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Stereophonic Reproduction as an Artform Perfected by Stereophiles
   by Ralph Glasgal

Let us assume that there is a group interested in black and white photography. They have a bunch of Brady plates from 1865 that they can print and make copies of. The members of the group all discuss and argue about what kind of paper to use in the enlarger, whether to over expose or under expose the Brady images, how much to enlarge them, what brand of developer or hypo produces the best resolution, contrast, and so on. Obviously these are all subjective decisions and there is no way they can ever be resolved to the satisfaction of all the members of the club. Why?

Because human eyesight involves color, motion, depth, and detail as well as resolution, contrast, and brightness so adjusting ones vision to appreciate or judge black and white still photographs requires something that we would call subjective. Subjective opinions particularly involving art or the imperfect use of the senses such as sight, hearing, smell, and even touch will vary from person to person and so differences can be discussed but unanimity is unlikely the further from reality or lifelike perfection one gets. Each defect or departure from normal eyesight will be perceived and valued differently by each hobbyist.

Now let us assume that hidden in the Brady plates is data on the color of the silver grains. Perhaps, oval pixel grains are red, round ones are green and square ones are blue. Now a member of this club one day observes this, extracts this data and uses software to produce a color version of a Brady Civil War picture. I dare say, the general public is enthralled, but almost all club members, are horrified. Color is not artistic and they like their black and white prints better than any color ones especially if the color rendition is a trifle too pastel or too saturated. There is no way to resolve such a conflict. One must simply start a new club devoted to color photography.

In the case of the stereo loudspeaker triangle, we are dealing with a sound reproduction method that is obviously, like black and white photography, not sonically (i.e.binaurally) realistic. Compared to normal hearing, the stereo loudspeaker triangle, limits interaural level differences and interaural time differences to unnaturally low values, utterly distorts pinna direction finding cues, delivers ambient sound from the worst possible direction, and so on. But as above, let us assume that on an LP or CD there is hidden localization and ambient data that can be recovered and reproduced using some 3D system akin to color photography as in the above analogy. (Actually this is not an assumption the data is actually there but neglected.)

Stereophiles can go and most have gone to a live concert so they know binaural sound and of course they experience it all day long. Thus they know or at least sense that the stereo loudspeaker triangle illusion is a kind of compromised artform (like Escher's optical illusions) and they understand that stereo loudspeaker reproduction is not going to be any more realistic sonically than a black and white photograph or movie is optically. Thus to judge stereo reproduction's imperfections requires subjectivism and there can be only limited agreement on improvements, tweaks, etc. especially when the technology, as in black and white photography, has reached a plateau where any further improvement is unlikely to be very significant or detectable even by devoted aficionados.

So just as the black and white photography club members eschewed color pictures, stereophiles are not likely to embrace any form of surround sound or any form of binaural technology. Nor perhaps should they since stereo is an artform worth preserving like many other imperfect artforms.

In general, the firm resolution of artistic or artifice disputes is counterproductive since it deters further improvements and progress and is dull.