What's Your Reference?


In enthusiast audio we talk about references a lot. "My reference" this and that virtually pepper audiophile websites. In theory, the "better" an audiophile or reviewer's reference is, the more weight and credibility their reviews and comments may have. After all, they have "the best" to compare other components to.

Of course the logical progression of this need to have the "best" references has led to the escalation of prices of so-called "reference" components to stratospheric heights as manufacturers realize that the most fanatical and well-healed audiophiles will pay almost any amount to have bragging rights to the best "reference." But is "a reference" really about having this month's (or week's) hottest piece of hardware? I sure hope not.

Back in it's high-end audio's infancy Harry Pearson proposed that live music, the absolute sound, should always be the true reference to which audio reproduction gear should be compared. During the subsequent years no one has, in my humble opinion, advanced a better reference.

Sure, it can be argued that unless you were at the original musical event you can't possibly know what the original sound, to which you aspire, actually sounded like. That may be true of commercial recordings, but what if you, like J. Gordon Holt, created your own recordings? Sure, that's much better, but still not perfect since your mic, preamp, and recording position all have the potential to (and usually do) negatively affect and pollute the original sonics. But at least if you make a recording you have a reference source where you know what the original mic feed, before being recorded, sounded like. That's a big head start in the reference race.

Personally, I'd rather have my own recordings to use as a reference than any piece of commercially available software, or hardware. If someone offered me the latest greatest (fill in the blanks) six-figure super reference model in exchange for all of my recordings that I use for reference, I'd pass. That's how important my own references are...

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