Product: HIFICRITIC audio review journal
Cost: £8 per issue
It is not every day that a brand new hifi magazine is launched, so when I heard of HIFICRITIC I was immediately interested. Especially as this is an independent magazine, just like TNT Audio, without any advertising. And the focus is exclusively on high quality 2-channel audio. The list of people involved in HIFICRITIC reads as a who's who of British audio reviewing: the magazine is published by Martin Colloms and edited by Paul Messenger. Reviewers include Chris Binns, Christopher Breunig, Chris Bryant, Tony Faulkner, Nigel Finn, Alvin Gold, Ken Kessler, Barry Fox and Malcolm Steward. HIFICRITIC appears bi-monthly, and the second issue has just been released.
Now, independence is certainly no guarantee for quality, even if we at TNT think it's quite important. There are, of course, plenty of excellent magazines that are mostly funded by advertising income. There's no intrinsic problem with that. Thatís not to say that it isnít important that there's an independent platform as well, just to balance things and to allow for opinions that would be more difficult to air when you're depending on the industry to finance you. Not that complete independence is ever possible: even we at TNT usually rely on the cooperation of manufacturers to get our review samples. At the end of the day, we need both commercial and independent voices, I guess, which makes HIFICRITIC a valuable addition to the market.
One disadvantage of independence is the price of HIFICRITIC. While TNT can keep its cost down by publishing on the internet, HIFICRITIC is a nicely printed magazine and this will always be a costly affair. Each issue will set you back £8, roughly double the cost of other quality publications like Hifi+ at £4.50, and Hifi News or Hifi Choice at £4. And it is relatively thin too at just 50 pages, compared to well over a 100 for the other magazines I just mentioned. Then again, there are no advertisements in HIFICRITIC, of course, so it is all content. However, I counted a little more than 90 pages of actual content in the current Hifi+, and over 75 in the latest Hifi News, so pound per page these publications are much better value than HIFICRITIC. But we're not talking money here, obviously. HIFICRITIC is about something else. Like TNT, it is about stating things as they are.
And the magazine certainly delivers. All articles are well written, in-depth and not afraid to criticise when necessary. Other magazines sometimes loose their authority a bit by praising almost everything that is being reviewed, but not all products can be 'as good as anything double the price', after all. HIFICRITIC offers a more balanced opinion on things and will tell you about shortcomings and problems, too. The writers aren't afraid to expose themselves either, as both issues contain a feature where four of them review the same product. In the first issue this was the Arcam Solo, and in the second the Creek OBH-22 passive preamp. These 'round robin' reviews are fascinating to read, as every reviewer has his own view on things, obviously, but in the end they agree remarkably well on the overall properties of the products.
Another recurring feature is the group test. The first issue saw 3 CD players being tested: the Arcam CD192, Creek Classic and Naim CD5i. In the second issue 3 amps were selected, the Cambridge Audio Azur 840A, the Icon Audio Stereo 300 and the Croft Micronaut Precession 2 / Polestar 3 pre-power combination. There's some praise and criticism for all of these products, although the rather large differences in price between the amps (£750 - £5000) makes the comparison less relevant than with the CD players.
A very strong point is that excellent measurements are provided for all components under test, and an effort is made to link these to the sonic impressions. This is not always possible, in which case the sonics prevail, but can give interesting insights in other cases. Providing decent measurements is something that's missing from most hifi publications nowadays. And at TNT we aren't able to measure most of the time either, sadly. It's refreshing to see it taken seriously.
The only articles that raised my eyebrows a bit were Martin Colloms' two investigations into cables. Although measurements were supplied on all 16 speaker cables, and a final score was given to each cable, I still think some claims he makes about cables are not substantiated. Especially the controversy about directionality wasn't really addressed, in my humble opinion. Of course, there is a possible directionality when the shield is only connected to ground on one side of the cable, or when a component built into the cable (some manufacturers think this is necessary, either to 'compensate for the electric properties of the cable' or to isolate mechanical vibrations) isn't symmetric in construction or placement along the cable. This, I feel, is rather self-evident and not what is generally referred to when directionality is mentioned. I know that there are people, very respectable people I have to say, who claim that all cables are directional and that this is even backed up by measurements, but as long as these measurements aren't published and confirmed I remain a sceptic. Actually, as an audio signal is pure AC, I am convinced that directionality is a myth. But what do I know? Perhaps there are reasons why it will make a difference. Nevertheless, I will stick to the principle "extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence" and thus will await the proof before changing my opinion. To be fair, most of Colloms' two pieces on cables still made interesting reading, even if I didn't agree with it all.
All in all a very worthwhile addition to the market and very much worth a try. You can get an impression on the website, but sadly HIFICRITIC is subscription-only, which excludes the option to buy a single issue in a shop to try it out. As things stand, you will have to commit for at least a year, which requires investing £50. That's what I did, and I don't regret it, I have to say. If you're serious about 2-channel hifi, HIFICRITIC comes highly recommended. The only problem is that other magazines offer better value. Especially Hifi+, in my opinion, which gives you almost twice the content, written by partly the same people, for just over half the price, and looks gorgeous on top of that. But that's the price of independence, so well worth the extra money. Remember, it is independence that allows me to write this too!
© Copyright 2007 Maarten van Casteren - www.tnt-audio.com