Technocrats and artists

January 12, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

When a design engineer tackles a new product there are a myriad of options available to her.

Take for example a preamplifier. Here the designer must choose the type of amplification topology: single ended or balanced, differential input or single gain device, direct coupled or capacitor, solid state or vacuum tube or hybrid. And once chosen there’s another bushel full of choices to be made, each resulting in a very different sound.

Or take the challenges presented to a loudspeaker designer. Number and types of drivers, open baffle, closed baffle, dipole, bipole, monopole.

Once the direction is chosen, there comes a divergence of workflow depending on whether the design engineer leans towards being a technocrat or an artist.

The technocrat worships the god of technology while the artist’s muse leans more toward serving their emotional side.

An analytical approach versus one more centered around the emotional side.

Mr. Spock vs. Picasso.

Our own philosophies at PS Audio have always been centered somewhere closer to middle ground.

Norman Rockwell.

As a consumer, you’ll want to decide which products on offer appeal more to your analytical or emotional side.

The fruits born of the labors of technocrats and artists sound very different indeed.

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28 comments on “Technocrats and artists”

  1. I think you would have to go deeper which approach you connect with the technocrat and which with the artist.

    If we assume, the need to listen to what one develops and finding solutions based on the audible result, and understanding there are things beyond the own knowledge which should be considered, is a basic approach of both, then I’d say most developers mainly are and should be technocrats for good reason. It’s a technical matter.

    If you imply, the technocrat doesn’t listen and just chooses the approach that’s known for decades, then most every developer should better be an artist.

    E.g. the approach Ted describes for himself sounds more like Spock than Picasso to me (that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t evaluate the outcome also emotionally), while you possibly rather are in the Picasso camp and Darren/Chris inbetween? 😉

  2. I’ve always seen Rockwell as a romantic. He offers illustrations of the idealized America and rarely engaged in illustrations depicting the more realistic side of America. Indeed, I can think of only one Rockwell illustration that isn’t idealization of the American land, town and city scapes .

  3. It is an interesting philosophy of the myriad of different types of minds out there getting into the complexities of design and tech.
    Of course after reading Paul’s post it looks like you need both the artist and the tech wizard.
    The two have to meet in the middle, however I really think Spock and Picasso wouldn’t get along personally. Lol.

    1. For some reason I just thought of a great printed T-shirt that I saw last weekend.
      “I don’t need the internet because my wife knows everything” 😉

  4. The word “technocrat” is incorrect, but I get what Paul was aiming for.

    The difference is something like the telecoms engineers who set about designing the Devialet Expert, which is the result of setting a design specification in terms of technical performance within physical constraints and solving it as an engineering problem, and someone who takes a box of random bits and pieces and decides to turn them into a phono amplifier.

    The difference is that the technologist has a clear idea of where they are aiming and can break it down into a sequence of problems to be solved. The artist has no idea and you may get a work of genius or complete rubbish.

    You wouldn’t want an artist designing a dishwasher, and as hifi is designed to play music rather than be hung on the wall as art (although Devialet Expert can be hung on the wall as art), I’d rather have a technologist design my hifi.

    1. While I agree with what you’re saying here, Steven, I am confused when you say the word technocrat is incorrect. According the the Oxford dictionary:

      an exponent or advocate of technocracy.
      a member of a technically skilled elite.

      How would that not describe a narrowly focused engineer?

      1. The extension -crat means to rule or govern.

        So democrats, technocrats and plutocrats rule or govern by virtue of being chosen by the people, their technical skill or their wealth respectively, but they don’t do the work.

    2. I sorry Steven but I have known artist who are very methodical and have a very firm idea of what they are going to create. They make pencil sketches, then explore their color pallet with chalk and finally commit paint to canvas.

      1. I am aware of that. When you mention “cartoon”, most people would think of Charlie Brown, although “cartone” is Italian for thick paper or card, which in the Renaissance was used for preparatory drawings, usually to be transferred to plaster using the pinprick method.

        With regard to Picasso mentioned in Paul’s post, there are galleries of his works all over the place, Paris is comprehensive, Barcelona for his early paintings, Sofia Reina in Madrid for Guernica, Kunstmuseum Basel has a remarkable collection, but I didn’t really get a real idea of his incredible technical ability until I saw his drawings in the Picasso Museum Malaga (mostly from his private and family’s collections). Often his ideas were drawn from others, mainly Georges Braque, but at the end of the day most artists have a very strong technical background.

    1. An MR?
      Why?
      Hopefully for collection purposes.
      Brings back memories of my
      Iiif red dial , M2 and SL!

      I spent the morning listening to two different AB integrated amps and can’t tell the difference-unless I dream up a reason! Cambridge CXA81 and a Rotel
      A14- spec wise both are almost the same- I think the Rotel has a more subtle sound stage/distribution and a bit less bass ,which I like.
      This is almost as bad as trying to differentiate the same scene taken with a Summicron from a Zeiss planar!

      These are good problems!

      1. I have a CXA81. Fabulous thing. The Rotel A14 has a marginally better spec., but reviews suggest the amplifier is not up to scratch. The CXA81 wins awards every year.

        The MR is going on an M3 Double Stroke with the original lens it was sold with in 1957, a 50 Summicron near focus (the 50 Rigid). Both are mint. You would easily tell the difference between the 50 Rigid and a Zeiss Planar, even with a modern 50 Cron. Arguably the best 50 they ever made.

      2. Keeping the Rotel- a better sound stage for me- otherwise both are very close!
        I enjoy the window where the system shows what is happening!
        I can’t believe I went for an integrated amp post all the years with separates.
        So much less cable population now.
        Also Rotel does updates from the screen via internet connection!

  5. “The technocrat worships the god of technology”

    I’m not sure I would embrace your reportive meaning, Paul

    Technocrat synonyms: authority, veteran, consultant, specialist, intellectual, professional, pundit, observer.

  6. When it comes to audio products, based on my own listening and accounts that I have read, I seem to favor products that have a 90/10 mixture of technologist and artist. Based on a vision of what the product should be they use the best and often latest technology ( sometimes even newly invented technology ) to build the product. Then they use their ears to “tweak” it so it sounds the way they want it to. It sounds so simple, but of course, it isn’t.

  7. That was the cool part for me working at Genesis, Arnie was a scientist who carried around an orchestra in his head, and if an oboe didn’t sound right we would change the crossovers. Paul I think carried the classic rock repertoire in his head and had the electronic design chops down. Now PS gets to carry on the legend!

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