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Do Equipment Reviews Help You?


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Hey everyone - I am interested to read what people think of reviews of audiophile components. Personally I don't think they are real helpful for a number of reasons. Does it help anyone to read, "the treble on this amp was thin yet solid...?" Or, "this tube preamp has wonderful tight but bloomy bass" So many reviews can be interpreted any way the reader wants to interpret it.

 

However, I still like to read the reviews for many other purposes such as features and the history behind a company or component. I'm not knocking any reviewer because I am a consumer of their work and I respect their opinions.

 

So, the question is - What do you guys get out of reviews?

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

http://www.computeraudiophile.com

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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Reviews can be informative, and, to me at least, not worthwhile if they are not. I might differ with you in terms of the extent to which they describe sonic characteristics, but I am more interested in knowing how I might benefit from using the item under review. I should, however, make 2 things public:

 

1. My own subscriptions to audio magazines were allowed to lapse more than 25 years ago. I thought then that what I had learned was sufficient to my needs. Since I was not then — nor am I now — one who changed audio equipment to the latest and greatest being reviewed with every new issue, I had known even then that I had no neuroses to feed.

 

2. I have for more than 20 years been a contributor to a small audio publication, but I have limited my contributions to a music column for last 10 of these. My equipment reviews were generally iconoclastic, and that provoked the ire of many subscribers who'd bought into many a sacred cow. My music column often deals with artistic merit and sound quality on an equal footing, but I am not swayed by something just because it's new. Indeed, artistic merit and sound quality both appear to be in a severe decline.

 

I think it's important that sites like Computer Audiophile contain reviews — reviews that instruct but that also include some value judgments (opinion). I hope this site does not fall into the trap of being overrun by forums, though. Perhaps it would be useful to conduct online interviews with marketing people and designers in the course of these reviews. This could enable your interviewee to differentiate his product from the competition's.

 

 

 

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Yah... that "bloomy bass, airy soundstage" stuff only goes so far with me. I really want to know things like how well made it is, how the builder backs it up, and if there are obvious faults.

 

For example, based on reviews I bought an Archos AV500 portable music player. No one ever mentioned that it would not play Windows Lossless files. Nor did they mention that when playing back WAV files the unit makes a rising buzz through the amplifier whenever it accesses the hard disk.

 

Then again... what else do we have? I can't buy every piece of equipment I'd like to try, to see if it does the job. I read reviews on the Benchmark DAC1 that were positive but it still seemed like a coin-toss. The company seemed reputable, though, and they offer to send a DAC1 for testing. I liked what I saw so bought one outright and this device has been a keeper.

 

So, reviews need to be written from the viewpoint of a curious potential user. What do they need to know in order to make an informed decision? It's useful to offer comparisons with similar devices. Knowing the test parameters is also good; I can't tell you the number of hardware reviews I read on Head-Fi that were based on listening to MP3 files... and they don't mention that until near the end. Wasted time.

 

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Thanks for the comments SGB. This site will definitely not be overrun by forums and become a pissing match between good people and bullies. We all know that is certainly not an enjoyable experience. This is a laid back site here to promote the audiophile world. About reviews - I am listening very closely to what you guys say about them. I agree reviews should contain judgements/opinions of the reviewer. I have been in contact with a few manufacturers of audiophile products, DACs, amps, music etc..., and I hope to feature their thoughts and opinions on the site. I have mentioned to them that they are certainly invited to compare their products to anything mentioned on this site and they will get equal space to talk about it. We all benefit from having more information! Product differentiation is a very big key!

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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Good points LC. I like the angle you mention for reviews providing useful information for a potential user. The DAC1 I just received came with great documentation and has very nice build quality that doesn't seem apparent on the Benchmark site, at least to me. The letters included with the manual really give me a sense that Benchmark believes in their product 100%. That is important to me. I am planning my article on the unti and hope to have it up in a few days after I use it some more.

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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  • 10 months later...

As far ad the reviews go, I have lately found the a bit tiring.

 

Let me preface that with, yes they are necessary and can be helpful. But the flowery adjective are endless,

and I rarely see them knock a product. It seems as of late, that each component only brings that little bit

of extra persona to there reference system.

 

I would really enjoy reading double blind tests.

 

I have often thought of starting my own review panel and calling it "Blind Audio", or "Three Blind Mice" (2 extra reviewers needed).

 

I think this would really help to get to the bottom of some issues, esp. the very gray ones like cables, power conditioning, certain tweaks and accessories, as well as the major components. How can you say that your own psychology does not influence one's judgment? I know it does for me. If something looks very cool, I want it to sound better, because I want that in my system. If it is a product I have had or friends have and like that brand, I am going to want that to sound better. Not sure how the editors and reviewer and all of us can really say for sure what sounds better, by knowing what I am listening to. If a cable fits tighter I am going to assume it sounds better (my wife and I did some single blind testing and I was wrong twice on this one), and so on.

 

So Chris, when are you inviting us over for listening!?

Just kidding.

 

But I would really like to see some reviews published on current equipment based solely on blind testing.

 

Jeff

 

If you had a panel of X number of people and cold state that a majority bli

 

\"It would be a mistake to demonize any particular philosophy. To do so forces people into entrenched positions and encourages the adoption of unhelpful defensive reactions, thus missing the opportunity for constructive dialog\"[br] - Martin Colloms - stereophile.com

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I like reviews that I can look at and remove the subjectivity. I hate reading a lot of the shit "audiophiles" write about personal preferences and bashing other peoples choices of components. I think it's also about finding a review site that will fit with your current situation. I read this site because it talks about some more realistically priced components and jumps outside a lot of the "audiophile" faux pas (computer never a sources, for ex.). Realistically, a computer is such an amazing source for like 80% of the people with a decent system. The ability to have every album at a click is far superior to have some cd player that uses like 1 mechanism to move and all that shit you can probably not realistically hear.

 

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To clarify, my reference to reviewers means, current magazines mostly.

 

I was not referring to anyone that I have read on this site.

 

Jeff

 

\"It would be a mistake to demonize any particular philosophy. To do so forces people into entrenched positions and encourages the adoption of unhelpful defensive reactions, thus missing the opportunity for constructive dialog\"[br] - Martin Colloms - stereophile.com

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I couldnt agree more with the previous posts. I have pretty much given up on magazine reviews as I find more satisfaction reading posts/threads from real people who use the items in their own homes, from the horses mouth you could say, instead of some perfect listening room. It must be hard for magazine reviewers in a way, they listen to so much kit it seems, how do they remember so many intricacies in one components sound, after listening to so much kit!!

Another thing that seems to never be mentioned is, when did you have your last hearing check? everyone is different and its almost impossible to tell if your missing some really high treble. so theres room there for misinterpretation of the exact sound, even during blind listening tests.

And Chris, not blowing your trumpet but, your reviews are very informative I find, down to earth and can make informed descisions from them, plus I can always ask you if I need more info, can't do that with a magazine!!

 

Jim

 

PS Audio Quintet, PS3, Laptop/Mediamonkey/XP, PS Audio DLIII DAC, Cyrus Pre Vs2, 6 Power, B&W 685

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Hi Jim - Thanks for the nice words about my reviews. I try to make them down to earth as you mentioned and I often speak about things the traditional reviews do not. I actually try not to read too many reviews from other people so I don't get caught up in their style. Not that my style is better or worse, just different.

 

I do like the fact that you mention it must be hard for reviewers. It's not just sitting round rocking out to your favorite tunes all day :-) At the same time it certainly is not brain surgery. One often misunderstood part is the fact that a very revealing system and many hours spent listening to that system can make it easy to pick out tiny flaws in new components that are in for review. I think reviewers probably take the most heat for this part because people are very skeptical as to what is audible and what isn't. Skepticism is always a good thing and I certainly don't mind a good bit of it from the readers around here. I too was much more skeptical until I started listening to very resolving system and actually talking to people who have dedicated their lives to making great products. I really hate to see a few bad apples ruin it for everyone.

 

Sorry for the dissertation :-)

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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When i said it must be hard for reviewers, I really meant it, wasnt being sarcastic. I suppose though, as you say a revealing reference system that you are used to makes it much easier to pick out the nuances of equipment. Im certainly open minded towards all things hifi, I can certainly hear the differences new components bring to my system, interconnects and such like. I guess whats important to me in reviews apart from the sound quality matters is the how well they may work with other equipment, i.e is a speaker particularly difficult to drive, will x & y work in synergy.

 

PS Audio Quintet, PS3, Laptop/Mediamonkey/XP, PS Audio DLIII DAC, Cyrus Pre Vs2, 6 Power, B&W 685

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I don't think they are bent, but most of them are excruciatingly dull. They inevitably use two sets of vocabulary and most reviewers are uncomfortable with one, or both of them. The 'tech' guys are fine discussing the objective performance of a product, but the words read like the instruction manual to an oscilloscope and the moment they start writing about the music, they usually read like they are lost. OTOH, the 'music' guys can write entertaining words about the experience, but let complete nonsense get through on the objective side because they have next to no electronics or acoustics background. So these reviews become a hi-fi glee club and everything gets loved with equal measure.

 

That said, at least the music ones can be entertaining. Occasionally. But I really, really hate those ones that make it read like all they are reviewing is the obscurity of their CD collection. So what if you have an album of African elephants walking into windchimes, or a Danish vibraphone and ukulele orchestra covering Pantera's Cowboys from Hell in a post-modern jazz idiom? Good for you if that copy of some cheesy listening album from the 1960s is the only one in existence - but that only makes it worse for those who don't happen to have that rare album to understand what on earth is being talked about.

 

 

vel, Zaphod\'s chust zis guy, you know.

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I gave up on magazine reviews ten years ago when I realised I could predict the outcome based on the combination of manufacturer and reviewer. And there were signs that many of the reviewers lacked even a basic understanding of physics and were unqualified to write about the equipment which came their way. But write about them they did, in language both prolix and impenetrable. When a review begins with several paragraphs of purple prose before even mentioning the product under discussion, you know the signal to noise ratio has just dropped through the floor.

 

Reviews are helpful when it is clear that the reviewer is using the equipment on a regular basis and knows what he/she is talking about. For me, it's a pretty exclusive list: Chris's reviews here are very informative and enjoyable to read. I also like the digital recording reviews over on http://digitalmedia.oreilly.com/audio and, of course, Sound on Sound is very practical.

 

 

 

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I did read some reviews on an unmentioned site that had a cool idea. At the top of each article it had a 360 degree gauge with a needle. So if the review was on a pair of speakers, then the gauge would be incremented like: Bright to Warm, and Forward to Laid Back. Then in the article the reviewer would give comments like, if your your system is already somewhat bright then these speakers may not be for you. Or would compare the component to a well known one. So in the end, you could make some type of decision about whether or not these may warrant more investigating for your system. The compare and contrast and simple gauge, were refreshing after reading reviews that are 6 pages of eloquent adjectives and come to no conclusion.

 

\"It would be a mistake to demonize any particular philosophy. To do so forces people into entrenched positions and encourages the adoption of unhelpful defensive reactions, thus missing the opportunity for constructive dialog\"[br] - Martin Colloms - stereophile.com

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The site reads like the spleen-venting of a failed high-end retailer. He has some good points - doesn't everyone? I'm sure Pol Pot was a paragon of sagacity on some subject or another... just not economics or agriculture - but the guy's snobbery gets to me, big time. It's old school high-end retailer mentality - you have to earn your audiophile credentials, you must be almost exclusively into DWEM composers, and don't even think of starting on the journey unless you can drop ten large on a preamp. Plus, anyone who purports to be the keeper of the flame for audiophiles shouldn't go praising a turntable that has a commanding reputation for never being able to keep at the right speed. Or running in the right direction. Or being able to work for longer than a weekend without a visit from the Good Doctor.

 

That said, he's right that most mags do seem to demonstrate a high degree of cronyism these days.

 

 

vel, Zaphod\'s chust zis guy, you know.

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I have to confess that I rarely ever read a hi fi magazine and feel that they only exist because there is a profit to be made from the sale of advertising. Some of the UK ones sell less than than our website has unique visitors in a month!

 

That said What Hi Fi has just published its awards issue to the usual derisory comments from industry insiders who haven't had one! However they have a point in that most agree that only about 35% are deserved an some of the others are barking.

 

All any reviewer can do is express an opinion and if he says this and isn't dogmatic people then no one can complain, if they don't like it they can look for another, which is easy as the web is awash with such things. I really like CA and did so before we got a favourable review!

 

Apart from that I'd like to be rid of pretentiousness and silly jargon used by so many reviewers and see a return to common sense and greater respect for science, which I think is happening.

 

I used to enjoy the reviews published in Gramophone before Haymarket bought it and dummed it down. The reviewers were very knowledgeable people with active involvement in the recording of music as well as replaying. Geoffrey Horn had designed Quad's first Tuners and John Borwick was widely respected for his books on recording and producing music as well as others he did on loudspeakers. Their reviews were modest, detailed, accurate and represented a consensus in that the whole team would meet up to discuss anything that one wasn't sure about, so when the review appeared you knew they were all in agreement. Interestingly and because they had limited space, many products that did not come up to standard were rejected. It worked well and you could read between the lines to spot not so good products.

 

Meanwhile in other magazines ludicrously expensive and often thoroughly incompetent "Hi End" was being reviewed, every item as an ultimate and class leader in the £30 - £50K category or whatever. Such measurements as were published often indicated serious problems not recognised by the reviewer. He appeared far more anxious to appear to be top dog of the highest of hi end and also to be attempting to out do others on the "team" who in turn were responding in kind with other dubious exotica. It was tosh when I read it and still is if they are still doing it.

 

Hi fi is a science and it provides immeasurable benefit to those who manage to navigate their way through a sea of drivel and find a good system. There is a healthy scepticism on here and some knowledgeable contributors, which is good. I really hope this site becomes the definitive resource that is looks set to become. Keep the reviews coming Chris.

 

Ash

 

 

 

 

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There is so much wrong with modern magazine/internet reviewing it was quite difficult to work out where to start! But my two main bones of contention are a total lack of realistic reviewing with regard to real world systems and the reviewers perennial 'get out of jail free card' - get a home demo before you buy.

 

For my first point :

In this month's issue of Hi-Fi World (UK) is a system assembled and reviewed for playback from an iPod. Here's the list of stuff assembled :

Wadia 170i - £350

Chord OBD76 - £3000 !!

NuForce P9/Ref 9SE - £5000 !!!

Monitor Audio PL100 - £2300 !!

 

That's a tad short of £11,000. not including cables and interconnects, to replay music from an iPod! Now, pardon me but - what??? Quoting from the text of the review... "Having a large collection of Lossless music on my Apple Powerbook's hard drive I wanted a way to get it out to a serious hi-fi system - the Wadia's iTransport does precisely this." Now. maybe I'm missing the point but how does this represent realistic reviewing? An iPod/Wadia combo I can see working in the context of an addition to an existing system but if someone has £11,000 to spend on system components, they are not going to be looking to spend it replacing their ear-phones! (And they are still going to need a sub to beef up the PL100's!) Far too many reviews seem to be written in order to persuade the reader toward the more esoteric end of the market rather than showing them what is achievable for the sort of money they are likely to have to spend! As alluded to by Ashley J, What Hi-Fi is one of the few magazines that attempts to provide useful information for kit at various price points. In audiophile circles it is by far the most derided UK magazine! Away with the fairies!

 

My second point is the monotonous insistence that ...."you must get a home demo".... In other words, the reviewer does not have the courage to stand by the assertions and conclusions of the review you have just read! Now, don't get me wrong, if I had serious money to spend I would insist on a home demo. But, here in the UK, if you're interested in a 1K dac for example, you stand next to no chance of getting a home demo unless you are lucky enough to live within a short distance of the dealer. Yes, you can travel to the shop, but then you are listening to something completely different to your usual rig. Pointless. Some dealers can be persuaded to do a 'sale-or-return' but they are few and far between. IMHO reviewers should be able to draw conclusions that go some way to describing the kit and they should have the courage to stand by those conclusions. But everywhere we read, we are exalted to not take their word for it but to go and listen for ourselves. If we are not to take their word for it, why are they writing about it? Away with the fairies!

 

In agreement with most of the comments on this thread, I find forums to be far and away the best place to conduct serious research. Magazines have their place, as one part of the information chain, but a 'healthy debate' on a forum, as to the pro's and cons of various bits of kit, is far more likely to help in the search for informed opinion. And the general good nature prevalent here make this forum are very enjoyable place to learn about computer audio. (And that the hated Mac is probably the best choice of computer for the job! Ah Well, can't win 'em all!!)

 

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Bob reviews ! You must just take them with a large pinch of salt, at least they can draw your attention to a new piece of equipment, regarding home demonstrations they are of course essential and I would advise you to gather as a many 'possibles' together at home and compare them all, I think dealers attitudes are changing ( at least I hope so ) and many are now willing to send equipment for home dem, we certainly do, Keith.

 

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I can't see the fascination with using an Ipod as a source because it's unusable from the other side of a room, far better to use iTunes in a domestically acceptable computer IMO. Or a Touch to control an Airport Express.

 

I also have great difficulty with high end. With most of expensive products like cars for example, manufacturers have proved their capabilities by producing a highly competent range of more affordable vehicles. Therefore it is reasonable to assume top of the range models will be better. Hi end audio is different because many of the companies are a fraction of the size of the volume producers and only make seriously expensive gear, they don't have anything to prove their credentials beyond the claims they make. IMO this does not guarantee a better product, only poor purchasing power, a lack or resources for R&D, less cost effective manufacturing techniques and potentially less reliability and more of the gremlins that go with low volume production. Very often these companies are founded by highly effective self publicists without formal training and it's often obvious from the reviews (though not to reviewers) that many of these products are deeply flawed. When AVI was starting out and fascinated by all this, we borrowed everything we could lay our hands on to see if we could learn anything from it. We did, but little positive. Reviews were almost always wrong and they established and infuriating hierarchy based on price, presumably to discourage people from comparing competent value for money products from Nad, Rotel and Cambridge Audio with often inferior Hi End at many times the price. There can few Industries with a less reliable indicator of performance than price than hi fi!

 

Everyone now knows that the bits to make a really good DAC are only a few quid, most can recognise a Mini-ITX board when they see it and certain £400 mains leads have been the subject of massive controversy and you can see it all over the net, but it hasn't stopped paper published magazines and their reviewers from fawning over them, even giving value for money awards!

 

No one should hate Mac because they've given a hi fi as shot in the arm, they've made much of the music and video we buy and they've shown they understand the market and, probably better than any other organisation on the Planet, how to market their products. They are a success story to be admired and their products are wonderful. Sony Vaios, PS3, Squeezebox and many others do the job, but they don't compete. Sonos is the nearest, but it doesn't do it all. I'm sure Microsoft will rally, but for now, if you want the best user interface in the most attractive package for your home, Apple are the leaders.

 

Ashley

 

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As you know Coops we do a fair number of dems at the factory but most of our sales are direct to people without audition and the extraordinary thing is that we're selling all over the world, not just to the UK. There's hardly a country that we haven't shipped to.

 

We actively discourage and always have done, our dealers from allowing home dems, except for known and longstanding customers. Otherwise sales are extremely rare and the risk of damage is high.

 

I well remember a dealer friend, who'd shifted from hi fi to installs after the '97 crash, telling me that he'd rather spend the morning selling a few low margin plasmas than demonstrate expletive deleted, high margin speaker cables to a hi fi expletive deleted, only to be told after the second cup of free expletive deleted, coffee that said expletive deleted was off to listen to another make of expletive deleted, cable round the expletive deleted corner and then to be expletive deleted asked if an expletive deleted, home dem was an option!

 

It's difficult and probably more so in the States, where greater distances are involved, but I don't think many in the trade much like home dems these days.

 

Ash

 

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I think What Hi-Fi is systematically turning from a hi-fi title to a home cinema magazine. The current Awards issue is wall-to-wall TVs with a few hi-fi bits thrown in for good measure. And it stopped from being the only magazine to consider there's life beyond CD, and now just prints reviews of iPod docks and MP3 phones.

 

I also used to like reading Hi-Fi Choice - because it does blind listening tests - but even that's wearing reading glasses from 1996. I think a few of the individual journalists are getting wise to the changes, but the magazines are still mired in 20th Century thinking.

 

vel, Zaphod\'s chust zis guy, you know.

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