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Inter.view to Harry Pearson, Editor of The Absolute Sound

by Lucio Cadeddu

Italian version

LC >
I think the HiFi world is heavily crowded with tons of new products each month and, according to the HiFi magazines, it seems we really NEED every single piece of electronic equipment that manufacturers design. How much of this is for real and how much is just hype?
How do you see the current HiFi market ?

HP >
You've asked three questions in one.

First you ask if we need every single piece of electronic equipment now being designed?
How could I possibly say? I think the explosion of designs in the High End are symptomatic of the health of a field that others have said is dying. This is the most creatively stimulating period for designers since the early Seventies and there are more interesting and good electronic designs out there at once than there have been in a quarter of a century.

Then you ask how much of this is real and how much is hype.
If you read the answer to the first question, then you know I think most of it is real. There is always hype. I believe it to be in the minority, but the hypsters have awfully big mouths and are inflated with their own self importance.

Then you ask how I see the current Hi-Fi market.
And I answered that with the first question. It's a golden age.

LC >
Linked with the previous question here's another one: many HiFi manufacturers are jumping into the Home Theater wagon and a pletora of center channel speakers, subwoofers and *Cinema-ready* speakers are comin' out every day.
This situation reminds me what happened back in the '80s when the market was invaded by thousands of *Digital-ready* speakers, amplifiers, cables and the like.
Given the fact that I enjoy the Home Theater very much I still believe that (analogue) stereophonic reproduction is the best way to enjoy our beloved Music.
Which is your point of view on this subject ?

HP >
What is my point of view on Home Theatre.

That most of it is hype. That it is not High End. That home theatre equipment is not designed for music playback. That the requirements of music and of reproducing movie sound are entirely different, the second having more in common with public address systems than hi-fi systems.

LC >
I love vinyl. Not that I hate CDs but I think there's still a big difference in the way digital and analogue media communicate Music. Analogue equipment manufacturers are still designing new stuff (TTs, cartdriges etc) hence it seems the interest in analogue Music reproduction is high and, probably, raising.
The DVD seems to be all the rage today and I'm afraid (well, not seriously...) the CD will be replaced very soon.
I think this more a commercial move than just technology progress. I'd like to hear your views on this subject.

HP >
I think that the DvD propagandists have killed the High End of the digital market. Nobody is buying serious digital designs (some of which are quite extraordinary) because everyone is afraid the stuff will be obsolete in short order.
I don't think the CD is going anywhere anytime soon, but I do believe there will be an advanced CD system (with more bits and a much higher sampling rate) designed to be compatible with the present system and that we shall its emergence before the turn of the century.
I think that DvD may well replace the laserdisc as the preferred medium for home theatre and simply because its picture is sharper. But the sound is worse than laser disc, audibly so and a step backward.
Home theatre people don't really care about quality sound per se, they want it big and spectacular with gut-wrenching bass.
I really believe that LPs are still the best investment, sonically and musically. The problem is this: Little of today's serious musicians and serious music is being released on LP (if any). Recordings from the Golden Age are everywhere, but you can't sell new analog vinyl issues.

LC >
Many audiophiles believe that advertising is corrupting both the HiFi market and the HiFi magazines.
Too many *best item on Earth* reviews are really confusing and people don't know whom they can trust in.
According to us the best way to write REAL reviews and equipment listening tests is the no-profit way. No money, no advertising, just plain simple real opinions. This has always been the TAS code of conduct, too.
Can you explain your *unbiased* views regarding this subject to our readers ?

HP >
TAS has taken ads for more than a decade. It isn't the advertising that corrupts; it's the lust for advertising that does. And the bottom-line sensibility that has taken over so many of the American publications.
Almost everyone, save TAS, pulls punches. The only guys who get negative reviews are those with few dollars to spend on advertising. The big spenders are treated with a reverence that should be accorded only to the Almighty.
The best way is not the no-profit way though, because audiophiles don't support advertising free journals (because they cost more and we are all used to getting our information dirt-cheap).
The best way is the fearless way, reviewing all components without fear nor favor.

LC >
An excellent example of the power of the Internet is given by the mailing lists (not the newsgroups, too much *flames-infected*) such as analogue-addicts, for example.
What's your opinion on the Internet as a media to exchange ideas freely ? Do you believe there's a future for Internet magazines and newspapers (as long as they remain free)?

HP >
I quite dislike most of the Internet discussions on audio. They are the deaf trying to speak to the deaf. I find few stimulating ideas and almost no good criticism on the Net, where everyman becomes a "critic". And where virtually every man is unqualified to criticize.
I don't think there's any future for Internet magazines that are free. Once someone figures out how to publish on the Net profitably, then it will be a different ballgame. But some of us hate reading off a television screen and want to hold our magazines in our hands.

LC >
You say that no-profit mags cost more. Why. My mag is entirely FREE and I pay everything: web space, domain and Internet connection.
So my readers don't spend a single buck to read it. Then it's true that some of us prefer a dead-tree magazine but please consider that printing of web pages is allowed.
Also, people are prone to TRUST in something that is written just for Passion and not for earning money. For me, this is the way to go.

HP >
I was talking about a print magazine as opposed to a zine. And I meant, of course, that it costs more to the reader.
The truth is that I've been thinking of superseding TAS with a non-commercial newsletter published 10 times a year and most written by yrs. truly. But I know that a regular magazine cannot long subsist ad-free unless there is some gimmick (ie, Consumer Reports).

LC >
Printing has costs not comparable to Internet-publishing. For this reason I've decided to pay everything from my own income and keep my mag FREE from commercial contacts of any kind.
I don't even collect www links, except the ones to the manufacturers interviewed by me on TNT.

Printing my mag would be a financial nightmare, of course. My collaborators also write FOR FREE as they like the no-profit non-commercial idea so much. And HiFi manufacturers like the idea of having their designs reviewed by someone who does it just for Passion and not for Money.

As long as there are audiophiles who enjoy listening to and tweaking HiFi components and don't need to earn money there will be collaborators to my mag.
Writing for a paper mag doesn't necessarily certificate proper knowledge and criticism. Actually I think it's just the other way around: many paper mag reviewers start writing listening tests just because friends of friends of friends of ....etc.
Writing for free automatically makes a selection between the *serious* and the *gimme-some-money-and-I'll-write-of-everything* guys.

HP >
You didn't ask. But TAS is alive, if not well. Its financial problems have nothing to do with the marketplace but rather with fiscal mismanagement on the part of several past employees and crooked behavior on the part of one, which did precipitate our current crisis.

Courtesy by Harry Pearson for TNT.

Copyright © 1997 Lucio Cadeddu

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