I am compelled to be critic of your article in Absolute Sound criticizing high end audio criticism. While I completely agree with you that the high end audio industry is shrinking, it is shrinking, to a great extent, because exactly those who are potentially free to offer unfettered criticism of the American audio arts, and therefore charge it with vitality, have failed to fulfill their intellectual responsibility.
WHAT IS CRITICISM IN THE AUDIO ARTS?: It should not be just comparative listening/shopping, yet, that is what audio criticism has become: a guide to shopping, with an almost complete avoidance of criticizing those segments of the American audio arts that are dysfunctional or poorly designed, such as tube amplifiers and loudspeakers. It seems that the only area for intense scrutiny is digital technology, which prides itself on its dysfunctional behavior. Why should the public take high end audio criticism seriously when it doesnt have the capacity to be critical of the nitty gritty of the audio arts?
WHIMPS COMPLAINING ABOUT STEREOPHILE: Stereophiles editorial policies are not the problem with higher end audio criticism. They are one of the few success stories in our publishing tribe because they serve the needs of their audience very professionally. If all of the "higher end" publications did their job as well (which is different challenge), we would all be in better shape. It sounds to me like a bunch whimps complaining to cover up the fact they cant do better. With all of the editorial restriction facing Stereophile writers, why cant the keepers of the higher ground develop a more interesting, entertaining, controversial and intellectual more demanding attitude towards the audio arts? Who is stopping us? Readers are right to be turned off after hearing the shouts..."We are going to be different", only to discover..been there, done that. I call this a lack of editorial imagination, and who is to blame for that?
THE REAL ECONOMIC POLITICS OF AUDIO CRITICISM: The New York Times with their $1 billion plus revenues can criticize anyone, or any company, without fear of economic disaster. To be an audio critic of ultimate integrity you either must have financial strength, which is almost completely lacking in the higher end audio press, or, you have to publish without any manufacturers advertising, or, you must posses the intellectual integrity of Ghandi. What sense is there for a financially marginal audio journal, run by a truly dedicated audiophile, to embark on a course of economic suicide, for the sake of the audio arts? And why would any audio company want to "lend" a piece of equipment to a higher end journal for review knowing that a more rigorous standard of evaluation would be used? Let us not forget Marty that only a very small group of audiophiles in America have a high enough IQ to appreciate that there is no such thing as perfect piece of audio gear, and are insulted by reviews that dont express that reality.
AUDIO XENOPHOBIA: One of the unique characteristic, which amplifies the boring quality of American higher end audio publications, is a complete denial that outside America there are other inventive audio cultures that have, in many ways, outpaced us. I note that Japanese, Korean, and Italian publications regularly report on the audio worlds of Europe and America, and have foreign guest editors ( I write for an Italian and Korean magazine). When was the last time you read an editorial by an Italian, Japanese or Korean editor in an American publication? Why dont we review the best audio from these cultures, and explore their point of view about the audio arts as a way of stimulating both our readers and our American audio artist? Are these cultures irrelevant or are we too ego flimsy?
WHAT AMERICAN MEN KNOW AND AUDIO JOURNALIST DONT: Let me use four other "guy" passions to illustrate my point: cars, motorcycles, guns and fly-fishing. Read the magazines devoted to these activities and we notice a common patterns: there is a balance between the off the shelf/buy in the showroom gear, and the really exotic/custom made stuff; the "dream machines", the "real state of the art", that men love to fantasize about. Some call this understanding entertainment, others just suggest that if you want to keep a man involved you have to excite his dream energy. Even the best higher end audio gear is not "dream machines"; never were, never meant to be. Check out Japans Stereo Sound and you will get my drift. Why arent American higher end audio journalist interested in exploring the real edge of the audio arts? Are they incapable, uninterested or intimidated, or do they believe that state of the art is what is being created for Mr.Rich Guy? Marty, do you believe that the Porsche you buy in the Porsche showroom is the ultimate state of the art Porsche? Where is your dream energy? What does Harry Pearson dream about before he falls asleep (in the audio arts)?
NO INTEREST IN "NON-NORMAL" LISTENING: The model of listening to music here is strictly "heads-up" analytical. Marty, my book shelves are filled with the works of music lovers who have explored "non-normal" musical experience and that ranges from Glenn Gould, Aaron Copland, to shamans. Have I got this wrong?: the high end audio industry serves those who have "non-normal" listening gifts; those who are more intensely involved in their aural life, yet I cant find any high end audio criticism that explores this subject, in spite of the fact that this is one of the most commonly discussed experiences among audophiles. How do we get back in touch with this core shared paranormal music dimension?
IS THE GLASS HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY? What side of the question should the higher end audio critic be on? I am suggesting that the true higher end audio critic belongs on the side of the Half Empty. Readers are too sophisticated to be conned, and to be taken seriously the true audio critic is going to have to be the most demanding. I would be glad to share with you my long list of "Half Empty". Do you or Harry have such a list that you would like to share with your readers as a way of offering a brave new vision of the audio arts? Why dont we involve our readers in this process...dont we exist to serve them?
ABSENCE OF DEBATE: Why is there no meaningful debate among audio journalists? Is there nothing to debate of any value? If that is true then we should all close up shop. Nothing is a surer sign of recent death than a lack of intellectual vitality, and where is this interchange in our community? This is not about being right or wrong...but about passionate men dancing with each other...like in Zorba the Greek? Can you think of anything more thrilling than that?
IN SUMMARY: The higher end is shrinking for many reason; but lets take responsibility for the fact that higher end audio journalism has become boring, whining, pious, unimaginative, repetitive, xenophobic, and lacking in "dream energy". This coupled with our lack of motivation to actively engage each other in debate, and our avoidance of being critical of the audio arts, is strangling the critical "life support" from a wounded industry.
Can this be changed? Can we imitate the Soviet Unions revolution, and is it worth the effort? Absolutely. We are living in a time of revolution and transformation, and this is a turning point in the history of the audio arts, and those editors and publishers who have the courage to dance a new dance will lead it.
I am honored that HP gave me this opportunity to do my little gigue on the TAS dance floor.
Dr. Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg
Guildmeister of The Triode Guild
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