[SOUNDSTAGE!] Marc Mickelson is the Editor-in-Chief of SoundStage!
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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
December 1998

You Asked For It!

Reviewers' Choice LogoAs you’ll undoubtedly notice, this month we unveil some significant new pieces of SoundStage! that many of you have asked for in one form or another. We first introduce the Review at a Glance box, followed by our Reviewers’ Choice tag, and finally the SoundStage! Equipment Database. The three go rather hand in hand and aim at fulfilling your requests for how we would rate in some ultimate way the components we write about. We hope all three meet your expectations.

Of course, there are any number of ways to categorize and classify audio equipment, the best-known of these being Stereophile’s Recommended Components. In reply to those enemies of Recommended Components who argue that it’s less than helpful, I would say that it just isn’t perfect -- and no system as all-encompassing as it is could hope to be. Most of us have mentally composed a letter or two to Stereophile when our favorite component was classified lower than we thought it should be, and manufacturers either love RC or hate it -- sometimes both. We all know that matching various components to make up a musically satisfying audio system is what’s most important, and for years, maybe since the inception of RC, Stereophile has suggested as much at the opening of every Recommended Components listing.

In contrast, we wanted to provide you with a way of doing your own categorization -- based on what’s important to you -- while steering you toward components that we feel are extraordinary for any number of reasons. Hence, we will include with every review we publish a Review at a Glance box that summarizes the most important points about the equipment under evaluation in four different categories: sound, features, use and value. All Review at a Glance boxes will then be collected and displayed in tabular form in the SoundStage! Equipment Database. This layout will allow you to peruse an entire category of equipment, noting what’s important about each individual component and allowing you to figure out which reviews to study further. We will begin rolling out categories -- amps first, with speakers, preamps, etc. to follow -- this month, and as part of this process we’ll go back and  create Review at a Glance boxes for previously published reviews. If this seems like a lot of work, it is. But we think it’s important work.

Review at a Glance
Sound The overall sound the component produces in the reviewer’s system
Features Special features of the component such as class-A operation or an I2S digital output
Use Any important in-use issues such as that component runs hot or sounds its best with particular cables or ancillary components.
Value An expression of the component’s price: performance ratio.

So where does Reviewers’ Choice come into play? Components we feel offer something special -- tremendous sound, great value, and any combination of these and other noteworthy aspects -- will earn the tag Reviewers’ Choice. In the reviews of these components, the Review at a Glance box will include an extra line expressing succinctly why the component has earned this high honor. Again, we will go back and bestow the Reviewers’ Choice tag on components we reviewed in the past, and this information will appear in the Equipment Database for you to see.

And the plan doesn’t end there. Each year we will vote among ourselves in order to further award those products that best exemplify what the high end is all about: great sound in the service of great music. We will evaluate products at various price levels, and I will tip my hand here to say that those products that combine sound and cost in such a way as to be especially appealing and affordable to the music-loving public will get bonus points. However, this does not mean that we will ignore the very best products, which often cost the most money. We’ll call ‘em like we hear ‘em, but we won’t completely ignore our wallets in the process.

We know that we won’t make everyone happy, especially those who want us to rank and categorize everything we review. If there’s anything we’ve learned from building SoundStage! it’s that we can’t please everyone. In the end, we want for SoundStage! to continue to be an informative and enjoyable place to visit, not the root of further audio angst on the Internet. As Review at a Glance, Reviewers’ Choice and the Equipment Database mature, let us know how we’re doing. We’ll be here.

...Marc Mickelson

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