It seems like we’re not allowed to have opinions anymore. Only one version of events, one idea about something, or one vision is allowed these days. If it’s not what the recipient wants to hear, it’s fake news. Sad.
But aren’t opinions what make the world go round? I know the song says it’s money, but I think it’s opinions and viewpoints that are far more enriching than cash. Take football for example, a subject I know precious little about, but I know enough to understand that the opinion about one player or one team versus the other is what generates the passion, the debate, the banter and unfortunately sometimes the punch. In fact, take any sporting activity and opinion is central to keeping it fresh and driving it forwards: “Why did you buy the Campagnolo chainset for your bike and I bought the Shimano?” Because, in your opinion, it was better. I think you’re wrong, the Shimano is definitely better.
And music is just the same. I like the music I like and you like the music you like. Why do some people like opera and some people like jazz and some people like rap? It’s a curious thing as to why we all have different musical tastes. I bought a book recently, called “Why Music Works” by David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) in the hope that it would answer the question. A good read, but no answers!
Even within genres opinion is steeply divided as to what’s better and who’s right. Is Steve Vai a better guitarist than Joe Satriani? Are Genesis better with Peter Gabriel at the helm or Phil Collins? Does Simon Rattle get more out of the LSO than Colin Davis did? Was Buddy Rich all he was cracked up to be, or is Gene Krupa your jazz drummer of choice? Pavarotti or Caruso, Nigel Kennedy or Max Vengerov, B.B. King or Albert King? The list is endless and the debate always fascinating and invigorating. It’s debate that keeps us interested and questioning our thoughts and beliefs.
Hi-Fi. Now there’s a topic that divides opinion. One would have thought that something so innocuous as the device used to play back the music we all have opinions on wouldn’t be worth arguing about. It is, after all, the music itself that’s the important thing. But no, the hi-fi probably provokes more passion, more opinion and more argument than anything else connected with music. To measure or not to measure? Is that flat frequency response and perfect impedance curve the be-all and end-all of component design? Or is the musicality, rhythm and timing more important than the graph? The subjective opinion of which is better, when comparing let’s say two CD players that have identical frequency responses, is a concept that gets right to the heart of what hi-fi is all about. It’s all to do with perception and our senses.
Everything to do with the senses is subjective. What we like to eat and drink. Do we like sugar in our tea, how spicy should a chilli be? Does The Scream do it for you or the Mona Lisa? Music and the arts are one area where there are no rights and no wrongs. It’s purely subjective and that’s the beauty. But it’s also got the potential to be destructive. Hi-Fi is not life or death, despite the passions that can run so high when audiophiles and designers are debating the rights and wrongs of their particular approach to component and system design. What we’re all striving for is an ability to reproduce recorded music with the utmost authenticity and realism. Although having said that, our perception of what is authentic and what is real are also subject to interpretation!
Perhaps what we should be looking for is an appreciation that all the different approaches to hi-fi design are equally valid. Yes, we’ve got the eccentrics working in their sheds and the multi-national companies with their super-computers, but, at the end of the day, they’re both trying to make a product that plays back recorded music in a way that people will enjoy it and one they can make a living out of. The person who likes the handmade valve amp is not going to the same person for whom a mass produced solid state amp is the best solution. We should celebrate that and embrace the differences that make our industry what it is – an extension of the creative arts; with all the passion, drama, opinions and differences that go with it.
Accepting the validity of differing opinions is essential. The day we do so without sniggering or making disparaging remarks will be a good day for the hi-fi industry. There’s room for all of us in this tiny industry. To coin a phrase, Let’s Make Hi-Fi Great Again. When we do, it will be a great day. A great day. Trust me.