What is My Stereo's Gender?
Sound & Vision|August - September 2021
Readers will recall, distressingly, that I have tried their patience on just about every topic that marginally relates to audio. LP grooves, CD bumps, flat response, boomy bass, warm recordings, cold binary bits—I have waxed philosophically on all of them. Which bring us to today’s audio topic: gender.
KEN C. POHLMANN

When I first got involved with stereo, some of my main concerns were: Does my receiver need a loudness switch? What are the optimal mid-range crossover frequencies? What is the tracking weight of my tonearm? Should I buy a conical or elliptical stylus? Will my paper route pay for all this? Now, my biggest question is, what is my stereo’s gender?

My first piece of decent audio gear was a hand-built (by me) Heathkit AA-21D amplifier. Solid-state! Twenty-eight transistors! I had a lot of questions about my first amplifier, but it wouldn’t have entered my mind to ask about its gender. It wasn’t sentient in any way. It wasn’t going to have progeny. It was completely dumb. It was only an amplifier.

Today’s smart speakers are smart to the point of seeming almost human. And as they assume human qualities, they naturally have assumed a voice. And that voice assigns a gender to the speaker. Early smart speakers used a female voice. At least according to one study at Indiana University in 2017, both men and women preferred a female voice, finding it welcoming, warm, and nurturing. The United Nations begs to differ.

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