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Hyper-Fi


Because I'm a technician I've been on occasions drawn into Hyper-Fi circles as an advisor.

My experience is of people who don't actually listen or know anything much about sound, and in fact who don't seem to like music much.

Their world of audio electronics is alien to me as a tech and soundie. Their equipment is full of strange unpredictable and undetectable effects and phenomina that are clearly audible to Golden Ears but no-one else, and don't obey conventional theory. Instruments and measurements are replaced and even overruled by total subjectivism.

I'll be honest and say I find this scary. My world of electronics design is based on the idea that we know enough to make calculation with confidence, that it's a predictable science. In the world of Hyper-Fi I am stripped of these certainties, replaced by the shifting sands of subjectivist black magic.

I simply don't understand paying thousands of dollars for the technical extremeism of a transformer lovingly hand wound with Litz wire, then driving it with a pre-war triode. This is romance replacing rationality.

They seem to spend all their record playing time neurotically searching for inaudible sonic blemishes. The most important specification of the system being its price, and comparisons are really ding-a-ling measuring contests, “mine cost more than yours”.

In contrast, my experience of musicians is that they seldom have a home sound system good enough to reasonably audition their own recordings. They seem to spend all their money on making music, and are able to listen to recordings through the sometimes serious shortcomings of their system. Many use a guitar amp or two, loud but not very Fi.

If you are a musician who can listen through the mono tape player you got at the op-shop to the performance, smile and pity the Golden Ears who still hear the audio pea under ten matresses after spending a King's Ransom on pre-war triodes.

This isn't about technology, but rather the psychology of self-deception. They hear what they want to hear, and disregard the rest.

Many listening tests have been conducted since the 50's that have exposed the self-deception of Hyper-Finatics, generally along the lines of a technician making a show of changing speaker cables and the assembled reviewers and Hi-Fi Guru's agreeing on all sorts of differences, when the entire test was actually conducted using zip flex. No one jumped up and said “Hey, that's zip-flex, I can hear its sonic signature!”, rather they agreed on changes where there were none, noting improvements or deficiencies depending on what they thought they were listening to.

And who, I wonder, can be an impartial judge of a sound system they have spent $150-grand on? Who will then admit that one only one-hundreth of the price sounds as good, perhaps even better?

But my personal favorite was conducted in London with various systems set up behind an acoustically transparent screen. One of the “systems” was a real string quartet which the invited Golden Ears scored low on fidelity, and even accused of having crossover distortion.

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