BLOG #80. An Essay On Misha Kucherenko’s Book “StereoPravda – A Politically Incorrect Review Of High End Audio” (In English)


BLOG #80. An Essay On Misha Kucherenko’s Book “StereoPravda – A Politically Incorrect Review Of High End Audio” (In English)

My recent book’s (updated, etc.) English translation is pending, but I still can’t really say when we’ll be able to complete the project.

In the meantime, I decided to do my own English language essay on the book.

As I tried to include in it a short discourse on (almost) every major idea of the book, it can be still a demanding job to read it in full (even if it’s at about 10% of the whole tome’s volume).

Nevertheless, good reading!


An Essay On Misha Kucherenko’s Book Called “StereoPravda – A Politically Incorrect Review of High End Audio” (Time Machine. Saint Petersburg.2020)
[N.B. The word “stereo” in Greek stands for the ”solid” (e.g. “stereotype”), while the word “pravda” in Russian stands for the “truth”]

                           INTRODUCTION – A CTA STUDY

Last year, American Consumer Technology Association conducted an annual survey on demography of the current audio market [reverse translation from Russian is used]:

The purpose of this study was to help the Association’s members – the manufacturers, the sales force and the other industry players – to better perceive the up-to-date market and to adapt their expectations, methods, new developments plans and the corresponding services to the current situation.

Compared to long term periods of domination of some traditional configurations of home audio gear, let’s say, fifteen-twenty years ago, the results of this survey clearly demonstrated that the positioning of audio segment inside overall Consumer Electronics industry and specifics of currently applied technologies have been radically changed. Even more so, they are constantly continuing to change dramatically right before our eyes.

Accordingly, in the last quarter of century, a highly prioritized demand for high performance audio – in the whole list of Consumer Electronics proposition – diminished significantly.

For instance, in 1994, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas – the most significant CE show in the whole world – there was not much outside of the realm of consumer audio (and, just a few exhibits of low quality, by the current standards, consumer video). But a quarter of century later, with some just a few exceptions, you could find there almost anything – automotive cars, drones, a plethora of some latest computer gadgets, etc – except for “pure” audio (or “pure” video) demonstrations.

Among anything else, the last changes in audio significantly affected an average available sound quality, as for the current generation of listeners music is accessible anywhere: at home, outside, while riding public transportation, during vacations trips, etc.

At the moment, depending on a concrete segment of audio equipment, an average dynamics of changes in sound quality can be either positive (as in a case of relatively fast changing domain of portable audio), or negative (as in a case of constantly losing its grip on the consumers’ preferences home audio industry).

All sorts of headphone/earphone systems (in the broadest span of the concept) became the dominating audio technologies, constantly squeezing home audio off the market.

Taken together, smartphones plus Internet plus headphones/earphones is the main source of the current music consumption transformation.

Nevertheless, according to the last CTA survey, you can’t really say that the demand for traditional dedicated home audio (two channel stereo) systems has disappeared.
There are all sorts of new technology developments - primarily digital - in the field. They include advanced methods of “tuning” an audio system’s sound according to a concrete listening room environment, various new ways to implement the latest music content delivery methods, application of new “beam forming” (e.g. “soundbar”) technologies to beam separate sound programs to various separate zones in a room, further developments in creating immersive “3-D” sound field, and so on.

According to the same study, 82% of all music (in the US) is consumed via streaming services, while the sound quality of such content is constantly getting better and better. Again, such a high percentage is directly related to the current dominance of portable technologies of music listening.

Considering an obvious decline of music’s position in the overall list of socially significant priorities (please, see below), it’s very surprising to find out that 43% of participants in the last CTA survey described themselves as “passionate music lovers”, that is, they are the ones who feel extraordinary importance of music in their life. Even more so, the last figure is increasing from a study to study in the last several years, and the group itself is becoming more and more diverse. Many participants in the survey emphasized that they can’t live for a day without some concentrated music listening. The latter group happened to be the biggest one in the study.

There were some groups of listeners that can be characterized as “indifferent” ones, which doesn’t mean that they are not interested in listening to music at all, actually, they are, but they simply don’t really care about the quality of audio equipment they use.

12% of listeners still use legacy technologies of home audio systems. Although, the survey demonstrated that in this segment the customers’ concrete choices are mostly dictated by treating audio equipment as more of a status symbol, when the quality of its fit and finish, its “exclusivity” factor, etc, significantly dominate over the gear’s demonstrated sound quality and/or its additional technical capabilities.

Also, it should be noted that, compared to, let’s say, mid-1990-ies, all possible audio technologies now additionally include video games, virtual reality and other “immersive” technologies, in which an ability to position sound sources at any point of (artificially, or naturally) recreated three dimensional all-embracing sound space is a key element of all of these technologies.

Despite unprecedentedly high sonic capabilities of the current audio technologies and unprecedentedly wide scope of all the available means of listening to music, as we can conclude from the last CTA study, the majority of listeners (57%) seem to not really care about the sound quality of their devices.

Nevertheless, the CTA survey also demonstrated that about 14% of listeners consider themselves to be so called “audiophiles”, that is, they seem to be those untypical consumers, to whom the sonic qualities of their equipment matter a lot, who are well versed in the corresponding technologies, and who are sufficiently aware of the latter’s effect on the delivered sound quality.
Also, they are fully prepared to sacrifice, again and again, a significant amount of additional efforts, time and money to strive for achieving the best possible sonic results.

So, this last group of audiophiles and the possible motives behind their passion for sound will be the main subjects of the further discussion.

                                        “THE ONLY TRUE SIGNAL”

For the previous generations of listeners, music was, according to an American neuro-scientist Daniel Levitin, “the only true signal”. To many of them it was also the only “window” to the outer world. The latter is the most obvious if you look at the Russian history of the times when, as a  local saying goes, “there was no news in “The Truth”, and there was no truth in “The News” (“The Truth” –“Pravda” and “The News” – “Izvestiya” were the two of the biggest newspapers in the former USSR).

At the time, a typical list of household appliances in, still, the USSR, would include a refrigerator, a land line phone, a washing machine, a TV set (with just two federal TV channels strictly controlled by the government), a shortwave radio (to try to receive “enemy” programs from outside the “Iron Curtain’) and a tape recorder.

That is why music then was like a religion, providing many, especially young, people with the answers to those metaphysical questions that at the time they couldn’t find anywhere else.
(By the way, at the time, the only library in the whole of USSR that would allow regular folks an “open” access to some Western rock magazines was The State Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow. There you could read some scattered issues of, for example, Rolling Stone magazine. However, in those issues, which you could read only in the library’s “reading halls”, on almost every page some censor would had meticulously cut certain parts with a safe razor blade.)

Consequently, during those years, and not only in the countries behind “Iron Curtain” but all over the world, the sacral attitude towards music lead to the highest attention people paid to the quality of corresponding musical “church utensils”.

This is why a large part of the most “advanced” population treated the process of assembling their own audio systems as a labor of building up their own “musical altars”.

In the current epoch of wild and militant material consumerism, which is a direct result of removing of all kinds of social barriers, including of “agitprop” and cultural kind, it completely defocused the attention of deranged public from any phenomena which would require some spiritual effort. Being aware of that, you can’t help thinking that the social significance of music degenerated to a role of some “musical wallpaper”.
This is why it can be so unexpected to see such a high figure of still passionate music lovers in the last CTA study.  
And this is why it can be even more surprising to see there such a relatively high percentage of “audiophiles”.

                                   A POLITICALLY INCORRECT REVIEW

A book called “StereoPravda – A Politically Incorrect Review Of High End Audio”, that was just published by Time Machine publishing house from Saint Petersburg, investigates various aspects of this highest segment of audio equipment which was christened in the West by the name of “High End Audio” (designated in the CTA study as an “audiophile” segment):

The tome is a direct result of the author’s thirty years’ worth of experience in high performance audio. From a common enthusiast, via many years of various professional activities in the field wearing all sorts of hats in it – and up to a point where he is producing his own ultimate performance StereoPravda SPearphone series of ear monitors which received a wide international recognition. (A whole chapter of the book is devoted to a detailed description of the earphones’ design to demonstrate some concrete examples of possible techniques to build a bridge between legacy home version of High End Audio and its new portable version).
It’s deliberately not a memoires book, the author’s biography facts are used in it only to connect dots in its story lines and for illustration purposes.

The book describes High End Audio from various angles, and, not dwelling on strictly technical issues, its main goal is to try to answer two fundamental questions: who are the true audiophiles?, and, why would they be engaged in “all of this”? (and, who knows? – while reading this book, some up until now totally unaware of High End Audio’s true lovers of music could be possibly recruited to its ranks).

Even if it could sound like a tautology, still, the most significant idea of this book is that “only the most significant ideas can yield the most significant results”.

In the context of contemporary capitalist economy markets’ drive to maximize their width via the lowest common denominator unification of everything, everybody and anything, any objective consideration of any (even relatively innocent and even positive in its nature) segregation, could immediately start to smack of political “incorrectness”.

So, the author’s sincere attempt to penetrate as deep as possible inside the conceptual inner core of High End Audio to provide the answers to the most fundamental questions about it, would almost inevitably end up in the latter category. That’s why is the book’s title – because its author is ready for the worst - and not because he deliberately shaped it around some scandalous “kiss and tell” stories.

                                      FROM A CRADLE TO A CITADEL

The history of High End Audio started at the very dawn of the first discoveries, inventions and innovations in the field of audio which were made in the mid-nineteen century. By the middle of the twentieth century, the best equipment reached a stage of sound quality which is virtually congruent with the main perceptual processes of the human hearing mechanisms.
The latter means that, from that point in time, the best recordings on the best audio equipment started to successfully compete – in terms of all significant musical information delivery – with the “live” performances’ sound.
That is, if even in mid-twentieth century, you could fully appreciate the whole depth of “musical” and intellectual thoughts in music only at its live performances in concert halls, then now, if you’ve got an access to appropriate audio systems and sufficiently good recordings, you can do the same even while riding a train on subway.

Nevertheless, during the whole history of audio technology, fundamental dialectics of market forces both facilitated further improvements in its sound quality, and, while implementing the most current solutions on a sufficiently large scale, prevented all its legacy potential from its thorough realization.

Consequently, for all the years of its existence, High End Audio, as the audio industry’s highest segment, went all the way from its cradle at the bifurcation point of sound quality when it arrived at the level of virtual congruence to the human hearing mechanisms (we don’t need much more, do we?) - to becoming a citadel of storing the main system of absolute sonic values that keeps it constantly alive.

                          WHEN FUTURE STAYS ALWAYS IN THE PAST

Audio is the oldest Consumer Electronics industry, and its “Golden Era” of the most important discoveries and innovations (at least, in the analog domain) took place during 1930-ies to 1950-ies.
At the time, theoretical knowledge, available technologies and research instruments were not advanced enough to allow for developing a system of all the necessary - thorough and commonly accepted - sound quality standards.
That’s why the audio industry started its historical path being completely not equipped by any of those.

Video industry, that was born twenty years later in the context of much more advanced theoretical knowledge base and technical achievements, which, from its very inception, allowed it to strike a path of thoroughly defined and commonly accepted image quality standards, started its uninterrupted path of objective, constant and endless improvements exactly for this reason. While, the lack of adequate and commonly accepted sound quality standards in audio industry constantly “left its future in the past”.
It means that a large part of the most current analog audio solutions totally correspond to those of almost a hundred years ago. Also, it means that similar pieces of equipment made twenty, thirty or even many more years ago are still not only fully operational and still preserve all their original utility, but in a large number of examples demonstrates even better sound quality than the most recent ones. (While being available on the second hand market at significantly less prices than the most recent pieces of the same utility).

Ironically, in the context of traditional stereo process, the more a class of audio components’ influence on the overall system’s sound quality is, the less it is affected by the recent technological progress (electro-acoustic transducers (acoustic drivers) in particular come to mind).
And vice versa, besides just a few fairly obscure exceptions (like deqx technology, for example) the more recent audio technologies’ advances we would take as an example, the less influential on overall system’s sound quality their influence is (the latest bells and whistles of digital technologies are the good examples).

For this reason, if reviews of video equipment are based only on its objective strict compliance with an appropriate standard, and the direct similarity between an electronic image and the visual reality is not even considered, then reviews of audio equipment often resort to direct comparison with the aural reality.
However, because the latter projection is very subjective, dubious indirect cues, such as (a reviewer’s) “foot tapping to music” or “goose bumping” are often used as substitutes for the missing objective means of sound quality evaluation.

Would anybody in his right mind haul an old TV set from a junkyard and start to watch the news on it? Obviously, would not, while, in audio, mainly for that historical reason mentioned above, an analogues (sic!) process is still happening all the time.

The lack of commonly accepted standards in audio which would adequately describe its sound quality inevitably lead the industry to the brink between “art” and “technology”. Where there exist a certain number of objective indicators of audio systems’ proper performance parameters and objective ideas behind them, but these are not tightly connected with each other and do not strictly correlate with the demonstrated sound quality.
Consequently, the gaping voids in the interpretations are filled with subjective discourses of various levels of authority.

The highest segment of any industry belong to some very small companies, and when they say that “to dine with the rich you have to feed breakfasts to the poor” (in this case, “poor” by the level of their demands), the number of the “poor”, unfortunately, is always much bigger than the number of the “rich”.
For High End Audio it means that the smaller the company, the more chances that you can expect a product of the absolute quality from it (in audio, many products can be built by a company of just one employee). This is why most of the companies in the industry consist of just a few people.

Such a small scale of isolated private interests, multiplied by a factor of the militant subjectivism inherent in the very “subjective” nature of High End Audio’s “art” trait, create a vicious circle. Whose efferent forces prevent the industry from creating any kind of trade organizations, which would be capable of developing and adopting all the necessary and commonly accepted standards for sound quality.

The paradox here lies in that, on the one hand, the high performance segment of the industry suffers the most from the lack of such standards, as their existence is the only possible foundation for High End Audio’s further positive development.

But, on the other, none of its current players are interested in adopting them, as, in the latter case, the vast majority of them will end up “overboard”.

                            “LIFE WITHOUT MUSIC WOULD BE A MISTAKE”

Having described the main contradictions of contemporary High End Audio above (all of which are described in the book in many more (sometimes dirty) details), you can’t help pointing out its extraordinary vitality during its all history dating back all the way to, at least, the mid-1960-ies.

There is no doubt that such a vitality is based upon the fact that during all the times there exist a large part of population which holds that, as Friedrich Nietzsche put it, “life without music would be a mistake”.

Even more significant is the fact that, according to the CTA studies, there still exist a substantial part of the latter, who always believed that there are some special intentions and that there are some special efforts which can imbue the regular “down to earth” hardware with some absolutely extraordinary musical qualities, creating in audio a class of its own.

                                        THE MAIN QUESTIONS

So, what’s so special about that “extraordinary” audio equipment?

And what does it do that an ordinary “down to earth” gear can not do?

The main problem to promptly and definitely answer to these two questions lies in the fact that under a general “signboard” of High End Audio there (co-) exist (forcibly, as in a communal apartment) a whole multitude of significantly different phenomena and products.

For instance, some of those point in the direction of amateur studies of how sensitive the human hearing mechanism can be, the others cater to anal-retentive complexes of its devotees, then there is a certain niche of the products intended to elevate their customers’ self-esteem. Then the tech savvy  adepts will always find amusing some of its cutting edge novelties. Let alone a whole plethora of available means to polish “the steam engines” of audio.

If veterans of the industry take all the hoopla for granted, then it can be clearly seen how confusing it could look to the uninitiated.

No doubt, this confusion, when some totally contradicting ideas are constantly juggled before your nose, is the biggest reason why we don’t really see too much “new blood” to be pumped into High End Audio.

It doesn’t happen also because the “new blood” needs some clear-cut answers to some obvious questions, like, for instance,

- How can you relate to an industry which still didn’t formulate its raison d’etre in clear-cut terms?!

- Correspondingly, what is the main difference between True High End Audio and its various dubious offshoots?

And, then…

- How relevant is retrieving of the last bits of music carriers’ info – with a help of, let’s say, a $150 000 turntable and a $15 000 phono cartridge – can be in a grander scheme of things (e.g. retrieving of a subtle air conditioner’s noise during a recording)?!

- Is it really necessary to pay, let’s say, a $1 000 for a “first press” LP or, say, $500 for an open reel “master” copy to fully appreciate a recording?

- Is the only intention behind the “audio jewelry” to elevate the customers’ self-esteem because the audiophile hobby is their last resort, or are there any other reasons for the 24K-gold plating of some of the tonearm parts?

- How important are all the latest hi-rez “bells and whistles” in appreciating the most subtle musical thoughts and messages?

- Even if there are many reasons to proclaim that “the audio’s future is in the past”, then what should we borrow from that past to the present (and what should we leave there to rest in peace)?

And, finally, which concrete recommendations should be followed by to successfully obtain and install a True High End Audio system?

Really, these are the questions that would inevitably pop up in any bystander’s mind when he or she would see an “audiophile circus” to pass them by.

During our times, there is a growing social demand for mindfulness, especially within the strata of the most “advanced” younger generation which is totally exhausted by the ubiquitous consumerism, such a demand also includes a demand for a complete awareness of the utility of this or that phenomena.
And historically happened industry of High End Audio should be constantly ready to adequately meet – persuasively and meaningfully - both of them.

Among other, by providing some adequate answers to not only all the questions above, but to all the similar ones too.

A large part of the book is devoted to the detailed answers to such questions, but here, it would be more than enough to briefly dwell on only the answers to just a couple of the first (main) ones.
And, by the way, not merely one, but several whole chapters of the book are devoted only to those.

                                              THE MAIN ANSWERS

If to draw a schematic logic of those answers, then, based on a presumed fundamental crave of true audiophiles for personal inner spiritual growth and development via listening to music, this logic would tightly connects historical, phenomenological, economical, psycho-linguistic and esthetical aspects of High End Audio into an organic whole.  

High End Audio’s historical aspect is inextricably linked to the original meaning of the word “stereo”. In Greek it means “solid” (e.g. “stereotype”). And the reason why Alan Blumlein, the inventor of “stereo” recordings, had chosen the word to designate the name of this technology in 1930-ies lies in its key aspect of using two loudspeakers to create “solid”, or fully “palpable”, virtual sonic images, tightly localized within so called “stereo” “sound stage”, which encompass the space between, behind and around loudspeakers.

This is why, from a phenomenological perspective, the main sound quality criterion (by the very definition of the “stereo” technology, and it’s being still ubiquitously used) is the ability of stereo systems to tightly focus the virtual sound sources (as analogous to focusing of photo and video images).
As, up until now, there still exist no proved ways to objectively quantify a degree of that focusing for a concrete sound system installation and, consequently, there is no appropriate measuring equipment for this (besides our own ears and brain), then any current procedures cannot evaluate it.
Therefore, any “stereo” equipment, whose properties rely exclusively on all sorts of historically happened technical measurement procedures - which do not account for that main criterion of stereo systems’ sound quality - is inferior by definition.

At the same time, as a degree of sonic focusing can be easily detected by our hearing, it can be used not only as a criterion of sound quality per se, but it can also be an additional/relative criterion for a particular piece of gear of either belonging to a certain class of audio equipment or not.

In its pretensions on the “absolute” sound quality, True (to its roots) High End Audio gear should prioritize the sharpness of that sonic focusing and the degree of holographic properties of the created three-dimensional soundstage over anything else.
From a sound quality’s phenomenological standpoint, this is one of their main characteristics which differentiates such stereo (!) systems from more “down to earth” ones.

Judging by the book author’s own experiences, all those extremely rare and exceptionally effective demonstrations of audio systems that he’s ever heard in his life, and which he can count with the fingers on just one hand, possessed one common attribute.
They enchanted the audience not so much with their “right” timbre, not so much with their airy microdynamics or exceptionally high musical resolution, etc, but they really mesmerized it only when they possessed that particular charm of holographic presentation.
(Which, by the way, can be a direct result of those exceptional audio system configurations to possess not a haphazard set of “rightfulness” of some of those just mentioned performance parameters,  but the whole necessary combination of those).

The latter lead the author to come up in his book with a presumption of priority of holographic presentation over anything else while evaluating audio components’ sound quality. The same conclusion he reaches there from a completely different slant (please, see High End Audio’s psycho-linguistic utility aspect’s discussion below).

However, it should be fully understood, that both for the home audio, and for the portable one, the latter can be technically achieved only when a proper care is taken for the most important and, at the same time, the most expensive audio component – the listening environment.
That care should obviously include the optimal positioning of all the acoustic transducers in it.

This is why, from a technical standpoint, to achieve a fairly advanced level of sonic holography is the most difficult task which requires the most significant efforts and resources, not only both on the manufacturers’, their dealer’s and the installers’ sides, but also on the side  of end users’.

Likewise, from an economic standpoint, in terms of utilizing appropriate production and installation technologies, to create an outstanding holographic sonic effect requires the most expense.
And this is where (as a rule, at significantly smaller budgets) the manufacturers of “down to earth” audio equipment and their further infrastructure (of dealers et al) inevitably always lose to the most “advanced” High End Audio companies. The latter are supposed to spare nor resource, nor time, nor effort for the maximum manifestation of the effect, while the former usually do not.

And this is why, when discussing the properties of their gear, the “down to earth” companies constantly try to hush down the very existence of the “stereo” effect: because they try to avoid a discussion of their gear’s corresponding capabilities.

And this is also why the vast majority of outsiders from the truly “audiophile” community are completely unaware of it (and, correspondingly, are completely unaware of the original meaning of the word “stereo”).

Psycho-linguistic aspect of highest quality audio systems has everything to do with their primal functionality (or, utility).

In its turn, the latter has got everything to do with co-existence of all the multitude of different musical “languages”, inherent to all the different varieties and genres of music.

There is saying, “everybody is listening to music he’s been listening to when he or she was 14 years old”.  It means that,  the same way, as we don’t choose our native verbal language but “soak it with our mother’s milk”, the same way, we don’t really choose our native music “language” but “soak it” during a certain period of our  personal formation due to some historically happened concrete circumstances around us at that particular time.

Also, a number of linguistic studies confirmed that a tightly focused three-dimensional sound playback via some special linguaphone equipment (there are some concrete examples of those in the book) can substantially improve the efficiency of learning foreign languages and/or mastering them.

Therefore, it would be natural to presume that, in the same manner, a tightly focused three-dimensional music playback via appropriate audio systems (there are concrete examples of those in the book either) can substantially improve the efficiency of learning the appropriate music “languages” (or mastering those).

Also, it’s a well-known fact, that to make our brain’s operation much more efficient its cognitive (and all the other) activities are based upon creation of various “attractors”, or, intellectual templates.

Even when the sound quality can be very mediocre, suchlike templates allow a music message and all its relevant content to transpire through both one-dimensional “mono”, and even through a flat (two-dimensional/inferior) version of two-channel alleged “stereo”.

Therefore, from all the mentioned arguments above we can suppose the following.

Namely, that, due to our brain’s existing mechanisms, when certain linguistic templates have been already formed in it, due to their influence on full appreciation of familiar genre’s sound communication content, the sound quality seems to become much less relevant (e.g. “a complete appreciation of a native language phone conversation’s content even when the quality of reception is very poor”).

At the same time, to facilitate a process of forming new language templates (including the musical ones), which are necessary to mobilize for fluent corresponding language skills, the most important parameter that defines the process’ efficiency is the best possible sound quality (the main manifestation of which is its focused “three-dimensiality”).

It’s very likely that the improved efficiency can be linked to the fact that under natural conditions our brain is accustomed to deal only with three-dimensional sound propagation. This is why to promptly form some new language templates, musical ones included, it needs a direct and unrestricted access to a complete natural aggregate of all corresponding phonetic signals and all their subtle clues.

Thank God, that the good all stereo technology does have (almost) all the necessary capability!

However, the only audio power that holds to the roots of this technology and guards it in every possible way is their citadel called (True) High End Audio.


From all the above, it seems to be quite logical to propose that the main functionality of True High End Audio equipment is to provide the most effective tool to learn some new musical languages.
For true audiophiles, which strive for their inner growth and further development via listening to music – from a primitive one “they’ve been listening “down to the holes” when they were fourteen years old” to much more and more complex and meaningful – it can become a very powerful instrument to achieve this goal.

Therefore, High End Audio raison d’etre is to satisfy listeners’ crave to master some new musical “languages”. That would help them to penetrate – at deeper and deeper level – to the most subtle nuances of musical thoughts by the most significant composers, which, in their turn, are expressed in the most eloquent way (using the corresponding musical languages) by the most outstanding musicians.

…In such a way allowing the evolving listeners to realize the enormous potential of their inner spiritual growth via an unimpeded access to the whole world music heritage.

This is the True High End Audio’s aesthetic mission aspect which, with all the other tightly connected aspects above, contributes to a radical – especially in its implied inherent aesthetic functionality - difference between it and some common “down to earth” audio equipment (and between it and its various surrogates).


Behind numerous myths around High End Audio, it’s not easy to see its true content and all its real achievements which can open to appropriately prepared listeners an access to all its enormous capabilities.

The stress is on the “appropriately prepared listeners” expression. In reality, a fundamental difference between High End Audio and “down to earth” gear is in the former’s presumed much bigger degree of creative involvement of its users in maximizing the potential of his or her equipment.
While manufactures of “down to earth” stuff – be it either under the “hi-fi” moniker, or under the more upscale “mid-fi” one (particulars of which are described in various details in the book), are always trying to minimize their customers’ presumed efforts to their very minimum.
As in every art, on which one of High End Audio’s legs firmly rests on, the meaning of the word “prepared” includes not only “souls noble bursts” connotation of original need for “sacrifice” – of time, efforts and resources – but also its adherents’ aforementioned complete mindfulness regarding their sonic intentions.

So, compared to ordinary “down to earth” audio equipment, whose customers are supposed to be entertained only, and which doesn’t imply any kind of additional sacrifices from them, visible on the surface of True High End Audio part of its potential is only “a tip of an iceberg”. While the main, that is, its dormant (or, “underwater”) part can be awoken and realized only via application of passionate creative energy of its users (or their trusted representatives like dealers, installers, etc.).

If the users are not “prepared” for this, then they can end up in an absurd situation of a weirdo, which would “drive nails with a microscope” (by the way, the author’s experience tells him that, out of the 14% of self-proclaimed “audiophiles” in the CTA study, there definitely exists quite a few of those too).

As a saying goes, “to each his own”, be it Caesar or a locksmith, and even if that “locksmith” with a lot of disposable means has got an arsenal of tools which would include the “golden microscope”. If the latter is to be used just as a 24K Gold head hammer to drive musical “nails” with it, still, such an audio jewelry’s presence in the whole list of what top tier audio industry has to offer has absolutely nothing to do with True High End Audio.

                                          “I HAVE A DREAM…”

As we already mentioned above, If, let’s say, even seventy years ago, the only way to truly appreciate some serious music had been listening to live events, then now, in full accordance with technical progress, it is far from being so.

Actually, High End Audio industry should be armed with full awareness of its benefit to the society, including the fact that, because it possess the whole arsenal of necessary tools to fully replace (crazy expensive) concert halls, it can be a similar artistic link in creation of music.
And, on a par with the most “serious” concert halls, it provides to its customers a whole arsenal of technical means of the uppermost artistic level.

However utopian it may sound, but, in the context of real economic, and even more so, cultural effect from replacing live musical experience gained at concert halls with a wide implementation of its “fully congruent to the human ability to fully appreciate music” equipment, this industry could quite pretend on all kinds of support, including the government one.  
That is, on a par with all the other artistic endeavors, which are supported by the state, this support could also include the participation of the industry in all sorts of state educational programs.

Even for their very existence, all productive “Philarmoniс Societies” still need a sufficient number of prepared public, but with the current, constantly aggregating cultural policy of free market, with its infamous phenomenon of “cultural erosion of capitalism”, where would we find all those people to fill up the concert halls in the forthcoming future?!

Actually, an ultimate dream of the book’s author has always been that the industry would escape from its permanent state of pregnancy and finally would reach a state of complete freedom, including the freedom of enabling an access to its products from common music lovers with “ordinary” means.

If the industry could get rid of its fetters of both of its current presumption of “pure entertainment for masses” paradigm, and of the complete reliance on all the infamous principles of market economy (which inevitably lead it to a cul-de-sac of unstoppable price increases), then High End Audio could be fully capable of pretending on a status of a respectable supplier of a certain type of “musical instruments”.

If, however, High End Audio industry would stay as it is, that is, as no more than just trading in a certain entertainment commodity in a free market economy, then rather sooner than later, its further perspectives would leave us no choice but to hear in its name just only one key word – “(The) End”.

                          WHAT IS THE CAUSE FOR “AUDIO ALPINISM”

In 1943, American psychologist Abraham Maslow published his famous work called “A Theory of Human Motivation”, which introduced a concept of human beings having a hierarchy of needs [quoted from a book by Atul Gawande “Being Mortal”, in a reverse translation from Russian]:

”That hierarchy of needs usually presented as a pyramid.  Our physiological needs lie in its foundation (like food, cloth and shelter). One level above is our personal security needs (like law, order and stability). Our love and belongingness need lie one more level above. Our esteem and personal growth needs are located on the next level (an ability to reach our goals, to master knowledge and skills, a need for appreciation of our personal effort and achievements). And at the peak of this pyramid there lies our desire for satisfaction of (what Maslow for the first time called) “self-actualization” needs, that is, the needs of reaching personal happiness via compliance with moral ideals and applying creative capabilities for just the creativity’s sake.”

It should be noted that all the needs are interconnected into a single whole, where each of them exists in constant interaction with all the others, allowing for stability of the whole construction, and each successive level corresponds to a certain stage in the sequence of the human personal development.

Thirty five years prior to the release of the Maslow’s study, a Harvard philosopher Josiah Royce published a work called “The Philosophy of Loyalty” in which he tried to understand why “just” complete material well-being seem empty and meaningless.
What else do we need to feel that our lives are filled with a purpose?
Royce believed that the answer to the last question is that such a need for a cause exists in everyone, but we are always trying to find it outside ourselves. He called the devotion to that fundamental external cause “the loyalty”. He saw it as an antipode of individualism.

At that, Royce hated militant individualism. On the opposite, he held that [quoted from a book by Atul Gawande “Being Mortal”, in a reverse translation from Russian]

“…human beings need the loyalty as they need air. It would not necessarily lead them to happiness, and it even can be accompanied by suffering, but we all need something more than just us, so that our life is to become bearable. Without that “something bigger than ourselves”, we are governed only by our whims and desires, but they are fleeting, capricious and insatiable. They bring, eventually, only sufferings…Each moment of human existence is a transition from an impulse to an impulse… As we can’t see any light inside us, let’s then try to see it outside us”.

Contemporary psychologists replaced the Royce’ term “loyalty”, that is, “something outside us, which is bigger than just us” with a concept of “transcendence”. After that they positioned, at the very top of Maslow’s pyramid, above its level of “self-actualization” needs, one more level of human motivation – the “transcendence” one.

It’s worth noting that, at the moment, the corrected depiction of Maslow’s pyramid, with the added top element of “transcendence” could be found in Internet only in an English language version.
Most likely not by accident, all available Russian language images of the pyramid happened to be outdated as their top level  (in full accordance with ever continuing “times of troubles” in our country) is still designated as “self-actualization needs”.

In the book, the pyramid is proposed to be used for explaining the difference between the “contents” of different audio products in relation to the “content’s” positioning at the various levels of it.

In the book, the pyramid is proposed to be used for explaining the difference between the “contents” of different audio products in relation to the “content’s” positioning at the various levels of it.

A certain positioning of a given product at one of the levels of the pyramid is defined by the level of its manufacturer’s presumed highest needs which are satisfied with its production (and by the same level of presumed highest needs of its distributors, dealers and the rest which are also satisfied while dealing with the product). In the same manner, a positioning of a certain product at this particular level of the pyramid is defined by presumed the same level of its potential customers’ highest needs, which also are satisfied with it. Via accepting the “content” of the given product as their guiding force, all of them are supposed to satisfy the same level of their life’s highest needs with it.
And this is why all of them are supposed to meet each other at this particular level of the pyramid, which, in its turn, defines how high is the “level” of this particular product.

Consequently, a price of a product has got no direct correlation with this “level”, as its “content” has got almost everything to do with the “height” of the original intentions that lie “at its foundation”, and almost nothing to do with its cost.

When a word “sublime” is used, that is, when its use is intended to describe an experience of moral or spiritual purity or excellence elevated to a high (sic!) degree, it’s in complete accordance with the Maslow’s model.

This is why, at the end of his discourse about High End Audio, the book’s author mentioning of this model helps to put its content in a proper perspective. Namely, that, first,  there actually exist a very high level of human needs, and, that, second, they can be satisfied only via satisfaction of the same level of needs by the other sides (including “the other side of the sales barricades”).

Strictly speaking, in both constant standing at the high end of this pyramid, and in providing and applying some appropriate audio equipment for this, lie, respectively, both the raison d’etre of True High End Audio, and its main functionality.

(For all the further details, including detailed description of “12 Steps of Audiophile Stairway To Heaven” in a special Appendix-Instructions Manual, please, see:

Misha Kucherenko – “StereoPravda - Politically Incorrect Review Of High End Audio”

Time Machine, Saint Petersburg. 2020

Update (November the 8th, 2021): The English Edition of the book is available (via (practically speaking) FREE DELIVERY WORLDWIDE by Russian Mail First Class Registered Service) from here:

(please, also see BLOG #101).

20.04.2020 // Author:  (Bigmisha) // Number of views:  1444

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