In an address to an assemblage of physicists at the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1900, Lord Kelvin stated, “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.”
The smug hubris of the 1900s led many scientists—including the American physicist Albert Michelson who first measured the speed of light—to declare that everything is already known to us. This seems to be a consistent theme for those convinced we’ve arrived at perfection’s front door.
In yesterday’s post, we wondered where to go now that everything in high-end audio is so near perfection. It’s a great question and the same one asked by hi-fi buffs of the 1950s, and the 60s, and the 70s. And, you get the drift. At each pinnacle of technological perfection, we believe we arrived at journey’s end when in fact we’ve only plateaued on yet another ledge in the steady march towards audio nirvana.
The question then isn’t what are we going to come up with next because everything’s so good, it’s actually more like who will take the next big leap in furthering the art of home music reproduction?
We’ve just finished setting up Arnie Nudell’s personal reference speakers in our room at RMAF. These represent the culmination of one man’s lifetime of work in perfecting the art of reproduced music. They are a wonder to hear, and yet, they are not even close to perfect.
Perfection comes in steps and gulps. With each new arrival the horizon changes.
Our own worst enemy
In a recent Facebook post Michael Beckerman posited:
“High-end audio, in every iteration, is essentially a victim of it’s own success. They have been so good at what they do, for so long and have gotten so close to absolute perfection, that they have essentially pulled the rug out from under themselves with their own (technical) success. What do you tell (mass market) customers when what they already have is closer to perfect what they ever dreamed possible? How do you sell them new stuff when what they have now is more than good enough in their minds? When you are that close to a point of optimal, how do you continue to sell anyone on the idea of “better”? “
This is a very insightful observation but one that could benefit from breaking it down and changing its thought just a little. There are two interesting concepts at play: bringing the mass market into the fold, and where do we go once we’re in.
Bringing the mass market into the fold has long been the holy grail of the high-end. We even had our own lobbying group called AHEA that would try and route the unwashed into high-end audio. It didn’t succeed for any number of reasons, not the least of which was all the petty bickering among its members. But, I digress. I believe this idea of broadening high-end’s appeal is possible but not by trying to change minds about the purpose of a home stereo system. Rather, the equipment itself needs to change to suit the habits and goals of newbies. What success the French company Devialet has had would bear that thought out well.
The bigger question of where do we go now that we’ve arrived at the point of near-perfection is a subject worthy of an entire post, which we’ll cover tomorrow.