaller minority is requiring “sound staging” meaning highest recording quality and top tier audio gear resolving each recorded voice and instrument non-blurred in a defined individual space separated from other voices and instrument. But this requires imho having your eyes closed while sitting in the sweet spot – not recommended for driving a car other performing other activities. 🙂

      1. Headphone users demand very high standards. It’s remarkable what you can achieve. I use my phone, a Chord Mojo2 and a mid-price pair of Etymotic IEMs. Headphones are vastly more popular than static 2-channel stereo, you just get so much more quality for the money.

        1. My start into top-tier HiFi was based on a pair of Sennheiser Unipolar 2000/2002 followed by a pair of AKG K1000. The quality of resolution of finest details compared to loudspeakers inherently interacting with room acoustics was stunning. However I still miss a sophisticated concept for HRTF-correction and for crossfeed eliminating the in-head-localization. AKG offered an individual HRTF correction already 30 years ago. Actually BACCH SP2 offers a software-based solution running on a Mac mini. I should look for an offer for a trial here.

  9. I think all of us who are wrapped up in this hobby need to stop every now and then and realize how fortunate we all are, My comments below are based on the US, but probably apply else where.

    Something like 50% of the people out there are living paycheck to paycheck. Their only concern is how are they going to feed, cloth and shelter themselves and their kids. They have no time, energy or money for the nonsense that we wrapped up in.

    Then there are the people who could afford to do this, but they are too busy trying to get ahead. They have no time to stop and smell the roses. This could have easily been me.

    The most common reaction I get from “normal” people is “That damn thing cost how much? Are you crazy?”

    As to people in pro audio, I do not know any on a personal basis. When I have heard them talk at audio shows, they seem to be very defensive if asked technical questions. Their usual response is something like “I was trained to do this by the best people out there and you have no understanding what we do.”

    1. The thing that confounds me is that some people will go out and spend 40 to 50 thousand dollars for a vehicle that they mostly use to transport themselves back and forth to work, not driving on the pacific coast highway, the Baja peninsula or perhaps the autobahn.

      1. Mitchell, $50K cars are what people buy with disposable income. We buy expensive audio gear with disposable income. It is best if none of us judge people buy how they spend their disposable income.

        1. Tonyplachy, I was not judging, just saying I don’t get it. Besides, there are probably a lot of people purchasing these cars that do not have the “disposable income”. It is best not to jump to conclusions.

          I am sure that there are a lot of people who think I am insane for what I paid for my rig.


  10. Two quick stories. I can’t often get my wife to sit still in the sweet spot for a listen to my 2-channel rig). She begrudgingly sat, listened for a bit and asked where the center channel speaker was. Second quick story. I found a pair of AR M1 monitors in a dumpster, had them fixed for $26 and sent them a friend. We play together once a year or so but he’s never allowed me to talk about audio, fearing it “a rabbit hole” one can easily fall into. We happened to be talking on the phone when he received the speakers. Upon opening the box, he expressed frustration that they weren’t larger. I said “Just listen…” Though he loves ample bass, the AR M1’s remain his favorite speakers – neither he nor his wife had ever heard the 3D ability of good audio to physically recreate the event.

  11. I’ve experienced the uninformed cavalierly scoff at the level of detail, energy and costs that the audiophile community will invest to make a small improvement to the over all SQ

    They fail to grasp that many incremental small changes, over time, add up to a BIG difference

    I compare it to sort of like a building a race car

    When the car was on the showroom floor it was a Chevy Camaro, over time you put on aftermarket Edlebrock performance motor parts, add Michelin Pilot Sort Cup tires, Brembo brakes, lowered ground effects, pay attention to aerodynamics, remove the A/C, run high octane racing fuel, etc etc

    Each change in and of itself is a small improvement, but all of them combined and your closer to driving a entry level NASCAR than the showroom Chevy Camaro

    From a listening perspective in my experience, there are two things in the way of the novice/layman from fully enjoying audiophile systems

    In cars most would submit that faster top speed is better, but not all quite grasp that to turn faster lap times you may need to slow down

    In audio that basic equivalent is loud, fundamentally their primary goal is to play it louder and it must be better because it plays louder, where in actuality sometimes we turn down the volume to get the best overall sound and that volume goes up and down across the quality of the recorded sources

    I think listening is a learned process and almost in individual experience. I comes from understanding the terms (soundstaging, transparency, resolving power, and bass extension) and practice listening for those characteristics in the playback

    The light doesn’t go off the first time, I know it didn’t for me, but when it does it’s unmistakable and you know you’ve experienced something for the first time and it probably raises the hair on your arm or neck and it will have a deeper and near emotional experience and you begin to hear the art not just the song or the entire band not just the singer

    The second part of listening comes from first getting quit (you need to stop talking/singing), getting still (air guitar and head banging movements make unnecessary noise that influence what we’re hearing) and then focus (lean into the listening sweet spot, close your eyes, put mental energy towards your ears, regulate your breathing, absorb and consume the sound through the your hearing senses)

    I try to find a mental reference to experience the song like it’s the first time I’ve heard it or at least the first time I’ve heard it like this on this day at this time, at a minimum something unique to the moment, whereby I’m working two conflicting points at the same time – hearing the song/band for the first time while picking up nuisances and differences of the song/band I’ve heard 100s of times

    Now the last few suggestions of learning how to listen, getting still, regulating breathing blah blah blah – to the uninformed sound like the rantings of someone who’s perhaps unstable and thus reaches the level of engender either head-scratching or outright contempt that Paul speaks of

    But the resulting listening experience of those combined processes for me is fully hearing and connecting all the dots to understand that Sister Morphine on Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones is brilliant work by brilliant artists doing some of the finest work in their brilliant careers during a brilliant time of rock n roll music history. I can hear Keith Richards acoustic leading the charge, with Mick Taylor’s Les Paul layering in and Mick Jagger’s committed vocal performance, Bill Wayman adding perfect soulful bass, and you realize the songs goes on for 2.5 mins before the drums come in hard and elevates the song to a performance by one of the best sum of the parts bands ever formed

    It’s a beautiful thing to get that level of appreciation and enjoyment from any hobby

    It’s been a rewarding journey for me and the best thing – you’re NEVER finished – we get to keep adding new shades of paint to the portrait as technological advancements are made and once again I get to hear Sister Morphine, not for the first time, but the first time like that and typically the best that I ever heard it

  12. Outside the posts, I have never experienced contempt, but again I don’t tell my friends and relatives how much I have paid for my audio gear. They would not get it, and would probably feel jealousy or contempt. They don’t tell me how much they spend on new cars, vacations and tickets to entertainment venues. Also, some people have contempt for things they don’t understand, be it non-mainstream politics, other religions, esoteric hobbies, unusual investments, exotic foods, weird hair styles and clothing — you name it. Being unique in this world carries risk. In the animal kingdom, animals deemed different by others in their species are shunned or attacked. My dog, as sweet and loving as she is, barks aggressively at certain other dogs for no apparent reason, For example, she always barks at dalmatians. Maybe she sees the spots as different and feels threatened. We are all different, and some people don’t like our differences.

  13. In my circle of friends, the turn-off comes from the perceived cost of audiophile gear vs the consumer variety. For example, PSAudio’s new speakers cost more than my last new car!!! And now Paul is adding sub-woofers as they evidently aren’t good enough. Even I have a hard time justifying the costs of gear featured in the A class of Stereophile mag. And I have been into stereo for 50 years.

  14. I think it needs the awareness that everyone has to explain things to “outsiders” as to a child (with the additional challenge, that adults think they know much more already and possibly already have a fixed opinion on even things they know nothing about, but maybe should. If then someone even is a pro in things he knows a part of only, it gets seriously difficult).

  15. [Paul-What’s your experience been like?]

    Not anger, but bewilderment! When engaged in audio conversation (not with other audiophiles), individuals will Usually give me that “slanted dog head” look, as they profess little to no reference/experience listening to a live acoustical concert performance! If they accept my offer, or even ask to “HEAR” what I’m talking about (very rare), then I’m picking their jaw up off the floor, as they gaze Deeply beyond the confines of my small music room (minds blown)!!!

    Unlike myself, upon hearing the Rogers LS3/5a 45 years ago paint a sonic picture of a live holographic performance thus endearing my music reproduction journey to achieve that 3D performance in my home, they never ask how They can achieve similar results! Believe their lack of personal exposure to live acoustic performances negates any desires to delve into this sonic journey, and may even create distrust of the “magic and realism” their ears just heard?!?

  16. I lay the anger at the feet of mainstream audio manufacturers who for decades have been promoting the idea that all things that measure the same (using overly simplistic methods) sound the same.

    In the tube-age, customary practice had been to sell products at twice the cost of parts and labor. Solid state and printed circuit boards reduced the cost of manufacturing to a fifth, or less of what it had previously been. Many manufacturers held their prices where they had been or even raised them for solid-state products. Harry Pearson called out McIntosh on their first dreadful sounding solid-state power amp in his reader-supported magazine. The advertising-supported magazines claimed Harry didn’t know what he was talking about, and the battle was on.

    Like so much in life, just follow the money…

  17. From about ages 15 to 50, I couldn’t get my hands on enough equipment to compliment and substantiate my music indulgence to my absolute satisfaction. I went through scads of different gear (home and car), came close, completely enjoyed every experimental stage of it, but always craved just a bit more. Just a bit better. Though I loved each chapter along the way, I always knew I wasn’t even near the end of my journey. A path of background obsession; it was always 90% WOW – that sounds great and 10% if it could jussst be a little bit more… The music was perfect, if only the gear could be….
    Now I am in that place where I can repeat the previous statement, but the gear and the music have traded places.

    “Huh? Wha? What are you on about?”

    Actually ONE gal I dated in my mid twenties who maybe ‘got it’ as I overheard her telling one of her friends: “I think he hears music differently than everybody else..”

  18. I owe my thanks to a man named Bob Carver many moons ago. Once I heard that magic i was like a born again Audiophile. I even hear it in my car stereo now many thanks to JL Audio’s Twk 88. that allows time compensation between the speaker. a driver seated in a vehicle will not hear music as it was intended without the proper time delay.
    I wish I knew more about the internet world still lost on a previous post here stating “FOMO”
    As Paul says in his book proper setup is essential for any sound system.

  19. Paul, I’d like to know how my Wife got you to write this post on the very day I was putting my system together to bring to a friend’s house! There will be about a dozen guys all 65 or older; all of us have the typical hearing loss.
    I had been working to bypass the passive crossovers so I could triamp my DQ-10’s sitting on top of a stereo pair of Vandersteen subs (I will still complete this project for home )
    My wife had been telling me, and you made me realize, “why bother”⁉️ My friends aren’t going to be able to hear the difference anyway, and might just throw beer bottles at me!
    I’m “settling” for B&W DM601’s (bookshelf speakers), still biamped, & only one sub, but the source is just CDs burned to my laptop
    I told my friend’s wife (the hostess) my decision and she said thank you!
    Until or unless I can get them one-on-one in my den to hear what I can hear, I don’t plan to subject them to my “beautiful noise”.
    I am a lucky man in that my Wife does humor me with my hobby, but even She doesn’t have a very long attention span when you have to sit in the sweet sweet spot – even if it’s on my lap!

  20. Can’t say I’ve ever encountered that sort of reaction. But then I’m not as obsessive about things as many are. My BIL said I have the biggest speakers he’s ever seen. LOL
    Others are simply blown away by the sound.

  21. Very good post here, Paul.

    What had my experience been like? Well, it is how you said it. Outsider. I’m definitely that.
    Usually when I talk are explain about sound differences and the scalability of certain equipment many just don’t care enough to really enthusiastically add to the conversation, partly because they’ve not experienced higher end audio.

    I (we all are) a minority in a 1% class of people being audio nuts in the first place. We should all feel grateful knowing what we know and to be honest it is bloody empowering!!! 😉

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