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February 2015
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Skoffin' Up Food For Thought
The Experts Say...
Roger Skoff gives his expert opinion on experts.

Article By Roger Skoff

 

The Experts Say... Roger Skoff gives his expert opinion on experts.

 

  On a radio talk show today, the host went into a whole rant about the recent 60% drop in by-the-barrel oil prices, and how it was a total surprise, even to the "experts". He went on to say that those experts not only included all of the top executives in the oil industry – men whose career and fortune (read that however you want) were directly dependent on their ability to know what oil price trends were going to be – but also experts in banking, in foreign policy, in economics, and in virtually every other area of business, government, and finance.

Not satisfied with just pointing out that one multi-billion (or even trillion) dollar ball-drop, he went on to remind his listeners that the oil price situation was by no means unique: In practically every area of endeavor, from business to the climate, to politics, to health care, to fashion, to the viability of alternative and renewable energy, there always are, and always have been "experts" to predict what's coming next  (Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the show's host said, gets a million bucks a pop for his opinions), and almost all of the experts, he said, are almost always wrong.

So what else is new?

In case you're not already aware of it, my professional training was as an economist, and, before becoming a Hi-Fi manufacturer (XLO cables), I consulted to some of the country's biggest and most important firms. Do you want to know an old saying among us economists? "If you put any dozen economists into any room to discuss any issue, they'll come out with two dozen opinions!" (Don't you agree, Bill and Lew?)

Did you know that, although nobody's ever actually met a visitor from another planet (unless those stories about Area 51 are true), the United States government still maintains a full staff of "experts" on communicating with interstellar aliens?

The fact of the matter is that "Opinions are like [noses] – everybody's got one."

That applies to just about everything, including high fidelity audio, and it's both a good and a bad thing: It's nice to be able to consult with someone  -- a friend or a professional reviewer, about the things or music that we are interested in, and sometimes it's even helpful. Other times, though, the opinion, like that of all those oh-so-high-priced-consultants-and-experts about the future of oil prices, isn't any better or more applicable than you could find free in a fortune cookie.  And it may even be a lot worse than what's printed on that little piece of paper: At least no one is likely to take the random pronouncements of a fortune cookie seriously and spend (read waste) money or time or other resources on following it.

Don't get me wrong, there really are times when expert input is necessary: If I'm sick, I will most certainly go to an expert – my family doctor or even a specialist – for a professional evaluation and recommended course of action.  But even that is an act of faith on my part, and there's no guarantee that the doctor I'm seeing will accurately diagnose and treat whatever's bothering me.  To cite just one example to illustrate this, a lady friend of mine came down with "The Show Plague" after attending CES one year and, for whatever reason, went to someone other than her regular doctor for treatment. During his  examination, that doctor asked if anything other than just the "plague" was bothering her, and she told  him of a set of symptoms that she had suffered and been unsuccessfully treated for by a number of other doctors over the last several years.

After she had finished, the new doctor asked her – quite without warning – how long she had had her parrot. When she -- flabbergasted because she had made no mention of any pet at all – replied that she did have a parrot, and that she had had it for about the same time as she had had her symptoms, he told her that she had psittacosis ("parrot fever"), prescribed medication for her, and suggested that she get rid of the bird. She did as he said and, lo, in just a short time, the symptoms followed the bird out the door.  The point here is not that that one doctor was able to spot her problem instantly and effectively treat it, but that none of the other "expert" and experienced physicians had been able to, and yet all had offered diagnoses, prescribed medication, and charged for their services.

Sometimes, too, even a "right" opinion can be a wrong one. Back in the early 'nineties, when I was reviewing for Sounds like… Magazine and my pal Tony DiChiro was President of Kinergetics Research (in short, at a time when we were both what other people might have described as "Hi-Fi experts") I was running Acoustat 1+1s as the "mid-top" speakers in my system, backed-up by the still-world-class Kinergetics subwoofers. Tony liked the sound I was getting and, because our two listening rooms were virtually identical except for one seemingly small detail, he assumed that a pair of Acoustats would be good for him, too. At the time, Acoustat had just come out with a new transformer design, so when Tony told me that he was going to order a pair, I asked him to also order a second pair for me.

When the speakers came – both identical models, shipped at the same time, from the same production run – I moved my old ones out of the way, set up my new ones, and let them "burn-in", which for that model was about a one-week process.  Tony had also gotten his and hooked them up at the same time, so after a week or so, when mine were sounding great, I called him to find out what he thought of his.

His answer was disappointing. He said that they apparently had not fully burned-in yet, because they sounded "thin and hard". I suggested that maybe his pair was, for some reason, just being recalcitrant, and that he should continue to let them "cook" for a while longer.

When after three weeks, though, they still didn't sound good, I went out to his house to see what was wrong, and found that, even though they were perfectly hooked–up, in almost exactly the same positions that mine were in my room, they sounded awful! It made no sense, so, to try to find out what was really happening, we loaded Tony's speakers up and carried them to my house for a direct comparison with mine, and... SURPRISE, they sounded wonderful.  The only conclusion that we could draw, because both our rooms and our other equipment were – except for that one small thing mentioned earlier – nearly identical, was that there was either something about my room that Acoustats liked, or about Tony's room that they didn't, and, so that Tony wouldn't be stuck with speakers that simply didn't work for him, I bought his pair, too, which is why I still, to this day, have three pairs of Acoustat 1+1s.

 

The Experts Say... Roger Skoff gives his expert opinion on experts.

 

A month or two later, Tony called me and said that I needed to come over to his house and hear his latest acquisitions: To replace the Acoustats, he had bought a pair of Bruce Thigpen's Eminent Technology Model 4 speakers, (sort of like Magnepan panels, but driven from both sides of the diaphragms) and they sounded terrific!

When I got to Tony's house and listened to the speakers, I was so impressed by them that I thought I might get rid of all three sets of my Acoustats and buy a pair of ETs. To that end, we loaded-up Tony's speakers and, once again drove to my house for a direct comparison and... the ETs sounded awful!

Now, here's the important part: If I, as a working audio reviewer at the time, had reviewed the Acoustats at my house, I would have waxed positive and bubbled-over about how great they were. And if I had reviewed the ETs, the review would have had nothing good to say at all, and would, instead, have truthfully expressed my disappointment with what I would have honestly believed to be a seriously flawed product.

THE PROBLEM IS THAT IF I HAD WRITTEN THOSE SAME TWO REVIEWS OF THOSE SAME TWO PRODUCTS AFTER LISTENING AT TONY'S HOUSE INSTEAD OF MY OWN, MY OPINIONS OF BOTH SPEAKERS WOULD HAVE BEEN COMPLETELY THE OPPOSITE.

That was when I lost faith in reviews and the entire reviewing process. If two truly good products can be honestly regarded completely differently by the same two experts in the same two different rooms, how can I, or any of us trust the opinion of even the most truthful, experienced, and honorable reviewer?

We could always fall back to the tried and true method of measuring things electronically or, for speakers, in an anechoic chamber, but the problem then would be that we don't listen with meters or in specially-treated acoustically "dead" rooms, so the test results would, like the opinions of the experts or, in fact, of anyone other than ourselves, listening on anything other than our own system, in our own listening room, with our own personal tastes and preferences, be completely irrelevant and without merit.

Far better to just let the experts say what they wish and have their own fun while we sit back, relax, and...

Enjoy the music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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