Presumed excellence

July 1, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

I don’t suppose that after all these years I should be surprised when a presumed expert shows off a system that sounds dreadful.

It happens more than it should.

How many times have I walked into a HiFi showroom and did an immediate 180?

Far too many times.

And it’s not just audio where presumed experts get it wrong. Doctors, lawyers, professors, experts.

None are without fault and sometimes embarrassingly so.

An expert is someone who gets it right, time and again. It has nothing to do with credentials.

It’s ok for you to be an expert.

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51 comments on “Presumed excellence”

  1. When experts get it wrong (while they could have done better), it imo shows that they lived (listened) in a bubble for too long, without current (or any) other references than what they use for long time.

    Live music alone probably not always helps, as it’s different to recorded anyway.

  2. Is there a list of criteria allowing to label a person as expert for reproduced music? I guess this person should fulfill some measurable (!) criteria characterizing the overall hearing abilities. I also guess every professional tuner of pianos or violins etc is an expert per definition. I doubt that all (!) sound engineers are experts hearing the results of some jobs they have made. And the basic and core problem with the majority of audio reviewers: they are always biased by the information about the product and the manufacturer.

    1. An often overlooked point. A little girl or boy may train as a ballet dancer, but when fully growth they will be measured and it will determine their professional potential. This happened to my wife, her back was not up to snuff.

      All audio commentators should have a hearing test, on record, publicly disclosed.

      The main qualifications seem to be large collections of vinyl and adjectives, and ownership of a selfie stick.

  3. The work expert is misused. It means “to try”, as in experiment. If I tried open heart surgery, I’d probably get it wrong. The far more modern word “science” comes from the Latin for “knowledge”, so the likes of Mr Fremer could call themselves Audio Scientists, but then people would be rolling about laughing on the floor in uncontrollable hysterics.

    Of course with all the knowledge in the world, you can still get it wrong. The other problem with knowledge is the ability to communicate it with brevity, clarity and more brevity. A rare skill indeed.

    Sometimes I think it’s best not to try as you avoid failure. As the saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try and fail again. Then you’ll be a real expert.

    1. Wouldn’t a real expert always perform showing a reproducibly high quality of his expertise? Having the fact that hearing ability changes during a day I wonder if reviewer and visitors of audio shows are aware of this fact and perform their listening test under defined and different boundary conditions! 😉 I even met several designers of loudspeakers with most questionable “expertise” and highly biased by the emotions for their own baby!

    2. As for Mr Fremer, I must say that I like his passion for audio, subjectivity and also his willingness to help. I wrote to him about my problem with washing LPs and I got advice that helped me.

  4. Long ago in a DIY newsgroup, someone said he had it wrong, to Mike the manufacturer of audiophile transformers.
    “When you have as much experience as I, you can criticise me.”

    The mob knew the expert was wrong in this case, and he lost face.
    Another participant related how at his lecture the prof had something wrong. Same riposte. He was still wrong.

  5. Isn’t listening subjective? What sounds good to you might not sound good to me. Kind of personal. Some people nowadays like big floppy overwhelming bass. Some people like analytical sound. Some like it warm. For a decade or more at audio shows, there were dozens of times the sound was so bad we turned around and walked out at the same time there was 6-8 people comfortable listening to the system.

    1. Yeah, I agree. Implicit in Paul’s argument is that the room actually did sound objectively bad, rather than it being sound that someone else preferred. Disagreeing with Paul is not proof of lack of expertise, nor can Paul prove he is more of an expert than anyone else (not that he is making any such a claim).

      I too am familiar with lots of systems set up by so-called experts which don’t sound very good to me (such as at every CES) But there are some other explanations:
      1). We disagree on what sounds good
      2). The room acoustics were bad and he is making the best of the situation
      3). The equipment isn’t very good, and the expert is making the best of it.
      4). The source is terrible, but the expert loves that tune.
      5). I am not a good judge of sound quality

      And finally,
      6). The person setting up the room isn’t very good at it

  6. Having worked in home audio retail for 22 years you aint tellin’ me anything new Paul.
    Having said that, I was never selling truly high-end gear; it was always in the realm of
    High-end Mid-Fi…Sony, Yamaha, Parrasound, Luxman, Denon, Celestion, Energy,
    Mordaunt-Short, Mission, Monitor Audio, etc.
    Without a proper (treated) demo room (you can’t expect too much from the audio retail bosses that were totally addicted to ‘Monster Cable’ products, mainly because of the 300% profit margin) you’re not going to be able to impress upon the prospective buyer how fantastic an audio system, or even just a pair of loudspeakers, can sound.
    And still said bosses were not prepared to invest in a decent ‘sound room’.
    But that’s all in the past for me now.

    **Presumed Expert**
    We are all blessed here because we have been graced by the presence of an uber-audio-expert who throws his/her pearls of ‘Googled wisdom’ before all of us here since January this year.
    (S)he knows all there is to know about home audio equipment & (s)he has the science to back it up…absolutely!!
    Let’s have a fun little competition & guess whom I’m talking about 😉

    **Notifications of followup comments via e-mail**
    This new (resumed) facility of ‘reply notifications’ is hilarious; a joke, as far as I’m concerned.
    I always ‘tick the box’ & so far I have received ZERO notifications via e-mail to ANY replies regarding ANY of my comments…you know, how it used to be (pre March this year)
    HOWEVER, I get random, & I mean RANDOM, notifications, via e-mail, of completely unrelated comments from other contributors…this amuses me to no end.
    It’s like ‘HAL’ has lost his mind…again..”Daisy, Daisy….” 🙂

    **World News**
    Xi Jinping has stood up in front of his nation today to warn
    the West not to anger China (the CCP) ‘or else’…here we go!

    1. **Notifications of followup comments via e-mail**

      When I click “notify me” I only have to do it once and then starting at that moment I get every single post that occurs going forward. All Replies and comments To the daily post. On a good day I have to clean out my inbox of 40 plus responses. So now I read all near the end of my day, then check the box.

      Are yours getting hid in another folder of your e-mail client, rather than your inbox?

      If not then a good conspiracy theory has to be formed. ✌️ 😀

  7. In my company there is high level position called “Expert”.
    However, when there is question, problem or need expert advice, there is the other guy, whom everyone known, can help you.

  8. Expert, definitely over used and I’m always alerted when I hear the word. “Oh, he’s an expert is he?” Sure there are experts but it’s been used to give hopeless people credibility for years.
    I remember this schoolboy definition.
    Ex – a has been
    Spurt – a drip under pressure.

    1. You beat me to it Rich….

      My favorite definition – especially when the expert is standing on the soap box telling me what an expert they are instead of proving it….

  9. While Paul’s definition of an expert about “getting it right” time and time again, may be a reasonable definition, I don’t think it says it all by any means.

    A real expert continuously learns, is open minded, and maybe most important, tries to pass along their knowledge. A little humbleness goes a long way….

    It seems in today’s society too many experts let their head swell and assume because their expertise is in one area, it automatically makes them experts across a wide spectrum.

    If you break expert down expert some what phonetically – ekˌspərt – you can come up with following definition….

    an ex is a has been. A spurt is nothing but a drip under pressure. ✌️

  10. It should be noted that the word “expert” is usually preceded with the expression “Believe me, I’m an …”. The only part of that sentence that is likely to have any truth is the word “me”. It can be tested with absolute certainty with a right hook to the chin followed by a jab to the nose. It works every time, as this type of expert is known to have very slow reflexes as they spend most of their time staring up their [insert orifice of choice].

    1. There may be some truth to your statement above Steven….

      When it comes to the audio chain, from recording to playback the problem is at some point it all becomes subjective. The industry is built upon some fundamental principles, the execution of those principles is where the experts weigh in and espouse their theories. The consumers decide who continues on.

      The ones that get quoted are quite often the ones who line up with the quoters own point of view.

      One issue with the hook and jab method is you stand a good chance of being taken down by a round house when you realize that the ‘expert’ is a ‘bone head’ and just shook off your hook and jab.

  11. After reading all of the 14 comments that have been posted so far only Fat Rat seems to have taken notice of Paul’s opening remark where he used the expression “presumed expert”. Since the words presume and assume are somewhat similar in meaning I’d like to remind you folk what many people would say about using the word assume. Need I say more?

      1. Mike, would you agree that the term expert should be a given title and not a self proclaimed title. When I was in the retail business in New York City, many people would come in stating that they were referred to me because I was an expert in my field which was holistic pet food, supplements and natural remedies. I would only smile because there were so many people who knew so much more than I did but they were not in the retail end of the business. Other stores we’re only motivated by profit. New customers would call me expert after I worked with them because I tried to help them get to the bottom of the issue they came in with regarding their dog or cat and my opinions were usually correct. That didn’t make me an expert just a concerned and learned person that wanted to do the right thing for my customers and their family animals. Too many experts are self-proclaimed and that may be the real issue at hand.

        1. Stimpy2,

          I could agree the the ‘expert’ title should never be self assigned. It is something that needs to earned from experience, application of , or the ability to access the knowledge needed to earn the title. In addition it has to be given by others to the recipient. Plus there are degrees of expertise in my opinion.

          In your retail business you and your staff took the time to find the knowledge and pass it along. Some may call that technique good business sense. Some may have looked at it as someone who genuinely cares about their pet health. Others may have figured out that instead of researching themselves they could rely on your business.

          When the title is used / given in a technical sense I usually have some respect for it. (Based on the individual) When it’s used in nebulous areas such as social engineering the respect I have for that title starts to wane quickly.

  12. Hold your horses Fat Rat, don’t blame PmcG and his crew.
    I have not ticked any box and I never get any comments in my inbox.
    What more proof do want that the system works flawlessly…
    Maybe there is a simple explanation for your misfortune, the ZERO notifications,
    Strange as it may seem to you, I guess nobody, and I mean NOBODY, likes you enough to write you a letter. Not even your friend CtA 🙁
    Trust me, I’m a Doctor.

    1. jb4,
      Dr Andrew Wakefield I presume?
      No, they do reply (write) to me (you can go back & check)…but I have a theory that due to my somewhat salty & off topic posts, Kevin has been given special instruction to disable or sabotage my ability to receive reply notifications via e-mail & I can’t say that I blame him.

    2. Dr J
      Dr John
      Dr Who
      Dr Seuss
      Doc Gooden
      Doc Watson
      Doc Severinsen

      Dr Jill Biden?

      It’s just a play on words. The handle was given by a Fellow at SRI (stanford research institute). Recall the episode in the previous buildings Music Room 1 whereby Gus Skinas while listening informed Paul that the IRSV right channel emit tweeters were out?

      Sometimes, we’re all Bozo’s on this bus! (Enter smiley face)

      1. Loved your reference to my favorite Firesign Theater; immediately brought back memories of listening to it in college, high as a kite :). BTW, I never smoked weed again after graduation.
        Dr. George (retired family doc)

  13. After years of working out of my hometown, I have returned. Sadly, the only places to buy stereo gear is one that does car stereos and AV. The other is an appliance store.
    Both places caused me to do what you posted. I did a180. Even 120 miles away, Spokane, the “stereo” store is mainly AV and the vinyl players are Crosley.
    Seattle or Portland are my only choices it seems.

  14. Thinking about the ‘Expert’ classification, in the scheme of things with all ifs variables. A person that could get it right 50% of the time in my eyes would be considered an expert.
    Most shops in my area, KCMO, are horrible sounding to my ears.
    My shopping mostly looking for eye candy. Sad..

  15. I just finished a book written by two physicians who made a feeble attempt to convince the readership that
    Sir A. C. Doyle might have been Jack the Ripper!
    I only wish there was a money back policy on the manuscript ,since it failed to have either current or voltage!
    Can’t wait for 3:30 pm est when Soupy
    Sales will read The Words of Wisdom!

  16. Dear Paul,

    “An expert is someone who gets it right, time and again. It has nothing to do with credentials.”

    Sadly you are promoting the internet-based idea that the opinion of anyone with a pulse is as valid, authoritative and worthwhile as the opinion of someone with actual experience and objective credentials. This nihilistic notion has contributed greatly to our current era’s abandonment of the principles of intellectual honesty and analytical integrity in almost every field and discipline.

    1. I’ll have to agree and disagree. While you are right that today, anyone with a voice is an “expert”. Take a nutjob like Alex Jones who is an expert at nothing other than riling people up in the worst sort of way.

      Where we disagree is in sticking with the old standards of education where without a degree from a university you couldn’t be “an expert”. That model is not only flawed and outdated, it’s injurious.

      Perhaps a good balance in between.

      I think it’s good to remember there are always bad actors that take advantage of situations. Let’s not let those bad actors sully what works and is new.

      1. Dear Paul,

        I agree with you very strongly that, today, a university degree is probative of very little. With higher education’s decline in standards and rise in political indoctrination and propaganda promotion, a degree is evidence of little more than the affluence of a student’s parents. (I hope science and engineering programs are exceptions to this trend.)

        Perhaps we can agree that education and actual subject-matter or industry experience are necessary but not sufficient conditions for presumed excellence.

        1. Yes, universities have become factories. The higher priced ones badges of honor providing a sticker to the parents and an easier time for the graduates to get jobs.

          That doesn’t say that those graduating from university aren’t knowledgeable nor gifted. Quite the opposite. What we can say is that two graduates in the same field from the same institution are by no means the same.

          Learning is up to the individual and the fire that burns within. If you’re passionate about a subject you will devour everything about it you can get your hands on. That’s when learning results in knowledge that’s useful.

      2. Throughout history anyone who threatened or infringed on the establishments grip on power even if right were labeled nut jobs. If you said the earth was not the center of the universe and didn’t agree it road on the back of a turtle you were considered a nut job. The flat earth people are still here refusing to believe the earth is round. The easiest way to discredit anyone’s theory that threatens them is to ridicule them and call them a nut job. After all who would want to associate with a nut job? And without political support for your claims you have little chance to uncover the lies and corruption. I prefer to debate the claims than dismiss them all as being baseless claims by a nut. That’s how we make progress and get to the truth. There are many lies we are living in this world and have been living for a long time that the power base along with their mainstream media stooges keep quiet. They fear even debating them because then they will be exposed.

        1. While I truly agree with you, Joe, about labeling and being dismissive sometimes the label fits. What else might we call someone who suggests we’ve been invaded by lizard people from outer space? Or that forest fires are started by space lasers?

          There are extremes where common sense is violated to such a degree it is incumbent upon someone to raise a flag. We raise a flag to warn the others. That’s our duty as sane members of a society. Where it gets dicey is when it’s only the fringes. Then, labeling becomes a weapon used to quickly dismiss the others.

          As always, it’s a fine line we tread between warning the others that someone’s off their rocker as opposed to someone else with a wild notion that might just have some merit despite the wildness of the claim.

          For the record, here’s where I draw the line. If the out-there claim is potentially destructive to society or the health and safety of people, then it needs to be called out. In your example of the flat Earth that definitely does not deserve a label because it is benign and it just might be true.

          In the case of these political extremists who are trying to foster untruths about microchips in vaccines, lizard people responsible for atrocities like 9/11, forest fires started not by the impacts of our changing climate but rather lasers on satellites, they are harming society. They should be called out.

  17. Who didn’t love Soupy Sales? I think he was the precursor to Chuck Berris and the Gong Show because their personalities were so similar.

    Big fan of Philio Quevetsh [sp]

    Soupy was an expert at making people laugh except for the network sensors who eventually got tough with him after his New Year’s morning (Don’t remember the year) bat s__t crazy routine that he pulled live on the air.

  18. I did a lot of the “in and out” at CES rooms back in the day, and not only CES. A demo Stereophile show in NY was the shockingly awful…and for that one I had a live reference (from a few years before) and various hours of LP listening to the music being mauled.

    It was The Bridge from Sonny Rollins. I’d heard that quartet in NY just after Sonny’s return to the scene. There was “no there there” at the show.

    An addendum to the show experiences is that often I’d show up in a room on the second or third day after a lot of auditioners had passed through and spot an issue of greater or lesser import.

    One was in a room where an orchestral piece, Mozart symphony I think was playing. The channels were reversed. Fiddles all on the right. I mentioned, it, They were sure they had it right. No one else had mentioned it.

    They looked, found the mistake. Fixed it. My takeaway was that all the people who had been coming through for two days or so had been listening to the sound and not the music. There’s always a lot of that going on…

  19. The only standard to follow, when putting together a sound system is the sound of live music. If one has the means ( time, money and a never say die attitude) then eventually the system of one’s dreams will become reality. To the owner the sound will be the closest he or she can get to reality. Since no two systems of such people sound the same it’s obvious that we all hear differently which is further compounded by the fact that no audio component is perfect or sound the same and so no two systems sound the same. Further compounded by hard held notions by individuals about the type of technology and sound characteristics. So really who is in a position to say what is really good or really bad ? What may seem ideal to on person may sound so so to another depending who emphasizes what. Regards.

  20. My old friend Thierry Poynard from La Pitie-Salpetriere is fascinated by the study of “truth” in medicine. He published many articles discussing and evaluating the “half-life” of truth. The interesting observation is that because science advances and we learn new things, what are considered truths change over time. It seems to take a lot of time for some things to change and this depends on the quality of the underlying research. With good methodology, [medical]truth has a longer life.
    The pharmaceutical company Amgen undertook a project to replicate “milestone” experiments in cancer and found out that may of them could not be replicated.
    Jabba the Rat mentioned the disgraced “doctor” from England that made up the autism association with children’s vaccines. A false truth that still lingers.

    But here we are, in “audiophilia”, still believing truths that are no so. Paul stated that because some scientists conduct bad research, thereby, it is not helpful to demonstrate some of his “truths”. The fact that we can capture the collision of a black hole and a neutron star that happened 900 million years ago, but we can’t measure the theoretical impact of power chords “sounds” (pun intended) risible. To quote a former politician, it is an “inconvenient truth” that power chords have no effect. The half life of this myth is over. Move on.

    Though Paul said he moved on from tubes and electrostatics, he should now move on from these antiquated myths. Otherwise, he will get leeches as medicine (they do have a minor and important role in certain situations).

    His AP machines can measure that they have no change of the signal. He can and SHOULD conduct the proper experiments to show to himself they don’t affect sound. Not doing it is either intellectual laziness or something else.

    Dramatic music? Oh, the last bars of Firebird, which I discovered when I purchased Yessongs is fantastic. Many good recordings of Mars, the bringer of War from The Planets. My dad loved when I played Telarc’s 1812 with my old Revox B790 and Shure V-XV T4, via Carver C4000, Carver M400t, and the M&K sat speakers and subwoofer. He would invite his friends home so I would play that record for them. I had to be careful because the equipment would shut down if I played it too hard.

    Peter Gabriel live also has great dynamics. But I don’t get much through some of his records. Sledgehammer does have good sound.

    1. CtA,
      An Interesting rant posted almost 2 days later.

      It certainly seems you have an axe to grind against Paul and PSA. If don’t like the way they do things then maybe you should start your own posting site and develop a big enough audience to follow your personal truths in audio.

      Your opinions remind me of those of politicians. Even if others believe what someone like Paul may say, because of the results they hear, you continually condemn them because your way is the only way.

      If you can tell exactly how something will sound via measurements then more power to you. Maybe you should publish all those required measurements (with the requirements of how they are to be done) and then you could petition some gov’t organizations to regulate and stomp out any entity that doesn’t follow them. This could start at the recording process and end at the playback process.

      I would guess a lot of people involved in this audio endeavor, from a consumer standpoint, tend to look at measurements and then pick with their ears.

      You want an algorithm to tune your system to what you believe is your definition of musical truth.
      Many others don’t.

      So continue to post and jab. Find a system and measurements you believe in. Continue to condemn anyone whose approach is different than yours. It must feel good. ✌️

    2. Crap the Algorithm,
      Wow, it took you nearly 2 days to Google & compile all that drivel?
      And to what end?
      Just to continue to prove to all who read these posts that you don’t use your ears?
      I’m amused that you still persist in reading my ‘mediocre & uninteresting’ comments…you must be really bored or still clueless.

    3. The correlation between a specific measurement of a characteristic of sound and the subjective perception of the audience has been scientifically proven. Which is great because it has made significant improvements – speaker development is great example.
      Some people with fundamental lack of knowledge of logic deduced a negative dependence from this and formed the postulate that what cannot be measured cannot be heared.
      It’s like when I deduce from the sentence “when it’s raining outside, the road is wet” the sentence “when it’s not raining outside, the road is definitely not wet”. Anyone who has ever seen a sprinkler truck, a cracked water pipe or a guy with a hose knows it’s stupid.
      Unfortunately, I hear such wisdom from worshipers of “The Science” over and over again.
      By the way, Shunyata Research presents on its website a measuring method that covers the effect of the power cable.
      I believe what I hear. After all, hearing is the goal.

  21. I was holding back on pointing the finger until Mike made his comment.

    I was really upset and angered to see this insane comment by C1A.

    This is the problem with the word obsessed. It’s confused with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which makes Individuals like this commentator a real candidate to be an UNSUB on Criminal Minds. All of the other comments supporting Paul are being too kind (IMO) to the person who went on this wild rant.

    All I can say to you Paul is ‘the hockey puck is in front of you so keep your eye on it to make your goal and never look back’.

    I like who you are too.

    1. UT OH! 😀

      I’m rebellious in the fact that I don’t like anyone dictating anything to me, especially when there are lots of others choices that abound. I don’t even understand the constant jabbing. What’s to be accomplished?

      Saw a blurb on the local news today about a company in CT making hemp based CBD treats to help with canine anxiety, joint pain, and the like. Not sure if it will help my 3 lab nut cases.. 😉 I will say the thundershirt has helped with one of them riding in the truck. (Total relaxation and the head out of the window now) I now get run over by all 3 when I say who wants to go for a ride….

      1. Happy I mentioned the Thundershirt. When I owned my retail stores I felt really happy driving home in the evening knowing that I was helping people and their family animals. Seems like you made great use of the Thundershirt. Hopefully some other people with anxious K-9’s will give it a try.

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