Sounds Like? An Audio Glossary Sidebars: 7-8

Sidebar 7: Greenberg's Law
The best-looking components tend to sound the worst.

Field's Corollary to Greenberg's Law (as first outlined by Dan Field on Compuserve's CEForum, May 16, 1993).

...and ugly speakers sound better!

Sidebar 8: It's not what you say, it's how you say it
It will come as no surprise to Stereophile readers that reviewers have many styles of expression. We all choose our individual ways of telling the reader what we think about a product. Corey Greenberg may write that the Symphonic Bombast 101 Mk.II power amplifier "KICKS ASS!" I may prefer to say that it "sets a new standard of performance in its price range."

Despite this wide range of expression, all Stereophile reviewers have one thing in common: We tell it like it is. Whether we like a product, dislike it, or like it with reservations, readers should have no doubt about what we think after reading our review conclusions. Moreover, the "dynamic range" of expression within Stereophile is wide. We don't pull punches on bad products and aren't afraid to go out on a limb in touting the very best components.

Reviewers for mainstream magazines, however, appear to be less willing to take a firm stand on a product. The range between good products and bad is sufficiently narrow for these reviewers that every audio product in existence would appear to be "competent" and "offer good value." It has been joked that the most definitive statement such writers would venture is: "Of all the loudspeakers I've ever auditioned, this is certainly one of them." Further, the fear of offending a manufacturer appears to be sufficiently great that even the slightest hint of criticism signals the suspicion with readers that there is a significant flaw in the product.

Mainstream reviewers, therefore, need a set of phrases that, while being literally true, will alert the reader not to buy the product yet will avoid antagonizing the manufacturer. To that end, I've developed a few handy suggestions (footnote 1).

For example, the reviewer might finish a review of a dreadful loudspeaker with this statement: "I can assure you that no loudspeaker would be better than this one."

The manufacturer is happy, but the astute reader, reading the conclusion as meaning that this speaker is so bad that not having a loudspeaker at all is preferable, knows not to buy the product.

The reviewer may say this about a digital processor so bad it's not even worth an audition: "I urge you to waste no time in auditioning this digital processor for yourself." And the astute reader doesn't waste any time at all listening to the processor.

If the reviewer was happy to get rid of a cable from his system, he could say: "I am pleased to report that I once had this cable in my reference system."

For a power amplifier that just doesn't measure up to the competition: "I cannot say enough good things about this power amplifier, or recommend it too highly."

A review of a particularly unmusical-sounding preamplifier may conclude with this line: "In my opinion, you will be very fortunate to get this preamp to make music for you."

And for those situations when the reviewer is actually confronted by a manufacturer of a truly wretched component, it is very useful to be able to truthfully state: "I haven't heard a sound quite like this before."

But don't worry---you won't see phrases like these in Stereophile. Instead, you're more likely to have CG tell you, "This loudspeaker "SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKS!"---Robert Harley



Footnote 1: Adapted from The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 25, 1987, p.42, by Robert J. Thornton, Professor of Economics at Lehigh University.---RH
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