|Being a credible audio reviewer costs money. Having money doesn't make you credible. But to deliberately assemble a comprehensive audiophile tool box -- over time or in one fell swoop if you're loaded -- takes money. It doesn't matter whether you pay 50 cents on the dollar through some industry accommodation or full price like regular 'civilians'. Money is money. What is spent on a hobby can no longer be spent on household, medical, automobile, insurance, education or any of the many other bills that civilization blesses us with. Lest you confuse big-time salaried employ with the hobbyist nature most all reviewers labor under, do this simple bit of math (which applies regardless of print or online publications):
How much would publications have to pay you per review to replace your current job? If a magazine could only afford $500/ea., how many reviews would you have to hand in 52 weeks a year? Could this magazine support that many submissions from a single writer even if you were able to supply them? Conversely, if your magazine of choice could only run one review of yours per month, what would cover your living expenses? $3,000 per review? $5,000? More?
If you can support your lifestyle on $3,000/month, congratulations. Now the question arises, how will you subsidize the very real expense of assembling a quality system that most would find credible to serve as your working laboratory of audio reviewing? Before you think that you'll get very far on just one system, consider that to outgrow the 'my stuff is the best' mentality and transcend the very unattractive 'my way is the only way' myopia, the only way to do justice to the wide variety of approaches with their inherent requirements means owning (or at the very least, having access to) multiples of most everything.
Beyond raw expense, this involves having the room to store this stuff (easy with electronics perhaps, not necessarily so with four or more pairs of speakers). Vitally, it involves a proper room to set up the review system. To be both informed and flexible enough to accommodate a variety of review loaner opportunities, one should have lo/hi power amps of the transistor and tube persuasions; a tube and a solid-state preamp; likely at least two standard digital sources widely spaced in price and of those, at least one as separates to judge converters and transports; the same for vinyl; ideally some form of PC-audio setup; and speakers that include mini monitors, conventional dynamic multi-ways, a widebander/hi-eff example and perhaps something exotic like ribbons or electrostats or horns.
This doesn't yet touch on a tube inventory to roll valve amps; cabling; powerline conditioning; resonance attenuating stands and supports; room treatment; and plenty of software to feed all this machinery. Clearly only the unthinking could insist that audio reviewing is for slackers. To do it right requires investing considerable sums of money. Unless you sit at the very top of the food chain as a publisher or senior contributor to a very successful magazine, chances are that you must subsidize all that from your regular day job. Even if audio were your regular job, it's still all expenditure. It's still nothing more than a subsidizing or reinvestment activity by which you maintain and broaden your work space.
We still haven't touched on the amount of time it takes for first proper listening protocol, then the writing procedure. And let's not mention the blasé time is money thing. This time has to be freed up from family and friends. It likely means evenings and weekends. If you fill out the details in this very broad and hasty sketch, you'll quickly come to appreciate that those who do reviewing for a living (by which we simply mean to pursue it quasi professionally by getting published on a regular basis in credible publications )... well, that those are really mostly enthusiasts. They labor free or for very little just because they enjoy it and assume you will too. For most it's a full- or part-time hobby.
To make money at this to live off requires serious work ethics, talent and time to work your way up the food chain in a very small industry with very few opportunities. Or go solo and launch your own gig. I did, Jörg and Ralph over at fairaudio.de in Germany did, Wojciech Pacula in Poland did and so did everybody else who runs their own e-zine or print venture as a private enterprise, not corporate entity. How many more self-started ventures can this sector support? Are you willing to risk your life savings to walk away from your current job and launch your dream audio magazine? Are you patient enough to keep your current job but launch your own magazine in all of your spare time to transition gently? Either way takes gumption, resourcefulness, commitment and seriousness. Turning a hobby into a profession can also kill all or most the fun of the hobbyist. But that part nobody talks about until it's too late.
For all the beating professional reviewers endure (formal is perhaps a better term than professional), it's good to contemplate the bigger picture in which they operate and how they do it. Could you? If so, would you? Let's talk rewards. Perhaps you do get to purchase your dream components at half off after a while. That puts no food on the table. It takes away. Perhaps you do manage to finally assemble a royal kick-ass rig. Guess what, you'll never be able to listen to it. There'll always be a review component or two in there which, most of the time, shall shift the final outcome in ways that have you long to get back to your kind of sound. No dice. If you want to work in this sector, pleasure listening for its own rewards is replaced by systematic comparisons for concrete results, week after week after week. It's just like any other job on that level. To keep it interesting and stimulating, you have to work at it, be creative and disciplined.
Next time you berate this or that writer for this or that crime against humanity or common sense, ask yourself why he's doing it, what he's doing it for and whether you could or would do the same. If not, perhaps that fact might temper your next flurry of criticisms against those who in fact do all of the above (or most of it). It's neither as easy nor as rewarding as most arm-chair critics think. Which doesn't mean I'd trade you. I love my job dearly. But make no mistake, it's real work and entails many more hours than any 40hr/week regular salaried job takes up...
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