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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
April 2000


The grocery store where I shop has more than 60 feet of freezer space devoted to ice cream. I love ice cream, so I'm not complaining, but the sheer number of different flavors -- amaretto to Zagnut -- can make for some tough shopping. Yet, we ice cream lovers muddle through, picking out favorites with ease. I like just about anything with chocolate, except if it has any coffee flavor too, which I don't like. Nuts and caramel are fine additions, as is marshmallow. Accordingly, my favorite flavor is Ben and Jerry's Phish Food, which everyone should try. It's high end.

Audio equipment is a lot like ice cream. There are a myriad of choices, and they often correspond to the different flavors of the audio spectrum -- warm, neutral, fast, sweet, gooey, nutty and so on. Is there a bad flavor of ice cream? Only in the taste buds of the person eating it. Oh, there are flavor combinations that are universally awful -- try taking a swig of orange juice after you swallow a mouthful of Hershey Bar. Blech!

But you rarely run across a bad flavor of ice cream -- someone knew beforehand that it wouldn't sell, or it dies a quick death after its introduction. Nobody attempts to make mince meat or pretzels and mustard into ice cream. The same is true of audio equipment, probably because designers have ears as well as taste buds. The rare bad product disappears quickly, with the help of audio publications and consumers who root it out. But don't fool yourself into thinking there are lots of bad products out there. The many good products available put the bad ones in stark contrast and sink them fast, especially given the cost of high-end equipment.

I read as many reviews as anyone, and given what I know about audio equipment, I cringe when I see a good product get, uh, creamed by a reviewer who's more interested in making a splash than getting it right. The same is true for a good product that gets an over-the-top review. I worry about reviews because we write them too -- lots of them -- and we don't want our carefully crafted reviews to be judged by the standards other publications create. Obviously, I think we do it the right way, but this is only part of the story.

The most important information an audio review can impart is the flavor, the particular combinations of traits, of the component under review. Does it have highs that seem limitless in their extension, or are they shelved off a bit -- or a lot? Is the midrange full or thin or just right given electrified music but lacking body for acoustic? And how do these things affect the portrayal of the music? I have my preferences in audio equipment -- and ice cream -- and so do you. Therefore, should I be narrow-minded and proclaim that anything with the Starbucks name gets its butt kicked by my fave from Ben and Jerry, or should I try to understand what about coffee is appealing and convey that to you? Better yet, should I let someone who understands the allure of coffee tell you how it works in ice cream? The answers are obvious, but not to everyone, it seems.

So when you read one of our reviews, keep in mind that you'll find out when we encounter a clunker, but in every case you'll read far more about the sonic ingredients of an audio product -- good and bad -- and how these blend to create a flavor that you may or may not enjoy. But at least you'll have the information with which you can choose to seek out a particular product or avoid it. Bon appétit and happy listening.

...Marc Mickelson

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