As Reviewers See It Page 2

Atkinson: We have two roles. We illuminate; we say, "This is what exists, these are the differences..."

Archibald: And we then say, "This is what I think you should do." I don't think we have to do that, but I think that readers like to know...

J. Gordon Holt: I don't think we should be doing that.

Lipnick: I don't think so either.

Archibald: I do.

Lehnert: Readers will ask us anyway.

Will Hammond: Is it possible to take the reviewing process one step further, which is to give some indication, semi-quantitatively, as to really how much better an $8000 CD player is than a $100 CD player? Perhaps part of the responsibility to the reader is to say to them, "Yes, this $8000 piece of gear is the best we've seen. But mind you, it really isn't 80 times better than the $100 one." Is this some part of the process that should be given more thought?

Balgalvis: Well, it really doesn't happen that way in the review process because very seldom do you take a Wadia and compare it to a Rotel. You compare a Wadia with a Theta or a Krell.

Jack English: Let's say, for example, that I have limited funds but I want the best thing that's out there. If it's twice as expensive or 20 times as expensive, that's my determination. I don't think that's the reviewer's job.

Archibald: However, I think that there is a huge hole in Stereophile's coverage in terms of making it comprehensible for people to act on the observations that we make. We fail to relate differences within whole categories of product—we fail to relate differences made by going from a $200 interconnect to a $2000 interconnect—and we rarely relate that difference to the difference made by going [from the same price differential] in turntables or in speakers, or even to what JA just did, which was to invest $373 in a separate AC circuit which made the biggest difference to his system that he's ever heard. I think some kind of relationship in that whole morass would be extremely useful.

Thomas J. Norton: We certainly attempt to do that when we have access to the equipment. I did it last January, for example, when I reviewed five CD players. One was the $500 NAD, and all the rest were around $2000; I also compared them with more expensive processors and transports.

English: I think we're absolutely fooling ourselves if we think we're in a position right now where we can quantify differences. I want to return to a point Gordon made. I think the issue here is it's not that things are mutually exclusive. I think the reviewer's primary obligation is to describe, as best as he or she is capable of, how something sounds. Then I think it's within bounds for the reviewer to tell the reader what he or she thinks of that sound. This doesn't preclude the reader from making his or her own judgment, which we hope they're always making. So I don't think those statements are mutually exclusive. The primary responsibility of the reviewer is to describe the sound. Not to say, "I love or I hate it."

Holt: Although saying that is important.

Hammond: It is important, therefore, for the writer always to disassociate those two in the review. Description and value judgment should be physically separate because while the description should be a reproducible phenomenon, the value judgment [is more subjective]. Within the bounds of semantics, what A hears should be about [the same as] what B hears, what C hears, whereas A, B, and C may place entirely different value judgments on the relative merits of what they hear.

Norton: I think value judgments are going to differ with each and every one of us. Two of us are going to listen to the same two components and we're going to hear exactly the same thing, but one of us may describe it as a subtle difference and one of is going to say it's major.

Hammond: That's why the value judgments should be, in my view, kept out of the descriptions. They aren't necessarily always spatially sorted out in the reviews.

Archibald: That would be artificial.

Guy Lemcoe: I think we're forgetting one of the functions of the magazine, and that is to entertain. I cannot see a review written in the format [that Will is proposing] as being too entertaining—where everything is fragmented into objective/subjective, emotive/non-emotive types of reaction. I enjoy reading articles which involve the persona of the reviewer throughout the review. In a descriptive phase, in an analytical phase, to what degree that can be done. And then in comments. I'm all for more of a free-form, free-flowing type of narrative. This is how I try to approach my writing.

I think this is what makes the magazine successful—that we have a variety of people here, each of whom approaches things from a slightly different point of view. This is what makes Stereophile really entertaining to read. If you start categorizing, and formalizing, and formatting reviews, I think the entertainment is just going to go phooey!

Atkinson: If I can comment here as editor, the role of the magazine is actually threefold. It has to inform, which is what we've been discussing now. It has to educate, because without education there's no forward movement for our readership. We hope that they grow as we grow. But Guy is right. The magazine has to be entertaining because that's the sugar which gets the pill down.

And it's the diversity of the people in this room which I rejoice in. I'm sure you hear the same things, I know you describe the same things, but the variety of the construction of your reviews and the variety of the ways in which you express your value judgments and descriptions, I think adds the life to the magazine.