Part 3
Since starting to review, what have you learned and how has it affected your appreciation of the hobby pro or con?

Kari Nevalainen: This question begs an interesting mirror-image question: where would I be now in this hobby had I not embarked on this reviewing business in 1995? Indeed, where would I be, period? Somehow I have a hunch that things would not be too different from what they actually are now. But I may be mistaken. To distinguish between what contributes to the audiophile hobby and what to reviewing is not obvious. There are several ways of participating in this hobby. Audio reviewing is one of them. Reviewing pop-up toasters is not the same. Reviewing almost any technical equipment allows the reviewer to assume an outsider's view with a consumer education attitude. Reviewing a high-end component is not this type of distanced "third-party" reviewing. One can only become an audio reviewer if one is up to one's neck in this quicksand.

Back to the question. Writing is thinking. Thus, reviewing has definitely taught me to think more clearly, more systematically, comprehensively and profoundly about audio and aspects related to it. Secondly and relatedly, reviewing has forced me to conceptualize what gets through my ears. That's not a minor reward. Hearing being the least developed of our senses means that attaching words to sounds in reciprocal ways is not child's play for us humans.

Thirdly, by increasing opportunities for listening to various gear and installations by some significant extent and by opening doors to certain vantage points, reviewing has helped me see the hobby more broadly relative not only to sound reproduction but in a wider context. Without the reviewing experience, I'd have an even shorter forehead than I have now. On the other hand, I believe reviewing has accelerated and formalized the convergence of certain ideas that had been in mental incubation for a long time.

That's for the credit side of things. How about the debits? That's the common story. Reviewing is an intellectual exercise. It's all about rationalizing things, asking questions and making claims about how things really are. And telling stories. But music effectively resists any attempts to conceptualize it. Sometimes it really puts me off that how the system sounds intervenes with how I experience the music. Anyone in the same position who makes claims to the contrary must surely lie. But I'm not sure to what extent reviewing can be blamed for this. Maybe I never was capable of enjoying music purely for its own sake. Maybe reviewers in general are not that innocent in this respect. They take pleasure in the intellectual pursuit of writing and conceptualizing.

Paul Candy: I have learned that there are many decent, smart, dedicated and passionate people in this hobby. I particularly enjoy interacting with readers. I am also surprised by the degree of trust manufacturers extend. Lending several thousand dollars worth of products to in many cases complete strangers means some serious risk taking and trust on their part. Unfortunately, the field is also littered with a number of jerks. However, I don't think any of this has affected my appreciation of the hobby. I'll always love music and will continue to have a great deal of respect for those who allow me to get closer to it. As for the jerks, I'll just keep ignoring them.
What were some of your gravest assumptions or areas of ignorance which the review process has helped you to address?

Kari Nevalainen: Addressing personal assumptions is not a straightforward business in HiFi. In some sense -- whether it was tubes, vinyl, high-sensitive speakers etc. -- I've always picked my side of the argument first by letting my heart and temper decide. The time for justifying and rationalizing those arguments always came later.

Having said that, reviewing has helped me address some assumptions. For example, if I previously was inclined to think that a certain phenomenon, say the sound of a preamplifier, was a function of factor X (e.g. the quality of its potentiometer), reviewing has made me realize that most such phenomena are far more complex. Audio is full of these simplifying suppositions. In fact, I don't recollect a single belief that I held firmly in the past that I didn't have to revisit and reconsider at a later time. That in itself says much about the nature of this hobby. HiFi is difficult. The more you learn, the less you know - as with anything in life.

Paul Candy: The reviewing part is easy, writing however is quite demanding. It's a constant struggle to accurately articulate my thoughts on paper in a logical, coherent and hopefully entertaining manner.
Of all your discoveries, what were some of the most surprising or profound to you, either because they came in an area you had never before considered or because their impact on your system's overall performance went far beyond what you expected?

Kari Nevalainen: Only one comes to mind: the stunning performance of some of the vintage gear that's comparable only to the quality of certain recordings from the same period. The best vintage gear can challenge any modern equipment in whatever price category in sound quality. But they have an even greater lesson to share with us. The lesson is that designers back then really knew what they were doing. The lesson is that their standards, what they were striving for (often argued in terms of music in a way that modern designers are unable to), may in fact be better than ours. The lesson is that the best period for home audio may very well be gone forever - and the same goes for recorded music.

Paul Candy: Resonance control. While I have yet to experience a fully tricked-out rack such as offered by Grand Prix Audio or Finite Elemente, I have been surprised by the effect of the GPA Apex isolators and even by the inexpensive GutWire Notepads and SoundPads. There is far more to this little respected and understood field than many believe. Based on my experience thus far, I'd rather spend two grand on resonance control than on a power conditioner.
Conversely, give us some examples of specific products or general categories that ended up delivering far less than expected.

Kari Nevalainen: Cables, vibration isolators, power isolators etc. It's here if anywhere that products are to be found that do not justify the kind of worshipping they inspire in certain quarters. This is not incompatible with the fact that some of the products in the above categories have had much more dramatic consequences in my system than expected, for better and worse.

Paul Candy: Loudspeakers. I continue to be surprised by just how unmusical most of them are. They may sound great and feature the latest so-called hi-tech parts but I find most can't play a tune nor make a piano sound like a piano.
Has what to listen for and/or how to listen been affected by the review process? If so, in what ways?

Kari Nevalainen: Being able to compare numerous amps and speakers within a reference system & setup that remains the same for long periods of time (I'm referring to the practice of the Finnish HIFI-lehti magazine) can provide valuable insights into what to listen for. This is how I was first pulled away from the semi-automatic reaction to evaluate a speaker's performance in terms of its frequency response and learned to be more responsive to other sonic characteristics.

Paul Candy: I don't think so. I have little problem switching from a critical analytical mode into my usual immersive, at-one-with-the-music mode. I naturally tend to focus on the music itself and look for an overall emotional response or vibe. I only actively notice audiophile aspects like bass, midrange, treble performance etc. while reviewing. I generally dislike analyzing and dissecting in this fashion but I realize many readers expect this kind of information.
What is most important to you in terms of determining whether to recommend a component or not?

Kari Nevalainen: I guess it's the process of becoming internally fully convinced about a product and its performance. It's not a feeling response. It's about gathering all the information available, considering all aspects of the product and trying to make fair judgements on that basis. Integrity is the name of that game. There are, of course, ways and ways to recommend a product. Some reviewers are very resourceful at saying things between the lines and English seems to be well adapted for this purpose.

Paul Candy: It's not any one thing. It's a combination of many but overall I ask myself, does this thing play a tune? Do I feel closer to the music? Does the hair on the back of my neck stand on end when listening to Isolde's Liebestod or the truly malevolent Midnight Rambler? I also try to balance that with price, features, build quality etc., which can be tricky. It's pointless to say that an LP12 is a better turntable than a Pro-Ject 1 Xpression. One is far more expensive than the other and is better in absolute terms but what does that say to the audiophile who has a limited budget? It says you need deep pockets to get a musically enjoyable product or system. That's nonsense. What do you think they'll end up doing? Probably upgrade the family PC monitor or buy a DVD player and a stack of movies instead. If the 1 Xpression offers excellent value and does a decent job plying the tunes -- which it does -- that prospective budding audiophile might buy it and who knows? Maybe he/she will eventually upgrade to a VPI Scout or a Nottingham Spacedeck.
What do you think an audio review should accomplish? List your answers in sequence of importance. Since starting to review, has any "insider" information changed your views on that and if so, has it affected how you prioritize what a review should accomplish?

Kari Nevalainen: A review has fulfilled its directive when the reader wholeheartedly intuits that he's almost heard how the gear in question sounds and that the review was fun to read. People of course weigh things differently. Some like a review that's suitably critical, other prefer one that exhibits excitement. But ideally everybody should be able to get something from the report. A good review doesn't turn over boats but it leaves an impression on the reader. When it does, he may want to have a second look.

Since joining 6moons I've benefited from some of the internal discussions between the team members. Srajan's reflective directives have been very illuminating, too.

Paul Candy: Hopefully to entertain and give the reader enough information to determine if the review piece is worthy of further investigation. Mostly I try to avoid behaving like a pompous jackass with an ego the size of Nebraska. Believe me, there's enough of that around as it is.
Based on your interactions with manufacturers, what do you consider to be areas most in need of attention?

Kari Nevalainen: That nobody gets hurt.

Paul Candy: Most of the manufacturers and distributors I've dealt with thus far have been friendly, decent, hard-working people who are just trying to earn a living like everyone else. Having said that, one or two are in serious need of a sound business plan. Frankly, I don't think this is different from any other industry.
What do you think is the weakest part of your present system? If money or practicality were no issue, what would you change and why?

Kari Nevalainen: A better secondary or even tertiary system. In particular I'd like to have -- and I think every reviewer should have -- a small collection of different types of speakers: In my case, a big bass-reflex (Spendor S100), a small bass-reflex (Rogers LS3/5) etc. driven by a small-powered, good-sounding solid state amp like a Musical Fidelity A1.

Paul Candy: Recordings and time. I'd simply buy more music and live until I'm 300. Do I really need to explain why? Heck, who am I kidding? I'd probably buy Shindo and some horns or maybe just move into Jules Coleman's house.
Have you made upgrade changes you regret in hindsight? If so, what components stand out in memory as some you wish you had kept - and why?

Kari Nevalainen: All changes have been consistent in that I'm not the same man now I was back then so why should my system be? Okay, Quad II amps.

Paul Candy: Regret is pointless. I can't change the past so why waste the energy dwelling on it? Having said that, I'd rather regret something I did do than something I didn't.
What is your favorite acquisition in recent memory?

Kari Nevalainen: A classic tone arm by Ortofon and a certain rare cartridge.

Paul Candy: Republic Commando. It's a great computer game with stunning graphics, the perfect antidote to a stressful day at the office. Seriously, the most impressive piece of gear I've had in my house to date has been the Green Mountain Audio Callistos. Too bad I don't have the scratch to keep them here. They have the luv big-time. As for products I have purchased, I am particularly fond of the Manley Labs Stingray and Meadowlark Audio Kestrel 2.
What do you consider to be your particular strengths and weaknesses as a reviewer? What are some of the writers you admire or try to emulate, and for what specific qualities?

Kari Nevalainen: I get excited too easily. I'm too serious and formal, even inconsiderate and arrogant at times. The list is long. I admire Art Dudley for the space he needs to get to the point, his sense of humor. I like Doctor R. Greene's objectivity and habit of sticking to facts. I have a natural affinity for Jules Coleman's style of reviewing. And there are many others. But it wouldn't occur to me to emulate them knowingly.

Paul Candy: Damned if I know. You tell me. I just strive to better communicate my observations and hopefully do so in a somewhat entertaining way. I admire Art Dudley and Sam Tellig, mostly for their wit and ability to keep a reader engaged regardless of what the subject might be. I recall Art once reviewing various headache remedies in his much-missed publication Listener! I also enjoy the work of my fellow moonies, especially John, Jules and Srajan for different reasons: John for his direct and concise work, Jules for his philosophical approach to reviewing and Srajan for his balanced take on all things audiophile and for continuing to point out there is more to life than chasing fancy boxes. They all inspire me to try harder.
Considering the general review scene from a global perspective, what publications do you considers leaders and why? Do you see specific trends you consider negative or positive?

Kari Nevalainen: I don't know about leaders. Jean Hiraga and his team are doing good work in France even under the heavy market pressures of home theater. Nouvelle Revue Du Son has survived 50 years, Hifi-News & Record Reviews, the Finnish HIFI-lehti and others for more than 25 years. Cheers to them all!

Paul Candy: I'm not sure there are any I consider leaders. All serve a particular audience and have something worthwhile to offer. The biggest negative trend is the music industry's continuing war on its customers and their single-minded pursuit of maximum financial return at the expense of artistic development. They simply never learn.
When average folks visit your home, how do they react to your system in terms of aesthetics, size, cost and performance? What are some of the most common reactions?

Kari Nevalainen: Do they have to be so big? Yes, you're right, why should a Hifi system cost less than a dishwater? Oh, how clean the sound is. What beautiful music!

Paul Candy: Most are completely blown away. Not only have they never heard a decent system, they are completely unaware that such equipment is even available. In addition, my stuff is hardly really expensive or the best available. I have managed to spark enough interest in one or two people who now have decent equipment and are even contemplating upgrading.
Given complete freedom on what to say, how would you comment on the audio review scene in general?

Kari Nevalainen: Drowning in its own success, perhaps?

Paul Candy: While there are some really fine folks in the audio review scene, there are quite a number who could use a pacifier and in one or two cases, an enema. Frankly, I cannot believe some of the bickering, pettiness and childish behavior that occur. Readers would be truly surprised about some of what can go on behind the scenes. It's a shame because it only hurts the industry. Such disagreeable infighting merely reinforces the public's notion that we're nothing but a bunch of anorak-wearing trainspotters as my British relatives would put it.
How does listening to music fit into your general lifestyle? What other hobbies do you have? How does your family participate in audio?

Kari Nevalainen: That's a hard one. My self image is of course that of a music lover. I go to concerts, follow what happens in the field of musicology, fall asleep and wake up to the sounds of music. But I have doubts, too. Why do I listen to music? Because of the pleasure it gives? Pleasure is fine but pleasure is not everything - or so I believe. The older I grow, the more I have this need to argue on behalf of the music having the role in my life it does have. Am I listening to music because I'm avoiding doing something else instead, something I really should be doing? Is my current hesitation due to a lowering of testosterone? So you see, I'm also second-guessing my motivation in this hobby.

Paul Candy: I listen to music every day. Always have, always will. Having two young sons (7 & 11) is my current major hobby. They amuse me to no end. My family enjoys music, playing as well as listening. The youngest son is particularly fond of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. There's hope for him yet.
What do you think are the most common mistakes audiophiles make when assembling a system while using reviews to assist them?

Kari Nevalainen: They don't regard reviewers as fellow travellers and sufferers. But then, I don't want to underestimate anybody.

Paul Candy: Some tend to be more interested in what a reviewer recommends rather than reading what the reviewer is saying. As for the Web surfers searching for bargains on the latest rave product, borrowing a component from a dealer and trying it out in their system would better serve them. And of course, buying it from the dealer if it's a perfect match. They would save money and have fewer headaches over the long term. And fer chrissakes, stop obsessing. It's only hifi.
What (if anything) is wrong with the industry at large and do you have any realistic notions on what needs to be done?

Kari Nevalainen: I admire the industry, in particular the small participants in it, those who refuse to become doctors, lawyers and bankers but devote instead a substantial part of their life and creativity for making products that are deemed marginal at best, no big and easy money. Paradoxically, I see this as a kind of protest against the type of materialism that bombards our consciousness from all windows 1440 minutes every day. This -- their life's work being at stake -- may also explain why many people in the industry have such a thin skin. This is an industry of disagreement and spite par excellence. And from time to time, reviewers too get their share of the ill humor, the love and the hate.

Paul Candy: I don't think we, the reviewers and manufacturers, do a good job in reaching the mainstream market. The industry seems content to sell their products to the same audiophiles instead of trying to attract a new audience. We write and talk in our own unique language and we spend too much time bashing each other on useless forums. Most non-audiophiles I know haven't a clue what we're about. Frankly, sometimes I don't, either. We need to get away from writing about sound and more about more musically relevant characteristics.

Perhaps manufacturers should consider advertising in life-style magazines or music mags such as Rolling Stone or Spin. It seems to work in Classical publications like Gramophone. Instead of exhibiting solely at HiFi shows, perhaps manufacturers should try home shows. In my non-audiophile alter ego, I work in the funeral/cemetery industry. I can tell you that in an industry where most if not all our potential customers don't want to ever hear from us, we do a phenomenal job of getting people to arrange and purchase our products and services years before they're needed. This is a relatively recent initiative. We used to be content to sit back and wait for customers to come to us. After all, it was a captive market, right? Far from it. It's a business like any other. You need to go out and hustle. We do focus groups, we're involved in our local communities and business associations, we advertise just about everywhere and we have booths at probably every public exhibition. Moreover, we are a very small company in a fiercely competitive field dominated by some rather huge multinational corporations. If we can do it, I don't see why the audio industry cannot.