The Great Wall of China Letters

Sidebar: The letters that triggered this "As We See It" essay:

All change

Editor: From time to time you mention with respect to Stereophile's "Recommended Components" listings that J. Gordon Holt objects to the inclusion of such a large number of components. I have read Stereophile since the early days of irregular publication and no advertising (and have actually borrowed, at the time of publication, several of the original large-sized issues of the first two volumes of the publication).

Nearly every review these days is a "rave" or at least a "qualified rave" that contains plenty of quotable praise for the manufacturer to use in his advertisements. In my opinion, this is the real business of Stereophile these days: generate ad revenue; build subscriber base; make money. Well, after all, it's a magazine you're putting out, and these are the goals of magazines. But they weren't the goals of the original version of the magazine.

I'm happy to see Stereophile succeed; I'm glad to get it 12 times per year, on time, with lots of articles to read. And I am glad that J. Gordon Holt can profit from this success and see his creation prosper. But...you have ruined the magazine.

I hate to say this, because your magazine remains my favorite audio magazine. And I continue to use it as best I can when I consider the purchase of new equipment. But I've had to learn to remind myself that I cannot read it in the same light as the old Stereophile: Holt never hedged his bets, never minced his words—and never made much of a profit, either.

But, JGH's first priority really was to his readers. Yours is not.

What will kill Stereophile is that its unrestrained praise of new, high-priced equipment—nearly all new, high-priced equipment—will leave your larger readership cold. (I see the magazine at the supermarket now, and wonder just how many people are willing to shell out $6.95 for a copy). And, maybe, manufacturers—your advertisers, your real first priority—will see that very few succeed in the long run, and that those who do have had to bow to a price/performance criteria that your magazine has, for the most part, left in the dust.

Let your reviewers continue to take their deep discounts from the manufacturers, watch your revenues grow, and hold Holt to a contract that surely must prevent him from starting up an audio magazine on his own again.—Tom Larson, Tucson, AZ

All the same

Editor: I've been a loyal Stereophile reader for the past two years and am generally very happy with your magazine. (I must confess a certain tendency to enjoy Stereophile for the editorials and letters, more than for the reviews.) However, I was flipping through last October's "Recommended Components" issue and a few rather curious things jumped out at me. The explanation of Class D components reads as follows, "Bear in mind that appearance in Class D still means that we recommend this product—it's possible to put together a musically satisfying system exclusively from Class D components."

With this in mind, one assumes that every component, even the ones at the bottom of the latter category, are recommended by Stereophile. This in and of itself is fine. I have no doubt that even products in the low price range are capable of making very musical sound. I have no doubt that many of them are worthy of recommendation. Regardless of the class a product is put into, there's no doubt that many of them are truly worthy of recommendation. But the value of a list like the one you support is found not only in the merits of the products that it contains, but also in the exclusivity that arises from the rejection of products it does not contain. With this in mind, why, might I ask, does virtually every component you have reviewed show up on the "Recommended Components" list?

My collection only goes back about a year, but with a cursory look through my back issues I've come to realize that you recommend, in one way or another, virtually every product that you have reviewed. There are exceptions, of course, but the recommendation rate is certainly up near 95%. I cannot say that this trend extends beyond a year ago, but I suspect it does. This is especially curious when a reviewer looks unfavorably upon a product in the full review, which happens quite a bit, and yet that same product is recommended in the biannual survey.

I'm not writing to suggest a new way for you to review products. That is your business. But when you elevate every product you've reviewed to the exalted "recommended" status, you do a grave disservice to your readers. Are we to assume that Stereophile has not reviewed a product in the past year and a half that is not worthy of being recommended to its readers? Don't you think that a journal like Stereophile, and others that seek to review products, should endeavor to delineate products that are favorable and products that are not? You, perhaps, make the good-faith effort to fulfill this gap with your "Recommended Components," although its value must be found in the notion that some products are better than others and that some products are not worthy of recommendation. But when every product makes the list; when there is little or no attempt to limit the scope, truly good products, products that are worthy of recommendation, lose out.

This is a call for Stereophile to begin a more critical attempt at recommending components. It's a call for Stereophile to limit the scope of "Recommended Components" in an effort to give more meaning to the products that are truly the cream of the crop, whether regardless of their price, or with a keen eye to value. As it stands right now, your canonical list is more of a ranking of the products that your magazine has reviewed, not a list of truly recommended components. It should be labeled so.—Justin Havemann, Cleveland, Ohio, jwh6@po.cwru.edu

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