Working: Recommended Components

Hi! Where've you been?

I've been working on the new entries for our upcoming "Recommended Components" feature. Our "Recommended Components" feature is big. It appears twice a year—in our April and October issues—and is a fun way for readers to become quickly familiar with the many products we've reviewed. Every product listed in "Recommended Components" has been placed in one of four or five quality classes. Components in Class A offer something extraordinarily special, but every component included in our list is truly excellent or offers excellent value for money. The Class rankings, by themselves, mean nothing.

Nothing nothing nothing
nothing nothing

What the rankings do, however, is measure potential for sound quality. A Class A-rated, five-way, floorstanding loudspeaker costing $150,000/pair undoubtedly has greater potential for excellence than a Class E-rated minimonitor costing $250/pair, but the former would probably suck total butt in my 350sqft Jersey City apartment, and I don't even know how I'd get them up the stairs. I'd rather put together a system that fits my needs and tastes, regardless of its ranking. You should do the same. Use our recommendations, read our reviews, read other reviews, get opinions from your friends, and listen. In addition to a ranking, each component listing includes a brief summary of its original review. A blurb. I write these blurbs.

I write the blurbs, I write the blurbs.

There's not much real writing involved, actually. All of the writing has already been done. I'm more of an arranger. In one hundred words or less, I try to state what the thing is and what makes it special; describe how the thing sounds using a few quotes from the reviewer; and maybe, if space allows, wrap it up with the results of John Atkinson's technical measurements. In the past, I've discussed this arranging process in somewhat greater detail. Everything I wrote here remains completely true. The process is always interesting in the same sorts of ways. I gain a deeper understanding of a lot of things, including how much torture I can stand. The only difference this time around is that I gave myself less time to get it all done. The entire task usually requires two solid weeks of work. Due to CES and production cycle stuff, I had to accomplish it in only one week. I stayed up later than usual, and slightly lost track of some other things. Such as eating and fresh air. [Note to self: I do not recommend this method.] With the raw copy off of my cluttered desk, I am now worried about the sanity of our copy editor.

There's more. Because we want our readers to get the most for their money, we draw attention to those products that we feel perform much better than might be expected from their price. A product such as the PSB Alpha B1, an unquestionably great value for its $279/pair, is decorated with three dollar signs ($$$) next to its listing. And we want these excellent products to remain recommendable for long into the future. We're not about fast-fading fads; we're about long-lasting classics. Those products that have remained on our list in one incarnation or another for at least three years are awarded with a five-pointed star. You'll find such a star sitting right beside the wonderful Linn Sondek LP12 turntable, for instance—a product that defines "classic." In addition, we also list the product prices (all of which have been meticulously researched to the best of our ability), and tell you where you can find the original review. It's inevitable that different people will use the "Recommended Components" list in different ways. If you're using the "Recommended Components" list to assist in building a system, we highly recommend that you also read the full review. A blurb is a very fine thing, but can only do so much.

For some reason, "Recommended Components" tends to draw a lot of fire and fury from certain readers. I imagine this is simply because they care. But, really, "Recommended Components" is meant to be a nice thing, something for our readers to enjoy and put to good use. For a better explanation of the list, please read JA's excellent "Recommended Components: Really Recommended." Or his fascinating "Recommended Components: The Stereophile Way." Or his resolute "Recommended Components: If It Works, Don't Change It." Or his sassy "Return To Recommended Components." Or even his "500 Components. Recommended." Like the components on the list itself, they're all good.

Larry(PoorAudiophile)'s picture

Thanks Stephen for all your hard work!!I haven't as yet,bought a new component since I've subscribed to Stereophile(almost a year). Nevertheless, I still enjoy the Recommended components section. Between this & the website & the shows,etc. you certainly work very hard! Again, thanks & keep up the good work!! Larry

bjh's picture

I was always suspicious but clearly the evidence is indisputable... Mr. Dressup never passed away.

JohnG's picture

The list is a great place to start for someone like me who is new in the hobby. You also learn a lot about the reviewers and the business. Why, for instance, are recommended cables almost exclusively in the 5-digit dollar and so often from the US (unlike the rest)? And yet, cables would be the easiest to test (also with measurements) under control conditions, right? Is it because AD and ST are not that much into cables? Or because it is a pain reviewing "cheap" cables? (they are all 99.99-something copper, aren't they?) Or does it say something about the cable business itself? Who knows. Thank you for all the work you put into the list. JG

Hoser Rob's picture

I've always enjoyed the RC's.But I think there should be more emphasis, in general, on what works well with iffy recordings.Which represent over 90% of the music I own. I'm in this for the music ... there's no way I'm going to listen to songs and/or performers I don't like, no matter how good the sound quality is.

Alex O's picture

To say that class rankings is a potential is a cop out. If I listen to a class A speaker at a dealer and it sounds like crap, does that mean that the dealer didn't reach the speaker's full potential or does it mean that this is as good as it gets and the speaker sounds like crap? How does one maximize the potential of a preamp? What happens if I assemble class A components that do not sound good together? Does that mean that I haven't reached the component's potential? If so, which one? What is the criteria for reaching that potential?I think it's time that Stereophile stepped up to the plate and offered solid opinions, and stood by their rankings. Either a component is good or it's not good. I consider class A components to be reference material. As such, I expect these components to be special, not just have the potential to be special, a potential that nobody quite knows how to achieve.

rvance's picture

Stephen, The process of editing, distilling and paring down copy to its most concise form for the Recommended Components section is a monumental task. Great work and much appreciated! Anyone can write a book, but a meaningful, informative short paragraph is beyond the ability of most.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Thanks so much, everyone. It's really great to hear that you enjoy the issue. The work I put into it is only a small part of the total. Our super-intern, Ariel Bitran, came in for a couple of days and did an excellent job of contacting manufacturers and dealers to verify pricing and availability. All of the writers also add their current thoughts on the contenders. And JA has spent the last three days editing my new text, adding the writers' comments, making deletions, deciding ratings, and preparing the final piece to be laidout. It's a beast. At this point, I'd like to completely forget about it for awhile, but we'll all be proofreading the layout next week!

Stephen Mejias's picture

rvance: Thank you for your wonderful comments. Each "Recommended Component" entry feels like a great, little achievement. I get an almost irrational amount of satisfaction from it. >Anyone can write a book, but a meaningful, informative short paragraph is beyond the ability of most.This makes me smile. It's interesting because I've often thought that a single wonderful sentence, or poem, can be so much more powerful and lasting than any novel. But, then again, I wouldn't go as far as to say that anyone could write a book. I've tried a few times, and it didn't work out.: )Thanks again.

Stephen Mejias's picture

>To say that class rankings is a potential is a cop out. Hi Alex. I've been thinking about what you said, and I'm just not sure where to begin to address it all. It's difficult because I feel that Stereophile has been very clear about how we rank products. The evidence is in all of the links I provided. It seems that you want the list to be something other than what it is. That said, I do not we have copped out or have failed to step up to the plate. In my mind, we work at giving the reader more than they can expect. And I think we succeed. I wonder if you actually want less than what we provide.

Wagner's picture

Is it possible to buy Recommended Components Issues online on the Stereophile site (and get immediate access electronically to the article)?