Why Expertise Matters: It Could Save Your Life … Or Your Audio Sanity

Tasty chanterelles (left) grow individually, while lookalike (and poisonous) Jack O’ Lanterns are usually found in clusters. (Chanterelles by Timothy Dykes at Unsplash.com; Jack O’ Lanterns courtesy of Delaware Nature Society)

Not too long ago, my soon-to-be wife and I were out for our morning walk on the delightful Fairfield Loop Trail. As we passed through a wooded area by one of the lakes, we saw a lush batch of beautiful mushrooms growing by the side of the path. Neither of us are mushroom experts, but they looked familiar, so we brought some home to look them up.

A web search showed us pictures of all the edible mushrooms, and the perfect match—or so we thought—were the chanterelles, known to be delicious. We double and triple checked, and from the info that the internet brought us, we felt safe and secure in our evaluation. So we sauteed up a batch.

Two days later, we both got terrible food poisoning. We blamed it on some Mexican food, not the mushrooms. Only after we recovered did we receive a short warning from my wife’s sister in England, who has some expertise in mushrooms:

“They’re not chanterelles, they are jack-o-lanterns! Don’t eat them; they’ll put you into the hospital!”

We were lucky to fare so well. When we looked up both types, we discovered that they look almost the same. Without the expert, though, it was an easy mistake. Chanterelles grow from the ground. Jack-o-lanterns grow on rotting trees.

I don’t know of any toxic audio equipment—except for maybe the exotic ion flame speakers that fill rooms with ozone—but in the audio world, the scenario is often the same. Someone learns about a technology that is purported to sound special. Products show up all over the internet that look like they share the same tech. If you make the wrong choice based on misleading or incomplete knowledge, you can get hurt.

In this case, the list of painful side effects includes wasted money, a bad listening experience, razzing by your audio geek buddies, loss of confidence in your ability to listen critically, reduction in your product’s resale value, or possibly hurting your hearing from putting up with aural distortion.

Experts are useful, but figuring out who the real experts are can be daunting. So how do you find a real audio expert? Here’s what to look for:

  1. The expert may have different tastes than yours, but they will do what they can to learn about your listening tastes, habits, and lifestyle needs. They would never say, “My way or the highway!”
  2. The expert is a veteran audio hobbyist, has spent years with many audio products, or is involved with music. The expert loves great music and audio gear, and can’t get enough of it.
  3. The expert believes that you must trust your own ears and helps you learn how to listen.
  4. The expert keeps up with the latest audio products and technologies.
  5. The expert has a place for you to listen to fine audio gear. It’s certainly a good starting point.

Paul Squillo is the owner of Golden Ears Audio in Fairfield, Iowa.