A Babel, a Babble . . . Page 2
Holt: But the thing is, if you leaf through the review section the way it is now, you see...
Lehnert: ...the graphs...
Holt: ...all the way through it. And as Tom said, I have the feeling that's probably turning off some people.
Mitchell: One of the problems of presenting technical information, especially in graphical form, is that graphs have a way of taking up a lot of space for the amount of information that they convey. So if you look at a review in which the text is 80% subjective and 20% technical analysis, by the time you also print the graphs on the same three or four pages, it looks like a very technically dominant review, a graph-dominated review. Although I would personally prefer to have the technical information integrated into the review with the graphs on the same pages, I have a very strong feeling that a great many of our readers did badly in high-school science and feel very incompetent and nervous about anything like graphs or tables or numbers. I think that including the graphs, etc., in the same pages as the rest of the text tends to scare them away. It will be a real inhibitor from really appreciating what the bulk of the text says.
I would strongly urge you think of the possibility of organizing the review as a sort of a three-part thing. You've got the subjective text, with the technical analysis integrated into it where appropriate, making references to the graphs. The second part of the review, later in the magazine, has all the graphical and numerical analysis for all the products in one section. You could call that "Analysis and Correlation," where you do the science basically, where you investigate the relationship of the measurements to the sound. Then, of course, you already have a third section, the manufacturer's responses—which I find an important part of the review.
Arnis Balgalvis: It's occurred to me that high-end audio is very much like high-performance cars. When I've had discussions with Larry Klein (footnote 3) (who happens to be a personal friend), we're diametrically opposed in what we think about high-end equipment because he thinks it's a waste of money. However, I always introduce the fact that car magazines do not hesitate to write about Ferraris, Lamborghinis, etc. Their format is also similar to what Peter is talking about, the technical analysis of the car appears in a separate section, and yes, there are some references made to it, for example that something happened in a particular way when the car was accelerated. I was just thinking maybe that Bob Harley could have a sidebar type of a thing and say "Here is what I measured and so on...," and converse with a particular reviewer, maybe saying, "Well, what do you think? When you heard this particular thing, could it be because of the x factor that I measured?" And so on. But the more I think about it, the technical section would have to be put in a place that people could really skip over. Many people like to hear the words and they're willing to read about it, but if they have to look at graphs—graphs are really intimidating.
[Several minutes of discussion on the more arcane mechanical aspects of magazine production followed.]
Lipnick: Maybe you should put something in the magazine asking the readers what they would like.
Holt: I think that's a good idea.
Atkinson: Apart from intimidating readers with graphs, by trying to introduce some kind of objective support for subjective opinions are we in danger of demystifying the subject? Of taking the romance out?
Dick Olsher: There is a danger, and I think the keyword here is "fun." F-U-N. The magazine should be fun to read. Granted, you want to offer music reviews, equipment reviews, opinions—but we can't lose sight of the fact that the magazine has to remain entertaining. We have to communicate enthusiasm. I think that's why I started reading Stereophile. It was a process of self-discovery: discovering the fact that you can reproduce music fairly realistically in the home. And as you buy better equipment, try different things, the level of reproduction increases. It's an odyssey too: "Can you really achieve a semblance of live music in the home?"
Holt: Why should there be any concern about "demystifying" it? Why is mystery even considered to be an asset to the magazine?
Olsher: Because there's magic here...[Uproar]
Holt: That's a legitimate criticism that a lot of people have of our field. There's too much magic.
Olsher: But it is magical!
Gary A. Galo: I agree with Peter. I have never believed in the astrological approach to audio equipment reviewing. There may even be a magazine out there that does things like that, but I think that the great strength of Stereophile is that it has stood on the fence between the Stereo Review measurements crowd and the mystics on Long Island. And pulled the best from both worlds. I think that demystification has been one of the magazine's great strengths and I think that we should never steer away from that.
Holt: I agree.
Mitchell: All the way back to the very beginning of Stereophile, when Gordon was doing the whole job in his living room, there's been a hard core of common sense in the magazine that we don't want to lose.
Galo: The big difference [between Stereophile and The Abso!ute Sound] is that Gordon, unlike Harry Pearson, had a really solid technical background and could speak to these things with expertise. Harry had no technical background to speak of, and would get very defensive when pressed on these issues. As far as the future is concerned, I think where Stereophile is going, incorporating measurements into reviews, is really a step in the right direction. I would not like to see the technical aspects devoted to a separate section of the magazine. I think there are a lot of readers who would ignore that section of the magazine completely. By bringing the technical aspects into the body of each review, I think we're encouraging people to pursue it a little bit farther, to see both sides. To educate themselves.
Holt: The only problem here, as I see it, with mixing these together, is the fact that it becomes very difficult to decide, when you're writing the review, who you're talking to. If you're trying to address the relative newcomer—I won't even say the "average" audiophile—you have to pause and explain a lot of the terminology which you use as you go along or you'll lose them.
Olsher: Give 'em a copy of your glossary.
Holt: It doesn't exist yet (footnote 4).
Footnote 3: For many years Technical Editor of Stereo Review, and then, until its demise, a Contributing Editor for High Fidelity magazine.
Footnote 4: Gordon is at present working on a glossary of both the language of subjective reviewing and hi-fi terminology in general. [It was published in the July, August, and September 1993 issues of Stereophile (Vol.16 Nos.7, 8 & 9) and can be found elsewhere in the "Archives" section on this web site.—Ed.]