A Bright Shining Lie…

Why ignoring an inconvenient truth is stifling system performance.

By Roy Gregory

The morning after Lance Armstrong appeared on Oprah to ‘confess’ the systematic doping that won him seven Tours De France, the journalist David Walsh (who pursued Armstrong so relentlessly throughout his career) was interviewed by the BBC. “What” he was asked, “made you suspect that Lance Armstrong was doping?” To which he replied, with a slightly mystified air, “It was obvious!”

And it was – to anybody who bothered to look past the hoo-hah and cheerleading, the major corporate glad-handing and the holier-than-though charity smoke-screen. Why did it take so long for the Armstrong lie to be exposed? Because too many interests had too much invested in maintaining the fallacy.

What has Lance Armstrong got to with audio? He’s the perfect example of people believing the most outrageous things, simply because it’s convenient to do so – and perhaps more importantly, inconvenient not too. When audiophiles say to me, “What makes you think that I need to move my speakers each time I change my amplifier?” it makes me feel a little like David Walsh. Come on guys, if you actually think about what you are doing – and more importantly – what it is you are trying to achieve, it really is obvious.

Right about now, many of you will be throwing your hands in the air in an expression of disbelief – a reaction uncannily similar to that of all those Armstrong apologists over the years of his domination. But rather than just dismissing the proposition because you KNOW better, take the time to think it through. It all comes down to the way in which a system works, the way we listen to it and the part played by the room.

So, why do you need to move your speakers if you change your amplifier? For years, the industry (magazines, reviewers, stores) and audiophiles have proceeded on the basis of comparative demonstration. If you want to audition a new/different component, you place it into a known system and the differences that you hear will tell you how that component sounds. In fact, the whole basis of this process is that you should change just one thing, so that the differences that you hear are the result of that change and nothing else, thus isolating the ‘sound’ of the new component. The problem is that there is a massive flaw in that proposition. The differences that you hear will indeed be the result of that component – but that’s not the same as saying that they define the sound of that component. What the differences actually represent is the sonic and musical impact of that component in that system in that set up and in that room. It’s those last two factors that completely undermine the value of the exercise. It’s not just that they narrow the relevance of the results to a given situation. After all, if you are auditioning a component in your system, it doesn’t/shouldn’t matter how it sounds in other systems – although more on that particular conundrum later. The real problem is that it’s not the differences that you should be interested in, but the benefits – and they represent a whole different question.