[SOUNDSTAGE!] Marc Mickelson is the
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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
June 2002

Some Perspective

Throughout each month as Doug Schneider and I discuss the reviews we'll publish and the review products coming our way, the word perspective comes up. Among the skills a reviewer needs to have and keep developing over time is the ability to convey a sense of a product in relation to others, not just strict comparison but rather the larger context, the big picture. What good is a rave review if its writer doesn't have a clue how the product he's praised to high heaven measures up against its competition and the field of audio products above and below it in price? Audio shows can be useful for gaining perspective, but I've found that non-audio pursuits are even better -- once a certain amount of understanding of the notion has already been gained.

Earlier this month I took a short vacation to Arizona, perhaps my favorite area in the US (I won't say it's my favorite spot in the entire world -- not enough perspective there). While hiking at Red Rock State Park outside Sedona, I climbed a long ridge, took a left turn, and was suddenly overwhelmed with natural beauty. I was standing at the bottom of a tall rock wall, the trail behind and in front of me, but I was completely alone. If you've never been to Sedona, you should visit. The red rocks are starkly beautiful, and they divulge readily why Native Americans believe Sedona to be a place of great spiritual power.

I stood for a second at the base of the rock wall, looked up at the sun, took a few breaths then a few more, and reveled in the moment. There's something about being utterly alone in a place I would want everyone to see that made me feel beyond good -- more like high on life. That quick moment gave me perspective -- made me realize that this is important.

If you've never written an audio review, you don't know how difficult translating sound into words can be. Luckily there is an established vocabulary, although misuse has made serious reviewing an increasingly difficult proposition and underscored the importance of e-mail: readers can write us to ask for clarification. But aside from the discussions of sound, which make up the backbone of an audio review, the context of the review item needs to be conveyed, and not necessarily in a direct, A-versus-B way. Knowledge of the technology or product category can suffice and give readers a better understanding of the product under review too.

As much as some people may not like to think, audio reviewers exist not because they hear better than most people or have more to say, but rather because people have money to spend on the products they write about. Reviewers also fall into two broad categories: reporters and critics. Reporters do just what the label implies -- report on the equipment under review. Critics are another breed altogether -- arbiters of taste -- and claim, sometimes directly, that they know what people should like. We at SoundStage! are reporters -- our interest in measurements is a dead giveaway. Doug Schneider and I have created a publication that we would want to read; anything else would be a charade that you would likely see right through.

As you read our articles each month, keep in mind that we are not trying to convince you with each one that our tastes should be your tastes. Instead, we are reporting on the sound we hear from the components we review. Like sheer rock walls in Sedona, this is what's important.

...Marc Mickelson
editor@soundstage.com


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