Baby’s First Steps

Baby’s First Steps
Mike Silverton
January 2000

Noel T. Keen’s “Power to the People, Survey of Quality Power Cords from ElectraGuide, Magnan, Sahuaro, Shunyata and Tek-Line” is an impressive piece of reporting. A good many reviewers would have looked upon the coverage of a bushel-basket of similarly dedicated goods as a richly avoidable task. Printed out, “Power to the People” comes to ten pages of close-packed prose! We owe Keen our thanks for having taken the trouble to convey his impressions as clearly as he does.

Excuse an ingratitude, but Keen doesn’t say enough. It’s an omission common to most of us who convey our public impressions of audio gear. We neglect to take our audience’s measure.

There are people out there — professionals in fields relating to audio, electrical engineers, Ph.D’s — who find the notion of designer power cords as audibly superior to the wire at the bottom of the shipping carton a ludicrous scam. Best to state here that I line up with the observationalists (a.k.a. subjectivists) who celebrate those differences objectivists tell us we’re all imagining unless we can confirm them under the duress of science-lab procedure. We observationalists achieve our sense of community in rejecting objectivist paradigms as quite possibly flawed or at least irrelevant. We hear what we hear, it’s our God-given right, and more power to us! Yes, indeed. But to pretend that reasonable objections do not exist to observational evaluation is as damaging to our community’s credibility as the failure to account for what makes generally pricey power cords, for example, worth the added expense. It’s helpful to know that in a reporter’s opinion item A sounds better than (or different from) item B. It would be even more helpful to know what it is about A, however speculative the tech-talk, that sets it apart.

I do not know Noel T. Keen and therefore cannot say whether he, like me, lacks those qualifications which would allow him to comment from a fund of personal technical knowledge. Please don’t misapprehend my point: I am not suggesting that Keen, as an honest and attentive observationalist, is obliged to understand matters from a technical perspective as a prerequisite to an opinion’s expression. But I am indeed suggesting that anyone who reports on a controversial subject cannot in fairness ignore the doubters in his audience.

Keen would have done better to have sounded out the designer-manufacturers of the wires he evaluates on the nuts and bolts of their designs. Absent the highly unlikely event that Keen had disguised the tech-talk as his own — I can think of an audio journalist who does this routinely — it would be perfectly clear to the reader that a reporter is merely passing along the thoughts of those responsible for items the audible effects of which are the reporter’s legitimate concern, and at which, in fact, Keen does so well.

In other words, the observationalist reporter should always bear in mind a kind of bête noir in the person of the skeptic who needs to know the why of how something sounds.

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