Though I think of certain of my prior columns' names as pretty cool (The Y-Files, Earwax, Global Caravan, Auroville), my favorite by far belongs to the annals of The Absolute Sound: "HP's Workshop".

No other column header encapsulates what I think audio reviewing should be as evocatively or tersely. Workshop. This conjures up endless work-in-progress, prototypes, failed experiments, discarded stuff, set-aside stuff. It presents a perspective of looking in on somebody working. This perspective undermines formalities and fixed parameters, presentability and creased pants. It's all sleeves-up dust & mess. Things are fluid and a process more than results. Someone in a workshop is free to pursue blind alleys or change his mind. He's free to try whatever strikes his fancy, to get stuck in dead ends, to admit defeat and frustration, to pursue wacky flights of inspiration that don't last through the morning.

All this occurs in a spirit of ongoing discovery and artisanship. What was right, compelling and interesting today becomes boring and irrelevant tomorrow only to reintegrate back into the process further downstream as the guy or gal in the workshop hones the craft, discovers personal style and individual proclivities. One reason our site awards avoid classifications is to suggest that perfection/ satisfaction occurs on multiple levels. $15,000 winners are not inherently superior
or "better" than $500 ones. Equally important, it also avoids the sense of stagnation that occurs when certain standards imposed by a classification system can't expand and adapt to true breakthroughs. After all, occasionally a component might require a complete house cleaning whereby all Class A denizens evacuate the quarters to set up shop in Class B while forcing prior residents to empty into Class C and so on.

Though by no means perfect or not bedevilled by its own limitations, our Blue Moon Award system leaves room for flexibility and the simultaneity of excellence across all price points. As in any enterprise of discovery, one must leave room for the unexpected. One must account for errors in judgment and the process of learning that often doesn't proceed like a straight-cut canal but more like a wildly snaking river of unpredictability. Too much popular perception in audio leans on a rigid frame work that reviewers are forced to work within. This completely kills the creative investigative spark. Rather than being in constant flux, the reviewer is expected to have settled down and stand for something definitive and unchanging. Gus is the small monitor guy, Ginger only handles vinyl.

All this is undermined by the workshop notion. It isn't unlike the open kitchen scheme where patrons can watch the kitchen staff prepare their meals. Something about this is all very down-to-earth and human. You see dropped eggs, oil catching fire, cooks losing their cool. It adds immeasurably to the enjoyment of the meal. Your appreciation of what -- really -- went into it deepens. Audio reviewing should
likewise communicate fallible human beings at work. Reviewers should be expected to contradict themselves over time as they explore new estuaries of the general stream or even feel compelled to paddle upriver for a change. Telling the truth should be divorced from ultimate judgment. It should merely be an expression of personal and temporal discoveries, maturing opinions, the occasional daft misstep and the ultimate appreciation that beauty is to be found in all manner of disguises.

To facilitate this spirit of open inquiry, our writers only go after product that personally interests them. When we can't find a home for certain review solicitations, we can't find a home. After all, it's not like we're leaving anyone indefinitely stranded by being the only audio review publication extant. Far from it in fact. This may not be the most fair position to take toward those manufacturers turned down but it's the only one I can see that insures freedom of expression and ongoing passion for the job. Just because you're known for building boats in your workshop doesn't mean that it's uncouth to one day decide to tool inlaid chopstix or carve touristy bears from firewood with a chain saw

Simply put, something about the non-workshop alternative -- whatever exactly the proper term would be for that -- is too constricting. It's liable to be taken as fact when it's nothing but opinion. It's appears as cast-in-stone when it's liable to change over time. One could commit to a year of single-driver speaker research only to become the high-power transistor amp guy the following gear. One could swear by dynamics only to mellow out and state that the dragon's breath of
harmonic decay has become more important. One could pen the definitive SACD downer only to learn that a certain affordable unit does it all far better than ever accounted for just one month later. Whatever. It's all there to be tasted and enjoyed. So while Auroville is cool, it sounds far too much like a permanent establishment. "Workshop" - now that captures the spirit of chips and splinters, tools and blueprints, midnight oil and headscratching far more succinctly, far more satisfactorily. With compliments to Harry Pearson then for putting it as it should be put!