BLOG #64. High End Munich-2019: Full Blown OCPD


BLOG #64. High End Munich-2019: Full Blown OCPD

According to Wikipedia:

“Obsessive–Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) is a personality disorder characterized by a general pattern of excessive concern with orderliness, perfectionism, attention to details, mental and interpersonal control, and a need for control over one's environment, which interferes with personal flexibility, openness to experience, and efficiency, as well as interfering with relationships…

The main observed symptoms of OCPD are:

(1) preoccupation with remembering past events;
(2) paying attention to minor details;
(3) excessive compliance with existing social customs, rules or regulations;
(4) unwarranted compulsion to note-taking, or making lists and schedules;
(5) rigidity of one's own beliefs;
(6) showing unreasonable degree of perfectionism that could eventually interfere with completing the task at hand.

OCPD characteristics and behaviors are known as ego-syntonic, as people with this disorder view them as suitable and correct… people with OCPD are not aware of anything abnormal; they will readily explain why their actions are rational, it is usually impossible to convince them otherwise, and they tend to derive pleasure from their obsessions or compulsions…

On the other hand, the main features of perfectionism and inflexibility can result in considerable suffering in an individual with OCPD as a result of the associated need for control… ”

Despite a few examples of real sonic achievements, the main trend at last High End Munich-2019 show (May 9 – 12) has been another vivid demonstration of the OCPD ran rampant within the vast majority of the world audiophile community.

The thoughts below are mostly applied to the home version of High End Audio, although despite some much more positive tendencies within its portable sibling, the latter is already starting to show some signs of deterioration of the same kind.

Therefore, “CanJam people” beware!

For the proof of the main thesis of the story, we should look no further than at the main OCPD symptoms listed above.

And here we are, one by one…

(1) Preoccupation with remembering past events

Vinyl still rules the home audiophile market. To me, it’s obvious that the “Vinyl Renaissance” is no more than a path of the least resistance for the vast majority of audio dealers who treat the OCPD symptoms of their clients in the least productive way: indulging their weaknesses.

The weaknesses range from an inability to embrace the up-to-date common sense (mainly due to the typical audiophile’s narrow-minded technical and aesthetic outlook) to personal psychological resistance based on some old individual fixations.

I don’t want that my statements here will be perceived as a rant against using of any good and proven old audio technologies, be it vinyl, SET-amplifiers, open-reel tape decks, or anything else. They do have their well-deserved place within the audiophile community (especially, when they end up in the right hands).

My comments here regard only the alleged particular relevance and the alleged top priority of that place within the epicenter of the contemporarily relevant audiophile discourse.

(2) Paying attention to minor details

The quality of sound playback environment is the most significant factor in sound reproduction (be it acoustic properties of the room, the speakers’ configuration within the room, or, let’s say, the properties of the individual ear canal anatomies with the transducers’ configuration within or without them).

The best analogy I can cite to describing what I usually hear during vast majority of all sorts of audiophile demoes is like watching a film in a movie theater when projectionist forgot to turn off the light. Continuing the analogy, in such an environment, do the alleged exceptional properties of the projector really matter?! In addition, wouldn’t an inferior projector show a much better image quality in a completely dark room vs a much more advanced unit in a room with the lights still on?

The latter question is a rhetoric one.

The most of the demoes at the last Munich show fully corresponded to the analogy.

While trying to demonstrate some tiny increments of alleged improvements – which cost ridiculous amount of money – the overall sound quality of the vast majority of demoes in the sonically compromised environment and inadequate transducer configurations (the latter of either home or portable variety), to me, were of dubious value.

Bringing again the analogy above, the sound quality of those demos can be only described as “The lights are on (sic!), but nobody’s home”.

Another fundamental factor of achieving the best quality of sound reproduction is the one of matching the resolution along the whole playback chain.

The audio resolution of acoustic transducers’ technologies stays (basically) the same for, at least, the last half of the century. Their properties (and the properties and configurations of the acoustic playback environment) are still the bottleneck of the resolution of the complete audio system. So, instead of matching the resolution of all components in a particular chain between themselves and to the resolution of that particular loudspeaker, the industry is trying to feed on the OCPD symptoms’ of their customers selling them more and more (or, less and less, like in case of vinyl or reel-to-reel tape playback) resolving formats and auxiliary components.

But, that “resolution mismatch” of the components in a given system, actually, can only prevent achieving the best overall sound quality of any audio system (and even despite some super high resolution of some of its separate components).

And last, but not least, there is an issue of a match between the equipment’s audio resolution and the human hearing mechanisms’ resolution (where still much to be learned)…

The development of some of the last advances in video technologies, be it 8K or HDR ones, demonstrated that there is limit in human perception of the video resolution and dynamic range. To perceive the difference between 8K image and 4K image you have to watch the former from a distance of one meter. Considering the current conventional sizes of the screens and the current conventional viewing distances, can you imagine some wide applications of 8K images (vs already implemented 4K ones) in a household environment?

I cannot, especially considering a total lack of currently available 8K source material.

At the same time, with all the changes in available video resolution, all the environmental requirements for obtaining the best image quality (especially, the “black levels”) stay unchanged from the very onset of the electronic imaging.  
Therefore, I don’t mind playing some hi-rez audio files, but before all those minor (quite possibly, positive) details of the source should be promoted, the major and fundamental conditions for obtaining the best sound quality should be observed and optimally taken care of.

Which are usually not in the vast majority of all audiophile systems (either home or portable ones), with the sonic results completely corresponding to the old adage regarding “shooting sparrows with cannons”.

(3) Excessive compliance with existing social customs, rules or regulations

Considering constantly implied proclaims of “progressiveness” of High End Audio, this OCPD symptom prevailing in audiophile community, will be, definitely, the most hidden of all in self-denial.

Nevertheless, one of the most famous Henry Ford’s catchphrases was “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”.

On the industry players’ side, during the last many years, High End Audio – with all its claims of innovations – has been only driven by a basic consumerism paradigm of “The customer is always right”:

Consequently, if a customer wants “a faster horse”, the audio industry will continue to gladly get him “a faster horse” (the vinyl junkies, hello-o-o!).

While on the consumers’ side, where the audiophile market demonstrates an unprecedented narrow-mindedness, as the vast majority of the customers lack a grasp of even the most basic technical and aesthetic concepts, such industry paradigm has been always taken for granted:

Under such circumstances, the only consensus which can be built between the audio industry players and their customer base is the one of opportunism and compliance to some pre-established “norms” (uber-politically correct “norms” of “marketing” and journalism included).

Because, otherwise, the former must forget about the common lowest denominator of the customers’ base, and to step right on the path of the most resistance, which is the path of eradicating the latter’s OCPD symptoms.

And, if to quote Wikipedia again,

“[OCPD] treatment is complicated if the person does not accept that they have OCPD, or believes that their thoughts or behaviors are in some sense correct and therefore should not be changed”.

Then it becomes obvious why, in the current High End Audio environment you wouldn’t really see anything but endless repetitions of the same vicious circle…

(4) Unwarranted compulsion to note-taking, or making lists and schedules

I am wondering if Stereophile (and other magazines) still regularly publish their “Best Buy” lists?..

Though I am 100% sure that they still do.

It’ s obvious that the obsession over such lists is a direct result from the fact that since the world has entered the Information Age, the complete judgements gradually started to be formed not from the direct interaction with the reality but from some information about it.

I mean, at the big shows like the one in Munich, there are always many opportunities to directly audition a lot of unfamiliar gear… But what are the most of the visitors predominantly mentally attuned to?

In a tightly scheduled environment of such a show, the typical visitors are mostly attuned to some pre-selected options, which, therefore, virtually shut them down to any new real experiences.

(5) Rigidity of one's own beliefs

A Wikipedia quote on this particular OCPD symptom:

“…perception of one's own and others' actions and beliefs tend to be polarized into "right" or "wrong", with little or no margin between the two. For people with this disorder, rigidity could place strain on interpersonal relationships, with occasional frustration turning into anger and even varying degrees of violence…”  

Sounds familiar?!.. Especially after reading a few posts on a typical audiophile forum?!..

Yes, it does.

As every hobby, High End Audio provides an opportunity for heightening your self-esteem. The rigidity comes from the fact that, to many audiophiles, this hobby is the only source of heightening their self-esteem.

Unfortunately, when your own source of self-esteem is completely empty, then you can replenish it only at somebody else self-esteem’s expense (which takes place a lot at various audiophile gatherings).

Like a magnet, the inbred susceptibility to rigidity of audiophile community gradually started to attract more and more people with OCPD, which sought an outlet for their own. As the rigidity constantly grew like a snowball, it eventually became a dominant element in High End Audio.

In addition, such an environment would promptly repel any “normal” people who would just tentatively set their foot on the audiophile path.

This OCPD symptom of rigidity is also behind the desperate buzz to spend (as quick as possible) some more money on some latest hardware, which manifests itself almost like a zealous religious mission.

Due to the pressure forces of the market symbiosis, the same goes for the manufacturers.

Lately, I’ve been always struck by a question of “Where does all this money to pay for the exhibiting space come from?”

I mean, with all the internal knowledge about the financial state of most of the High End Audio companies I’ve been working with for the last quarter of the century, and with the obvious continuing decline in their sales, where do they find resources to exhibit, again and again, at the shows?

Even if I don’t really have a specific answer for this question, I do have some hypotheses (and they’re not pretty).

I guess, it’s all about the same OCPD symptom – “birds of the feather stay together”, right?! - and that is a demonstration of the same rigidity, this time on the manufacturers’ side: they still hope that without changing anything, the situation will change to the better by itself.

But, I don’t think so.

(6) Showing unreasonable degree of perfectionism that could eventually interfere with completing the task at hand

By the way, to refresh our memory, in audiophile context, what is “the task”?!
Because, how anything can be completed if we wouldn’t exactly specify what “the task” is?!

If we would discard such pseudo main applications of High End Audio as a status symbol (which it is not), as a relief for an ancient childhood craving (which it is not), as a psychological treatment tool for heightening self-esteem (which it is not), as a part of interior design (which it is not), or, as just an expensive toy for “big boys” (which it is not too), then what its “task” is?

I tried to answer this question here:

and here:

The only reason I went through all the trouble to formulate the main “task” of High End Audio – briefly speaking, to provide the most efficient tool to master a new musical language - is because I never saw or heard it formulated with all the clarity and openness before.

Mainly for this exact reason, I have always seen various demonstrations of perfectionism in High End Audio – without its main “task” clearly formulated and accepted as a guiding principle – as no more than just various demonstrations of OCPD symptoms.

Before I will go, the big question is: then, how healthy can be an industry relying on unhealthy state of its potential customers?

Actually, it can be very healthy.

However, only after it would openly declare its true mission: that is to help a certain type of unhealthy people.

In the current state of High End Audio, that would require to overturn its original mission into a completely different one (and, most likely, to make sure that it’ll be able to harness a source of the government subsidies money, like most of the Health Care services’ companies do).

But if the industry will continue “to put up a good face but to be engaged in an inappropriate (bad) game”, that is when it will continue to try to bounce between its true and some false identities, then the total dysfunction of the latter would never allow it to have a “healthy” future.

When I was indoctrinated in High End Audio industry almost 30 years ago, the latter was not an issue as both the High End Audio market was in a very healthy state, and its customer base was much more “healthier”.

At the time, High End Audio’s main “task” vague qualification was not a big problem because then the “task” was taken for granted due to continuing strong presence of all the legacy of the previous generations of music lovers and due to the completely different cultural, socio-political and technological contexts of that time.

The more time passed since those years, and the more attractive the High End Audio environment became for the OCPD carriers, the more hazardous it becomes, especially, for those easily susceptible, who – if they knew - would rather avoid catching an “audiophile bug” (i.e. full blown OSPD “bug”).

When the latter is left without a systematic treatment, that lack of our industry’s full awareness on this issue and the lack of the industry’s complete resolution to confront it in a systematic and a positive way, is the main reason for High End Audio’s current unhealthy condition.

Here’s a good quote from High End Munich-2019 show report by Jay Jay French for Copper Magazine (№ 85) (notwithstanding his Twisted Sister fame, he’s an avid NYC audiophile):

“… Meanwhile, I need to see my therapist first so I can digest the current human condition that has led this once very noble hobby, into the world of the truly super financially-supported extension of one’s ego…”

It’s just another opinion on how High End Audio went astray regarding its original “task”...

Of course, I am not suggesting here that each and every one from the audiophile community is a deranged person participating in the game for all the wrong reasons. Far from it, there are some (alas, a lot of) bad examples which prompt me to draw some bad conclusions, but then there are some (alas, just a few) great ones that still give me a lot of hope for the future of High End Audio.

Again, to reach that brighter future we should be, first, fully aware of the prevalent conditions in our community and, second, we should properly react to them.

And here’s the last Wikipedia’s quote:

“Estimates for the prevalence of OCPD in the general population range from 2.1% to 7.9%. A large U.S. study found a prevalence rate of 7.9%, making it the most common personality disorder. Men are diagnosed with OCPD about twice as often as women. It may occur in 8–9% of psychiatric outpatients”.

To any High End Audio insider the above figures would, definitely, sound right (especially, OCPD occurrence rate in men vs women).

That is, these estimates explain why, however hard we wouldn’t have tried to expand High End Audio’s appeal to the general masses, through all the recent years, we never were able to attract attention to our activities from more people than the figures above (indirectly) refer to.

Namely because, current ways of High End Audio can sustainably keep in its orbit either “deranged” people, or people who don’t care at all about audio, but whose wealth allowed them to pass the threshold of the industry’s current financial “face control”.

The worst part of the dirty picture comes from the fact that those who crave for this stuff for all the best reasons can’t afford it, while those who’s got the means and buy some expensive audio systems just don’t care.

My personal estimate is that if 99% of the latter would have had a choice now to change their mind, they would had never bought their audio systems in the first place, as after they bought them they almost never used them.

In the latter case, if their purchase was related to OCPD or not doesn’t really matter, as such “bastard” sales would never support long term “health” of the industry.

To conclude, I certainly don’t envision High End Audio is to become a part of the Health Care Industry, heavily subsidized by the government money. So, it will never become prosperous feeding on its clients’ OCPD and providing its current remedies to improve its clients’ mental condition.

Since its inception, High End Audio has been always positioned on a brink between technology, science and art, where the government subsidies are crucial, especially, for any real art form’s long-term survival. Therefore, the same way they can be crucial for High End Audio long term survival I am sorry but I do have a socialist background).

But to rely upon that would be too Utopian.

Nevertheless, is there still a chance for the traditional High End Audio’s return back to its roots and for a successful curbing of the full blown OCPD epidemic in his ranks?

In my opinion, the last High End Munich-2019 show didn’t support even some barely optimistic scenarios for home audio.

For portable High End Audio, as it is a much younger industry, and it is not as sucked into all of its internal contradictions like the older one is, it is a much brighter story, but, still, its future fate is very vulnerable to the same common problems…

One thing is for sure, though: the “return back to its roots” in the case of High End Audio (or for the same phenomena even under a new moniker) will only happen when it will be able to, finally, openly accept and openly declare its original and true identity and mission.

And then will start to act again – in a much more productive and healthier ways - in full accordance with them.

The latter is the only option for our industry to become “healthy” again.

22.05.2019 // Author:  (Bigmisha) // Number of views:  1022

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