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Why “The Best” is a Relative Term

Are you as tired of proclamations of “The Best!” attached to everything with no attention given to the relevance of the claim. Is my BEST and your BEST the same? I don’t think so…


AR-best1.jpg“What’s the best…?” How many times have a seen this question
asked and answered. The trouble is the answer is usually wrong. And why is
that? Because the question is too imprecise to answer correctly.

First let’s define “best” According to the Merriam-Webster
online dictionary “best” can be defined two ways – “excelling all others” and
“most productive of good – offering or producing the greatest advantage,
utility, or satisfaction.” Both of these definitions rely on being able to
quantify or at least define a set of criteria for “best.” In the world of audio
these criteria are not fixed or definitive, but vary depending on each
audiophile’s physical circumstances and aesthetic tastes.

A practical example of how “best” could be different for two
audiophiles with very similar systems, but differently-sized rooms: audiophile
one has a large room with medium/high efficiency speakers who like to play rock
music at near-concert levels while audiophile two has a small room with those
same spakers, and listens primarily to chamber music and jazz. For the first
audiophile a powerful Krell, Classe, or, Pass power amp would be in the running
for best, while for the second audiophile one of several single-ended tube
triode amplifiers would be more appropriate for the role of “best.”

Because an audio system is, by definition, a SYSTEM, that
requires a host of different components needed to work together, the concept
that any particular component can be universally better than all the other
possibilities is absurd. Give me a component, any component, and no matter how
universally praised, with a bit of time I can probably figure out how to put it
into a system where it will not be the best option and could actually sound
quite bad.

So the next time you hear that a particular audio component is
“the best,” please add in the bolder-sized grain of salt that such a statement
deserves…

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