Hearing what you want to hear
We sometimes front-load our expectations into what we believe people will say or what a stereo system should sound like. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked into a room full of loudspeakers and prejudged their performance before the music started playing. Often, I am surprised, both pleasantly and otherwise.
The problem with preloaded expectations is we have to work past them to get to the core of what’s really there—yet, it’s often those very expectations that drove us to try something new in the first place.
When I am told what to expect from a piece of audio gear or new technology, the results can go one of two ways: I am happily rewarded or sadly disappointed. The problem with this process is we can often miss the underlying truth blurred by our preconceived notions.
It’s not always possible to audition new gear without the burden of expectations but, when we get the chance, it’s likely to give us a more honest result.
Wouldn’t it be wild if we could bring some of the early audio pioneers like Emile Berliner, Thomas Edison, Alan Blumlien, or even Alexander Graham Bell into the future? Sit them down and play for them a modern stereo system. From their perspective, I’ll bet they’d think we had made magic.
In a way, we have.
I remember hearing a vintage JBL system that once would have been the pinnacle of sound reproduction. It was memorable not for its perfection, but because it sounded so contrived. I was not listening to music, I was listening to an obvious contrivance, a HiFi, a recording. Good? Yes. But compared to even the simplest of modern systems, it couldn’t hold a candle.
Progress comes in small little bites that might seem big when you’re in the middle of them, but lasting change comes only from their accumulation. How many thousands of hours did audiophiles spend tweaking their JBL systems into perfection only to be eclipsed over time by the accumulation of shared knowledge that resulted in real innovation and progress?
The future is built brick by brick, layer by layer. Each tweak, each improvement we make adds up, but only over time.