Harmonic Technology CyberLight Wave & P2A interconnects Unpublished Letters #2
Editor: As a publisher myself, a number of thoughts occurred to me after Michael Fremer's review of the Cyberlight interconnects in the August issue.
This is not the first time there has been a remarkable difference between Mr. Frember's observations and JA's measurements. I recall a similar situation when Mr. Fremer also gave a rave review to a KR amplifier, which was found to be practically defective when measured. You ran the review at that time along with your measurements. As before, Mr. Fremer gave unconditional rave and recommendation to a product which was in stunning contradiction to measured performance. I believe you end your report by being "puzzled" that the manufacturer would risk its reputation by putting out such a "flawed" product.
The whole review ends with Mr. Fremer being defiant about his observations and you seeming to take the position you state in your response to a letter from a Mr. Jim Peak regarding the review process elsewhere in the issue. Namely, that you leave it up to readers "to make up their own minds based on the evidence we provide..."
Would like to suggest that your editorial policies should be revisted. To say you just print what a reviewer writes (no matter how much it contradicts your measurements) and allow the readers to do what we will with the information does not address the issue and is far too facile. I would think that as a publisher some strategy is in play as to your choice of reviewer with regards to the equipment considered for review. Alternatively, if a reviewer's observations and your measurements differ so dramatically then that review should not be simply published.
Do not see the purpose of allowing the reviewer to defiantly defend his position and you simply to express how puzzled you are. As mentioned, this is not the first time this has happened in your magazine. In both instances with the same reviewer.
It seems to me that if you want to affirm the credibility of both your reviewer and the magazine's, it is time to change your editorial process and how you choose reviewers.—Ausbert de Arce, email@example.com
Dear Mr. de Arce: Thanks for your thoughtful letter. I think you overstate a few things, and mischaracterize a few others in regard to a few of my reviews. If measurements were everything, there would be no vacuum-tube business anymore. While some tube amps measure better than others, compared to even budget solid state gear, they are all "defective" in terms of distortion, frequency response, noise, dynamics, and a host of other specs.
When I or any other writer, reviews a tube amp, I know the measurements will be awful compared to almost any solid state amp. That's why I once wrote that reviewing a tube amp is like going on stage with your pants down. Nonetheless, tube amps are very popular, as are tube microphones, tube compressors and the like in studios where digital recording rules. Despite the poor measurements, these devices do something special to the signal that makes the final recorded sound more pleasing.
As I've written to numerous other letter writers, if measurements guided my listening, I'd give up my LPs for CDs. No way I'm going to do that, because the vinyl always sounds more like live music to me, always holds my attention longer, always is more emotionally involving and almost always sounds far more dynamic despite measurements which seem to indicate otherwise. I can't explain this and frankly, I don't care to waste my time doing so.
That said, while I own a tube amp that measures fairly well as a tube reference amp (Music Reference RM-200), you will note that my reference amplifier is solid state. I don't feel that my preferences dictate whether a review is positive or negative. My job is to describe what I hear accurately. I don't always succeed in that but more often than not I think I do.
The KR amplifiers happened to sound wonderful in my system. Everyone who came down to listen agreed they made beautiful sounding music—despite how they measured. The "defective" part as I remember JA's comments had more to do with an enormous disparity between the claimed output and the actual output. Whatever the output, it was (observationally) sufficient to drive my speakers without audible clipping. I wasn't "embarrassed" by the measurements, only surprised by the hubris of the manufacturer to claim rated output for the amps that literally didn't measure up.
A number of writers cited my WAVAC review as another example of measurements clashing with my observations but I beg to differ. I pointed out in my review that the sound was distinctive and colored but that the midrange was glorious. Those were not amps I would ever own, but some people do own them and enjoy them, despite the coloration. My job wasn't to trash the amp, or the people who might like that sound. My job was to accurately describe that sound, which I think I did.
The Cyberlight cables are something else. After that review ran, the readers who own and love those cables wrote to support what I had written, despite the measurements. Still, I can't see using flawed cables in a review system and I don't use them for reviewing. But when I re-insert them now, months later, I hear what I appreciated about them. but in all honesty, I also hear how I missed the subtle bass boost that JA measured, which I can now hear. It is a coloration. I did make a mistake there in thinking I was hearing an absence of colorations compared to other cables, though when switching between cables, there are always sonic differences, and almost always in tonal balance. How to account for these? I don't know. We rarely measure cables but of course here, where transducers were involved, it was almost mandatory.
However, there are sonic qualities to those Cyberlight cables that are quite enticing—and in some circumstances, those characteristics can be complementary and a system's overall performance. After all, I defy you to show me a ruler flat speaker system. The loss in dynamics measured, was simply not heard, nor do I hear it now when I insert the Cyberlights into my system.
Finally, you write that I have given "unconditional raves and recommendations" to products. I rarely do that. I loved the Wilson MAXX2s—I even bought them—but I didn't give them an "unconditional" rave either.
I just went back and re-read my KR review. I wrote about the Kron's "baggage," and went about the review with a skeptical eye and ear. I was careful to write about "claimed" power and "claimed" linearity. I mentioned the less than stellar build quality, the push on connectors usually found in automobile wiring. Every aspect of what Dr. Kron told me was expressed in my review as "claims" not as facts.
However, when it came to what I heard, that's what I heard from the hybrid design. I wouldn't retract a word, nor would I retract a word of the comparison with the Levinson and Ayre solid-state amps driving the speakers I was using—Sonus Faber Amati Homages and AudioPhysic Virgos. The Levinson amps surely measured far better, but they were suffocatingly dry to my ears, and emotionally uninvolving. I go to the symphony once a month and what I heard from those amps didn't correlate with what I hear live.
Were I writing the same review today, with another six year's experience, would I write the same review? Probably not, but that's a different story. Did I give the KRs an "unconditional rave?" No! Did I love what I heard? Yes.
In any case I welcome the measurement part of the process and I don't worry about being contradicted. It happens sometimes, but more often than not over the years, my observations have been backed by the numbers.—Michael Fremer
Dear Michael, Thank you so much for your prompt response. I appreciate the time and effort in clarifying your position, as you see. Ironically, I am and have always been a tube lover. Have always owned tube gear since the beginning of my love for this hobby back in the 1970s. Secondly, I listen almost exclusively to LPs. Have well over 4000 at least. The collection includes most of the RCA catalogue of the Golden Era, Lyritas, Deccas and so forth. So it is safe to say I don't live by measurements. Life yourself, love the music and if the sound I am getting from a system recreates my idea of how music sounds, than it is what I would consider a good system.
With reference to my note, I tried to make the tone as neutral as possible as it was not meant to be a criticism of you or your skill as a reviewer. If the impression is otherwise, than I apologize. Rather my note was more of a brooding over what seems to me a lacuna in the magazine's editorial process. It seems to me that you or any other reviewer should not be exposed to the potential of losing credibility by measurements that are added after your review has been written. As mentioned, am a publisher myself (Assouline Publishing) and understand and know how important it is to have a clear editorial structure in place. I suggest that if the measurements following a review are in too stark a contradiction than a red flag should be sent up. I think that if the difference between what you hear and what is measured is that great, than one of two things should happen:
1. The reviewer and John Atkinson revisit the equipment under review in terms of performance and listening as a check. The review is then published after the subsequent tests and the results published explaining how the review proceeded.
2. The unit under review goes to another reviewer and the different observations, both subjective and by measurement, are published with that proviso.
In both instances, the reader knows from the beginning that there is a serious divergence between the subjective observations, another reviewer's opinion and/or the measurements. Speaking as a reader, it is much more helpful and instructive. Otherwise, you the reviewer runs the risk of losing credibility and the magazine's editorial policy, as well.
Sincerely, I have no doubt that you reported exactly what you heard. Reading, however, measurements that differ completely from your opinion only after the review is published underminds the process and you and ultimately does not serve much of a purpose.
Again, thank you for kind response. I very much enjoy your articles (not always in agreement but that's the fun of it) and share your passion for vinyl and music.—Ausbert de Arce, firstname.lastname@example.org