Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Our Quest. Deeply Personal. Full of Joy & Confusion.

I intended this to be a simple message, one pointing out that building a system is based on choices. Choices usually come with trade-offs. Becoming too attached to a flawed component, in this case a pair of loudspeakers that have very forward highs, and then building an entire system around that component, can be a slippery slope. But my message has become a bit more philosophical, and personal.

It all started with an email...

I recently had the opportunity to send a component to a customer for an In-Home Audition. This was a component that I had much experience with, and many others had listened to. The overall consensus was the sound was detailed, powerful, a bit forgiving and laid back.

Much to my surprise the customer emailed a few days after receiving the component, asking what they could do to "tame the highs" that they were experiencing in their system with the new component.

As a dealer, I run across scenarios like this quite a lot. Essentially it is a synergy issue, but at it's core is usually a choice made and a deep attachment to a component that has some amazing strengths sonically, but is simply not a neutral component. Read my response to the customer's email below:

"...Many times I find a customer has carefully "tuned" their system with cables & other components to accomodate a particular component in their system that they are deeply attached to. A component with some great strengths, but perhaps not quite neutral. When when they introduce a new component to this system, the sound of their system changes completely. They usually end up assigning this new sonic characteristic to the new component, but in fact what is happening is the new component is simply throwing off the delicate balance that was created to accomodate the original component for which essentially every other component and accessory was chosen. 
You have probably spent years getting your audio system to sound the way you want it to, and you chose a certain path/methodology to get it to sound the way you like. It sounds to me like the (component) is simply not synergizing with your system, and to get them to synergize might be impractical.
I am thinking this because in every other listening experience that others have had with the (component), no one has felt the desire to tame the high frequencies. Quite the opposite has occured in fact. Listeners describe the sound as a bit laid back and forgiving.
What your experiencing could also be due to the speaker/speaker cable/amp interaction. These three combine to make an electrical circuit, and the resistance, inductance and capacitance of that circuit can affect the sonic balance of the system. A low capacitance circuit might cause the highs to be accentuated. In that case, one could choose a speaker cable with higher capacitance..."
"...I hope I didn't offend you, that was not my intent at all. There are many, many paths to creating a great sounding audio system. It is a deeply personal quest for the audiophile. One with many options, and frought with much confusion. It sounds to me like you have in place a system you like very much. We may be able to improve upon it, but we may not. Either way, it's fun exploring the possibilities. :)..."

What to do? 

Tell the client to scrap their entire system and start over? Probably not. What I decided to do was give them a few options that could possibly tame the high frequencies (the client was using loudspeakers with ribbon tweeters, which I suspect was the culprit, and the subject of deep attachment). They may work, but I suspect ultimately this audition will not result in a sale. The client has a deep attachment to their loudspeakers, and has spent years tuning the system to preserve the strengths he loves in his speakers, and bring into balance the potentially exaggerated high frequencies they may reproduce.

What are the lessons learned? 

1) We are analytical AND emotional creatures,  influenced by opinions, marketing, facts, and of course our senses (in this case hearing and seeing). We make choices based on all of these, and would like to think that we are correct in every aspect, and we are. For ourselves. That should be good enough, and I always tell my customers that your preferences are yours, don't let anyone tell you those preferences are wrong, because they are not you. There are many paths to putting together a musically satisfying audio system. It is my job to keep you on a cost effective path, which most of you are on. It is also my job to discern that path, and help you narrow your choices to components that match your tastes and existing system.

2) There is no one right sound, methodology or way to achieve your particular experience of sonic bliss. BUT, some ways are frought with less long term difficulty than others. It is one of my passions to keep clients from making mistakes, even if it means not making a sale. Sometimes I have to advise a client to consider a product I don't carry, or consider not buying anything at all.  In the short term, I lose a sale. In the long-term, I gain a friend who will continue to seek my advice, which may or may not lead to future business, but at the very least becomes a fulfilling relationship with a fellow music lover whom I can learn from.

3) Since this is a highly personal endeavor, building your system in a "vacuum" can be a slippery, expensive slope. Talk to people, read reviews, get a consensus on a component you are looking at auditioning before contacting a dealer. However, "experts" with strong opinions who attempt to verbally bludgeon others into agreement with them are 1) not fun to deal with and 2) are usually trying to sell you something or 3) validate their own beliefs (and importance). Take their opinions with a grain of salt until you can verify with your own ears what they are trying to persuade you to believe. There is a lot to be learned from other audiophiles. I learn so much from my existing customers. I find my exchanges with my customers to be incredibly valuable.

Over time you will find a few reviewers, dealers and audiophile friends who share the same preferences as you do. They will be a trusted, time and money saving resource for you. Some may even become long term friends. That is the beauty of our hobby in my opinion.

In the end, trust your own ears and intuition. Do your research before auditioning. Seek the advice of your trusted circle of friends. But ultimately YOU have to live with the system you build. Not your friends, forum buddies or reviewers you respect.

Happy listening. Enjoy the journey.