|Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson|
Reviewing the Reviewers
By this time, you've probably already read the Stereophile review of Richard Gray's Power Company and the three-headed reply to the review at stereotimes.com. I understand why the review was published, but the motives for the reply are unclear to me, perhaps because they don't show easily enough through the writers' rancor. But I don't want to rehash the entire issue -- you can read it all for yourself, along with long threads about it on the various audio chat boards, if you're interested. However, I find the fact that the whole thing happened -- one publication directly and publicly challenging the views of another -- to be illustrative of why audio reviews are both very important to consumers and potentially damaging to them at the same time.
First and foremost, a review is an information source. When done well and in a complete manner, a review is the next best thing to having the item in your hands -- or audio system. A well-written review will discuss the technology, physical characteristics and sound of the piece of equipment in question -- among more philosophical concerns as the truth and beauty of the music it reproduces. We all know some writers who are more colorful or drab than others, but hopefully the reviews that these people produce will still convey the essential nature of the equipment. Readers expect and deserve as much.
We've all at some time walked into our local audio shop to hear, borrow and even buy something weve read about, and this is yet another role of a good review: to help with purchase decisions. Obviously no one should buy a piece of audio equipment they've only read about. In fact, we get e-mail all the time that essentially asks us if this is a good idea. The answer is a loud NO! But a good review can be the springboard to a trip to the dealer's showroom and a home audition -- or the impetus for ignoring a particular piece of audio equipment. As long as what you read is accurate, the review has done its job if you buy or decide not to buy based partly, but not solely, on something written. Trust your ears is and always will be the audiophile's mantra.
What I find disconcerting about the Richard Gray's Power Company imbroglio -- and a good many reviews -- is it has become the subject, the thing that's talked about. Thus discussion of equipment takes the place at the head of the audio table, which is where the music should be seated. Bickering about motives, sales and performance is so far removed from the first thing about this hobby that we can begin to lose sight of our enjoyment -- or perhaps find new enjoyment in bickering. The equipment is the means and music the end. If you love equipment more than music, be prepared to do battle over reviews and responses and learn to love your rising blood pressure. Given the diversity of people's tastes and bank accounts as well as the amount of really good equipment available, you will find that there is no one way of building a satisfying audio system.
It would be easy for me to end this editorial with a line about getting along and loving each other, but it would show itself as the cliché it is. The RGPC incident shows the audio world to be one of almost constant noise. Instead of following this path, keep SoundStage! and our reviews in perspective. If you love music, you do this out of habit, and if you don't, give it a try. You may discover the peace that most of us reviewers write so passionately about -- lights off, music as the only noise.
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