tirsdag, 30 september 2014 04:41

Conventional (HI-FI) wisdom is almost always invariably wrong

I vår nye serie Audiofile Skråblikk har den kjente bransjeaktøren Peter Djordjevic som driver AudioFreaks skrevet en tekst som han har jobbet med i lengre tid. Peter er kjent for sine utilslørte meningsytringer, og i denne artikkelen strykes det ikke medhårs. Samtidig er det en vekker som de fleste av oss har godt av å lese. Vi takker Peter for at vi får lov til å publisere den, og lover at du ikke vil kjede deg når den leses.

Skrevet av Peter Djordjevic / AudioFreaks.

As I've nearly 30 years experience within the high end industry, I felt that it may be about time that I shared a few considerations, with any discerning person who may be interested, as no one else seems to be similarly inclined.

We should, after all, know where our beliefs come from, and if we think we have reasons for what we believe, that is often a mistake.

"FI" is the abbreviated form of the word "FIDELITY", ie. "HIFI" would indicate a steadfast devotion to music, or musical event in this case. A singular integrity, if you will.

"STEREO" has nothing at all to do with the number "2". "STEREO" actually means solid, or three dimensional, ie. a 3D soundstage in this context.


I have unfortunately noticed a trend, where the majority of the most notorious and often praised high end HIFI equipment nowadays, sounds inordinately impressive, FORWARD, brash, and often bright. (When using these adjectives, I am using live unamplified music as a reference.) This equipment very rarely casts a realistic 3D soundstage behind the loudspeakers, where the original musical event would normally indicate that such a presentation would be of a high degree of fidelity. If one hears a brief demonstration of this forward kind of equipment, at a show, for example, where the whole soundstage is in front of the loudspeakers, (or much further forward of where it ought to be,) given the status quo of cognitive biases, it is often the case, that one is easily reflexively impressed by the lively and energetic presentation, and consequently seduced.

A simple recording of a vocalist and acoustic bass which is three metres behind the singer, and the singer standing one metre away from one stereo microphone, ought to sound but one way on a very high quality, high end audio system, but that is very far from the norm. Many systems will place both together in front of the loudspeakers, for example, even though every other parameter, from a HIFI standpoint, may be very good. I am acutely aware that many people love this kind of sound, and they are in their full right to do so. However, when all is said and done, this cannot be said to be faithful to the original musical event.

Whenever I notice a component or system which are FORWARD in character, my automatic reaction is negative, no matter how good everything else is, and these components are spurned forever. The simple reason for this, is that such components are actually performing a musical vandalism of sorts, and listening to music through them will undoubtedly be tiresome, wearing and a discordant experience in the long run, which is what really counts. I call this forward kind of presentation "very HIFI", where the foundation of "STEREO" has gone out of the window. This, if one ponders for a minute, ought to be fundamentally important to the integrity to what we are looking to achieve.


Foto: Morten Lindberg


I must of course stress that one must be allowed to prefer whatever one likes, as I've previously adumbrated. However, in the world of (high end) HIFI, most enthusiasts believe that their own choice of equipment and biases are "correct" ; most often these are congruent with what has become conventional opinion, or the status quo. ie. an example of "received opinion".

The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd.

Most 'seasoned' audiophiles/enthusiasts are very confident in their perceptions and 'knowledge'; most are intransigent, primed in certain ways, and refuse to even think to wipe the slate clean, go back to basics, and even give a second thought to alternative systems to those they own and believe in themselves. It's very sad to say, but in many cases, the loyalties and biases which have been formed, are akin to religious fanaticism. Any person who has the temerity to think that a certain ( well favoured) brand or piece of equipment actually isn't all that conventional wisdom indicates it to be, can very quickly be subjected to torrents of abuse and vituperation from the said brand's legions of disciples, and would be traduced at every opportunity. Such are the times.

Many like what they like because of certain "perceived" qualities, which they focus upon, without which they cannot do. These perceived qualities, sadly, are most often different forms of DISTORTION; these thoughtless creations of habit are systematic human mistakes which are known as “cognitive biases”, which play havoc with our perceptions and abilities to accurately judge and observe. A fifty foot tall vocalist, five metre wide violin, right in front of the listener's nose, and every single recording infused with a golden warmth, for example, cannot reasonably be regarded as realistic, nor laudable, even though the presentation may be very immediate and impressive. When visitors listen to my demonstrations of low distortion, high energy systems at shows, a lot of the music played, does include a proper, realistic and low noise soundstage presented BEHIND the loudspeakers, and I am in no doubt that this is a foreign experience for most listeners. A more immediate and close presentation will SEEM to be clearer and detailed, and many will swear that it is, but, in fact,this is illusory. Most people who listen to my demonstrations are so profoundly riddled with cognitive biases, that they are effectively unable to make any worthwhile observation nor judgement concerning what they’ve listened to. It is very often something like showing a card trick to a dog. The reaction is about the same.

Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves.


Foto: Morten Lindberg

I have discussed this subject on many occasions. At a certain juncture during the conversations, there comes a point, where my interlocutors declare something to the effect of " Well, it's a matter of personal taste, after all." ie, they prefer the cosmetically enhanced 'sound' of their choice-ergo it is unimpeachable, thus indicating that the discussion is at an end, because there cannot be any rational challenge to this position. It's as if this is written in stone and is irrefutable. The imputation is that personal taste or cognitive bias, is the only thing that matters, and there certainly isn't any absolute in this field of discussion. (Understanding cognitive biases leads to ways of explaining things we get WRONG.)

However, this is far from the case. This is nothing like comparing a white Corton Charlemagne with a Selection Grains Nobles from Alsace. There is an absolute, and that is the sound of real instruments playing in a real space, UNAMPLIFIED. 'The absolute sound', as it was coined long ago. This is being ignored by most so called experts, (hi-fi scribes for the most part) , who are effectively in the vanguard of a regression, and they ought to be ashamed of themselves. A symphony orchestra in a concert hall must be the most apt reference to use. One KNOWS how the instruments are placed with relation to one another, the distances, sizes etc, and it is fully possible to properly familiarise oneself with this experience by actually going to concerts. In any event, “confirmation bias” is in action, all the time. We are all riddled with these biases, and vulnerable to psychological pitfalls. The sad fact of the matter, I have come to observe, is that most "audiophiles" cognitive biases lead them NOT to prefer realistic, credible and low distortion systems' presentations. ie. they actually prefer their "type of sound" to the real thing. Yes, they really do!

When a system can present an orchestral recording in a faithful manner, it will no doubt also do a good job with all other kinds of music. However, if a recording is simply bad, this has to be audible too. Having bad recordings cosmetically tailored to sound palatable, is not the way forwards.

The ‘HIFI’ business is a lot like many other commercial areas of endeavour. There is a lot of ‘conventional wisdom’ abound. (ie. manifold cognitive biases.) In the world of quality watches, there’s Rolex, and in the world of motorcycles, there’s Harley Davidson, just to mention two examples. If one would carry out a street survey in most major cities throughout the world, posing the question “ What is the best watch/motorcycle brand in the world?”, it is highly likely that Rolex and HD would come out on top of the lists of respective answers.

On the other hand, if a poll of watch and motorcycle aficionados was taken, asking whether Rolex and HD manufactured the best watches and motorcycles in the world, both groups would have a good chuckle, as the thoughts are so totally risible and absurd. In the world of HIFI, if such a street survey was carried out, names like Bose and B&O would surface, as the high end segment is a total secret to most. A similar poll of high end HIFI aficionados would bring up most of the expected list of the best known names in that respective country. (ie. confirmation bias) Please recall that

The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd.


Foto: Morten Lindberg

So, how have all these absurdities/mistakes become ‘conventional wisdom’? The simple answer is extremely effective marketing, and it isn’t much different in the world of high end HIFI. I’ll use the example of amplification products to elaborate.

As of today, there are sundry (alleged) amplifier manufacturers, who have a very high prominence, profile, and reputation within the high end HIFI industry. (Those who have virtually all their products’ constituent parts manufactured in China, and complete the assembly of the finished products elsewhere, ought not to be afforded the right to state that their products are manufactured anywhere else but China.)

One of these “manufacturers” a pre&power combination which retails in the UK for near to £30 000-. The total cost of the constituent parts of both these units, probably doesn’t exceed £1000-. The cost to the distributor, ex.factory, is probably no more than £10 000-. This ‘manufacturer’ has a resultant, huge profit margin. (The respective distributor and dealers who sell the products, one must suppose, have to be able to earn a living.) Out of this huge margin, more than half (which is a lot) is used to MARKET. At the end of the day, it is YOU, the customer who directly funds the huge marketing budget, which only serves to bolster and maintain future sales, and to perpetuate the cognitive bias. There are quite a few of such like companies, and they are nothing less than very competent con-men. Yes, you, the customer

is being CONNED, for the most part.

"All over the world today, in every walk of life, conventional wisdom is almost ALWAYS wrong. By the time it has become conventional, it has ceased to be wisdom, and become cant. It’s smug cousin, received opinion, is just as bad. This is not really opinion at all, but the safe adoption of whatever is modish and popular."


Foto: Morten Lindberg


The marketing often results in a very significant, regular income for the hifi magazines where the advertising is printed. This income stream is very precious in most cases, and the direct consequence is that these magazines become their advertisers’ lapdogs. The best advertisers’ products receive, as a matter of course, high praise and enthusiasm in the magazines, IRRESPECTIVE of their actual merits. And competing products from other manufacturers/distributors (who advertise FAR less or not at all,) are ignored, undermined in sundry ways, and treated like virulent detritus. It’s just like a propaganda machine. The readers actually come last. The magazines serve their advertisers unblinkingly, they themselves as a result, and the readers are conned to a large degree. In this manner, ’manufacturers’ of a very mediocre quality product, achieve a very high visibility, reputation, and are often looked upon as a ‘reference’ to aspire to.ie. a cognitive, AND expectation bias are created. This means that when people experience these lauded products at hi-fi shows and dealers showrooms, the listener already EXPECTS the sound to be excellent, and how the product is resultantly perceived, has very little to do with how it actually performs. On the other hand, a wonderfully realistic sounding system comprised of generally unknown products, will most often be summarily dismissed without another cogent thought. This ‘conventional wisdom’ that is created in this profoundly execrable manner, results in a situation where ordinary, honourable people dare not even think of challenging this ‘status quo’, because it often ends up like David v Goliath. (NB. Not all magazines are like this.)

"It is perfectly true that when an idea is conventional wisdom, there will be a great array of journalism, broadcasting and academic writing supporting it. And so the sceptic will be portrayed as mad, stupid, factually incorrect, or a number of other things.


Foto: Morten Lindberg

And so the person who finds that what he is being told does not accord with his own experience, or runs counter to historical experience - or has other good reasons to challenge orthodoxy - will lack the backing of the academy or of the state. And of course he will be doubted and criticised by the regrettably large number of people who take the side of authority against scepticism. And so he may need to fight Goliath with a sling.

Goliath (and the conformist, conventionally wise crowd which stands behind him) will usually laugh with scorn, and denounce his challenger with lofty disdain."

So, when I perform my demonstrations at shows, my starting point is that most visitors don’t have the slightest inkling of what the equipment can perform. The music presented as a deep and uncluttered vista, extremely, low noise, distortion and lack of phase anomalies, are more often than not, of little relevance, as people do not, or cannot trust their own ears, because ‘conventional wisdom’ clearly indicates that brands T,W & Z are the thing to have.

"The truth is the truth, even in a minority of one."

Isn’t it about time you ALLOWED yourself to make a BETTER decision?

Takk til Peter Djordjevic for en flott artikkel. Den er også tilgjengelig på AudioFreaks sine websider.

Også takk til Morten Lindberg for tillatelse til bruk av bilder. Bildene er fra innspillinger på plateselskapet 2L, og er illustrasjoner som ikke har noen reell tilknytning til teksten.

Lest 8922 ganger Sist redigert tirsdag, 30 september 2014 12:35

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