Seeking an End to Relativism

Relativism is the name given to the idea that whether a thing is good or bad is entirely dependent on a person’s point of view.

That there is no Absolute better and worse, no Absolute good and evil.

Relativism is most often used by people who are trying to push their particular point of view in order that they can make more money and gain more power. [it is my opinion that good people resort to relativism only because they are insufficiently schooled at rhetoric and are unable to argue the case convincingly – no matter if their case is Absolutely right].

Relativistic reviewers feel justified recommending every single piece of equipment as the ‘best’ saying that it will be the best for ‘somebody’ out there, so why not. The fact that they think it stinks means nothing, its just their personal preference.

OK. Some examples:

JV: arc-ref-610-vs-vtl-siegfried-800

And I quote:

“I’m not quite sure what is irrelevant about pointing out that even back in the day there was no single best, which is the point i was making about the VTL and the ARC amps. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that i got the VTL Siegfrieds and compared them to the ARC 610Ts. You already know how I feel about the 610Ts–I prefer their neutrality, their luminousness, their bloom, their naturalness to any other tube amp I’ve heard in my home or at shows. For the sake of argument, let’s say that I continued to prefer the ARC 610Ts’ presentation to that of the VTL Siegfrieds, at least on Magico and MartinLogan loudspeakers, my question is: So fucking what? Who appointed me King of the Audiophiles? Who appointed Pearson King? or Cordesman? “

Besides the fact that luminousness and bloom is just not the ARC’s forte, ARCs are better amps than VTL for everything but the ultimate “I don’t care about anything else but raw nuclear-strike level macro-dynamics” Boy Toy systems.

Based on JVs comments in that thread, and the rooms he likes at RMAF 2010, I would say that he prefers a cross between Boy Toy and Practical systems [i.e. big loud systems that you can kind of casually listen to music on].

From the relativistic point of view, JV is off in his own personal universe and his preferences mean nothing to anybody else but him.

From the absolutist point of view, he currently prefers a particular type of categorizable system and his preferences are completely valid for all other people looking for that kind of system, as well as to those off us who can write off his preferences because we are NOT interested in that type of system. In fact, the more he talks about his preferences and what he likes, the MORE useful it is for absolutists.

Another example:

Jacob Heilbrunn: vtl-siegfried-power-amplifier-75-series-ii-preamplifier

A couple of quotes:

It was wide open, passing a tremendous amount of information—the most that I have heard from any preamplifier, excepting the Messenger, which passes a pinch more. Once again the VTL trademarks were there: an extremely dynamic, transparent, and fast sound. No part of the frequency spectrum was unduly emphasized, but the presentation was far from the traditional tube one. Lovers of a more romantic sound will find the 7.5 to be too stark and neutral. I didn’t. The verve and zest, the dynamic power and scale with which it reproduced music made it hard to fault”

I am not familiar with Jacob’s writing. Some of this is reviewer CYA speak, some of it is [sometimes I think deliberate] inexperience.

“the most I have heard from any preamplifier” – this is Absolutist-speak but using relativism to cover his ass. Does the casual reader know just what preamps Jacob HAS heard? [No. They interpret this as an absolute comparison with the ENTIRE WORLD of preamps – this is a reviewer for gawd sakes, they know and have heard everything! – this pre has the mostest].

Jeez, a treasure trove of reviewer-speak here:

“Lovers of a more romantic sound will find the 7.5 to be too stark and neutral. I didn’t.”

The first sentence is vacuously true for any amp: Lovers of a more romantic sound than what amp X is able to provide will find amp X too stark and neutral. The ‘hint’ is that the VTL is stark and neutral. The “I didn’t” is to move the statement from any absolutest conclusion into the relativist’s personal preference domain. He, the all-knowing all-powerful reviewer writing the review did not find the amps too start and neutral, which tends to call out lovers of more romantic sounds as having personal preferences that are somewhat ‘abnormal’.[this is reiterated and confirmed later on in this review where he also later devolves into referencing the trumped up small tube / large tube/ solid state wars].

Not picking on Jacob in particular; this is how 99% of reviewers absolve themselves of any responsibility for describing what things really sound like and moving all observations firmly from any tint of absolutism over into the subjective relativism domain.

In fact, the VTL is NOT overly stark and neutral. Their sound has a dark veil over the harmonics [maybe that is what stark means?], little or no micro-dynamic capability, has difficulties with note decay and other things that are off-putting to lovers of these other, critical, parts of the music. It is not their use of any particular technology, which so many relativists would have you believe, that is off-putting to people who do not favor these amps over some others.

“There are few other tubed amplifier in production that can challenge its dynamic sweep.”

Now, this statement in the concluding paragraph goes the other direction. Making an absolutist statement, but coaching it in so many qualifiers that it is near useless.

I think one can safely say that “This amp is currently lord of macro-dynamics.” [referring only to home audio amps and not the monsters at, say, the Stone’s concerts!]. Just tell people what it sounds like. This way, if someone really wants macro-dynamics above all else, they can get these amps and be very, very happy. Dealers are happy, the reviewer is happy, VTL is happy. But with these reviews obfuscating the situation with his personal preferences this, and your personal preferences that and referencing tube vrs solid-state wars and etc. the review is just confusing to most people who are trying to figure out what amp to buy.

The point here is then that personal preferences can be categorized into just a few absolute kinds of system sound [a simplification, yes but a very useful simplification, like many, many other models of reality we use everyday], and equipment can be described using language that refers to its absolute good better best for each [limited set of] attributes of sound, and with respect to the kinds of system(s) that the equipment is targeted at.