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April 2006 editorial

Vapourware & honest reviews

[Relax while you listen!]

The art of reviewing is a very difficult one. You have to give your opinion on a product and you need to be sure to have done everything possible to put that product under the best "testing" conditions. This requires endless weeks of "trials and errors", with many different components, countless comparisons, cables swaps etc. Sometimes, especially if the product is a mix of pro's and cons (welcome to the real World!), you need to find a way to express your views in such a way the reader can understand what you're "hearing". Converting feelings into words isn't easy, when the feelings relate to an audio component.
Furthermore, manufacturers would like to get 101% positive reviews while many readers seem to prefer 100% negative reviews. The truth is in the middle, we think, as in a subjective field like this one it is very hard to find products without faults ...or 100% perfect. Obviously enough, manufacturers tend to believe their products are the best available, no matter how good can the competition be.
Personally, this reminds me to a lesson I learned many, many years ago. I've always wondered why someone should consider the things he does as "the best in the World". This applies not only to HiFi manufacturers, but even to HiFi magazines, both online or not. Nowadays it seems everyone tries to convince the audience on how excellent his product is (be it an HiFi component or the pages of a mag). My parents taught me something I'll never forget: tributes and honors are GIVEN by others, not claimed and/or assigned by ourselves!!! What's the point of claiming to be the best? Furthermore, in a subjective field like this we're in, what the hell does it mean, after all? The best...in which sense? The best...overall? The best in terms of quality/price ratio? The best...in which area?
We've always left the FACTS to speak for ourselves. And the facts are - for example - that on the Ecoustics.com online poll "Which mag (paper or online) writes the most reliable reviews?" visitors of that site voted us as #1 source of reliable opinions on audio gear.
Similarly, we'd love to see HiFi manufacturers let the audiophiles express their opinions and evaluations...freely. If their products are good, sooner or later, they'll earn some deserved reputation.
The T-Amp case is emblematic of this concept, indeed. Its planetary success, initially generated by a couple of good online reviews (SixMoon's and ours), has been created by worldwide almost unanimous appreciation. All of this without a single word from the manufacturer!

[Vapourware and honest reviews?]

It is true that advertising should play a role (and it does, indeed) but excessive hype is dangerous and self-destructive. False claims and vapourware will ruin the reputation of a product or of a manufacturer...forever, no matter how good the product is.
I can still remember the case of an Italian loudspeaker designer (Ultrasound) which claimed their two-way loudspeakers to be built without crossover. The truth was that the tweeter had, OF COURSE, a small cap, hence a 6 dB/oct filter. Wasn't this a crossover? Well, perhaps, but it still acted as a 6 dB filter! And, obviously enough, the claim "no crossover" tends to attract audiophiles because networks have become the root of all evil in HiFi...and I still wonder why. Is it because designing and building a good crossover is an extremely difficult task? Perhaps!
That said, the (fair) review of an Ultrasound loudspeaker (the Alias Light) caused a very angry reaction from the manufacturer.

In all these years we've found it is extremely difficult to please everyone, both manufacturers and readers. Admittedly, we've never tried to do that! For manufacturers our reviews are always unsatisfactory - perhaps because we steer away from the Flavour of the month syndrome - for readers our reviews are too "soft" and kind. It's such a hard life. The point is that trying to please everyone is a no-go. At the end of it all, you write nothing useful...and then you can't bear the image of your face in the mirror.
If everything sounds excellent (or bad) what's the reason for spending hours, weeks and months trying to understand how a component sounds like? We just try to focus on what we actually HEAR, and then put everything in the right perspective (using Quality/Price ratio, for example).
Perhaps this isn't enough but it is the only way we know to write honest reviews. Instead of selling "air", HiFi Companies should learn by their mistakes and negative reviews to make better sounding products.
Finally, do not forget the absence of advertising and readers' financial support makes our articles 100% truly independent. To put it straight, we don't have readers nor manufacturers to please.
This gives us the strength and the freedom to state things as they are or, at least, as we perceive they are. We will NEVER push or trash a product for reasons different from the way it sounds, according to our ears.
Simply put, we don't need to. Who else can claim the same?

© Copyright 2006 Lucio Cadeddu - www.tnt-audio.com

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