[SOUNDSTAGE!] Marc Mickelson is the
Editor-in-Chief of SoundStage!
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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
August 2000

Building the Best

A recent tour of Audio Product's International's manufacturing facility and warehouse gave me great appreciation for how this large audio company -- over 350 employees -- goes about making the best speakers it can. There is a plan behind API and even more so its four separate lines: Mirage, Energy, Athena and Sound Dynamics. There's no guesswork or inefficiency -- no wasted effort -- at API; it's a company that knows what it is capable of. And it was inspiring to see how such a well-oiled machine runs and ultimately hear the products of the company's labor. We'll have some reviews of new Mirage designs coming up, and don't forget about the tour article itself, which should be online next month.

Believe it or not, there is a plan no less thought out behind SoundStage! and its related sites that takes into account two recent additions and, as at API, endeavors to get the most out of the work we do.

First, our measurements, conducted by Canada's National Research Council (which I also toured while I was in Canada), aim at giving you even more information on the products we review. Yes, our main goal is still to describe the sound we hear, and we see the measurements as an adjunct to this, a verification of our descriptions. Of course, there are things that measurements tell and listening doesn't -- or can't reveal fully -- but the converse is true too. At some future point, we will measure every speaker and electronic component we review -- this is our goal, and we'll reach it -- but for now we do what we can with speakers, secure in the quality of the work the NRC, which is one of the world's elite scientific bodies, does for us.

Another activity I participated in in Canada was our first blind-listening test, the results of which will appear in issue 4 of our E-Mag. What's the hubbub about listening in the complete dark? It tests and challenges us as reviewers -- as listeners -- and in the end will present you with information based solely on listening. I won't say that blind listening is a universally good thing -- or even feasible for reviewers -- but it is clear to me, now that I'm no longer a blind-listening virgin, that my biases are there even when I try to check them at the listening-room door. Some of you are strong proponents of blind listening, while others don't see the value. But for all of you, we hope the experience we went through and will write about will entertain and enlighten, especially in regard to the five speakers we tested.

The point here is that reviewing audio equipment takes experience that comes in many forms and from many sources, so reviewing also takes the ability to learn. It's the accumulation of experience that matters, as well as an open mind and ears. Our Reviewers' Choice listing has no boundaries. Products at various price levels and using various technologies populate it, and they all have in common an uncommon ability to get at the musical truth, sometimes without regard for price and other times with a budget in mind. Reviewers' Choice proves its value by the uniform high quality of sound the components produce, and it is proof of the high end's ability to build the best at all price increments.

And in SoundStage!'s case, Reviewers' Choice, like the tour articles and blind listening, is a part of the puzzle of making sense of this hobby for you. Some pieces fit together more closely each month, and others get added -- just as we hope, just as we've planned.

...Marc Mickelson

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