Periodically, I see posts on various audio websites about whether audio reviewers should be required to have their hearing checked (and published). The unstated, but implied assumption is that as reviewers loose their upper frequency extension (as do all humans as we age) their subjective impressions will be less accurate. Is this anything besides ageism?
Perhaps a better question would be when should a subjective audio reviewer retire? The subjective part is important – if an audio writer never includes any subjective sonic descriptions in their articles, their hearing acumen isn’t really an issue, is it? But if a reviewer does include their own subjective impressions of an audio system’s “sound,” there must be a point at which their impressions will be colored by changes in their physical condition, right?
My own position on this is simple – if a reviewer’s subjective impressions become so individualistic or idiosyncratic to be of no value to their readers, then it’s time to retire, or at least refrain from writing subjective reviews. Some reviewers, such as The Absolute Sound’s Dr. Robert Greene, have continued to produce exemplary subjective reviews despite advanced years (the technical sections of Dr. Greene’s reviews are also paragons of clarity.)
As to whether any particular physical handicap can debilitate someone’s ability to listen critically (other than complete nerve deafness) is questionable. Some of the most “gifted” listeners I’ve ever met were individuals with some degree of sonic disability. One old acquaintance had such keen hearing despite an old injury that he could tell if a second clarinet was flat after a few seconds into the first tutti section. When it came to gear he could also tell you after about 30 seconds, everything that was wrong with a speaker’s crossover or dispersion characteristics.
The idea that a reviewer should stop writing reviews because their high frequency extension isn’t what it used to be is, to me, ludicrous. Because if a human focuses their attention on sound there’s almost no physical handicap can deter them from continuing to achieve a high level of sonic discernment. And because sonic discernment is a mental rather than a physical activity, age-related sonic infirmities, especially those whose onset were gradual or incremental, shouldn’t IMHO, be a deciding factor in any audio reviewer’s retirement plans.