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wilburpan
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Is the Recommended Components list necessary?

I'm not sure if this should really go into General Rants'n'Raves, but here goes.

I originally posted a version of this as a comment in Stephen Mejias' blog.

At the beginning of the Recommended Components list is the following disclaimer:


Quote:

Carefully read our descriptions here, the original reviews, and (heaven forbid) reviews in other magazines to put together a short list of components to choose from. Evaluate your room, your source material and front-end(s), your speakers, and your tastes. With luck, you may come up with a selection to audition at your favorite dealer(s). "Recommended Components" will not tell you what to buy any more than Consumer Reports would presume to tell you whom to marry!

I've been reading this disclaimer, or a version of it, since the early 80's when the audio bug first got me. I have also seen many arguments about the merits of the Recommended Components list. But I think it's time to have a closer look at the intellectual consistency behind the Recommended Components disclaimer.

One of the great advantages of the internet these days is that nearly everything is archived somewhere out there on the Wacky World Web. And thanks to the efforts of the staff at Stereophile, so are the equipment reviews. Regardless of the Recommended Components disclaimer, in the pre-Internet era, the Recommended Components issues might be justified as a convenient summary of recent reviews, much like an abstract book for a conference. But if Stereophile really stood by their advice that there is no substitute for reading the original review, they should just drop the Recommended Components issue completely. Readers don't need the summaries anymore, as they can just look up complete reviews on the Stereophile website. It's like saying, "Here's this information we're going to publish, but we really don't want you to be reading this."

The argument has been made that the Recommended Components issue sells very well -- somewhat of a "ends justifies the means" argument. Best-selling issues or not, the point still stands that if the best way for readers to put together a short list of audio components is to read the complete, original, unabridged review of the component, then by publishing the Recommended Components issue, then Stereophile really isn't doing anyone any favors. Instead, they are only enabling bad behavior in the name of newsstand sales.

gkc
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?

Hello, Wilbur -- some of your questioning, concerning the validity of (or need for) the list of components, is understandable and well-grounded. Here are my thoughts. First of all, Stereophile was the first publication to sort out all the details in compiling a ranking system and to actually proceed with this daunting task. All of us who stumbled around in the dark during these early years, wondering which fledgling companies were legitimate, reliable, and technically compentent, GENUINELY needed and appreciated having a handy guide for assessing what's established and new out there. So Stereophile has earned the rights of continuance by being there first, no matter HOW many witless blatherers populate the web nowadays. They are all imitators, as far as I'm concerned. Second, since I have been a subscriber for a long time, I have a lot of back issues: the list is still a useful index for me to use to refresh my memory. In spite of being a veteran consumer who has spent TONS on the enjoyment of this pursuit of music, I STILL find it handy and useful. Third, the "recommended components" list only comes out twice a year, which makes it a nice summary without being obtrusive. Finally, it serves as a control, a reference point against which all the reviewers, with all their diverse tastes and approaches to sound, can gather their thoughts and focus on what truly is, to them, "state of the art." In this sense, the list is self-policing and keeps any individual from flying off on some ecstatic trip that may be only an embarrassingly temporary fad. It is a discipline on the various Stereophile writers and helps police the integrity of the magazine. I am sure Mr. Atkinson needs this sort of discipline, too, even though he is the final arbiter in the rankings. He, too, needs to examine and re-examine his own subjective tastes against an objective control, or there would be no rigor in his pursuit...particularly since he also has to wear the "scientific" hat and evaluate hard data when making his final choices. So, as a long-time subscriber, I would emphatically say no to any attempts to eliminate this valuable feature from the magazine. It is part of the magazine's heritage and uniqueness and should stay as long as Stereophile stays -- which, I hope, is for a very long time. By the way, I OFTEN disagree with individual rankings -- that's an important part of having a list: how can you disagree if there is nothing concrete out there to butt your head against? Please don't underestimate the importance of this last: it is always better to be organized than chaotic, and this is a big reason why we mere humans will always need lists and rankings. Finally, I am glad you articulated this issue. Cheers and happy listening (check out the root of THAT word...), Clifton.

Monty
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?

I love the recommended components issues. If someone chooses not to take the advice offered by Stereophile in using the issue as a guide, then that is their choice. I'm not big on trying to save people from themselves.

For us, this is a hobby; a passionate hobby. Stereophile is a business that caters to hobbyists. As a business, 'phile remains a going concern because of consumer demand for their product. However, like most media, the financial infusion comes from advertising. The higher the circulation numbers, the more they can charge for advertising.

Considering that the 'Recommended Components' issues are the issues that receive the largest circulation numbers, it wouldn't make much sense to pick this hill to die on.

Buddha
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?

Based on the sheer number of threads The List generates on the various websites and forums, I'd say "mission accomplished" in terms of generating conversation and creating magazine awareness.

Just like Rolling Stone's list of the hundred greatest rock records, or ESPN's 100 greatest moments in sports, The List exists to catch your attention and make you curious, angry, talkative, happy, sad, or whatever...it generates a response, which is great.

Being a guy, I also see it as a quintessential guy thing - we love lists, ranking, hypotheticals...The List is everything guys are generally about.

Seriously, is there anyone who is a big enough fool (other than John Ashman... ...) to be upset if a piece of gear that pleases his own ears isn't listed?

Is anyone so externally motivated that he would buy based solely on a ranking from The List?

Take it in the proper context and it's a great thing.

I even have a dumb game I play where I look through The List and say, "Now if I had "X" dollars and could only shop from The List, which components are the most interesting?"

The List is a harmless diversion.

Actually, I am quite jealous of the people who take The List seriously enough to get upset by it. Their lives must be so care free and devoid of stress that the The List can actually affect them! How would like a life that's so good that The List could ruin your day or enjoyment of the hobby? I would like a life that free of aggravation...or maybe not.

Viva La Lista!

CECE
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?

Life free of agrivation is called ZOLOFT NATION, takes teh bite out of everything. What me worry?

wilburpan
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?

Just to clarify, I'm not against the idea of a Recommended Components list per se. Otherwise, I'd also rant about the annual Stereophile Products of the Year issue (which, by the way, I think should be a bigger deal than the Recommended Components list).

What I am irked by is the disclaimer that is always printed with the Recommended Components list about about readers needing to read the whole review. Stereophile knows full well the impact of the Recommended Components list. Used audio equipment sellers always quote it if their piece of equipment was a Recommended Component. Many times a full review in Stereophile will say whether the piece of equipment being reviewed should be Class A or B. If nothing else, newsstand sales of the Recommended Components issue should speak for themselves.

Again, since access to past reviews is easy in the internet age, if Stereophile really believed what they said about reading the complete review, the disclaimer and the existence of the Recommended Components list is intellectually inconsistent.

Either Stereophile should drop the disclaimer, or drop the Recommended Components list completely.

gkc
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?

Well, at the most mundane level, many of us have been subscribers for, say, 10+ years and keep a lot of back issues. The best way for us to access a specific review is to go to the "Recommended Components" list and find the issue containing the complete review, as well as read any discussion the review generated. I have found this quite handy, especially when I see a used product on Audiogon that I want to read up on. The disclaimer allows Mr. Atkinson to summarize and still refer to the original review. Further, a new reader might be misled by something omitted, in the interest of saving space, in the short snippet printed in the "Recommended Components"...how else could a newcomer to the magazine know there was more to be read, in some back issue, if it weren't for this disclaimer? In fact, this seems less a disclaimer (i.e. of responsibility) than a "for your information," even though I am sure it has a "legality" component, since many dealers and manufacturers might cry "foul" at a short snippet that doesn't tell the full story. We all swim in a pool of brief-writing sharks, and, unfortunately, disclaimers are necessary for survival in ANY advisor-related business. The "Component of the Year" is simply a voted summary of editorial opinion over a significant time period. It is a nice award for a manufacturer to receive, and one can look back over past awards and see how newcomers to the business (Mr. Hanson of Ayre, for example) have gotten the spark that is sometimes necessary to bring a deserving entrepreneur into the limelight. This is a tough, tough business, and newcomers with worthy credentials need encouragement from the press, sometimes, to even survive, much less prosper. I don't know, Wilbur, if I can think of ANYTHING negative enough about these 2 features to even remotely consider scrapping them. Both truly serve a valuable function in the audiophile community, and all of us music lovers would be worse off without them. Hell, I might still be getting my ears reamed by Altec A-7's, if not for the innovative interaction between talented entrepreneurs and the audiophile press. Praise be for the incredible variety of HIGH QUALITY gear that's now out there for everyone to enjoy. I can remember WHEN IT WASN'T THIS WAY AT ALL. You had a choice among a dozen or so products, none of which could even make the class "D" list of this month's "Recommended Components." Enjoy the fruits of these folks' labors of love, Wilbur. I hope they all make a zillion bucks off the magazine...even though they won't, given the realities of today's economic and cultural environment. Cheers and happy tunes, Clifton.

Kal Rubinson
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?


Quote:
The best way for us to access a specific review is to go to the "Recommended Components" list and find the issue containing the complete review, as well as read any discussion the review generated.

Hey, wouldn't it be great to have hot links in the RC listings of the electronic edition that would call up the original review and discussions posted at www.stereophile.com? Find something intriguing and click to get all the info. Dunno if it's possible but it would be even better than that little disclaimer.

Kal

Buddha
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?

Upon further review, I do have one thing I'd change about The List.

It seems many people want to protect those that are too dim to realize that The List is not definitive or comprehensive.

If protecting those who are more dull than ourselves is actually a concern, then I think categories with letter grades give the wrong impression.

An idiot who is not capable of reading and understanding the descriptions of the product rankings may, at first glance, assume that a category "C" product is average, or that a "D" product is 'almost and F.' Letter grades are deeply ingrained in people's brains from years of being evaluated in school.

I'd say, perhaps, consider changes to Roman numerals...category I, II, III, IV...that way people can be comfortable knowing that every components is recommended and that the lower letter "grades" are not indicative of what they may think.

Just looking out for my fellow man.

_________________________
_________________________

To really save aggravation, how about just changing all the amp recommendations to, "Buy Audio by Van Alstine amps, as many watts as you can afford," and all speaker ratings to, "Just go buy a Legacy Focus or Whisper, or you're a deaf idiot."

Cable and interconnect ratings should just be: "Go to Radio Shack and buy the stuff with clear wrapping. Once you reach the level of clear wrapping, it will sound as good as any other cable."

Hope this helps.

CECE
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?

Actually got my wires and stuff from www.partsexpress.com got NUETRIK a real conenctor maker, not a repacking flim flam artist. Got so ProCo cables from www.proaudiodirect.com or Parts Express. No Radio Shack for me, junk at absurd prices. www.sweetwater.com lotsa great cables, real stuff used in real enviorments, not lifted off teh carpet with lifts that somehow affect teh sound!!! Ever see a LIVE music show, look at what they do to teh wires up threr, that's why they use Hosa, ProCo cables etc, stuff that lasts, stuff that works. No carpet fiber interferences, I've mentioned teh "aduiophile" nonsense to my musican friends, they laugh, at teh dumb jackasses that fall for the wire BS. This guy uses a million dollar mixer to make his recordings and $40K monitors in the stuido, they don't life wires off teh floor.

gkc
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?

Hello, Kal -- yes, it would be great to have something like you suggest, an instant access, cross-referenced up the wazoo. It would certainly generate a lot of interest, especially since there are so many good buys on used equipment on Audiogon that folks would like to check out in the reviews, right now! I still prefer to pull a magazine with a color photo on it out of the rack, check out the specific piece I'm after, and drool over various ads, check out forgotten letters and controversies, and look at a music review I might have missed. I just hate running to this damnable (but necessary) tin brain and doing it all on the web. Besides, I can spill a beer on the table, but not into the central nervous system of THIS maladaptable robot. Hmph. You'd have thought Gates and his genius ilk would've cured THAT by now. Still, what you suggest would be a great adjunct...just don't be takin' away my purty-colored magazines! By the way, as much as I dislike surround, I do enjoy reading your pieces on the latest multichannel gear...as long as you test-drive the stuff in stereo mode, too! I don't think you can do away with the disclaimer: it is necessarily attached to the "Recommended Components" list -- they seem mutually interdependent. Maybe change the wording once in a while? Do a version in blank verse? Write it in Arabic, so the Terrorists can get hooked on music and stop blowing people up? Happy tunes and keep up the good work! Clifton

Buddha
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?

That was an excellent post, DUP, I was just seeing if I could mess with ya a little bit.

Hey, you think those guys up on the stage at live shows are trying to get all the detail at 16,oooHz that you and I are after?

How about the noise level of their gear?

I get the "bullet proof" part, but I wonder if they are trying to convey as much info as you and I are out to get in our home listening rooms.

I think it must be on your mind, as well, or you would go buy the same speakers they use instead of spending all that crazy cash on Whispers.

Same with AVA, why not buy pro-amps?

gkc
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?

DUP, what the hell are you smokin' NOW?? Sheesh. Leave a guy alone for a few minutes and he's into ziploc bags again.

ZOLOFT NATION?? You better not be one o' them aliens, or ahmacallin' homeland security! Or the MIB. Actually, er, I was hopin' you'd let me in on who your supplier is. Happy tunes...and I'm always available if you need somebody to talk you down off the ledge... Cheers, Clifton

Jeff Wong
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?


Quote:
Again, since access to past reviews is easy in the internet age, if Stereophile really believed what they said about reading the complete review, the disclaimer and the existence of the Recommended Components list is intellectually inconsistent.

Either Stereophile should drop the disclaimer, or drop the Recommended Components list completely.

What about readers that don't have access to the Internet? The number of members in this forum is a tiny fraction of the entire Stereophile subscriber base. Obviously, not all readers will have signed up to read the content of the site, but, this might suggest a good number of readers don't check out the site or can't be bothered.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?

I don't really need more recommendations, cross referenced to much of anything. I just need to win the Mega Millions and all of my gear problems fade into dust.

Kal Rubinson
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?


Quote:
What about readers that don't have access to the Internet? The number of members in this forum is a tiny fraction of the entire Stereophile subscriber base. Obviously, not all readers will have signed up to read the content of the site, but, this might suggest a good number of readers don't check out the site or can't be bothered.


They miss so much, this will be only an incremental loss.

Kal

Jeff Wong
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?

Kal - I'm not sure I understand your quote/comment. Wilbur Pan suggests that because reviews are online, that the Recommended Components issue be eliminated; my point is that not everyone has access to the website and that the print version might still be appreciated by these readers. I certainly don't think anyone is missing any earthshattering content in the forums presently... apart from DUP's posts.

Kal Rubinson
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?


Quote:
Kal - I'm not sure I understand your quote/comment. Wilbur Pan suggests that because reviews are online, that the Recommended Components issue be eliminated; my point is that not everyone has access to the website and that the print version might still be appreciated by these readers. I certainly don't think anyone is missing any earthshattering content in the forums presently... apart from DUP's posts.

My statement was in response to your first question about those who lack internet access and in the context of my proposal to provide hot-links to the full commentary. This proposal would have no impact whatever on those who lack Internet access.

In any case, the RCL will always serve as a somewhat selective guide to the full reviews.

Kal

smejias
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?


Quote:
Hey, wouldn't it be great to have hot links in the RC listings of the electronic edition that would call up the original review and discussions posted at www.stereophile.com? Find something intriguing and click to get all the info. Dunno if it's possible but it would be even better than that little disclaimer.

Kal

I think this is an excellent idea, Kal. It takes obvious advantage of what the electronic version can offer. There's no reason it can't be done, but it would be a great amount of work, with a lot of room for error. Nevertheless, I'd be willing to give it a shot.

smejias
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?


Quote:
I've been reading this disclaimer, or a version of it, since the early 80's when the audio bug first got me. I have also seen many arguments about the merits of the Recommended Components list. But I think it's time to have a closer look at the intellectual consistency behind the Recommended Components disclaimer.

Hi Wilbur.
I really see no intellectual inconsistency here. "Recommended Components," as I see it, is meant to simply be a resource, a helpful guide, an easy-to-use collection of our recommendations. I feel that our saying "Recommended Components" is not the only way for a buyer to make his or her decision is further evidence of this. We're simply trying to provide the little bit of help that we can provide. The rest is up to the reader. "Recommended Components" is not the only way, it's not the best way - it's certainly limited - but it's a damn good way, and used with other resources and a person's own ears, it can really help in making an excellent decision. I don't see why you think it should be eliminated. It makes a lot of people happy.

Editor
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?


Quote:
There's no reason it can't be done, but it would be a great amount of work, with a lot of room for error. Nevertheless, I'd be willing to give it a shot.

I already do this for the Recommended Components categories that were printed only on the Website, there not being room in the paper magazine. (See www.stereophile.com/features/406recommended ) I also add all the crosslinking URLS that you find in the review reprints and in the Web reprints of our "Products of the Year" articles. Unfortunately, it does have to be done by hand.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

nunhgrader
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Re: Is the Recommended Components list necessary?

I'm one of the ones who would miss it. Kinda like the people who do not like politics, or personal commentary etc. - just skip over it if one does not care for the Recommended Components - all due respect.

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