With twenty writers on staff who contribute various backgrounds and experiences, opinions and biases and are not afraid to dig in their heels and stand for what they believe in, the conductor of this merry little band has the good fortune not to be surrounded by weak yes men but instead, benefit from intelligent feedback routinely at odds with personal opinions or decisions. In the course of regular group exchanges via e-mail, the subject of product comparisons recently came up. The gist of it is worthwhile fodder for every reader of this or similar publications.
|To wit: The owner of a system is the overriding factor in how it'll sound. Of course you already knew that - but consider the implications for reviewers. The greater the experience level of a system owner, the higher the chances that this owner is capable to -- within reason -- make different systems sound the same e.g. in conformity with his or her personal biases. That's similar to cooking with Tofu. It's inherently bland self taste means that a crafty cook can make it taste like fish or fowl, redress texture and all manner of variables just by how the bean curd is seasoned and cooked, broiled, roasted or fried and by what other foods it is surrounded on the final plate served.
The cook's skillets, temperature gauges and spice racks transform into pucks, cones, footers, cables, tubes, speaker and chair positioning and various other tuning kit of the audiophile's kitchen equipment. Experienced 'philes tend to have a plethora of tuning devices on hand. The biggest one really is their hearing, what they equate with satisfactory sound and how this forms a mental blueprint or frame work that guides their setup actions. Take the same speaker, insert it into four completely different systems owned by four seasoned audiophiles. Listen and you'll come to wildly different conclusions about a speaker you yourself might own. Should these four individuals take pen to paper to each issue a definitive review, you'd be left with reviews about four different speakers, not one and the same.
Since this scenario rarely happens within one magazine, it's easy to forget unless a particular product enjoyed multiple parallel reviews in different publications in the same month and you, the reader, had them all opened and moved back and forth between them with furrowed brow and confusion in your heart. If we're in agreement about this plain fact, what function do reviews serve if they can never be unequivocal and definitive?
|Before we answer that, how about comparisons? Aren't those the perfect antidote to vouchsafe against shifty sands and moving targets? Readers love even-handed comparisons since they seem to be more "scientific", "serious" or "objective" than reviewing a component without comparative context. Shoot outs, John Wayne style - may the best man be left standing, right? But why should what holds true for the one-component review be any different for the two-or-three component review? If a reviewer retunes his entire system to welcome a new component and have it perform in conformity with his notions of good sound, is this a truly even-handed comparison? If, on the other hand, he changes just one thing only -- component 1, 2 and 3 -- and reports on the results, does this really account optimally for any of 'em? But if he changes more than one item at a time, has he not lost all ability to know what's doing what?
Different 6moons writers have different feelings about this subject. Like a conductor, my job is to only step in when things fall apart or perhaps give a subtle cue when someone's solo is about to come up or tell them they're slightly out of tune. Otherwise, I simply wave my baton around looking all important and impressive in my bloody tails and pressed shirt up there on the podium called publisher/editor, knowing full well that my orchestral forces know how to do their job without me - that's why they're part of the band to begin with. I'm just acting as their focus who holds the vision and format for the concert. I thus allow for all manner of approaches to reviewing. This insures that each writer is comfortable. Some enjoy comparisons and find them invaluable to the audience - that includes me. Others shy away from comparisons because they don't believe they can be handled in ways that are either meaningful or do full justice.
This much I know: If I get a component for review and you told me I had to live with it from now on, I'd do my levelheaded best to tweak and tune my system around the change: minimize or eliminate aspects I don't like about it, build out those that are as good or better than what I had before. But if I now asked you to come over and live forevermore with my system instead of the one you have carefully put together at home over many years, you'd undo at least half of my setup tweaks to shift the system -- as much as possible -- to please you. If we were both reviewers, just imagine the disparity of our findings!
|Unlike another publisher who believes he's writing shopping aides, I don't think that about 6moons and our readership for even one fleeting moment. In fact, our letters/feedback confirms this beautifully. Because we're sincere in our efforts -- and that's all they are, good-hearted efforts -- we have no issue admitting that reviews are more entertainment than scientific fact, more informal discourse between like-minded hobbyists than Consumer Report advice on what to buy. The more you think over the implications, the less comfortable you feel to make categorical statements. The more experience you garner to hear your own opinion fall apart when a component you thought|
|to have pegged performs completely differently elsewhere, the more appropriate it becomes to just see yourself as an audiophile fellow traveler exactly like all your readers. One is not an infallible -- or even fallible -- pope-like authority proclaiming Solomonic judgment, scepter in one hand, one-size-fits-all blue print in the other.
I return to departed Harvey 'The Giz' Rosenberg who proclaimed that assembling an audio system is an artful and creative form of self-expression. It is. Given the same basic building blocks of hardware components in a particular room but complete license to change orientation, speaker setup, cables, tweaks, stands and room treatments, experienced 'philes are able to fashion wildly divergent results to serve their aural blueprints. This comes from experience, keeping an open and ever-curious mind and not being afraid to experiment, learn and trade opinions and beliefs without suffering religious guilt over shifting allegiances.
This is a fun hobby and sharing in other people's experiences and observations can enrich it immeasurably. The farther along your personal journey you are, the less "help" you need, the more you appreciate the utter subjectivity of it all and trust that the only thing meaningful, in the beginning and the end, is your own satisfaction. Curiously enough and by the same token, with this maturity comes the ability to truly delight in reviews -- for what they are -- and regard them with humorous, lighthearted suspicion - over what they aren't. So what, pray tell, are they? Pleasant, short-lived, hopefully fun-to-read vacation postcards from faint acquaintances or complete strangers that confirm what a beautiful, colorful world this is and how many worthwhile destinations there are to check out.
Do you take anything about it serious enough to lose sleep over, engage in cat fights about, waste time to convince others over, take to the bank to cash like a check that'll bounce? Hell no. At least that's how I view this whole affair. That's also what, in turn, I chose to believe holds true for our readers: You know what you like, you trust your ears, you know we're no different from you and you recognize we simply write because we enjoy it - no more, no less. And yes, that's a compliment to our readers. Again based on letters and feedback we receive and publish, we must be blessed with a rather mature audience. You enjoy us for what we have to give and don't fault us for that which we cannot - iron-clad findings that'll hold up just so in the light of day. I guess there's an unwritten pact that exists between us. It's that we all know our limitations. By acknowledging them silently, we needn't constantly remind each other or pick fights to drive the message home yet further. If that's what it is, an unwritten understanding -- and I truly believe it is -- thank you, dear readers. Writing for mature adults is truly a pleasure. In Hollywood, it drives many into the alt-film or self-produced scene to avoid kowtowing to the lowest common blockbuster denominator. With 6moons, it means we're making certain a priori assumptions about you and then figure you're okay with them or you wouldn't be coming back. And if our site stats are any indication, you are coming back in droves. Cheers then - to many happy returns. And here's a joke compliments of Edward Barker in England that pretends to talk about Indians but really is all about audio reviewers:
|It was October and the Indians on the remote reservation asked their new Chief if the coming winter was going to be cold or mild. Since he was a Chief in a modern society, he had never been taught the old secrets. When he looked at the sky, he couldn't tell what the winter was going to be like. Nevertheless and to be on the safe side, he told his tribe that the winter was indeed going to be cold and that the members of the village should collect firewood to be prepared.
But being a practical leader, after several days he got an idea. He went to the phone booth, called the National Weather Service and asked, "Is the coming winter going to be cold?" "It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold," the meteorologist at the weather service responded. So the Chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more firewood in order to be prepared. A week later, he called the National Weather Service again. "Does it still look like it is going to be a very cold winter?" "Yes," the man at National Weather Service again replied, "it's going to be a very cold winter." The Chief again went back to his people and ordered them to collect every scrap of firewood they could find.
Two weeks later, the Chief called the National Weather Service again. "Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?" "Absolutely," the man replied. "It's looking more and more like it is going to be one of the coldest winters ever." "How can you be so sure?" the Chief asked. The weatherman replied, "The Indians are collecting firewood like crazy."