The Black Hats...
This is a much more difficult list to put together because, on the one hand, I have no desire to pull any punches and, on the other hand, I want to avoid being grossly unfair. Needless to say, the commentaries below are simply opinions, my own opinions, although in most instances they are shared by the audio people I respect.
Larry Archibald (Stereophile)
The arch- in his name signifies archenemy--the principal, most powerful enemy of scientific discipline in equipment evaluation and of accountability in audio journalism. No, there’s nothing fiendish about him as a person; he is a nice, intelligent guy to have a drink with; but he is a total opportunist as a publisher. His magazines tell you what he believes you want to hear, because that’s where the money is, not what you ought to know, namely the unvarnished realities of the subject matter. I am con-vinced he knows what those realities are; he just doesn’t think they are moneymakers.
John Atkinson (Stereophile)
Highly intelligent, extremely competent, transparently insincere. I don't know when the hypocrisy started; maybe in his earliest days at Hi-Fi News & Record Review in England he actually believed the tweako B.S. he now redacts and asseverates in Santa Fe; but I refuse to believe that he still believes it. He has been exposed to too much overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary and he just can’t be that dense. (See also Issue No. 22, p. 10.) At this point he mechanically reiterates the party line and comes up with progressively more tortured sophistries to bolster it. Why? Because his job at Larry’s place requires it, and it’s a good job. The trouble is, he has too many readers who still take all that rubbish at face value.
Bruce Brisson (MIT: Music interface Technologies)
Grand master of the specious technical argument promoting insanely expensive tweako cable. I find his approach particularly sleazy because he uses intimidating buzzwords and icons of science and mathematics to lead the audiophile to false conclusions—he hopes you won’t grasp the total irrelevance of his highfalutin general analysis to the transfer of audio frequencies over short distances in a domestic audio system. He knows exactly what he is doing, and that makes him despicable.
William Conrad & Lewis Johnson (Conrad-Johnson)
The duo chiefly responsible for, or at least heavily contributory to, the cult of formatted vacuum-tube sound, achieved with deliberately high output impedance (i.e., low damping factor) and Lots of second harmonic distortion. In his famous/notorious “t-mod” soundalike experiments of the mid-1980s, Bob Carver had to screw up a perfectly neutral solid-state signal path to make it sound exactly like a Conrad-Johnson tube job. Not much has changed since.
Anthony Cordesman (Audio, formerly TAS)
I have had my say about him in 'Hip Boots' (Issue No. 20, pages 62--63), but he is a major Black Hat and needs to be be listed here. He illustrates the intellectual tragedy of a tweako audio culture that can ensnare a highly intelligent and widely respected expert in another discipline (military analysis, national security) to the point where he writes crashing stupidities about audio equipment. An unforgivable shame.
Michael Fremer (Stereophile, formerly TAS)
Possibly the most unattractive individual in the American audio community. In his writings and in his personal contacts, he is vulgar, abusive, bigoted, and intellectually dishonest. A real charmer. His favorite cause is the superiority of vinyl to CD, an argument he pursues to the limits of absurdity and animosity, making a total jackass of himself in the process. A perfect example of the excesses engendered by tweako cultism and a highly suitable addition to the Stereophile stable.
Corey Greenberg (Audio, formerly Home Theater)
Talk cool, think tweak--that seems to be his creed as an audio journalist. He obviously believes that semieducated, unaccountable subjective reviewing is more, credible if the style is late-1960s Rolling Stone gonzo. The trouble is that in the mid-1990s such a style is no longer cool; as Lou Reed (who really is cool) would say, stick a fork in it and turn it over, it’s done. Occasionally I discern a faint glimmer of technical insight in Corey’s undisciplined opinionfests, suggesting that he might have the potential to be a good reviewer if only his intellectual environment were totally different. It remains to be seen whether his mid-1996 switch to Audio magazine constitutes a corrective environmental change. Time will tell.
Dennis Had (Cary Audio Design, Inc.)
The single-ended triode amplifier man. That concept is such an outrageous piece of stupidity in the context of mid-1990s technology that any technical debate about it is merely embarrassing. Meanwhile such highly innovative and sophisticated amplifier designs as those of Bob Cordell and Mark Alexander (see Issue No. 20, p. 22 and p. 25) go without commercial implementation. Hopeless marketplace...
Robert Harley (Stereophile)
The most influential and, at the same time, least qualified writer on digital audio (among other subjects). He got his job at Stereophile by winning an essay contest, for crying out loud! There seems to be no evidence that anyone asked him for his academic/technical credentials. His blunders on the test bench and on the printed page are the laughingstock of degreed engineers and academics; he has been skewered and punctured both in print and face-toface so many times that he resembles a sieve; but he keeps plowing right ahead with his flawed tests and reviews— and his publisher (Archibald) and editor (Atkinson) let him! He appears to believe every half-baked tweako cliché ever put forth, and in his case I am almost certain he is sincere. (The more the pity—but a deluded Black Hat is still a bad guy.)
William Z. Johnson (Audio Research)
Take all the vacuum-tube B.S. you have ever been exposed to, trace it back--who heard it from whom, who read it where, who said it first, etc.—and I think you’ll end up with Bill Johnson as Genesis 1:1. (I don’t mean the electronic theory, which goes back to 1907; I mean the tweako amplifier bandwagon.) It is also my impression that he was the very first manufacturer to realize, in the late 1960s, that you can charge a hell of a lot more for a piece of audio equipment than its true value in terms of parts, labor, and R & D. That insight started a whole industry based on image and style rather than substance. His black hat is therefore size XL.
Ray Kimber (Kimber Kable)
A pair of 4-foot speaker cables for $15,000? Yes, that's the man. He is totally shameless. What would go better with those spiffy cables than a nice black Stetson? (I must add that there’s nothing wrong with the more or less reasonably priced cables he also makes.)
Noel Lee (Monster Cable Products, Inc.)
Father of the tweako cable industry. He was the first to realize that you can make lots of money in highend audio without a factory, without engineers, without a technological innovation, without any talent other than salesmanship—in other words, without significant overhead. All you need is a marketplace of gullible audiophiles, a steady stream of B.S. promising amazing sonic improvements, and an account with an established maker of wires and cables (Alpha, Belden, Canare, Mogami, or whatever). You specify various tweako configurations, your supplier delivers the cable with your brand name on the insulation, you set an astronomical price, you give the dealer 50-plus points, and—voilà!—you are a legend of the audio salons. Noel Lee adds a sophisticated credibility device to the formula: he also sells perfectly normal, conventional, high-quality wire, cable, and connecting hardware to the trade, at a fair price. His black hat is covered by a white hat on the outside. Smart boy, that Noel.
David Manley (Vacuum Tube Logic)
One of the chief technical apologists of the tweako vacuum-tube cult. He wrote a book on the subject and he does, or at least used to do, some heavy proselytizing at the trade shows. Nice shtick; too bad he is dead wrong.
Arnie Nudell (Genesis Technologies, Inc., Eosone)
Ask him about making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. He has perfected the technique. The 'heart' of the Genesis I, his $90,000 flagship speaker system—i.e., the driver that determines its basic sound—is the five-foot ribbon from the old Carver “Amazing Loudspeaker.” It’s an excellent transducer; it sounds great; but it’s ingeniously fabricated out of cheap parts and was originally developed for a speaker system which, in its most expensive form, sold at about 3% of the Genesis I’s price. I estimate that Arnie gets the ribbon from Carver Corporation at an OEM price of maybe $100 each, certainly well under $200. Yes, there are many other drivers in a Genesis I (that’s one of its problems, actually) and very handsome cabinetry, but $90,000? Designed around the Carver ribbon? If at least they admitted it—but when I first pointed it out more than two years ago, they freaked. And that’s not the only skeleton in Arnie’s engineering closet...
Harry Pearson (The Absolute Sound)
After my full-length portrayal of the man in the last issue (No. 23, p. 72), I don’t want to belabor the point here. He is the most grotesque embodiment of half-assed, tweako cultism in audio. At this point in his dismal decline I’m not even sure he is playing with a full deck. Next!
George Tice (Tice Audio Products, Inc.
The original power-conditioner flimflam man. Not to mention the clock you plug into your wall for a miraculous improvement in sound. One must admire the unmitigated gall of the man while dismissing his B.S.
David Wilson (Wilson Audio Specialties, Inc.)
An unlikely Black Hat because he is a nice, intelligent, highly civilized gentleman and a super recordist. But he also happens to be the godfather of the megapriced speaker racket. The Wilson WAMM system costs $147,000 and has nothing in it that justifies even a fraction of that price. The 40-odd rich audiophiles who bought it over the years ended up with truly superior sound, such as you can get with a (say) $15,000 speaker system, and thus remained perfectly happy because the $132,000 overcharge (all right, a few thousand less at earlier prices) didn’t mean a thing to them financially but boosted their audiophile egos tremendously. That doesn’t make David Wilson a White Hat, however, nor does it put clothes on the emperor.
I must add that nearly all of the very high-end dealers from coast to coast are Black Hats because they are stuck with the tweako party line. They have to tell you that the upper midrange is more liquid with single-ended triodes or that the silver cable has better rhythm and pace, otherwise they can’t sell the stuff. I hesitate to single out the stores that have personally nauseated me, as there may be others unknown to me that are just as bad or worse.
Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
--SAMUEL JOHNSON (April 7, 1775)
'Musicality' is the last refuge of a tweak.
--PETER ACZEL, The Audio Critic (in a long-ago issue)
I regard 'double-blind comparative listening tests' as the last refuge of the agenda-driven scoundrel.
--JOHN ATKINSON, Stereophile (December 1996, page 23)