You are here

Log in or register to post comments
bifcake
bifcake's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 27 2005 - 2:27am
Objective reviews

Dear Editors,

I've been a subscriber for a number of years and I've noticed that most of your writers (Sam Tellig in particular among others) hobnob with equipment manufacturers. In fact, these relationships seem rather close. The writers and manufacturers hang out together, the writers get wined and dined (especially Sam, not that I'm necessarily picking on Sam. Wes Phillips was hanging with Tyll Hertsen of Headroom Corp recently and John Atkinson recorded Anthony Michaelson of Musical Fidelity) and get taken on trips, among other perks.

I wonder that given such seemingly close, personal relationships with manufacturers if it's possible to write an objective review. After all, if I'm charged with writing a review of a product that a friend of mine produces, I would feel very uncomfortable writing anything negative about the product. I would try to smooth and gloss over the negative and accentuate the positive with the best intentions.

Do you consider this to be a non-issue or do you think that developing personal relationships between writers and manufacturers should be discouraged as a matter of policy at Stereophile?

Thanks

Jim Tavegia
Jim Tavegia's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 4:27pm
Re: Objective reviews

Men of character have no problem in life, in politics, or in business. The charlatans are quickly exposed. Do you think that people at Motor Trend do not hob nob with influential auto manufacturers and their marketing folks? If I was making a music album and could afford it, I would want JA to record my music as well. His engineering speaks for itself. When the writers do reviews check out their associated equipment. It should tell you something.

Monty
Monty's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 16 2005 - 6:55pm
Re: Objective reviews

This issue continues to pop up from time to time. How long do you think Stereophile would last putting out positive reviews of crappy gear?

As has been said before, some manufacturers are better at responding to requests for gear to review and bend over backwards to provide products they think are exceptional at their particular price level, while others aren't.

It's not possible to review all the gear that is available and if Wes, Sam, JA or any other reviewer has developed a good relationship with certain manufacturers over the years...so what?

Just ask Roy Hall how much slack all the single malt Scotch has bought him with ST.

stereophillips
stereophillips's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 13 2005 - 10:55am
Re: Objective reviews

This is a good question. At Stereophile, we have always felt that it is better to report on such meetings, conversations, and visits -- which are common at every magazine I am aware of -- rather than have them be secret.

I do like many of the people who make a living in this industry. Like me, they tend to be music lovers and gadget lovers, and maybe just a little bit too "odd" for a regular job. However, I don't work for them and I don't consider it my duty to make them happy -- or profitable. My only salable commodity is my abiliity to write entertaining, informative copy and it isn't "informative" if I get it wrong too often.

There are situations where I became friends with people who later came into the business -- Sze Leung at Cayin Audio, for instance. Because Sze has been my friend for years, I have recused myself from reviewing his products, although I think I probably could still honestly report on what they sounded like. That "probably" is worrying, so I won't put myself -- or the readers -- in a situation where my conclusions might be influenced by my affection.

Not so BTW, I left the publishing end of the audio industry in 1999-2000 and I learned first hand how situational my "frendship" with many manufacturers was. When I wasn't writing for Stereophile, most of them weren't so eager to hang out, have beers, or "do lunch." No hard feelings on my part -- that's just business. But it is helpful to keep in mind when pondering the depth of all those "close personal friendships" you see between reviewers and manufacturers.

Manufacturers, for the most part, aren't fascinated by me because I'm smart, interesting, or particularly amusing. They're intrigued because I have the readers' trust (or at least credibility). If I sacrifice that trust for a dinner or a beer or a manufacturer's warm fuzzy feelings, I'll lose the only commodity I had in the first place.

bifcake
bifcake's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 27 2005 - 2:27am
Re: Objective reviews

Hi Wes,

Thank you for your reply.

Your points are well taken. I'm sure that you're quite correct when you state that the manufacturers' interest in you (for the most part) is limited by your position and stature among Stereophile readers. Would that still be your perception if you hadn't left publishing and hadn't found that out the hard way? Furthermore, your ability to provide objective opinions not withstanding, do you think that Stereophile should make it a matter of policy to discourage acceptance of the "wining and dining" and the single malt scotch offerings by the reviewers? I understand that you guys aren't politicians and the stakes here are very limited. Nonetheless, it may not be a bad idea to set certain policy boundaries. Whereas full disclosure is a step forward, I wonder if it's enough.

To the previous posters: The issue at hand here is more pertinent to Stereophile's policy, rather than the integrity or ability of individual reviewers.

Jeff Wong
Jeff Wong's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 5 months ago
Joined: Sep 6 2005 - 3:28am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:
To the previous posters: The issue at hand here is more pertinent to Stereophile's policy, rather than the integrity or ability of individual reviewers.

If the writers have integrity, isn't this ultimately a non-issue? I would think it's unrealistic to expect writers to operate in a vacuum, especially if they need access to manufacturers to glean accurate information about products under review.

bifcake
bifcake's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 27 2005 - 2:27am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:

If the writers have integrity, isn't this ultimately a non-issue? I would think it's unrealistic to expect writers to operate in a vacuum, especially if they need access to manufacturers to glean accurate information about products under review.

Yes, if the writers have integrity than this is indeed a non-issue. However, nothing is black and white. We're all human, we all experience certain pressures and the situation may manifest itself not as an outright glowing review of a poor performing product. Rather, it may manifest itself as a tendency to gloss over the bad and accentuate the good. That type of a manifestation would still allow the writer to ease his/her own conscience and provide the critics with a pushback that nothing has been left unmentioned. The form of the review is just as important as the content.

ohfourohnine
ohfourohnine's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 7:41pm
Re: Objective reviews

Given Stereophile's stature in the industry and his longievity in the field, I think it is safe to assume that John Atkinson is no fool. If the credibility of his magazine's reviews began to be jeapordized by a reviewer on the take, I suspect that guy would go packing. Beyond that, JA's equipment testing penchant would certainly seem to involve a process and some equipment that "can't be bought". These points are secondary to those made in earlier responses by Jim Taveglia and Monty which, I believe, rightly suggest that men of character are the answer. Where they are absent, company policies are easily ignored.

I don't expect I can convince you, but what is wrong with your suggestion is that it just won't work.

Incidently, did you ever buy a product that was favorably reviewed in Stereophile and find it notably wanting? I never have.

bifcake
bifcake's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 27 2005 - 2:27am
Re: Objective reviews

I have auditioned components recommended in Stereophile, which I thought were horrible. Needless to say, I never bought them. There are certain reviewers that I find more credible than others within Stereophile.

As I've said before, I think that employing honest people who have the reader's interests at heart would be the perfect way to go in a perfect world.

I don't want to beat a dead horse here, but my question concerns specifically a matter of corporate policy. Granted the policy may be circumvented, there may be loopholes and other unsavory methods employed by the unscrupulous. Never the less, as a publishing entity, it is Stereophile's responsibility to its readers to ensure that the opportunities to for conflict of interest are minimized.

That's really what we're talking about here. Not so much dishonesty or lack of integrity. Rather, we're talking about conflicts of interest that arise as a matter of course, with everyone operating with the best of intentions.

Speaking for myself, I would have a difficult time writing a negative review if the equipment reviewed has been manufactured by an acquaintance. If I know how much time and effort went into producing this product of love, which just happens to suck, I wouldn't have the heart to blast it. Alas, if I never met the guy, bombs away!

smejias
smejias's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: Aug 25 2005 - 10:29am
Re: Objective reviews

This piece, written by JA in December 1988, might answer some of your questions, AlexO.

JA discusses a part of our policy that I really admire:

Quote:
Readers, if so minded, should be able to follow the reviewer's reasoning from first principles, and test the validity of his or her statements for themselves. Too many reviewers for all magazines, in my opinion, tend to hand down Olympian judgments, apparently intended to be taken as fact without the writer supplying any of the scaffolding or supporting information which would inform readers as to exactly how he or she arrived at such conclusions. As I see it, this is a cop-out, aimed more at preserving the writer's need always to appear right than at the magazine's need to serve its readers. The reviewer's duty is to provide an informed and educated opinion that can serve as a basis for readers to make up their own minds. The more support the reviewer gives readers as to how he arrived at his views, the more he helps them clarify their own.

This, I think, is beautiful. It asks for truth, and it asks both the reviewer and reader to simply do a bit of work, in an attempt to get deeper into the truth.

I haven't written a formal review of a product. Somewhere down the line, I think that I might. I intend to become friends with people in our industry, and I intend to tell the truth - the best I know it to be - when reviewing even my friends' products. I don't think that I'd have a problem with it. A thoughtful, honest review is - in my opinion - a good review, negative or positive. And we're working hard to write good reviews.

dcrowe
dcrowe's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 9:39am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:
This piece, written by JA in December 1988, might answer some of your questions, AlexO.

JA discusses a part of our policy that I really admire:

Quote:
Readers, if so minded, should be able to follow the reviewer's reasoning from first principles, and test the validity of his or her statements for themselves. Too many reviewers for all magazines, in my opinion, tend to hand down Olympian judgments, apparently intended to be taken as fact without the writer supplying any of the scaffolding or supporting information which would inform readers as to exactly how he or she arrived at such conclusions. As I see it, this is a cop-out, aimed more at preserving the writer's need always to appear right than at the magazine's need to serve its readers. The reviewer's duty is to provide an informed and educated opinion that can serve as a basis for readers to make up their own minds. The more support the reviewer gives readers as to how he arrived at his views, the more he helps them clarify their own.

This, I think, is beautiful. It asks for truth, and it asks both the reviewer and reader to simply do a bit of work, in an attempt to get deeper into the truth.

This is the strength of stereophile that keeps me as a subscriber. I can compare the measurements to the text and learn just how sensitive a tube amplifier will be to load variations, and just how suprisingly high the distortion is on some recommended components. I only wish that the measurements were broadened to include, for example, speaker distortion.

RGibran
RGibran's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 years 7 hours ago
Joined: Oct 11 2005 - 5:50pm
Re: Objective reviews

Some thoughts from Mikey ...

http://ultimateavmag.com/michaelfremer/605mf/

RG

Editor
Editor's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 8:56am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:
In fact, these relationships seem rather close. The writers and manufacturers hang out together, the writers get wined and dined (especially Sam, not that I'm necessarily picking on Sam. Wes Phillips was hanging with Tyll Hertsen of Headroom Corp recently and John Atkinson recorded Anthony Michaelson of Musical Fidelity) and get taken on trips, among other perks.

I wonder that given such seemingly close, personal relationships with manufacturers if it's possible to write an objective review.

Sorry about the tardy response, AlexO, I wanted to think about the implications of your message.

There are many issues involved here. Reviewers cannot write in a vacuum, and I feel that the benefits of a reviewer accepting the hospitality offered by a manufacturer for him to visit their factory outweigh the possible downside.

I also do not forbid my writers from accepting dinner invitations -- I doubt that there is a writer for _any_ of the magazines who would sell out his readers for a dinner! -- but anything more than that, like vacations and high-value gifts, which are not unknown with other magazines, are forbidden at Stereophile. Similarly, Stereophile writers cannot take consultancy jobs with manufacturers.

In the past, when I have discovered evidence of unethical behavior on the part of a Stereophile writer, I have fired them immediately. But this has not happened for a decade.

You raise my working on recordings with Antony Michaelson of Musical Fidelity as being a possible conflict of interest.

In the case of K622, the Mozart Clarinet Concerto project, which I produced for Antony, I refused to accept a fee and paid my own expenses -- transatlantic airfare, car hire, etc. I do get a small royalty on each Stereophile sale of the SACD and LP, and by the beginning of next year, I will have just about covered my expenses.

In the case of Mosaic, the Mozart and Brahms clarinet quintet CD, I personally paid all the expenses to do with this project other than Antony's transatlantic airfare, a total well up in five figures. I lease the tape to Primedia, Stereophile's owner, and again get paid a royalty on CD sales. Again, it will some time in 2006 before I recover my investment in this project, if even then.

I'll leave it you to judge if my behavior on these projects crosses a line.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Jeff Wong
Jeff Wong's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 5 months ago
Joined: Sep 6 2005 - 3:28am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:
The writers and manufacturers hang out together, the writers get wined and dined... Wes Phillips was hanging with Tyll Hertsen (sic) of Headroom Corp...

For what it's worth, dinner happened to be on me that night (an outsider to the industry) because I owed Tyll a meal.

Editor
Editor's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 8:56am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:

Quote:
The writers and manufacturers hang out together, the writers get wined and dined... Wes Phillips was hanging with Tyll Hertsen (sic) of Headroom Corp...

For what it's worth, dinner happened to be on me that night (an outsider to the industry) because I owed Tyll a meal.

Did you go to Skinflints on 79th in B'klyn? (Thanks for the recommendation, Jeff. Their Shepherds Pie is 2 die 4.)

You reminded me that the last time MF's Antony Michaelson visited the office -- see Stephen Mejias' November 4 blog --
the expensive lunch was on me! Why do readers assume that the hospitality only works in one direction?

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Jeff Wong
Jeff Wong's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 5 months ago
Joined: Sep 6 2005 - 3:28am
Re: Objective reviews

I'm glad you enjoy the food at Skinflints, John. I'm partial to their burgers; I've found few places in NY have matched their burgers in terms of taste and quality. It's hard to believe they just celebrated their 30th Anniversary and that I've known Gerard, the owner for longer than that (he used to play paddleball with my older brother, Dan, when I was a boy.)

Actually, we ate at a restaurant called Teresa's in Manhattan that has killer tripe soup (URK!), which I gather may not be your cup of tea...

stereophillips
stereophillips's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 13 2005 - 10:55am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:
Would that still be your perception if you hadn't left publishing and hadn't found that out the hard way?

Howdy Alex0:

I'm pretty sure I would know why people with a financial interest in being nice to me were being nice to me, but my sabbatical certainly helped me keep it in perspective. I think people tend to reveal their true natures even when they've attempted to make a good impression. I once dated a model/dancer who was so good looking that I felt as though I were venturing outside my species, and she told me that she just assumed guys were going to treat her well -- so she judged guys on how they treated the waitress.

That's kind of what we reviewers are doing at those dinners, among other thing. I've been at ostensibly "pleasant" dinners with manufacturers where they've thrown tantrums, stiffed the waitrons, and joked about cheating the IRS. I also assume that's how they treat customers when I'm not looking.

Am I infallible? No. But I work very hard at not being swayed by the small stuff -- and next to the quality of the product's performance and how I see a manufacturer treat his customers, it's all small stuff.

Elsewhere, you say that you think you'd find it hard to give a bad review to someone you thought was a nice guy. I doubt you're giving yourself sufficient credit for taking the job seriously. JA makes it very plain to all of us that we're not part of the industry -- we're not in the same business as the manufacturers, we're surrogates for the consumers. If I dump on a product, it may have an exceedingly negative effect on a manufacturer, so I better be right when I do it. However, if I give a bad product a good review because I don't want to make a manufacturer uncomfortable (or to be uncomfortable the next time I see that manufacturer), I sell out a heck of a lot of readers, who actually pay Stereophile the money it pays me.

In other words, I think most reasonably honest people would rather risk making one guy mad because they said he had an ugly baby than consciously screw a lot of people just to avoid upsetting him.

John's already spoken up about what he expects from us writers, but the real point is that John has a policy and he strictly enforces it. None of the Stereophile writers has endorsement deals like those that are being discussed in another thread because there is no grey area in our agreement.

One of John's beliefs -- which I share -- is that everything should be done out in the open, which includes discussions like this one. When I first came on board at Stereophile, John spent a lot of time explaining what was acceptable conduct and what was not. When we were preparing to build a new office in Santa Fe, we actually convinced the city to name our street "Stereophile Way" -- which was not completely a joke. We had (and still have) a clear conception of what the Stereophile way is -- and if we don't always clearly state what that is, it is not because we haven't thought about it. One reason I like these Forums so much is they allow us to explain -- and you to ask about -- just what those core tenets are.

And that's a long answer -- for which I apologize.

Kal Rubinson
Kal Rubinson's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 day 21 hours ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 9:34am
Re: Objective reviews

Let me add another thing: Having dinner with a manufacturer or representative can be entertaining and enjoyable but, often, it is strenuous. In any case, do not assume that it is anything other than work (and, possibly, nutrition).

Kal

Jim Tavegia
Jim Tavegia's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 4:27pm
Re: Objective reviews

After reading JA's reply...who ever said there was money to be made in the recording business?

Editor
Editor's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 8:56am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:
After reading JA's reply...who ever said there was money to be made in the recording business?

How do you get a small fortune in the record business? Start with a large fortune!

bada-BOOM!

Seriously, a recording project feels like there's an open vein in your check book. After I recorded the clarinet quintets in Kansas, musicians and I traveled to HIFI99 in Chicago where they were to perform the works live at the Friday night concert and broadcast on WFMT. I set my mikes up in Chicago to record the performance, but because the Windy City is a union town, I had to reach into my pocket for hundreds of dollars I was not expecting to pay an electrician to stand by me. :-(

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Jim Tavegia
Jim Tavegia's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 4:27pm
Re: Objective reviews

This is kin to Steve Martin's old joke of How TO Become a Millionaire? First...Get a Million Dollars.

I did my last trade show in NY in the 80's for the same reason. Unions. How can people make selling "some stuff" or just making nice music so difficult? If they could make "Trade Shows" in China, the last bastions of unionism would fall. Hope you had a restful holiday.

Query: Someone in Hi REZ on AA had a question about playing the cd layer of an SACD in his Ayre 5XE. Some one said he did not think it could be done, as SACD is the default setting. Maybe you could repond when you have time. Regards, Jim

ohfourohnine
ohfourohnine's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 7:41pm
Re: Objective reviews

"Speaking for myself, I would have a difficult time writing a negative review if the equipment reviewed has been manufactured by an acquaintance."

I can't argue with your self assessment, I can only assert that some others either would not have such difficulty or would recuse themselves from the particular reviewing assignment they felt might be difficult to handle honestly. Honest behavior isn't that difficult, nor do I believe it is that rare. Dishonest behavior - and that is what we're talking about - isn't deterred by company policies or ethics statements (see Enron/Anderson).

bifcake
bifcake's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 27 2005 - 2:27am
Re: Objective reviews

Thanks everyone for your replies. I do applaud you guys for the transparency that's obviously a part of Stereophile's culture. After all, if it weren't for that transparency, I would not have known about all the unsavory meetings you guys are having with the manufacturers. I do give credit where credit is due.

Having said that, if you look at the reviews written by Gordon Holt, he used to rip products apart. He made no bones about a product he didn't like. Even if he liked a product, he would drive a point home about all of its shortcomings.

Currently, reviewers are much more "diplomatic" in the way they handle the shortcomings of the products they review. That is the case across the board. John is probably the least diplomatic in his assessments and when I say "undiplomatic", that's in comparison to everyone else. I believe that the last product that was ripped apart was Cary's CAD300SEI integrated amp. In fact, I see reviewers sort of tippie toeing around issues. Perhaps that's a product of ownership by a large corporation, perhaps it's to ensure continued advertising revenues, perhaps it's a product of being befriended by manufacturers or all of the above in some measure.

I would like to stress once again that I do not believe that this is a product of dishonesty. I really think that everyone approaches this with the best of intentions. It just makes me wonder why reviews have gotten so much kinder and gentler.

John Ashman
John Ashman's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 30 2005 - 12:22pm
Re: Objective reviews

What I find strange is that more affordable products face more scrutiny and more honest and open reviewing than expensive ones. Robert Reina seems to compare affordable gear to other gear of the same value and talks about the differences between them. But once you get in the more expensive gear, there is a massive reluctance to talk about *obvious* flaws. The Maxx 2 has a FR that is, what, +/- 8dB or so? That would be unacceptable in a speaker that is $450, but okay in one that is $45,000? The funny thing is that Class A speakers are so tremendously erratic in their measurements, that it's hard to believe they have anything remotely resembling transparency or accuracy as a goal.

I also notice that every $1000 component is better than a $500 one, but not quite as good as a $2000 one. And how every upgrade is always an upgrade, not ever an accidental step backwards. What makes it all the more amazing is how the reviewers can remember back and make this evaluation based on how they remember how the previous iteration sounded 5 years ago in a different system with different components, different music, different speakers and make an then detail the improvements. I think some amps have been upgraded so many times, they must sound better than real life by now.

Fortunately, Stereophile provides measurements, so people can get a more objective outlook on the what a component is actually doing.

Jeff Wong
Jeff Wong's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 5 months ago
Joined: Sep 6 2005 - 3:28am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:
... Having said that, if you look at the reviews written by Gordon Holt, he used to rip products apart. He made no bones about a product he didn't like. Even if he liked a product, he would drive a point home about all of its shortcomings.

Currently, reviewers are much more "diplomatic" in the way they handle the shortcomings of the products they review. That is the case across the board. John is probably the least diplomatic in his assessments and when I say "undiplomatic", that's in comparison to everyone else. I believe that the last product that was ripped apart was Cary's CAD300SEI integrated amp. In fact, I see reviewers sort of tippie toeing around issues. Perhaps that's a product of ownership by a large corporation, perhaps it's to ensure continued advertising revenues, perhaps it's a product of being befriended by manufacturers or all of the above in some measure...

AlexO - I imagine there are many circumstances that factor into why there is a paucity of negative reviews. If editorial space is to be best used to serve the readers, it's probably more beneficial to write about a product a reader may actually want to audition or buy. While it's informative to know that a product may be a true clunker, all that tells us as readers is there are other products we should probably check out first. There's greater potential benefit to read about a good product - a good write up might inspire exploration... maybe I'd be more likely to go check something out... it'd be a lot easier to dismiss a crappy product and not think about it again. Using up several pages just for the sake of including a negative review so that a reader can just shrug seems like a colossal waste.

There's also the entertainment value: many of these products are light years out of reach for most of our wallets, but it's fun to read about and drool over. To borrow from the car world, who wants to read about a Pinto when you could read about a Ferrari instead? But, that's getting into a different area of cheap versus expensive gear, but I think you'll get my drift.

I also suspect reviewers write about gear that might've caught their fancy or showed some promise at a trade show. Why would a reviewer want to spend weeks or months listening to stuff that he knew was going to be torture? It seems obvious that there had to be some merit to the product at hand - there is more likely to be a positive slant to gear under review, especially if the reviewer requested a sample to check out. Early on, J. Gordon Holt might not have been able to pick and choose the way reviewers do today.

It's also possible equipment has just gotten better in general terms in the last 40 years. We have better parts and technology. I find it interesting that we've witnessed the convergence of sound signatures with upper end solid state and tube gear - they're a lot closer in sound and accuracy than years ago. I also suspect bad products die off for a reason. The mainstays of the industry survive by putting out good gear. There's probably a lot more good stuff out there than ever before.

This is all my speculation, of course. But, I doubt I'm too far off.

Editor
Editor's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 8:56am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:
I also notice that every $1000 component is better than a $500 one, but not quite as good as a $2000 one.

This is not actually true at Stereophile. Perhaps you are confusing this magazine with another.

A reader recently did a statistical analysis of product prices and the ratings the products received in "Recommended Components." To his surprise, the correlation was weaker than he had assumed. I will be publishing this analysis some time in the New Year.

BTW, I note in another posting that you are apparently a retailer. Is this true? While we don't currently have a policy on this, I do prefer that posters reveal any professional affiliation they may have.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Editor
Editor's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 8:56am
Re: Objective reviews

> if you look at the reviews written by Gordon Holt, he used to rip products apart. He made no bones about a product he didn't like. Even if he liked a product, he would drive a point home about all of its shortcomings.<

Partly this is because Gordon was writing for a much smaller audience. Partly this is because products were wildly more idiosyncratic in the 1970s. Partly this is because Gordon was prepared to be found wrong when he went off the deep end. And partly it is because I believe you are looking through the rose-colored lenses of a seebackroscope.

>Currently, reviewers are much more "diplomatic" in the way they handle the shortcomings of the products they review. That is the case across the board.<

This is correct. One thing I want my writers to keep in mind is that virtually all products we review come from people who are passionate about what they do, have sometimes sacrificed much to achieve what they have done. High-end manufacturers have put their money where their beliefs are in a manner that is not shared by reviewers. Even when we find fault with products -- and we do rather more than your postings would indicate -- I feel we still pay the manufacturers the appropriate respect.

If you would prefer reviews to be flame fests, then I suggest there are plenty of places on-line where you can find the appropriate lack of critical ability combined with the necessary lack of responsibility. :-)

>I believe that the last product that was ripped apart was Cary's CAD300SEI integrated amp.<

There have been plenty of instances since then.

> In fact, I see reviewers sort of tippie toeing around issues. Perhaps that's a product of ownership by a large corporation...<

No.

> perhaps it's to ensure continued advertising revenues...<

Ah, the old conspiracy theory raises its head. No.

> perhaps it's a product of being befriended by manufacturers...<

No, for the reasons explained by other posters.

>or all of the above in some measure.<

No. Instead, as I have explained in the magazine on more than one occasions, we tend to cherry pick the products we review, in order not to "waste" space on negative reviews, just as Jeff Wong describes. See, for example, http://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/366/ , http://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/746/ , http://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/371/ , http://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/1298awsi/ , http://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/431/ , and http://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/1105awsi/ .

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Editor
Editor's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 8:56am
Re: Objective reviews

[quote When we were preparing to build a new office in Santa Fe, we actually convinced the city to name our street "Stereophile Way" -- which was not completely a joke.

Except the city wasn't as good at spelling as they were at road planning! See http://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/498awsi/ :-)

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Buddha
Buddha's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 years 11 months ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 10:24am
Re: Objective reviews

I agree with Mr. Phillips on the main currency of reviewing - a reviewer's sole currency is his credibilty.

He/she lives or dies by maintaining that credibility, and if it's lost, it can't really can't be regained.

I like to think that after however many years of being a hi-fi nut, I am at least somewhat able to seperate wheat from chaffe, and good reviewers offer more context than many people think.

For instance:

Using reference recordings that I have access to when describing sounds they hear, comparing pieces of equipment and pointing out differences that I can go and listen for, describing room effects on the equipment they review that I can use to relate to what I hear, and using consistent language rather than inventing new adjectives each month (like describing "chocolatey" vs "caramel" midrange as I have seen done elsewhere in the past.)

Consistency also shows up in what a reviewer seems to go for in terms of equipment he/she reviews over time - a little idiosyncratic taste is fine by me, so long as it is the same over time. That way if a reviewer calls something dull, but I know from past experience that his dull is my lushness, then useful communication has still occurred.

If you are an avid reader, then credibility in this world gets very hard to fake. Just like in poker, a reviewer has "tells" that will betray him/her if he'she is up to no good. Yes, bluffing once or twice may work, but over time, he/she will be found out.

I think Stereophile easily passes my test for credibility.

As an aside, credibility is the thing that should require reviewers to review all ranges of equipment. For example, if a reviewer only reviewed ultra-expensive amps, then I would lose my own context as a reader in terms of relating to what the reviewer's skills are.

Variety is a key factor in creating a body of work that allows us all to keep the reviewer relevant to our hobby.

As a second aside, ponder just how much more credibility pressure Sam Tellig is under compared to many other reviewers, he does a high volume of work that is easily checked by an avid hobbiest. He does so many reviews of equipment that you and I can listen to and use to judge his abilities, that he better damn well be good or he'd be found out more quickly than most other reviewers.

_______________________________

Since I'm on a roll...

The dinners and visits take away nothing from my enjoyment as a reader. Just as an automotive reviewer may sometimes drive the factory tracks with factory cars, or Sony may fly Ebert to Hollywood to screen five movies in a day, I have no problem with a reviewer visiting factories or interviewing manufacturers over a meal and some fine vino. Those articles are part of the transparency of the hobby in general. Heck, Patrick Bedard visiting Enzo in Milan adds to my understanding and enjoyment of the whole automotive world, it does not take away from Mr. Bedard's reviewing skils (or lack thereof). Those hi-fi "social visits" give me a great experience as a hobbiest; one that I could not endeavor to do on my own. Don't forget that by reporting on those visits, the reviewers are still being journalists. They are "on the clock" when they visit a factory - their whole trip is kind of "on the clock" when you think about it. I like knowing what goes on behing the curtain!

What kind of reviewer would refuse to tour a facility and help us learn more about the "what" and "why" of the art of making hi-fi gear? I wouldn't find them credible if they didn't!

OK, me shut up soon:

Bottom line for me is that I feel I get a consistent and transparent experience from the reviewers at Stereophile. Even if I disagree, I have many cues from which to make judgements, especially since I can depend on the reviewers being the "same reviewer" over time. Can't fake that.

bifcake
bifcake's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 27 2005 - 2:27am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:
> if you look at the reviews written by Gordon Holt, he used to rip products apart. He made no bones about a product he didn't like. Even if he liked a product, he would drive a point home about all of its shortcomings.<

Partly this is because Gordon was writing for a much smaller audience. Partly this is because products were wildly more idiosyncratic in the 1970s. Partly this is because Gordon was prepared to be found wrong when he went off the deep end. And partly it is because I believe you are looking through the rose-colored lenses of a seebackroscope.

>Currently, reviewers are much more "diplomatic" in the way they handle the shortcomings of the products they review. That is the case across the board.<

This is correct. One thing I want my writers to keep in mind is that virtually all products we review come from people who are passionate about what they do, have sometimes sacrificed much to achieve what they have done. High-end manufacturers have put their money where their beliefs are in a manner that is not shared by reviewers. Even when we find fault with products -- and we do rather more than your postings would indicate -- I feel we still pay the manufacturers the appropriate respect.

If you would prefer reviews to be flame fests, then I suggest there are plenty of places on-line where you can find the appropriate lack of critical ability combined with the necessary lack of responsibility. :-)

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Hi John,

I read and re-read your post and I gave it quite a bit of thought as to the core issue that bothers me and I think I've finally been able to hit it on the head.

I am not looking for a flame fest, I'm not looking for an arbitrary or a token bad review and I'm not looking for irresponsible reporting for the sake of knocking a manufacturer down.

What I look for is the feeling that the editors and reviewers are on "my" side. By "my side", I mean the side of the consumer. I want to feel that you guys are looking out for me and keeping ONLY my best interests at heart. As such, I want to see an occasional bad review. I don't want it to be a token bad review or an undeserving one. I don't want it to be a "bad review February" or "bad review of the month". What I do want is a vast selection of products, with no holds barred reviewing. I understand and I certainly appreciate your point about respecting the manufacturers, but that's not looking out for my interests (at least not immediate interests). I don't want to have to in a sense read between the lines to get a good feel of what the product is all about. I want you guys to be just as unabashed about slamming a product as you are about recommending one. No sacred cows, no "paying respect to the manufacturer " if the product doesn't deserve respect. Those are the things that would make me feel that you guys are on "my" (consumer) side. Those are the things that would boost your credibility and make me feel that a Stereophile review has real teeth behind it and really means something more than just "suggestions to audition" or "entertainment value".

ohfourohnine
ohfourohnine's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 7:41pm
Re: Objective reviews

Remember, AlexO, what that great philosopher, Mick Jagger, said, "You don't always get what you want. But, if you try, sometimes, you get what you need." Try the audio asylum. I think they have what you need.

bifcake
bifcake's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 27 2005 - 2:27am
Re: Objective reviews

Their enthusiasm is sometimes a bit overwhelming

300Binary
300Binary's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 year 1 month ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 10:47am
Re: Objective reviews

"You can't always get what you want.
But, if you try, sometime,
you just might find,
you get what you need."
- Sir Mick

"I wish that for just one time,
you could stand inside my shoes.
And, for just that one time,
I could be you.
I wish that for just one time,
you could know what a drag it is to see you."
- Robert Z.

Nobody is on your side. Everybody is on my side

Entertainment and a possible personal review candidate is not enough for your $12/year? Sigh. Life ain't fair

And you don't love every well reviewed piece you hear personally? What are you, human?

So, you think no free lunch and no free sauce will make sure you love every well reviewed piece you hear, I wish you luck in your future

It will be long and dark ...

stealthaxe
stealthaxe's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 13 2005 - 3:00pm
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:

... No. Instead, as I have explained in the magazine on more than one occasions, we tend to cherry pick the products we review, in order not to "waste" space on negative reviews, just as Jeff Wong describes...

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

This implies to me that silence about a particular product could be bad news, since it is either not interesting enough to attract your attention or it's just plain bad and you don't want to "waste space".

Maybe your advertisers won't like to hear this, but it's not likely that I'll buy something just because it got a good review in your magazine. What is more likely to make me look towards a product is absence of a lot of negative feedback [sic] about it. If I can't find that kind of information here, what does that tell you about your ability to influence my buying decisions?

Kal Rubinson
Kal Rubinson's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 day 21 hours ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 9:34am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:
Maybe your advertisers won't like to hear this, but it's not likely that I'll buy something just because it got a good review in your magazine. What is more likely to make me look towards a product is absence of a lot of negative feedback [sic] about it. If I can't find that kind of information here, what does that tell you about your ability to influence my buying decisions?


How do we publish a lack of negative comment?

Kal

300Binary
300Binary's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 year 1 month ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 10:47am
Re: Objective reviews

Perhaps controlling buying is not the goal. Perhaps trying to insure regular readers are informed of what is available is a more useful definition of a goal. It would be great if anybody could control buyers, but, we are all out of control. I know, I have spent many balloons on stuff nobody ever reviewed, but I did my own homework - it is easy for those of us stuck at home We may attain ear snob knighthood in our own minds, but, we are all common sales fodder in some others' minds ... and paranoia is not a solution ...

is it ?

ohfourohnine
ohfourohnine's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 7:41pm
Re: Objective reviews

If your response doesn't end this nonsense, I can't imagine why. Nice job. When did incessant whining become a national pastime anyway?

bifcake
bifcake's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 27 2005 - 2:27am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:
When did incessant whining become a national pastime anyway?

When the baseball season ended!

This isn't about whining. This is about reader feedback. These are some thoughts to make the magazine better for us. That's all everything comes down to in the end.

BTW, Karanjit Srajan (sp?) from 6 moons has stated that his reviews are for entertainment purposes only. So, he bills himself as an entertainer, not a journalist or a pundit. If I want entertainment, I'll rent 20th Century Fox's release of "That's Entertainment!"

dcrowe
dcrowe's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 9:39am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:

Quote:

... No. Instead, as I have explained in the magazine on more than one occasions, we tend to cherry pick the products we review, in order not to "waste" space on negative reviews, just as Jeff Wong describes...

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

This implies to me that silence about a particular product could be bad news, since it is either not interesting enough to attract your attention or it's just plain bad and you don't want to "waste space".

Yes, for me the lack of a stereophile review for any comparable model to the component that I am considering in a manufacturer's line is bad news. I am hesitant to spend big bucks on something that hasn't been measured, reviewed, and published in stereophile or a comparable source (who would that be?), unless I have the opportunity to hear it extensively myself. Reviewing it myself is not one of the options for new products like the NHT Xd that are not available yet in my area. I have recently purchased Revel speakers on Audiogon, not just because they receive positive reviews (as many products do), but because it seems that so many of the reviewers buy these for themselves. Reviewers are a powerful market force for those of us who carefully read what they say.

bifcake
bifcake's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 27 2005 - 2:27am
Re: Objective reviews

Cherry picking equipment in order to avoid "wasting space" on negative reviews does a real disservice to the readers. Are we to assume that if the product hasn't been reviewed it's because it didn't pass the mustard or is it because you simply didn't get to it because it's impossible to review every product?

Negative reviews are not wasted space. A review is a review. I wish the editors would take a more neutral stance regarding their reviewing policy.


    Randomly select widely available products for review
    Unambiguously list the strengths and shortcomings of a reviewed component
    Stop hobnobbing with manufacturers
    Stop "paying respect" to the manufacturer is his/her product is not up to par
    Approach all products with an open mind regardless of your relationship with the manufacturer
    Maintain the same transparency you have currently in place
    Maintain the subjective reviews along with measurements
    Cut Sam's food budget in half and eliminate his travel budget (all he does is eat when he travels abroad)

I think that incorporating these points will spare you much aggravation and time defending your reviewing policies.

Editor
Editor's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 8:56am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:
Cherry picking equipment in order to avoid "wasting space" on negative reviews does a real disservice to the readers. Are we to assume that if the product hasn't been reviewed it's because it didn't pass the mustard or is it because you simply didn't get to it because it's impossible to review every product?

Both are possible reasons. Please understand that without the magzine being several times larger than it is now, we cannot pretend that we review a representative sample of _all_ the products that are available. "Cherry picking" is therefore inevitable for Stereophile, just as it is for all the review magazines. However, the difference between Stereophile and other publications is that we make our criteria a matter of public record. It is thus ironic that our doing so can be turned on its head and used to criticize what we do. :-(


Quote:
Negative reviews are not wasted space.

In a sense they are in that readers do not read them. And again I am puzzled why you don't seem to be unaware of the fairly large amount of negative comment we _do_ publish. The important thing for me, as I wrote in the articles I requested you read, is that once a Stereophile review is underway, it is published warts and all. I fail to grasp why that policy does our readers a disservice.


Quote:
A review is a review. I wish the editors would take a more neutral stance regarding their reviewing policy.

And I still fail to understand how we are letting you down. As I said, if the magazine were several times larger, which would mandate cover and subscription prices that were also very much larger, I would operate a policy more akin to what you outlined. But given the impoosibility of that, I operate a policy that, in my opinion, best serves our readership in the space I have available to publish review.

Thank you for your comments. They have give me much to think about.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

bifcake
bifcake's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 27 2005 - 2:27am
Re: Objective reviews

Hi John,

Thank you for your reply. I'll try to clarify my position:


Quote:

Quote:
Cherry picking equipment in order to avoid "wasting space" on negative reviews does a real disservice to the readers. Are we to assume that if the product hasn't been reviewed it's because it didn't pass the mustard or is it because you simply didn't get to it because it's impossible to review every product?

Both are possible reasons. Please understand that without the magzine being several times larger than it is now, we cannot pretend that we review a representative sample of _all_ the products that are available. "Cherry picking" is therefore inevitable for Stereophile, just as it is for all the review magazines. However, the difference between Stereophile and other publications is that we make our criteria a matter of public record. It is thus ironic that our doing so can be turned on its head and used to criticize what we do. :-(

Please don't misunderstand me, I find the transparency at Stereophile very refreshing. After all, if it weren't for this transparency, I wouldn't be privvy to all the information and behind the scene dealings, thus I would not in a position to criticise. It is a definite credit to Stereophile and to you personally that you've taken that stance and impacted Stereophile's culture. Furthermore, in case I haven't made it abundantly clear, I do not see this as a matter of integrity of the Stereophile's reviewers and staff. I genuinely think that everyone is doing their best. What we're talking about here is a matter of what "best" is.


Quote:

Quote:
Negative reviews are not wasted space.

In a sense they are in that readers do not read them. And again I am puzzled why you don't seem to be unaware of the fairly large amount of negative comment we _do_ publish. The important thing for me, as I wrote in the articles I requested you read, is that once a Stereophile review is underway, it is published warts and all. I fail to grasp why that policy does our readers a disservice.

How do you know that readers don't read them? I would read them. How do you know that a review is going to be negative unless you conduct a review?

I don't mean to give the impression that you don't publish the shortcomings of the reviewed components. What I'm saying is that it reads as though you gloss over them. You don't accentuate them enough. An exaggerated example of this would be:

<body of the review> "...the product reproduced chamber music with the utmost palpable sense and drew me into the concert hall..." "...the product exhibited coloration of midtones and the highs exhibited brightness almost to the point of tinny violins..."

<conclusion>:

"This product is Class A all the way! Highly recommended!!!"

I'm exaggerating of course, but this illustrates a point. It's not that you don't list the warts of the product, it's that it seems that these warts are glossed over.


Quote:

Quote:
A review is a review. I wish the editors would take a more neutral stance regarding their reviewing policy.

And I still fail to understand how we are letting you down. As I said, if the magazine were several times larger, which would mandate cover and subscription prices that were also very much larger, I would operate a policy more akin to what you outlined. But given the impoosibility of that, I operate a policy that, in my opinion, best serves our readership in the space I have available to publish review.

Please forgive my ignorance, but I'm at a loss as to why the size of the publication dictates the manner in which the products are reviewed.

In terms of "letting the reader down", there is a perception (at least on my part) that Stereophile is really "on the side" of the manufacturer, but tries to seem impartial. The policies that are currently in place seem more as attempts at "easing the conscience" rather than cold impartiality. I guess the fundamental question that you have to ask yourself is: Whose side are you on? Stereophile seems to try to have it both ways in terms of being on the side of the manufacturer and sort of being on the side of the consumer. I don't think it works that way. I don't think it can. I think that's the fundamental reason why Stereophile gets constantly criticised by its readers. We want you to be OUR representative. We want you to have ONLY our interests in mind. Not only do we want you to tell us what it is, we want you to tell us the WAY it is: No diplomacy, no backhanded redacting, which cherrypicking winds up being. Be BRUTALLY honest. Let the chips fall where they may.

Quote:

Thank you for your comments. They have give me much to think about.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Thank you for taking the time to listen. Not many editors would.

Editor
Editor's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 8:56am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:

Quote:

Quote:
Negative reviews are not wasted space.


Quote:

Quote:
In a sense they are in that readers do not read them.


Quote:
How do you know that readers don't read them?

1) Because they let me know. 2) Because when there is public discussion of a negative review in Stereophile, many readers resent the space devoted to the review and feel we are picking on the manufacturer.


Quote:
How do you know that a review is going to be negative unless you conduct a review?

In general we don't know. However, while the magazine's reviewers' experiences of products at shows is a great source of finding out what products will probably sound good in their systems, it is also a good means of deciding what products _not_ to review. As I wrote in one of the articles I requested you read -- did you do so? -- I explained why we focus on products that are most likely to get a positive review.


Quote:
I don't mean to give the impression that you don't publish the shortcomings of the reviewed components. What I'm saying is that it reads as though you gloss over them. You don't accentuate them enough.

An individual judgment call. I have snipped your example, but I must be honest and say that I don't recognize the quote. Which Stereophile review was it taken from?


Quote:

Quote:
As I said, if the magazine were several times larger, which would mandate cover and subscription prices that were also very much larger, I would operate a policy more akin to what you outlined. But given the impossibility of that, I operate a policy that, in my opinion, best serves our readership in the space I have available to publish review.


Quote:
Please forgive my ignorance, but I'm at a loss as to why the size of the publication dictates the manner in which the products are reviewed.

Because the space I have available to publish equipment reports is limited and becuase the industry releases so many new products each year, we can only scratch the surface of what audiophiles are offered. We therefore have to be extremely selective regarding what we choose to review. And the main engine driving that choice of what to review is our preselecting products on the grounds that they will probably receive a positive review. For reasons explained in the articles I referred to.

This means that our selection is far from random, far from representative, and why reviews that are outright negative tend to be relatively rare in Stereophile.


Quote:
In terms of "letting the reader down", there is a perception (at least on my part) that Stereophile is really "on the side" of the manufacturer, but tries to seem impartial. The policies that are currently in place seem more as attempts at "easing the conscience" rather than cold impartiality.

I am sorry you feel that way. I disagree.


Quote:
I guess the fundamental question that you have to ask yourself is: Whose side are you on?

The side of our readers, as far as I am concerned.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Editor
Editor's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 8:56am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:

Quote:
I guess the fundamental question that you have to ask yourself is: Whose side are you on?

The side of our readers, as far as I am concerned.

From my April 1998 "As We See It," reprinted at http://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/498awsi/: "as do all publications, Stereophile does have a "way"

bifcake
bifcake's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 27 2005 - 2:27am
Re: Objective reviews

Hi John,

"Despite our best intentions and cautions to the contrary, some readers drink by the label, substituting our thoughts and opinions for their own. They use the "Recommended Components" listing as a buying guide, selecting components purely on the basis of their Class rankings. And they deride the lower classes as being somehow unfit to be associated with true blueblooded audiophiles."

Why is it shocking that readers are using the Recommended Components list as a buying guide? Of course they would be. Any time you create a list called "Recommended" and attach a hierarchy to it, it's only natural that readers would take it as an audiophile bible. This is especially true of those readers who don't have ready access to high end dealers so that they can audition products for themselves and readers who do have ready access will rip you apart if your classification doesn't correspond to their idea of what that classification should be. It's a natural response. Perhaps if you had renamed the list "Suggested for audition list", things would have been different.

"In any case, who gave me the power to mandate behavior?"

We, the readers did. We, with our herd mentality want you to tell us what to buy. Furthermore, we don't have access to all the equipment. We can't compare a Levinson amp to a Krell because no dealer stocks both (a rant for another day). We count on you to be the "Consumer Reports" of high end audio. We don't care that you don't want this responsibility. We've drafted you. You have no say in the matter. This is the reason that despite your pleadings, the readers of Stereophile treat the Recommended Components list as gospel. You're doomed. You're our reluctant Jesus. We've put Stereophile on a pedistil and we'll hold you to very high, but highly subjective standards. We will not accept pleas of "...these are only subjective recommendations" or "...audition before you buy" or "...use your own judgment". If we wanted to use our own judgment, we wouldn't need Stereophile. We're counting on Stereophile to filter the noise for us, to dig through the crap and pull out the jewels. We also count on you to tell us the difference between crap and jewels because sometimes we don't know. In order for us to know light, we need to know dark. In order to know peace, we need to know war. In order to know good sound, we need to know crap. This is why we need negative reviews. This is why reviews should contain comparisons.

Whether you like it or not, you and every reviewer at Stereophile has tremendous power. We have vested you with that power. You can't refuse. You have the power, yet you're slave to that power. You will be flogged if you abuse it and you will be flogged if you don't use it enough.

It's not enough to be transparent. It's not enough to be honest. It's not enough to suggest components for our own auditions.

"Stereophile doesn't hand down almighty judgments to be taken as received truth. Instead, our reviews are intended to be used by readers in conjunction with their own tastes and auditioning of components to reach buying decisions."

Not good enough. We want you to hand down almighty judgments and those judgments should be critical so that those do make the cut of Class A components (which I see as recommended without any reservation), it better be more than a potential.

I know that these are unreasonable demands. I realise that this is not how you see things and this isn't how you want them to be. You just want to provide suggestions for us to audition. Alas, that's not what readers of reviewing magazines want.

Jeff Wong
Jeff Wong's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 5 months ago
Joined: Sep 6 2005 - 3:28am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:
We want you to hand down almighty judgments and those judgments should be critical...

We have Harry Pearson for pronouncements like this.

300Binary
300Binary's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 year 1 month ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 10:47am
Re: Objective reviews

"You can't always get what you want." - Sir Mickey

It may seem attractive to think everybody must have the same ears and listening talents and the Best is simply the Best. Attractive ideas, like attractive women, are often incredibly stupid. Yesterday I swapped out a little 6P1 P/P amp for a 300B SE. Life got even better That doesn't mean life with the 6P1 was endless Hell, far from it. It just means things are not all the same. You want to worship Audio Gods, fine, move to a mountain and start a cult. Do not expect anyone to write you an Ear Bible on demand. Such Herculean challenges are fun to propose, but, only for the mentally underequipped.

Editor
Editor's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 8:56am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:
It's not enough to be transparent. It's not enough to be honest. It's not enough to suggest components for our own auditions.

"Stereophile doesn't hand down almighty judgments to be taken as received truth. Instead, our reviews are intended to be used by readers in conjunction with their own tastes and auditioning of components to reach buying decisions."

Not good enough. We want you to hand down almighty judgments and those judgments should be critical so that those do make the cut of Class A components (which I see as recommended without any reservation), it better be more than a potential.

I know that these are unreasonable demands. I realise that this is not how you see things and this isn't how you want them to be. You just want to provide suggestions for us to audition. Alas, that's not what readers of reviewing magazines want.

We are what we are, AlexO, but you would like us to be something else. Unless I am replaced, you can't divorce Stereophile from my own wishes and policies, so I don't see what the point is in continuing this discussion.

I _will_ address your last point, however: you write "You just want to provide suggestions for us to audition. Alas, that's not what readers of reviewing magazines want." I have a problem with this blanket statement. It may well be true for you but I doubt that it is a _universal_ desire.

I used to have this argument with J. Gordon Holt when I took over as editor nearly 20 years ago and started Stereophile down the path to what it is today. Gordon very much agreed with you, that Stereophile should hand down absolute judgments, and was disturbed by what I intended to do. Yet both the magazines I have edited where I have applied this concept (first Hi-Fi News, then Stereophile), that the magazine's reviewers be the first among equals, that the magazine offer (informed) opinions for its readers to use to make up their own minds, have been successful.

By contrast, the magazines that have addressed your expressed need have _not_ been successful, and where they survive at all have much smaller circulations and much less influence.

So who is right? I admit the evidence is circumstantial, and there are many other factors involved. However, while you are 100% correct regarding your own needs, as Stereophile's editor I have to address what I perceive to be the center of gravity of _all_ our readers' needs. So far that center of gravity appears to coincide with my own ideas about what a magazine should be. When that no longer applies, then it will be time for me to retire.

But until then, I shall continue to publish a magazine that I personally would want to read. I regret that it doesn't approach closely enough to meet your needs, but there it is. I am what I am; we are what we are.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dcrowe
dcrowe's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 9:39am
Re: Objective reviews


Quote:

Quote:
It's not enough to be transparent. It's not enough to be honest. It's not enough to suggest components for our own auditions.

"Stereophile doesn't hand down almighty judgments to be taken as received truth. Instead, our reviews are intended to be used by readers in conjunction with their own tastes and auditioning of components to reach buying decisions."

Not good enough. We want you to hand down almighty judgments and those judgments should be critical so that those do make the cut of Class A components (which I see as recommended without any reservation), it better be more than a potential.

I know that these are unreasonable demands. I realise that this is not how you see things and this isn't how you want them to be. You just want to provide suggestions for us to audition. Alas, that's not what readers of reviewing magazines want.

We are what we are, AlexO, but you would like us to be something else. Unless I am replaced, you can't divorce Stereophile from my own wishes and policies, so I don't see what the point is in continuing this discussion.

I _will_ address your last point, however: you write "You just want to provide suggestions for us to audition. Alas, that's not what readers of reviewing magazines want." I have a problem with this blanket statement. It may well be true for you but I doubt that it is a _universal_ desire.

I used to have this argument with J. Gordon Holt when I took over as editor nearly 20 years ago and started Stereophile down the path to what it is today. Gordon very much agreed with you, that Stereophile should hand down absolute judgments, and was disturbed by what I intended to do. Yet both the magazines I have edited where I have applied this concept (first Hi-Fi News, then Stereophile), that the magazine's reviewers be the first among equals, that the magazine offer (informed) opinions for its readers to use to make up their own minds, have been successful.

By contrast, the magazines that have addressed your expressed need have _not_ been successful, and where they survive at all have much smaller circulations and much less influence.

So who is right? I admit the evidence is circumstantial, and there are many other factors involved. However, while you are 100% correct regarding your own needs, as Stereophile's editor I have to address what I perceive to be the center of gravity of _all_ our readers' needs. So far that center of gravity appears to coincide with my own ideas about what a magazine should be. When that no longer applies, then it will be time for me to retire.

But until then, I shall continue to publish a magazine that I personally would want to read. I regret that it doesn't approach closely enough to meet your needs, but there it is. I am what I am; we are what we are.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

I also would like to have absolute truth rather than audition recommendations, but that is not something that is possible for any magazine to deliver. I respect the truthfulness of John Atkinson's approach. It does require that the reader understand what Stereophile is represented to be by its editor, and not every reader does understand that. The differences between Class A speaker components can be extremely large to my ears. That experience of comparing at least two different Class A speakers is probably a requirement for the reader of the magazine to fully understand that absolute truth will not be one of the choices. For me the value of the magazine's reviews, written by people who have the opportunity to hear a much wider variety of equipment than I do, increases with my experience in correlating what I hear with what the reviewer said he heard. It is a process of "calibrating the reviewer" that will never be complete unless the reader gets to review everything himself as well. If the reader has that opportunity, then he doesn't need the magazine for purchase decisions!

300Binary
300Binary's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 year 1 month ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 10:47am
Re: Objective reviews

Wiggle them keys, Maestro!

ohfourohnine
ohfourohnine's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 7:41pm
Re: Objective reviews

John, I was a subscriber before you took the reins and I dropped out for some time. Thought the reviews tended to be pronouncements from on high. I've been back for a while, I like what I see, and I suspect I'm fairly representative current subscribers in that sense. Stay with it.

The magazine, on its own remains well ahead of whoever you think of as second place (I'd say TAS), but the reworked website adds the device none of the others have to keep you guys in constant and intimate contact with your readers. Very clever, McGee (and good for all of us).

Must say I've been amazed at your willingness to carry on this particular exchange for as long as you have. Don't know whether to admire your patience or chastise you for pursuing what revealed itself early on as a lost cause. Who would have thought a topic could come up which would make me want to return to the endless double-blind debate?

Pages

  • X
    Enter your Stereophile.com username.
    Enter the password that accompanies your username.
    Loading