What's an armchair forum physicist?

An armchair forum physicist is the hi-fi equivalent to a bench racer. The wannabe—the ever-ready. 

(Setting the stage) A person gets a brief Zu demo. The played music? Cuts he has never heard of, but ego requires the little man to comment publicly about all the problems his golden ears heard. Yes, this kinda nonsense happens ...but really doesn't qualify as ‘hearing the product’. Zu uses the term to describes a type of Zu detractor out there on the web, from a certain type of critic, the guy who wanted to have his own loudspeaker company, might even do the one-man-band thing with a website and table saw, but has never managed to pull it all together and employ at least a few people. Don’t get us wrong, we love critics, and being critical—malicious glint in our eye....

Back in ‘99 when Sean was laying down Zu’s platform and reason for being he know Zu was going to shake things up, leaving very little middle ground for established audiophiles to stand. And maybe it was a survival thing but he also believed the more opposition Zu got the bigger it would become, at least that’s what he told myself. The first four years were hard for Zu here in the U.S. with tons of opposition, even being voted worst sound at CES 2002 by some golden-eared armchair forum physicist. By contrast the Chinese markets were totally getting Zu, magazine covers, features, even finding press in pop culture magazine Milk. In 2005 Zu was getting some traction stateside thanks to the huge effort of satisfied users like Mike Smith, Todd & Amy, Phil Ressler, Ralph Karsten of Atma-Sphere... willing to share their observations and Zu experiences. And it was that year Srajan of 6moons.com took a chance and purchased a pair of Druid’s from Zu, killer reviews followed. In 2006 Zu grew even faster, with peers within audio acknowledging Zu’s contribution potential, trade press taking notice, and regular folk learning about Zu and willing to give the 60-day satisfaction guarantee a go. And as Zu grew the more vocal the armchair forum physicists became....

When you imply inferior design or fidelity in public you better have the stuff to back it up. There have been several critics of Zu that incorrectly portrayed Zu and the physics behind its products. Critics are a good thing and most Zu critics appear to be intelligent with a passion for audio but some may have played in the reproduced audio arts a bit too long, forgetting to listen to the world around them and to real live music. And if not a sonic failure, maybe then a lack of individual scientific research and understanding for those techno-babble mumblers. One particular critic comments in a public forum regarding physics and assumptions of what is wrong with the Zu sound or product, reporting to have listened extensively to Zu products at the 2006 CES show, even mentioning a cut of something Zu only played once. While this visitor was hanging in the back of the Zu room, Sean and Adam had another pretty normal visitor request Danny Elfman’s 1994 Boingo album, the Insanity cut which they played. The song is about the United States’ lack of ambition and general decay—look at the ‘90s and tell me it wasn’t so. Yep, you guessed it, forum physicist took offense to it. Look people, Zu takes tons of albums to shows, the stuff they actually like and listen to—good, evil, scary, political, light, dark, funny, strange, sexy—we like all kinds of stuff. Sure there was a negative comment about Danny Quayle and a reference to evolution in the song, so what? Was it funny and poignant, absolutely. Please, lets not have to start each demo with ‘the views expressed in the music demonstrated are the views of the artists (maybe) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Zu or its employees’ or ‘Zu makes no representation concerning, and does not guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding, interpretation, advise, opinion, or view presented’.

Be critical, particularly about our political leaders but give it the proper framework or nothing positive will result. Zu would have certainly given the investigator audience, at least thanking him for searching Zu out, and would have been happy to talk tech, but no approach was made by him. Who was this guy? We didn’t get his name but he was wearing a blue windbreaker, was skinny, comb-over hair... no pocket protector though. Totally serious. He asked to play a cut of his own, which we did. And without exaggeration this is what happened: The visitor moseys to the sweet spot chair, listens for 15 seconds, stands up dramatically asking for his disc back and rushes out; no words, no manners, just enough to justify his step on someone to make himself feel better agenda.

And while we are on the topic of people hiding behind science; when someone leads with “the laws of physics...” you should seriously hesitate giving them your time. If you are going to reference physics like you own it, be prepared to provide references and proof and lay out your credentials. This is true for any scientific publication, even short statements of fact. Where is Zu’s proof? It’s product is proof! “Proof” as used in scientific lexicon is evidence or argument establishing or helping to establish a fact or the truth of a statement, which is repeatable and mathematically modeled. Lack of time, an odd sense of humor, and a desire to keep Zu technology secret are the reasons you don’t see a great deal of hype from Zu. You can however see a healthy company making some super cool stuff. Zu encourages armchair forum physicists, and everyone else to exercise the 60-day satisfaction guarantee, play them, measure them and publish your findings, your methods, your proofs and qualify your statements and how that relates to playback fidelity and the human element of hearing.

If you are only reading the trade news, cookbooks, forums, manufactures white papers, and periodicals, believing the ideas because it sounds reasonable without either a physics background or personal investigation, listening, and fundamental understanding, you will be misled. It is very strange, to think with such a rich history of original research in music and sound, that few have studied Ohm, Helmholtz, Rayleigh, Jeans, Tesla, Lamb, Olson, Kinsler, Fray, Coopens, Sanders, Halliday & Resnick, Hall... If audio searchers would simply get back to the original research, the audio and playback arts would be in a better position to explore ideas shaping the future. 

Posted on August 18, 2013 and filed under History, Call-out.