In The Works: Review BorderPatrol DAC SE or Can a HiFI Be Good or Evil

Does this DAC look like a seductress? That’s the scenario Jon Iverson paints in his review and follow up (and follow up ASWI) about the BorderPatrol DAC SE. In John Atkinson’s recent As We See It, he also muses on the Border Patrol DAC SE and the disparity between his measurements and how something sounds to, you know, people. This seemingly slam-dunk of a scenario, that measurements tell us if a hifi component is “good enough” for us to enjoy, strikes me as so much piffle.

The most important question pertaining to this scenario, good v. evil if you will, asks—What is our job as listeners?

Clearly, in the real world, people listen to music for pleasure, even if that pleasure is sorrowful, enraging, or any number of other emotions. People in the real world do not listen to music to determine the quality of a recording nor is listening to music a job or a one-way street that leads everyone toward accuracy according to the test bench. While we can put a given component on the test bench, the results tell us exactly nothing about how that component will communicate our music to us in our system. Not a damn thing.

Reviews and reviewers can pretend that they and their preferences hold the only key to the highway that leads everyone toward accuracy, but that’s nothing more than a self-serving myth. I’m going to let me friend Herb Reichert explain what I believe to be the role of the reviewer (from his review of the Border Patrol DAC SE in Stereophile):

The best I can do is tell you where the review component directed my attention, what it sounded like, and what thoughts and feelings occurred as I listened to my music.

Here’s Jon Iverson from his follow up review of the BorderPatrol DAC in Stereophile:

…here’s what I heard in BorderPatrol’s Digital to Analogue Converter SE: It purred like a sweet, sultry voice, softly caressing my ears, nibbling them gently, even as it lied to me with every word.

Calling Dr. Freud. Does this mean that when attending a concert one’s seat or standing position can be more accurate than another? Further still, does this “accuracy” necessarily mean that one person is getting more enjoyment than the poor schlub in the cheap seats? Of course not. To my way of thinking, telling someone what they can or cannot enjoy when it comes to listening to music contains more than a whiff of judgemental (theistic) condescending superiority. Ick.

Let’s say two people are listening to John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. One is a professional saxophone player, the other a professional race car driver. Do you mean to tell me that both listeners are listening for the same thing? Hardly. You see, experience is subjective (d’oh). How we experience the world depends on us as much as it depends on the stimuli. An architect will view Philip Johnson’s Glass House within the context of her knowledge base regarding architecture while an animal trainer may not have this same context within which to situate the Glass House (however both probably know that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones).

The important thing-of-it is—when looking at architecture, art, or listening to music for pleasure, how much or how little we bring to the experience simply doesn’t matter nor does some abstract (theistic) notion of goodness. I said this in an As Wee See It I wrote for Stereophile way back in 2010(!):

Let’s redefine high fidelity as being faithful to the passion for and discovery of music. This means that the best hi-fi is the one that perpetually fans the flame of this passion.

I’ve had the BorderPatrol DAC SE in-Barn since the Capital AudioFest but I’ve only now begun the dedicated listening. One thing I can tell right off the bat—the BorderPatrol DAC SE serves my music well. It is at once inviting and accurate to my sense of what it takes for recorded music to escape the bonds of reproduction. As Luther Ingram correctly posited—if loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

From the same ASWI from 2010:

When it comes to your appreciation of art, don’t listen to anyone who suggests that something he or she knows means more than your own experience.
My full review of the BorderPatrol will arrive in a few weeks. Stay tuned.