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You needn't be Jane Austin to stir up the proverbial hornets nest with a Pride & Prejudice yarn. We all love nothing better than scoring a product at one quarter the price of another that kicks its butt. Yet deep down, common sense expects that you get only what you pay for. We're disdainful of being had, eternally hopeful to beat the odds. Price & perception are the poles between which this teeter totter plays out.

Enter the audio reviewer. He ought to feel the burden your trust and wallet place in his opinion. He knows the gulf of expectations that separate being reared on crap versus living daily with the cream of the crop. He understands the added variables of room and ancillaries. With such unpredictability considered, touting giant-killing budget miracles can backfire in various ways. Best to tread cautiously.

There could be fall-out from the upper crust, from those compared directly and those waiting in the wings for future reviews. You'll be branded with prejudice as an outfit where expensive stuff gets regularly compared to more cheerful fare. You'll become a riskier proposition. This could affect access to review gear and ad revenue. Do you want to subsist on sporadic support from low-profit, lean and small outfits or be penciled into the long-term marketing budgets of corporate outfits? That's one way price & perception can affect a publisher.

A writer's reputation too might take a hit, especially if published enthusiasm garners no eventual corroboration. If a glowing budget review has its maker take out an advertisement to ride the feel-good wave, anyone reading the review subsequently will just know what happened. It's called conspiracy theory 101. And it's mostly equated with good common sense for which you can't really blame people. No matter how you play this game, you can't really win if winning entails worrying about what others think.

The following e-mail makes that point. "I read Jeff's mini blog on his CES 2008 visit and wanted to comment on one of the rooms he mentioned. Your recommendation of the Red Wine Audio Signature 30.2 to the Rethm exhibitor was spot-on! There were quite a few of us who thought the amp was outstanding and Jacob George told us he was planning to buy the unit after the show. This is an amazing amp at any price. Unfortunately, there still were those who would not take it seriously because of the way it looks and what it costs. There was one reviewer who came in and said that he had one of the amps in for review and that he had already told Vinny that he was not going to say "that it is better that $40K amps out there"! This attitude makes me ill."

Naturally, no reviewer should be expected to say that a $2,500 amp compares favorably to $40,000 monos unless he has actually performed just such a comparison. Even having made it, it doesn't imply that the affordable unit beats all expensive ones nor that it couldn't be beaten by something in it its very own class. Just so, the unnamed writer's statement expresses concern for maintaining his credibility as arguably a reviewer's most important perception asset. Then what to make of Jeff Day and Michael Lavorgna on staff selling off their Meridian/Audio Logic and Audio Aero front ends respectively to replace them with Sony's Playstation 1? On the cred scale, they just tumbled from grace and respectability way down into gutter muck and irrelevance.

From where I sit, this merely enhanced their credibility. They owned, they compared, they liked better, they sold, they bought. When motive is enjoyment unprompted by other considerations, how much it cost what they owned before and traded up to shouldn't matter. Yet it may have cost Jeff and Michael respectability with fellow reviewers and readers who haven't performed such comparisons to appreciate their choices due to how crassly they defy price and perception. Their choices seem to suggest hearing failure or slipping listener priorities instead. In that context, few will consider that when the Playstation first launched, its computing power was such that a US government think tank in Washington State paralleled a few units to rig up a cheap super computer and augment their full-scale monster installations.

Price and perception have become two sides of a coin. Flipped, it matters not how it lands. We always buy into both sides. That makes exceptions all the more exciting. And just as they defy perception, reviewers ultimately can't care how they're perceived because of it. If it's enthusiasm that motivates us, maintaining respectability isn't good enough at times. Whenever enthusiasm is genuine and well informed, it'll have to burn its own path, consequences be damned. The tricky balance is how to remain well informed.

Reviewers need ongoing exposure to all price strata and an ownership inventory of affordable stuff to facilitate A/B comparisons. How else is one to question personal psychology on the price/perception equation? You might rightly consider it mandatory for any writer who routinely works the upper reaches to also own premium affordable samples as a reality check. It makes one sharper. It also makes one more circumspect to that segment which would have readers believe that only loaded wallets ever get satisfaction. It's back then to what motivates our writing and how invested we are into price, perception and all the various angles in which they play out.

Jeff reported piles of personal hate mail after he first reviewed the original Sonic Impact T amp. Since then, a whole industry of 'T clones' has spawned to make the subject commonplace.
Tweaks without sympathetic explanations as to their workings also affect perception, mostly about those who first write them up. Franck Tchang's acoustic resonators and sugar cubes, Nanotech's Nespa... you look like a gullible fool or worse, a shyster's publicity agent when you first go to press. A year or two later, chat rooms and show reports if not other reviews make the same discoveries and suddenly your honor is restored. Just don't expect any of the attackers to come back and apologize. That's simply one price to pay in this game of perception.

Another is a
ccepting advertisers as the sole means of a publication's support revenue. It's the gravest effrontery to perceived impartiality possible. It's easy to see the flaws in the setup, very difficult to create a successful working model that avoids them if one's working hours are fully dedicated to publishing. Fighting the perceptional disadvantages inherent in this setup is a great price one must pay. Just because such payments need to be made doesn't make them inherently bad or impossible to execute. But they're certainly tied quite inextricably to perception; to what other people think about us, what we do and how we do it. That brings us full circle with Pride & Prejudice to suggest that an interesting read to do full justice to the subject of Price & Perception would best be left to a real talent like Jane Austin...