Audiophile Insanity – Trust Your Own Ears

Do you ever get the feeling that you are going slightly insane?

Have you been hearing voices in your head? Voices of hi-fi reviewers that you have never met, heard or even seen a picture of invade your senses and seemingly overwhelm you usual calm, considered and mostly sensible demeanour. The upgrade demons are in your head and no amount of rational argument by your other half is going to convince you otherwise.

Eventually you give in and admit it. An upgrade is required.

The problem is, from experience, you nearly always regret the change you’ve made.

The process towards usually goes something like this:

A week before everything was fine and dandy. Your system was playing beautifully. Highs are high and smooth lows are low and rhythmic and the midrange was oh so natural and welcoming. You listen to your favourite CD’s/LP’s with not a care in the world. Simply put you are enjoying music – not the system – just the music. At that moment in time that is all that matters.

Then the inevitable happens. You pick up a copy of the latest hi-fi rag to hit the shelves that day. On the front it states that there is a review of a component in your system. Let’s say that it is your source component. For the purposes of this article it’s your current, beloved CD Player. The one you negotiated long and hard with your wife to buy (read whinged and moaned for weeks on end until she cracked just to shut you the hell up). This should be interesting. You know, however, in your heart of hearts that at that moment you should drop the magazine as though it were coating in nuclear waste and run out of the shop as fast as your legs will carry you without looking back.

But you don’t. You buy the magazine and, invariably, your hi-fi world starts to crumble before your ears. First thing to strike you is that the reviewer, who you may or may not have heard of (it doesn’t matter anyway – for some reason where hi-fi is concerned if it is on the printed page, no matter who put it there, it must be the truth) has awarded your beloved CD Player 3 measly “thumbs up” out of 5. Pardon? Three out of five. What’s going on?

You flick to the front of the magazine to see what this rating actually means. Good. Just plain old good. Not excellent (4 thumbs up) or outstanding (naturally, five thumbs) but three. That’s only one above average. Oh dear.

The first time that you read the review you are away from your system and so cannot quickly prove the criticism(s) levelled at your CD Player wrong. In any case our first read is done in a defiant mood. How can any one have the temerity to write a negative article about your pride and joy? Grating, detached treble? Pah! No way. It’s as smooth as silk, integrating beautifully with the midrange. Slightly loose bass? Oh, come on!  Foot-tapping is the order of the day on anything with even the barest of rhythms. Even theose wonderful pink noise test tracks have your head nodding to some extrasensory rhythm. Very system dependent. Oh dear, this is one you cannot argue against. You’ve only heard the player in your system at home so you are unaware of is performance in other systems. Does this mean a total system overhaul if you happen to change say, your amplifier? Not even worth thinking about. You are happy with your system aren’t you

Well?

An answer would be nice.

Of course I am, you reply. You don’t notice the strange stares from fellow train passengers. Not everyone talks to themselves in public like that now do they?

Okay, so it’s off home with the magazine rolled up in your hands ready to beat the cat with it. Well if not the cat you will be beating your head with it before long. You don’t tell your wife, partner or significant other about the review. If you did, they would have filled the empty suitcase from under the bed and be on the motorway heading for their Mother’s house before you get through the first sentence of the review.

No, sensibly you keep your mouth shut. Subtle hints, you think, work better. Things like leaving the magazine lying around on the sofa where she/he will have to move it to sit down. All you get from this is a “can you put this away somewhere, you are always leaving these things lying around it makes the house look so untidy you know that my mother’s coming round next week and…..” etc.

The cat knows that you have lost the plot!

Even sitting reading the review making tutting noises, sharp intakes of breath and the occasional exclamation “Hah! What does this guy know!” will not elicit the response you are looking for. Like it or not they have seen the whole thing before and the believe me they know that the last thing you need is encouragement. Your mind is currently fuelling the fires of doubt as we speak. Oh and this is just the beginning.

A little later on you decide you are going to listen to some music. Prove that reviewer wrong.

You select a few discs. Grating treble? Lets try a CD with some powerful high female vocals. Loose bass? Lets try a Jazz CD.

So you listen. And listen some more. This sounds okay. No grating treble. Bass is fine. Then the reviewers words start tapping away in your head. And you listen and listen until eventually you find yourself analysing the hell out of your CD collection. You are no longer listening to the music. You are dissecting it piece by piece. Drums – snare has snap, cymbals resonant enough; Guitar – good leading edge definition, solo easy to follow, maybe a bit lost in the mix; Bass – good strong rhythm interacting well with drums etc etc.

Maybe you will convince yourself that you can hear the same thing as the reviewer – they are, after all, paid money to have their opinions in print. Surely that counts for something. Maybe I don’t listen properly.

You never stop to think that maybe the reviewer is wrong. The reviewer will not have spent years building up a system that matches yours. He will never have heard the CD Player in question in your system, in your room, with your music, with your ears. It is never going to happen.

In years gone by  I would invariably believe the audio gospel preached by these hi-fi experts and start the merry go round of auditioning new CD players, new speakers, new amplifiers etc over and over again driving myself crazy.

Sometimes times you have to trust yourself.

Go on give it a try.

Have confidence.

They are your ears after all.

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