As Reviewers See It Page 4

Norton: In general it's more difficult to review less expensive products if only because there's so many more of them out there. The field is so much broader to choose from. I think every one of us prefers to review the more esoteric products. You listen to a $5000 speaker and suppose you're blown away by it—well, you say I darn well ought to be for that price. But there's certainly a reward to finding a gem for $1000 a pair vs $5000. There's certainly something to be said for that.

English: That's a critical point. There's immense satisfaction in finding that next Audible Illusions or Vandersteen or Rotel.

Balgalvis: I get a little bit intimidated with expensive equipment because I always imagine that poor slob out there who has $5000, $6000, $7000, $8000 ready to spend; he has to make a decision somewhat based on what I'm going to put down on paper. That's what makes reviewing expensive equipment difficult for me, because that responsibility comes into the picture very prominently.

Lemcoe: I find it difficult to review both types of equipment, quite honestly. But I feel a greater sense of responsibility for what I'm saying when I'm moving up into some of the more expensive components. I think you have to be very careful when you cross that threshold into the $5000, $6000, and $7000 electronic components of exactly what the financial repercussions might be.

Atkinson: With a cost-no-object product, Gordon's right, it's hard to describe its departure from perfection. On the other hand it's easy to write the review. With inexpensive equipment, whether you can recommend it or not depends on whether the balance of compromise to make a product at that price point is justifiable or not. As Peter said, while it's easy to describe what cheap gear does, it's almost impossible to make a valid value judgment without a huge amount of work.

Putting aside the responsibility which Guy and Arnie talked about—how can you recommend that someone spend an enormously large amount of money when you yourself don't have that capability—I would add that every reviewer has to ask himself, before he writes the review conclusion, would they spend their own money on the product? If the answer to that question is no, then they cannot write a positive conclusion, no matter how good they've said the thing is.

Archibald: With the caveat that you have to be able to put yourself in the position of the person who could afford it. If you're reviewing a product that nobody in the room can afford, like the Apogee Grand, that doesn't mean that it shouldn't get reviewed.

Reviewing & Absolute References

• The live sound of acoustic music in a real space is the only reference with which to make value judgments on the performance of hi-fi components.

• The live sound of acoustic music in a real space is a necessary but not sufficient reference for making value judgments on the performance of components.

• The component which makes the Fender Stratocaster sound right is the component that makes the violin sound right.

English: To broaden the discussion here and make it a little more argumentative, [to insist on the use of] live, unamplified orchestral or classical music is, in my opinion, elitist snobbery. I think the majority of people born after WWII do not listen to it as a primary source of music and are driven away by audiophiles when we insist on using it as the only frame of reference.

Holt: Okay. Now I am aware of the fact that my views on this are becoming increasingly irrelevant. The people who are into classical music or acoustical music are dying off like flies. And the listeners coming up rarely ever get to hear anything except amplified music...

Atkinson: But when a major record company makes a recording of an orchestra and when they make a recording of a rock band, the result is identical kinds of recordings made in identical kinds of ways. In each case, the massive use of studio technology means what is ultimately encoded in the grooves or pits has no relationship to any real original live event except maybe coincidentally. So to me, the kind of music which reviewers use to judge hi-fi equipment is immaterial. They're all completely artificial recordings, except in the very small number of cases where the engineers involved have tried to make a documentary record of what the original sound was like.

To try to judge hi-fi components by attempting a comparison with live sound is flawed in that it automatically makes the assumption that encoded somehow within the grooves or pits is the original event and all you need to do is to be able to reproduce it perfectly in your home. To me that is totally flawed. There is a whole creative process between the sound in the hall or studio and the record which the listener has no way of knowing the impact of, sonically or quality-wise. I feel, therefore, that to enforce a rigid rule that you must only use classical orchestral, or classical chamber, or vocal music is too restrictive to reach valid value judgments.

Mitchell: Only those of us who have done recording can know how far is the gap between acoustic reality and what's on the recording.

Holt: I don't think there's really much point in my arguing my view on the acoustic thing now because that went on in the pages of the magazine for almost a year a while ago, and I pretty well got my views across in there...Although my views have been misinterpreted, actually...they were essentially summed up by: The live sound of acoustic music in a real space is a necessary thing but it is not enough.

English: But why is the sound of a violin any more legitimate than the sound of a Hammond B3 [organ] through a Leslie? It's a constant sound.

Holt: Because you're listening to something which is already polluted by electronic distortion.

English: But that's how I would hear it if I was sitting next to it live, Gordon.