Strawberry red

April 26, 2019
 by Paul McGowan

If you’re growing strawberries it’s easy to find the ripe ones by their color. Bright red through and through is when the fruit’s at its peak and the sugars are just right.

That eons-old technique no longer applies when shopping for the tasty fruit at the market. Beautifully colored berries aren’t a guarantee of ripeness or sweetness in a modern American market (and I suspect elsewhere in the world as well).  This is because the vast majority of our fruit is picked green then ripened by ethylene gas (even organic strawberries). This may sound awful but it’s not a new invention. The technique has been around for centuries.

If you want to experiment, place an unripened strawberry in a plastic bag and with it add a banana. Bananas release natural ethylene gas which then will redden the strawberry.

Force ripening fruit doesn’t do a whole lot to improve its taste and sugar content. It mostly improves the color. The best tasting fruits are field ripened but nearly impossible to then get them to market in time to eat.

I bring this to your attention because it occurs to me there’s a similarity in the way we perceive stereo equipment. We judge strawberries by their color and we judge hifi equipment by the look and weight of the chassis. Neither really tells us much about what’s inside.

And the shame of it is that this method once worked. Red used to indicate ripeness and a pristine chassis once reflected the care of design inside.

Is all hope lost? Hardly. What’s changed is a bit more added weight on the consumer’s side. It’s now more important than ever to know who you’re buying from and what their motivations for producing goods are. Search out the ethical manufacturers who openly discuss their goals and give you more than just a peek inside. You want the whole story.

Farm fresh is worth seeking out if you can, just like digging in deep with your hifi manufacturer.

I’d sooner trust the word of the farmer than the reseller.

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14 comments on “Strawberry red”

  1. I think PSA is definitely within the peak (if not partly the peak) of the leading manufacturers in terms of „highest sound quality for the money“, „open communication”, “fair upgrade policy”, “innovation”. This makes it a first choice for many, especially those with enough funds for such an expensive hobby, but still quite limited budget. The majority of people are anyway far away from spending such money on home entertainment.

    But the other kind of high end customers are rich enough (and imo to a quite large extent not that fixated on the finally really best sound), that they expect perfectionism in several aspects like also design, built quality, reliability/QC, service, marketing, presence at shows etc. etc., of which absolute sound in comparison to others is not necessarily the first priority (as long as reviews tell what they always tell), price being not a main problem. I think many of them even buy more or less “blind” (without listening) based on reviews and crowd acceptance.

    I guess PSA intentionally focuses in many ways on the first mentioned above, taking the risk of loosing some of the latter. Other companies go the other way, some even focusing on the e.g. super rich Asia market with lots of bling. I guess all of them make their money and non of them should underrate their weak points too much, otherwise they’d lose even their focus customers.

  2. The paradox is that looks can deceive, but design is integral to consumer products. Has been for ever, but in the western world was first seriously conceptualised by Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus Movement, whose 100th anniversary is this year.
    I’m not sure of this ethical thing. Most businesses are started by people with an interest in what they are doing and hope to make a living out of it. Wouldn’t know what an unethical manufacturer is. You could say the electricity demands of PS Audio amplifiers is unethical.
    I have two servers. A QNAP for business. Millions of people use them and that’s good enough for me. It’s never let me down and does everything I want of it. I have no idea who by or where it was made. My audio server is from Innuos. They’ve been in the business for 10 years, but I spoke to their UK technical representative a couple of times and he explained the technicals and answered my questions in a straightforward and understandable way. As far as design goes, it’s a boring black box that sits in a cupboard, and may end up in my office connected by a 50m fibre optic cable.

    1. I am a devotee of Bauhaus – but I follow strict form following function rules, which is essential in building speakers. In acoustics, almost every detail is audible – so cosmetics are not merely lowering functional value equation, they LOWER FUNCTION.

      My favorite example is wood veneers. Since you can’t veneer a rounded corner, applying a thin layer of cosmetic woodgrain over MDF (a material with superior acoustical properties) forces hard edges on the baffles, which compromise the sound. This used to be even worse, with baffles recessed for grill cloth inserts.

      Call me a brutalist, but I don’t even stain my stage speakers – they are paste wax over oak faced plywood, with the layers exposed (after Danish Modern practice) on the radiused corners and edges.

      “Decoration is weakness in design” – Mies Van Der Rohe

  3. Bo Diddley lives! You CAN’T judge a book by its cover. With food, shop local. It’s just difficult doing that with hi end audio, as that would limit your choice to one or two brands. But, it does illustrate an extremely important point. Look past the book cover, or the surface of the fruit, and concentrate on what is truly important, the inside all the way to the core. Yes, the quality of the innermost part is harder to determine, but if you get that right, you reap the rewards manyfold.

  4. External looks can initially help form a 1st opinion, but as stated above, that doesn’t show the inner beauty or sweetness.

    If your looking at a class A or AB amp then weight may give you a clue, and you may blow right by the 13lb class D, which happens to rate just as good to some reviewers ears.

    You’re probably going walk past a 2lb set of speakers or subwoofer.

    Preamps and especially digital sources are much harder to judge from just an outward appearance or weight.

    I don’t know of anyone who worries about the bling of their cables.

    If aesthetics are important, then that’s a qualifier in the decision.

    Very few of any being (mammal, insect or otherwise) are eating green strawberry’s.

  5. Our lifetime of experiences forms a library in our conscious and subconscious memory that we refer to when we encounter a new experience to make instant judgments about it. You wouldn’t expect a fancy looking sports car to have all the power of a lawnmower engine. You wouldn’t expect a box the size of a refrigerator or two to be able to create vibrations that could shake down an entire building. If you told me when I graduated college that I’d live to see the day when an object I could hold in my hand the size of a small note pad could do all of the things my now obsolete smart phone can do and would be more powerful than all of the computers in the world of that day combined I’d have said you’ve been reading and watching too much science fiction, that’s hundreds of years off in the future. Remember those flip phones we had just maybe 15 years ago? Kirk to Enterprise, beam me aboard Scotty.

    One of the first times I visited this site there were pictures of two amplifiers on two different day’s postings a couple of days apart. One was a beat up old black box, possibly an old PS Audio model. The other was a shiny McIntosh amplifier with its black case, large blue meters, and gold knobs. Which was the better amplifier? No way to know by looking at them. At least by then I knew that what I saw on the outside might be very different from what I’d find on the inside. Call it what you like, eye candy, sex appeal, if you can’t sell the steak sell the sizzle. I sometimes still like them even when I know that behind that facade there is little or nothing I’d want. But at least I’m smart enough now to look under the hood. Who knows, someone might one day be able to build a thousand horsepower engine the size and shape of a lawnmower engine.

    When you first see audio equipment you’ve never seen before you can often guess what it’s going to sound like before you hear it. You won’t expect a tiny bookshelf speaker to sound like the Infinity IRS V. Some of the most fun in this hobby is the surprise when it does. It’s like watching a magic trick. The novelty of the unexpected is what makes magic tricks, effective illusions so much fun. And then there are those things that look innocent enough that are deadly. They scoffed at Pasteur when he told scientists of the day that microbes so small you couldn’t see them with your naked eye could kill you. Some surprises are no fun at all.

  6. When I see an old hefty receiver of the 70’s or old PS Audio, Hafler, B&K, Adcom, Amplifiers and preamplification I know it’s built well. All affordable Hi Fi Equipment. Companies like these strive to keep their reputation and are still putting out quality at affordable prices, though the manufacturers of receivers in the 70’s don’t make them like they used to. I wouldn’t buy any modern day receiver. Only separates from the companies that still offer value. Once upon a time weight mattered, today it may or may not.

  7. When I look at a small box dac, from experience I don’t expect that it’s going to produce the sound quality of a Directstream or similar level dac. Beyond that, I’m not sure where the statement in today’s entry about judging by look and weight comes from or who it’s referring to. At least for electronic components.

  8. Paul, I notice that food and audio seem linked.
    We often use ‘food’ words to describe an audio experience, as if we were describing a gourmet dessert.

    Could it possibly be that the same areas of our brain which give us an emotional response to a Musical passage, both well-recorded and reproduced, is the same brain receptors which have a visceral reaction to a taste of well-produced, and well-presented food?

    While I don’t think even the best recording of Miles Davis, “Kind of Blue” will fill my tummy, I know a delicious bite of a dish, satisfies my hunger and satiates my desire to taste something else.\

    For whatever reason, we get Fresh Strawberries at the local Walmart which were grown on the Left-coast and are sweet and juicy and ripe by the time they finish their transcontinental voyage.
    And like a high-quality, albeit “budget-priced” amplifier named Sprout, it is just as delicious.

  9. Back in the days of soft red glow, the actual amplification was lighter than air! (vacuum). Weight was a spec you could rely on, however, because the real world interfaces where made of Silicon steel and Copper, and you needed a lot of mass for adequate power, regulation, wide bandwidth and low distortion. You further needed a heavy gauge drawn and welded steel chassis to hold those bulging metallic masses.

    The Silicon revolution WAS the singularity because electronic information processing has no inherent size, mass or energy. It is just electric force fields, including the quantized fields of bits. Power amps still need a little heft for high frequency transformers, inductors and capacitors but I have an 8 x 75W amp that is 5Kg including a metal case. Being a pro amp little was wasted on cosmetics, neither size, weight nor expensive decoration to reduce the value proposition.

  10. Ironically frozen strawberries and other fruits are often much better and cheaper than fresh. The reason is they are harvested ripe and flash frozen retaining their natural flavors that developed in the field. Even ripe picked fruit is not necessarily better if it has been sitting around at room temperature for some time in transit and in the store bins. If you can buy directly from farms you’re better off. Or grow your own if you can. How many foods can you think of that are injected with dyes to color them in ways making them more appealing to buyers? Some of these dyes might be hazardous to your health, others are made from insects.

    Cochineal and carmine are an example.

    Disgusted? Not yet? Well I didn’t believe it myself but pink slime was actually used in your fast food and others

    Better living though chemistry.

  11. The outward aesthetics of audio gear is fascinating to me. It runs the gamut from ridiculously over-baked to quiet elegance. Much of it, unfortunately looks like it was designed by someone with no eye for visual design– like say, most engineers.

    A good outward design, I believe, would ideally be an expression of what the engineer has successfully accomplished on the inside. For example, the D’Agostino amps. While too uber for me, they do successfully express what’s inside: power, quality, opulent, luxurious sound…

    An example, to my eye, of visual design failure are the Wilson speakers. To me, they look like a design where form was trampled by function and then someone tried to decorate them up to look robotic, or “futuristic” or something… No offense to happy Wilson owners– I’m told they sound heavenly– but to quote Country troubadour, Unknown Hinson, I’d advise: “turn down the lights way down low, ’cause I make faces when I make love.”

    PS Audio seems very middle of the road. Not tacky, not offensive, not exciting either. The look like they were designed to appeal to as many people as possible without turning anyone off. Probably a smart business decision.

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