Meet the audiocrat.

First, there were a few boffins who wanted to improve their music reproduction equipment – as the bulk of this equipment was designed to suit the production system and its profit motive, not the music lover.

Then, came the corporate takeover – the injection of big money and big marketing in order to dominate the sphere – with their diktat “spend more to get more” and the added insistence “modern technology will always improve everything.” Both are very dubious claims.

Now, a backlash has inevitably arisen with the maxim: “everything new is inferior to everything old” and “the amateur is more enlightened than the professional”. This is also a cargo cult, a voodoo club of contrarian faith every bit as dishonest and disappointing as its corporate predecessor.

Adherence to ideology and dogmatism are the provinces of religious zealots and political zombies, not of the rational or inquisitive man. The corporate lobby (whose motives are profit, market domination and ego) plies the untruth that there is a linear correlation between price paid and pleasure received, brushing under the carpet both the exponential law of diminishing returns and lessons learned from interpersonal relationships.

The cost of corporate propaganda is high and must be recouped via high prices. These often-extravagant prices have created a counterinsurgency of the now-impoverished, confused audiophile whose reaction is to turn his back and seek his own reality. Sadly, he currently appears to be being led by charlatans of every possible persuasion peddling piffle, pseudoscience or outright bollocks. He is coerced into believing that the laws of physics are now either super-relevant-corporate-edicts or quite-irrelevant-banished-gods. And he must choose between one or the other.

Engineers are primarily interested in results, the means of achieving them being of lesser importance. Bureaucrats, on the other hand, are primarily concerned with processes, the results being less important. Thus, the traditional audiophile (an engineer) is interested in learning how audio equipment can best help him with the process of enjoying listening to music. The audiocrat (a bureaucrat), on the other hand, is primarily concerned with the equipment (the process) itself, the music being of secondary concern.

The audiocrat is convinced that just one more tweak of his system or one final purchase of the latest gadget will bring him to audio nirvana. He will keep dreaming, spending, tinkering and cajoling forever, if he can. It is even possible he has now rented a warehouse in which to store all the equipment his addiction has burdened him with. He is truly an addict.

He switches on, chooses a record… but no sooner has the music started, he jumps up to adjust something, cocking his head, straining for that revered detail his latest purchase guaranteed would be revealed to him – but never questions if this particular detail has any relevance whatsoever to the nature of enjoying music. He does not listen; he analyses sound.

And yet, despite his pedantry, he desperately seeks affirmation from those around him. Like a child, he needs to be constantly praised just as he needs to be constantly acquiring new toys, arguments and ideology in order to justify his addiction. His sickness, as are all addictions, is soul destroying: the belief that only through overarching control (of his audio system) will he be able to attain whatever it is he so persistently craves.

His fatal mistake, of course, is to exclude himself from the equation. He denies that his own perceptions influence the results he achieves by insisting that only the equipment, its arrangements and settings are responsible, and that his management of these variables are sacrosanct.

We have all had the experience: “Yesterday my system sounded great; today it sounds mediocre”. In response, most of us will reason that this phenomenon is an artefact of our own selves, but the audiocrat will invariably conclude: “I must change my amplifier (or whatever)”.

The system has not changed, the listener has, but, so blinded is he by his own control-freakery, the audiocrat denies his own perceptive variance and so blames the inanimate silicon for his own lacklustre mood. We’ve all done it, but only a fully-fledged audiocrat will keep on doing the same thing (blaming the equipment) whilst each time expecting a different result (the great sound he heard yesterday). This is a good example of Einstein’s definition of insanity.

One can only get back what one puts in (there is no such thing as a free lunch) and denying the role of one’s own perceptions in the subjective matter of listening to music is frankly absurd. Only when one abandons one’s ‘self’ to the music – allows it to wash all over and through one’s every fibre – can one receive of its love.

To constantly intervene is to never permit a result. In so doing, the audiocrat condemns himself to forever live in a land of limbo, mumbo jumbo and ennui, surrounded always by the inanimate products which have come to both disappoint and dominate him.

The audiocrat will never be satisfied because he does not want to be satisfied. He wants an ongoing process which absorbs his time and energy, and he demands always to be in control. If he was to be finally satisfied, what the hell would he do with the rest of his life? Listen to music?

SYD reborn

After more than thirty years of trying to make a ‘pure’ record player, this is what I’ve ended up with:
The record player stripped bare by its guardian. (With apologies to Marcel Duchamp)

This is a record player for the music lover, not the audiophile. It is for listening to music, not hi-fi.

It is an authentic entity in a time of universal deceit: raw, unadorned and reduced to its essence. You only need to learn to love it, as you do your wife and children.

“The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility, it’s right. If it disturbs you, it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.” (Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

It must be understood that the listener’s state of mind is as important to the experience of hearing as is the sound being heard. It is not possible to have one without the other. The madness of audiophilia is its refusal to accept the subjectivity of emotion. It ignores the human.

Of all the machines I have designed and built, the S9 remains my favourite. I keep returning to it, because it is inherently ‘right’. It is the only one of my designs that has evolved over time. This version (#3) looks and feels like a machine tool because it IS a machine tool – in service to music.

From an engineering standpoint, a record player is not such a difficult thing to design and make. But when we consider the psychological aspect – how we emotionally respond to the machine – design becomes much more difficult, as emotion is a subjective thing that cannot be measured, quantified or programmed. Unlike the machine, the emotional response is constantly fluid, labile and irrational.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” (E.F. Schumacher)

Good design, like all art, is about expressing an idea as simply and directly as possible. Why make anything any more complicated than it needs to be? Form follows function, decoration is superfluous, and complexity is the precursor to failure.

The essential characteristics of the gramophone record and its means of reproduction were laid down over one hundred years ago and, despite incremental improvements during subsequent decades, remain fundamentally unchanged. The unnecessary application of new technology does not guarantee ‘betterment’ and the law of diminishing returns (the entropic law of thermodynamics) is always applicable. In plain English: “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.”

I will produce just five machines per year, by my own hand. I will invite each buyer to visit me, to receive personal coaching regarding installation, setup, maintenance and understanding.

I will make each machine to last, not decay. Providing it is not abused it should continue to perform its function for decades. And, should it be discovered in a cave some hundred years hence, any competent craftsman should be able to discern its function and rekindle it. This is the joy of its simplicity.

If you would like to reserve one of these machines for yourself, please contact me by e-mail and let’s start a conversation. We create beauty in order to make the world more meaningful.

This S9 comes in a double-walled carton: 50x50x20cm (WDH); approx. 20kg mass.