The Speaker Guru speaks: Srajan Ebaen

Professional Reviewer Questions

1. Without giving the standard "weakest link" or "synergy" answer, what would you view as the most important component?
The listener since he/she is having the experience, followed by the room from a technical perspective, followed by the speaker + speaker/amp interface and how well the speaker is positioned within the room.

2. How did you cross over from hobbyist to professional writer?
Marc & Doug at SoundStage! gave me a chance and then it was self-publishing.

3. Review superlatives often give the impression of "huge gains". How do you reconcile years of "huge gains"?
Are they still that big? Absolutely not. There very often is very little that separates components but a highly resolving system might amplify those little differences. Occasionally, a *combination* of gear will do the old better-than-the-sum-of-its-parts gig but in general, I'd say that the biggest "huge gains" come not from never-heard-before performance but from performance that costs a lot less than it used to. That can be a huge gain, albeit in terms of money saved rather than new peaks conquered.

4. Is the sound often simply different and not better?

5. Do you have a clear metal image of great sound or does it require constant renewal? Are you in AB hell?
My body knows -:) It's like follwing in love. There's no check list, something in you simply responds and *then* you might try to figure out the what and how of it. It's not a mental thing at all.

5a. How long does it take before your know how good a product is?
If I get a product fully broken in and give it a week to settle in, usually not terribly long but remember,it's not knowing a product is good but your ability to describe why and how it might differ from others. *That* part occasionally can take longer. You know something's different but figuring out what it is and how to describe it can be the tuff part. If a product creates a wowie whiz-bang reaction, you need to live with it longer to find out whether the initial reaction proves out over the long haul or whether the spectacular aspects cover up something else or are simply out of balance.

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"?
I don't hate to admit anything. We're all human, we're all fallible, reviewers aren't a superior breed of people and most of us know less about the technical side of things than we should - few of us are bona fide engineers. I'm not very strong at picking out mild frequency response aberrations. Certain folks spend 1 minute and pronounce a 1dB lift at 300Hz - and they're right, too. I can't do that. I tend to key in on musical energy transmission, transient fidelity, dynamic verisimilitude over other parameters that trigger other listeners or writers.

7. What to you think is that "special something" is that makes some systems sound so good?
If anyone knew, we'd bottle it and rule the audio waves, no? Fact is, we all listen for different things and get triggered differently. What does it for me may not do it for you and vice versa.

8. How much of the process is collaborative versus on your own?
Nearly 100% on my own. If I didn't trust my own hearing, I'd be in the wrong business. That doesn't mean I don't value feedback but in the context of signing my name under a review, it means I wrote it based on what I heard.

9. The constant evaluations and power listening must be very hard. How do you keep it fresh?
By constantly listening to new music that's exciting to me; by focusing on the writing part as a means for self expression and to improve my abilities to describe hard-to-describe nuances in new ways; and by not being concerned over nailing *it* 100% (since much of that is a function of room and system context) but concentrating instead on what I call the "caricature", meaning the kind of sketch a Venice Beach artist might make. His sketch doesn't look like you but anyone in a crowd of 100 would pick you out based on the sketch because it captures the essentials and overstates them for emphasis.

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 secret terms or hand shakes.

11. Someone recently said, "All SS amps not driven to clip sound the same". Do all SS amps sound the same?
Clearly not.

12. Which components are peaking in the sense that you no longer have to spend a lot to get great sound?
All of 'em if you get the right ones. How much better than a Gallo Ref3 can you get if your room is of average size? How much better than an Audio Zone integrated if you don't need huge power? How much better than a MiniMax CDP if you aren't after ultra rez? The base level of competence keeps climbing and the advances at the bleeding edge shrinking in all categories.

13. When you get cornered at a party, what is the question asked most often?
Reviewers going to parties? Are you kidding? We all need a life and parties ain't part of it -:)

14. How much should we envy Sea Cliff, really?
That's the worst question yet. Who cares? Are you enjoying your system or worrying what HP is up to? If the latter, you really need to get a life. Ditto for anyone worrying about my system.

15. What is the best listening experience you have ever had (other than live)?
I've played in the symphony orchestra. There's nothing that comes even *close* to that experience. It is oceanic. Everything by comparison is fake. That said, Jim Smith's system in Atlanta, GA.

16. Without blaming engineers, where do you think the most loss in sound quality occurs, live to listener?
Compare master tapes on a Stellavox to a really superior LP and you *know* how much you just lost. Go to CD and there's more loss. How does what isn't captured in the recording process compare to what is lost in the signal path of the playback chain compare? No idea.

17. Have you ever been wowed by a $500-$1000 system?
Sure. A crappy old car stereo in a rental with bad reception but playing some killer music that caused me to pull over to not lose the signal and wait for the announcer to tell me what it was - he never did say -:)

18. How much in analog is really the "Zen" of analog versus true accuracy of reproduction?
Wouldn't know.

19. Will we ever find the Holy Grail in sound reproduction?
Depends on what you expect to find. Live and playback are different, period. It's not a matter of getting them to be the same, it's a function of enjoying each on its own merit. If you do, you're already home-free and some mythical grail means nothing to you.

20. So, which is it, tubes or SS?
I prefer tubes but have reason to believe that someone will come along to do the tube thang without tubes. If so, good riddance to the tubes.

21. What does the future hold for audio?
I don't know. I'm more curious what the future holds for the human race on this planet.

Srajan Ebaen is writer for , thank you!

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Copyright Peter Jay Smith 2005 Return to