Reductio ad absurdum: HiFi’s False Prophets and the Myth of the Perfect Amplifier

If you think about it, all birds sound the same.

They sound like birds. Not tractors, not lutes, but birds. This, in essence, is what some people in the big wide wonderful world of hifi would have us believe.

All competently designed amplifiers sound the same.

The gist of this argument says that hifi components have but one job to do, e.g. amplifiers amplify, and any deviation from this job is bad. Evil, even.

I get it. Platonic idealism is cool, and the notion that once we are born into this world we are bad, evil even, has grabbed hold of our imaginations since before year 0. This love of ideals and institutionalized guilt is deep seated in our collective consciousness, so its no wonder we find these things being applied to hifi like a fresh coat of paint over a picture window.

The thing of it is, reality intrudes on this simplistic notion. All birds do not sound the same, even different tractors sound different, so it should come as no surprise that all competently designed amplifiers do not sound the same. This is not a deviation from the norm, it is the norm.

Why don’t all amplifiers sound the same? Because amplifiers are made by people, and different people have different preferences when it comes to how they like their music to sound when played on a hifi. If you come across someone trying to tell you what you should listen through, what is best in some ideal sense, you have found yourself one of HiFi’s False Prophets.

HiFi’s False Prophets attach a dualistic world view to hifi, as silly as that sounds, by trying to convince us there’s a right way and a wrong way when it comes to listening to music. The sermon sounds something like this:

“As long as you know you’re listening to distortion, you can enjoy whatever you want.”

Or

“You cannot call that better, but you can say it’s what you prefer.”

You see what’s happening here? You can like whatever you want, even bad things. If only you were one of the enlightened, you would see your moral failings and buy an amplifier that measures as close to neutral as is humanly possible. It will never be perfect, none of us are, but we must strive towards these ideals because that’s how progress happens. That’s how things get better. That’s what ethics demand!

The fact of the matter is, HiFi’s False Prophets use pseudo science towards nefarious ends when they place ideals above experience. And those ends are to have you believe that they, HiFi’s False Prophets, are vastly more knowledgeable and important than the people who design the hifi gear we listen through. The attempt to serve up that age-old cocktail of presumed intellectual superiority with a splash of guilt is their big tell.

The scientific method does not run in reverse, as HiFi’s False Prophets would have us believe. We do not begin an inquiry with an ideal, and then go about trying to force feed this abstract into shaping our experience, reality be damned. That’s ass backwards, technically speaking.

If we want to be truly scientific about investigating hifi, we need to start measuring what goes on inside the listener when listening to music. This is, after all is said and done, where the real value of hifi resides.