What is the “absolute sound”?











The question of how we measure success in hi-fi is a tricky one. Many years ago, The Absolute Sound magus Harry Pearson made a lot of hay about the idea of reality being the only valid metric when evaluating sound or systems that produce sound. Specifically, the point of your hi-fi was to recreate, as faithfully as possible, the sound of “the live event”. The best hi-fi systems would freely cross the uncanny valley; playback would be indistinguishable from the original. Real instruments, played by real people, in real spaces — that was ever the barometer, the referent, and the aim. That was “the absolute sound” — and our hi-fi systems succeeded or failed solely by their ability to create this illusion, to erase time and distance, to bring the performance into your listening room.

Fascinating, right? I think so. I think many of us still think so.

But what if it’s a load of crap?

Many years ago, I wrote an article called: “Chasing the Absolute Sound“. This was an evolution of an article I wrote years before that, called “Your hi-fi sounds like crap“. Sadly, neither article has achieved “common wisdom” status, because I keep seeing/reading discussions online about how there is this “one thing” somehow “out there”, one perfect absolute sound, something that “we can all agree” is the “ideal”. And when a hi-fi system is able to recreate this one, singular, Platonic ideal, then that system is “doing its job”. Our job, as enthusiasts, would be to struggle toward this hidden peak, to seek out the tales from the expeditionary forces that have gone before us, to venture into the blinding snow and freezing fog, searching after “the absolute sound” as if were some kind of audio yeti.

Long story short: there’s no yeti. Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were! Instead, we have other goals and other guides. And that fact is why this hobby is so interesting.

Check out the YouTube video for all that — and a lot more. Comments are welcome!