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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
July 2000

Canada, Part Two

This month I'll be making my second trip to Canada in Y2K. The first trip was to Montreal for the Festival du son et de l'image, but this time I'll be heading to Toronto and then Ottawa. Doug Schneider, who lives in Canada's capital city, and I take these opportunities to talk face to face about SoundStage! and how to bring to fruition our plans for the future with the limited amount of resources we have, but this trip has two more pressing purposes, both of which you will read about in upcoming months.

First, Doug and I will be visiting speaker manufacturer API to tour their facilities and write about the visit. Last September I did this at Thiel in Lexington, Kentucky, and the experience was enlightening. Writing about an audio product is one thing, but seeing how it's made and talking with those who design it while they are at work is quite another -- and as fulfilling as you might expect. We will be taking plenty of pictures at API and talking with a number of the engineers about the Mirage, Energy and Athena lines of speakers the company manufactures, and maybe we'll even get the scoop on some new products.

Of perhaps greater importance, however, is the trip Doug, Neil Walker and I will make to the National Research Council in Ottawa. As you know, the NRC conducts our loudspeaker measurements, and we'll get to see where and how they do this. But it's the blind listening test we will participate in at the NRC that will be the center of our attention. I can hear you now -- "Blind listening test? Why? Is SoundStage! going to become the Internet home of it-all-sounds-the-same thinking?"

In fact, the reason we are going to be part of a blind listening test, with loudspeakers only this time, is because we believe in the subjective reviewing we do each month so strongly. Listening without seeing what's playing and thus not knowing its price or physical characteristics is valuable for understanding biases, both aural and visual. My time at SoundStage! has been spent almost exclusively listening to some of the most esoteric and expensive equipment there is. Thus I'm constantly wondering if what I hear is worth its cost. At the NRC, I hope to find this out, determining perhaps only in my mind how much I would be willing to pay for the item behind the curtain. Yes, this may challenge my beliefs, some of which I may not even know exist. I can't wait -- to take the test and tell you all about it. It'll spawn a feature article of its own.

Second, blind listening will help me zero in on the quality of the sound I'm hearing because that's really all there will be -- the sound. I don't know if we will hear only music, but I do hope we get to hear some test tones so we can get a sense, for example, how low 80Hz is -- and it's darned low. Thus, I hope to re-establish baselines for my listening in my own room, remembering what I heard and how it was reproduced without distraction.

Some people will question the usefulness of blind testing -- a good number of SS! writers have done just this after finding out the itinerary for the Canadian excursion -- but I look at it as a way of further refining my skills. In the end, while I trust my ears and stand behind any review I've written, there is always room for improvement. There aren't any professional seminars for high-end-audio writers, so this blind test will have to suffice. In fact, I'm not sure what exactly I will learn from it, but I'm open to whatever it is. And as we readers of audio reviews know, openness, among other traits, is a very good thing.

...Marc Mickelson

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