Our mail, in recent months, has brought a number of comments (some of them printed in this issue) from professional audio men who decry the fact that developments in the audio field seem to have come to a screeching halt.
There would seem to be some justification for believing this, too. There hasn’t been a new kind of loudspeaker, amplifier, pickup, or tuner for the past five years or so. The professional engineering journals, once loaded with juicy articles about research and developments in music reproduction, are now devoted largely to public-address techniques and new methods for the “creation” of electronic music.
An employee of a major record company asserts that “good” recordings don’t sell. Many recording studios refuse to use microphones with truly linear low-end response because they make the sound too “muddy.” And The Stereophile has to depend almost entirely on subjective reporting of components because “specifications don’t tell the whole story.”
This certainly doesn’t look as if we already know everything that is to be learned about high fidelity. Yet an audio columnist from one of the professional journals told us that he and his associates had run out of things to research! If any field needs more answers than it has now, it’s the audio field.
Why don’t specifications tell the whole story? Why do “good” recordings sound less hi-fi to many people than lousy recordings? Why does a mike have to have its low end rolled off in order to sound natural? Are we conditioning listeners to accept low-fi as the standard of comparison? Or do people really prefer a low-fi reproduction to the real thing?
What’s the matter with measurements, anyway? Are we misinterpreting them? Using the wrong ones? Overlooking some that are just as important as the ones we now use?
Why does a transistor amplifier seem to make a dynamic speaker put out deeper, tighter bass than a tube amplifier that measures exactly the same? Why should the most stringent pickup tests still fail to tell us half as much about the pickup’s sound as a brief listening test?
Experts argue and speculate endlessly about these things, just as they do about narrow versus broad amplifier bandwidth, large versus small loudspeakers, and the importance of phase shift in reproduced sound. But why speculate? Why doesn’t someone who has no vested interest in the outcome dig into these matters and try to come up with some fairly conclusive answers?
Anyone who can blandly say there’s nowhere else to go in audio is simply overlooking the obvious fact that any unanswered question is an invitation to someone to seek an answer. And there are certainly plenty of unanswered questions in audio. Just pick a question, any question, out of the hat, and chances are it’ll be one that there isn’t a clearcut answer for. And if that isn’t a challenge for any normally curious audio devotee, he’s in the wrong field.J. Gordon Holt