In this modern day and age, the one and only firmly fixed guarantee in life is that ‘experts’ can truly get right up your nose.
And now, thanks to modern technology, they can also get right into your ears (anagram of arse, a well known cavity from which most ‘experts’ often speak).
I am talking here about the olde worlde (late 60’s) of high fidelity stereo (hi-fi), which had been playing very hard to get during my formative years. I suppose it’s the same with any other form of ‘science’ in its infancy. Much like computers, war or medicine today, but recent hi-fi miracles had been wrapped in a veil of incomprehensible mysticism and described in a jargon unmatched for unintelligibility since Milton Friedman (much like computers, war or medicine).
Let me state here and now, at the very start that I myself have always been a bit of a hi-fi freak. Even as a school boy I used to save up my pocket money to buy the very best, state of the art, American hi-fi magazine – Playboy, and would spend hours drooling over its photographs… Of glossy amplifiers and sleek speakers thank you very much.
I think there were some boys in my class who bought the magazine for entirely different reasons; apparently the short stories and the interviews were highly thought of too, but they were usually ignored by us purists.
After the time I’d spent looking at all that equipment worth thousands of American dollars, I must now say that my very first gramophone / record player / turntable / predecessor of the earliest form of CD player thing, was a bit of a comedown. It was called the Dansette Bermuda and cost all of thirteen English pounds (I was in England then), and all it did was play records, smell of warm plastic and look fairly tidy in a two tone grey.
Actually, now I come to think of it, the fantasy world conjured up by Playboy magazine made several aspects of reality look dreary by comparison: I seem to remember that my very first girlfriend was not a tanned, leggy blonde, did not have perfect teeth or even a staple in her navel. But to be fair, she did play records, smelt of warm plastic and looked fairly tidy in a two tone grey (her school uniform), so I couldn’t really complain. And, by a complete coincidence her name was also Dansette and she had a younger brother called Ferguson. However, I digress.
The point is that the true hi-fi freak would look upon a Dansette in the same way that Lewis Hamilton would regard a Hoola-hoop… simple to operate, but extremely unrewarding and very, very lacking. All the Dansette did, was to play the record while you listened to the tune.
After a time, the limitations of the system grated somewhat and I got fed up with listening to the Electric Light Orchestra (who remembers them?), whilst it sounded as if it was playing inside a tin bath at the bottom of a disused mine shaft.
So, a few years later (we’re in the mid 70’s now), I ‘upgraded the system’ (a technical hi-fi phrase meaning ‘parted with ten times the amount of money intended’), (very much like in computers, war or medicine). And what I ended up with was, according to the salesman, the hi-fi equivalent of a Mercedes-Benz, though I now realise it was merely an old Ford Escort with new seat covers.
Anyway, the upgrading process left me with the feeling that I had gained some considerable expertise, since the experts had got so far up my nose as to imprint themselves on my frontal lobes.
So while still in expansive mood, I bought a few modern hi-fi magazines, primarily because I wanted to keep in touch and more accurately, because the shop had sold out of Playboy. And I was astonished to find that in just a few short years, the whole hi-fi world had moved on apace without me. Latest developments clearly showed that my new ‘system’ was less than half a notch above the old Dansette, and had the same resale value of the old hoola-hoop.
For a start, it was no longer the done thing to just put on a record and listen to the tune.
Oh no my friend, in those days there were at least eighty-one other things that had to be listened to first. Some of them were fairly easy to understand: for instance, it can’t be that difficult to listen to the turntable (which produces ‘rumble’). Similarly it must be fairly easy to listen to the amplifier’s ‘wow and flutter’: after all, the amplifier is the bit with the ‘volume’, ‘bass’ and ‘treble’ knobs which, with a bit of judicious twiddling, can make almost any orchestra in the world, sound like the Electric light Orchestra in a tin bath down a disused mine shaft.
But my difficulties truly started when I read that one particular tuner (radio) had ‘excellent low-level ambience cohesion’ but gave ‘a shade too much splash on the transients’. How do you actually begin to listen to something like that then?
From there on in, my credulity took an all time bashing. On the next page, a critic actually reviewed the sound of two differing turntable mats – one made of a tacky plastic on the world renowned market leader, the Linn Sondek LP12 and the other made of glass on the close runner-up the Rega-Planar 2. He could somehow easily distinguish the ‘bass extinction and lack of tonal accuracy’ that were greatly improved by the glass mat. Or caused by it, I forget which these days.
Two pages further on, another critic fully evaluated the sound of a new kind of connecting cable with gold plated cores compared to which ‘ordinary cables were more muffled and gave a much less open sound’.
I could read no more. Suffering acute intellectual indigestion and flatulence, I gave a much more open sound of my own, and rushed upstairs to my hi-fi Ford Escort. I put a record on and listened very hard to detect the distortions due to the counterbalanced Shure SME series III, tone-arm bias compensator, the cartridge mount, the record cleaning brush and the speaker cabinet veneer.
The music sounded much like this: pya-dadda-POM paduddidi-FATAM; but then it always had. But now I was worried. Was that didi of the paduddidi a true tonal harmonic or was it lacking in upper-mid-range definition? Was there a thinness of the mid-band? And if there was, was there meant to be?
Should I bash out another £800 merely to read afterwards that the London Philharmonic were renowned all over the world for the thinness of their mid-band, and had collected many gold medals for the thin didis in their paddudidis. And then what about the wow and flutter, the tape hiss, the mains hum? Was belt drive or direct drive the best way forward for a turntable?
By the end of the afternoon I had convinced myself that all I could actually hear, was the glue in the speaker cabinets.
I was certain that I could detect a flattening of the treble roll-off, brought about by too much machine oil on the amplifier on-off switch. I could feel the noise created by the rubber feet on the cassette deck. I could sense the mid-bass distortion caused by my daughter’s Marmite fingerprints on the tuner dial.
That was way back then in the late seventies, and you would have thought with the onset of today’s new digital media, that everything should have been well and truly sorted. But alas no, each new technology brought forth its own inherent problems and whenever we part with our hard earned, now getting on for millions, we just know, that our new piece of kit will already be obsolete by the time we get it home.
So what was all the fuss about then? Did we really need to learn more and more about the shortcomings of our systems, when all we really wanted was a tune?
I put it to you now, that all our accumulated knowledge from those hi-fi purists, was nothing more than pure unadulterated bullshit. A clever ploy by the marketing gurus of the hi-fi industry whereby an ingenious strategy of marketing, involving the slagging off of a company’s own products, implored us to rush out and buy the very same company’s latest products. Be they still sub-standard but in some newly devised manner. It was absolutely, pure marketing genius.
“And where had all that new found knowledge really got me?” I ask myself.
Today, as I sit writing this piece surrounded by the best hi-fi kit that money can buy, I now turn my attention to my latest high fidelity acquisition, the hearing aid… the absolute pinnacle of my hi-fi career. And I recognise the feeling of aural paranoia brought on by all my earlier ‘training’ in a flash of regrettable déjà-vu.
It’s just like being back in front of my old Dansette again, hearing nothing more than squeaks, whistles and thumps above the roaring of the blood in my head through my reddened ears, and being told I am actually listening to the Electric Light Orchestra playing in a tin bath down a disused mine shaft.
The hell I am, I think to myself. I am more probably listening to the label on my underpants.
And this great newfound discovery is of huge comfort to me. I find it highly reassuring that both my new computer driven forms of hi-fi and medicinal hearing (and probably war too), now have so much in common.
Apart from the fact that war and medicine are probably still marginally cheaper, the nonsense, the jargon, the bullshit and the obvious lying are all exactly the same. And while my new hearing devices don’t play records anymore (although records are now making a comeback because the CD encoding deletes a lot of ‘tonal range’), they still smell of warm plastic and look fairly smart in a more modern two tone pink rather than grey. And this is what them so called ‘experts’ would have us believe, is progress.
Of course, it’s not only the hi-fi world that buries itself in this kind of ‘jargon’…
Much of today’s marketing demands that we place ourselves as ‘experts’ within our field, to command a higher respect, recognition and dare I say it, pricing within our chosen professions. And unfortunately, one of the laziest routes to becoming an expert is the old ‘baffle them with bullshit’ route where the use of oblique and often meaningless terminology can be seen to effectively convey a genuine understanding of what’s really going on… even when there is no understanding at all.
At Localad Services though, we fully believe that if truth be told, there really is no place or need for such inglorious waffle. Right from the start, we set out to tell it to you like it is. Just plain hard facts without the ‘jargonistic’ sugar coating, in an easy to follow, plain and simple English that even a five year old could understand. That way, we will both know what’s going on and we can fully work together to find practical and compliant solutions for your everyday projects.
Does that make sense?