The Guru speaks: Auricle

professional Reviewer Questions

Aricle is amid project and wishes to remain vague on who he is. There have been a couple of other professionals in this experiment who have needed to do a check to see if this breaks any rules, so this is not new ground. I appreciate the input.
Submitted Bio: The reviewer has been involved as a hobbyist in audio since he built his first amplifier (a Stromberg-Carlson) in 1961. He has actively written reviews and articles since his freshman year in University. He now combines a former career in opera and love for classical music with an engineering background. He reviews gear at the behest of people and salons with whom he has an association. His newsletter is currently privately distributed though the possibility of an on-line “webzine” is being discussed.

1. Without giving the standard "weakest link" or "synergy" answer, what would you as the most important component?
Actually, the recording process. A lousy recording (and there are many). After that, the front end (if you cannot retrieve the information, nothing else will help.) However, all things are synergies and the "weakest link" principal applies in reality as well as a cop-out.

2. How did you cross over from hobbyist to professional writer?
I was a drama and music critic for the campus newspaper and a hobbyist in Jr. High so both were in me very early. I only publish sporadically for a private newsletter. My opinions are sent by email to my clients.

3. Review superlatives often give the impression of "huge gains". How do you reconcile years of "huge gains"?
Are they still that big? I cannot recall using the term since my impetuous adolescense. I have used the term "greater change than one might expect".

4. Is the sound often simply different and not better?
Almost always. I have a bias that requires natural sounding classical recordings. As even the best recordings are light years from being there, absolutely!

5. Do you have a clear metal image of great sound or does it require constant renewal? Are you in AB hell?
The hall. However, aural memory is treacherous. Therefore, I go to the hall very often and will listen to the bit under review after that, "A/B"ing with a setup I find tolerable. That is easy. 5a. How long does it take before your know how good a product is? Usually, not long at all. I find that comparing to live, and to known good recordings of the same work shortens rather than extends the process.

6. What are your audition strong points and weak points, i.e., what problems do you find most difficult to pick up in listening tests? What do you "hate to admit"?
Strong points: Natural sound, instrument timbre and hall ambience. Weak points: Things beloved of rock/hip-hop, etc are not a strong point. I use a younger set of sensibilities and ears on that. PRaT is an example. But I do not hate to admit it. It keeps my audience rather small, however.

7. What to you think is that "special something" is that makes some systems sound so good?
The synergies you cited so dismissively. No component/room/ear is without flaws, but when the flaws counteract each other a system can be surprisingly satisfying for surprisingly little money.

8. How much of the process is collaborative versus on your own?
Very little! Mostly on music that is not my Cuppa Tea.

9. The constant evaluations and power listening must be very hard. How do you keep it fresh?
I do not do it constantly. Additionally, the live classical/operatic experience does not allow excessive intensity on the pale shadow that is encompassed by recordings.

10. What are some of the secret terms you use to lets us know the component really is not as good as it could be?
No one likes being sued and I realize that many things are "subjective" So, in spite of the fact that I accept no advertising in my newsletter, I leave a loophole. My biases are laid out and well known. I simply say that it isn't a component that I would employ, but I try to lay out the salient qualities of the item. If ssomeone has different priorities from mine things the that matter to them and the qualities that appeal to them should be clear . . . assuming an IQ greater than a hat size, that is.

11. Someone recently said, "All SS amps not driven to clip sound the same". Do all SS amps sound the same?
Hell no! Allow me to explain. I was cursed. When young I had hearing that allowed (forced?) me to hear silent dog whistles and supersonic burglar alarms. I was a classical musician and I was a 1st class radio/telephone engineer who understands the differences in topologies. Of course all SS amps do not sound the same, just as all valve amps do not sound the same. However, in SS, amps of the same basic design are very difficult to tell apart in a blind test. The same design in valve amps does not avoid the radical difference in the valves themselves. That is easier, but the valve differences can easily obscur the circuit differences between amps.

12. Which components are peaking in the sense that you no longer have to spend a lot to get great sound? Spectacular sound?
Most of them! Honest sound that accurately portrays the hall? Very few of them.

13. When you get cornered at a party, what is the question asked most often?
I do not broadcast my audio activities. Indeed I publish more on other topics. Therefore, I am far more likely top be cornered on Social Security than on an audio topic!

14. How much should we envy Sea Cliff, really?
Well, things only matter as they sound in your environment and to your ears. I love wanking too, but wanking has an immediate and tangible objective. Sea Cliff's objective is a bit more subjective and abstruse.

15. What is the best listening experience you have ever had (other than live)?
The best, can't say. Several extraordinary experiences would be (in chronlogical order) The first time I heard KLH 9s with a Marantz 7c and 9 on chamber music. the first time I heard fresh Hartley Concert Masters on really complex orchestral material. Sitting within 50 feet of the massive sound system of Elton John's Central Park concert with a buxom young lass on my shoulders (yes, I can be seen in the film . . . I do not know whether I should be proud or slightly embarrassed!). "But that's live", you would say. "It was amplified", I will reply. Amplified ain't live. It is, by definition, reproduced! My own system of 30 years ago, Magneplanar Tympaniis with the upgrades, bi amped with Audio Research with seperate Hartley 24's for serious pipe organ. And a tuned room with nothing but the speakers, chairs and a fern. Stunning! None of these is close to the hall, so I refuse to say "best" or good, although EJ had enough amplifier power in Central Park to light half of Manhattan!

16. Without blaming engineers, where do you think the most loss in sound quality occurs, live to listener?
Recording and transfer to a consumer medium.

17. Have you ever been wowed by a $500-$1000 system?
No. But I have been by a $2,000 with a lot of custom work by a knowledgeable person with a good ear. Obviously, his time was free.

18. How much in analog is really the "Zen" of analog versus true accuracy of reproduction?
Depends on the bias of the listener. And the question is almost offensive. Both methodologies have serious flaws. Both get it wrong. In general (but certainly not always) I prefer the way analogue gets it wrong because it sounds more like the hall to me (except for dynamic range). As for the Zen of analogue . . . male bovine manure! I detest the difficulty of cleaning and maintenance and the Japanese Tea ceremony of playing vinyl, if you will. I long for the day that a convenient technology which is impervious to harm is better than a 100 year old technology. That day has not yet arrived, at least not for the things I consider paramount.

19. Will we ever find the Holy Grail in sound reproduction?
Dunno. I know we aren't close. Perhaps there is a breakthrough on the horizon?

20. So, which is it, tubes or SS?
Both, and neither. The synergies you do not wish to hear about are paramount here. I will say that I like valves somewhere in the chain, but where and how many depend on too many variables. And amplifier topologies are different and sound different into different loads.

21. What does the future hold for audio?
The same kind of emotive advocacy we have seen in the past. There is encouraging research going on but one wonders what the market potential is. As for live classical and operatic music which is my interest? Right now it is not good and getting worse.

speaker icon

Copyright: Peter J. Smith 2004 Return to