Monday, August 5, 2013

psyched out

Tasting wines is one of my hobbies and audio equipment is another one. I find that are similarities between the two in terms of psychology when it comes to enjoyment and evaluation.

In broad terms, both hobbies have devotees who can be so obsessed fussing with the details that they get lost in the trees and don't see the forest; for them it is all about bragging rights, what's in their collections, the "specs" and making such a big deal about everything that they don't really enjoy the wine or the music. Instead they're always looking for something better.

There's also an assumption that price is directly related to quality.  The more expensive something is, the better it is. I'd say generally that is correct - that you get what you pay for, although I'd also say the law of diminishing returns applies. As you go up the price ladder, any improvements are incrementally less and less, not directly proportional.  But some folks feel that you cannot have "quality" below a certain price. Or something grossly expensive is also grossly marvelous.  My two cents is, not true.

There are plenty of studies in both hobbies with results showing that people tend to judge what they are told is the more expensive of the products being sampled as the better one, regardless of whether that is really true. The thing is, very often the price assigned to a product has less to do with the actual costs of that product and more to do with the bravado and chutzpah of the marketing department.  What exactly makes that Napa Cabernet worth $120, just because it came from some boutique obscure winery with limited production?  Or what makes that speaker worth $4,000? You take these same products, cut the price in half and a lot of people would reduce their ratings accordingly.

Then you have people who just go by points. I know someone who describes all his wines in those terms. He never tells me what the wine actually tastes like, but instead tells me how many points Parker awarded it. Now, I have a great deal of respect for Robert Parker and find that he is a reliable guide when it comes to choosing wine but again, people get obsessed and think that if he hasn't scored a wine highly then it can't be that good. Thankfully there is no such guru in the audio world who has such a degree of influence. But still, people put a lot of credence into reviews and often those reviews really don't have anything of substance backing them up except the reviewer's flowery prose, such as a speaker having a "chocolatey, organic midrange."  Now just what the heck does that mean?  I notice several audio reviewers will resort to food terms when describing the equipment they review. Maybe wine reviewers should start using audio terms, such as "the Pinot Noir had tight, taut bass and silky highs."

The thing is, it is always safe to go along with (1) what the expert says and (2) the higher the price the nicer the nice.

After all, who is going to disagree with an expert?  Even if you have your own opinion, or if you really have no opinion, at least you are on safe grounds to go along with the expert.  And the same goes for equating price with quality - if you can't appreciate the higher priced stuff, then you must be like casting pearls before swine.

Just some chocolatey observations to chew on... more in the next post.

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