It started with what I thought was a pretty benign comment in a show report. Regarding my first exposure to a new Wilson loudspeaker at the 2016 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I concluded a short paragraph with this sentence:
"Luke Manley's VTL electronics, a dCS digital front-end, and Nordost cables preceded the Yvettes in a chain that was dynamically authoritative, timbrally correct, and emotionally communicative."
The report was posted on the TAS website and a few days later, this appeared:
And then, my correspondent had this say:
I realized that I wasn't entirely unsympathetic with Tonye's point of view. I've done my share of eye-rolling regarding the "I wet my pants" school of audio journalism. When "pace, rhythm, and timing" are attributes used to describe the sonic character of a preamp, or some middle-aged scribe tells us that a pair of stand-mounted mini-monitors must be the real deal because they compelled him to leap from his armchair and "boogie," we've got trouble. But does that mean that one's emotional response to reproduced music must be entirely discounted?
Well, it better not, or there's really no point to the high end.
Heading down to the listening room to determine if a given component accurately reproduces the sound of a high-hat isn't my idea of a hobby; it's not all that different from playing recordings of locomotives and thunderstorms to unwilling friends. Perfectionist audio isn't about sound — music must be the currency for the assessment and enjoyment of our gear. By all means, play some pink noise to position your speakers correctly but you're not done when the frequency response plot on your iPad looks nice. That's the time when you put on some Ella, Elgar, or Elvis to know if you've truly got it right.
We can, and must, use our affective reactions to music to judge the worth of the inanimate objects we fuss over as audiophiles. If we don't, they remain just collections of wires, tubes, cones, resistors, and MDF.
My online disputant went on to make the point that a "real performance can not be recreated by any audio system" and, of course, he's right. But that doesn't mean we have to settle for those Carter-era Radio Shack speakers. There's a threshold at which the fundamental nature of real music can be recognized. Our emotions can let us know if that threshold has been reached.