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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
March 2003

So You Want to Review Audio Equipment

I've used this space a few times to write about real-life events that have given me some perspective on my audio existence -- the 9-11 terrorist attacks, or a hike at Red Rock State Park in Sedona, Arizona. Well, another of these is about to occur, but this time there is a direct connection to reviewing audio equipment.

The Wilson Audio WATCH Dog subwoofer I wrote about a while back will finally leave my basement listening room. A person local to me purchased the subwoofer from Wilson Audio before CES, and he and I are now just getting around to lugging the WATCH Dog up a flight of stairs, loading it into a van, and then getting it into the buyer's house. To remind you, the WATCH Dog is slightly smaller than a built-in dishwasher and weighs 283 pounds out of its wooden shipping crate. In its crate, it's 400 pounds and not the kind of load that can be easily hoisted by, say, four guys and carried upstairs.

Getting it downstairs, with gravity as an aid, was not exactly easy, but it was manageable for two relatively strong people. We tried a dolly, but the weight of the crated WATCH Dog collapsed the wheels. We therefore rolled the subwoofer in its crate down the stairs, the two of us in front of it, which evoked memories of Road Runner cartoons and Wile E. Coyote being steamrolled by a falling rock. The fact that we could roll the WATCH Dog downstairs in its crate and it suffered no damage whatsoever is testament to the care that Wilson Audio takes in protecting its products.

But getting the WATCH Dog out of my basement will be quite a bit more difficult. First, we can't simply retrace our steps in reverse and roll the subwoofer in its crate up the stairs. It's too heavy, and doing so would undoubtedly chew up the carpet on the stairs. So we'll have to adjust. I suspect we'll be able to protect the WATCH Dog with Saran Wrap (great for protecting speakers you have to ship, by the way) and then in heavy blankets. Hopefully the tires on my heavy-duty dolly will hold up to 283 pounds and we'll be able to heave the subwoofer up one stair at a time.

What perspective does this chore give me? It doesn't so much make me realize anything new, but it does remind me of the commitment audio reviewing requires. For every WATCH Dog that comes my way, there are ten or more Mirage OM-5 speakers or Lamm ML1.1 amps that I carry downstairs and upstairs by myself. You are probably saying to yourself that you'd be willing to do such heavy lifting too if you knew you would get to hear whatever is in the box after you've completed the work. And while there is a certain amount of validity to this, the novelty of listening to new audio equipment wears off as your time listening to music for pleasure on your favorite combination of equipment evaporates and eventually disappears. This is the first paradox of audio reviewing: You get to hear a lot of equipment, but this makes you more appreciative of the gear you own and gives you less time to enjoy it.

But lugging and listening are really the easy parts of reviewing. The real effort begins at the keyboard, where all of your aural impressions have to be translated into words. And here's the second paradox of audio reviewing: A serious audio reviewer needs to be more interested in writing about audio equipment than he or she is in hearing it. Notice that I used the word serious. There are plenty of reviewers who aren't writers in any way, shape, or form. All you have to do is surf the Internet for proof. These are generally people who have some enthusiasm and knowledge, but little or no true writing ability. A few of them have written for us in the past, I'm sorry to say, and a few more have contacted me about writing for SoundStage! at some point or other. Even more toil in obscurity, although a good number of them don't know it, their egos being what they are. Colleague Wes Phillips came up with a great one-liner about such reviewers: "I resent the fact that to many people they and I do the same thing." Wes's reviews show flair and a writer's pride. He's a craftsman, and the other reviewers aren't even apprentices.

I constantly tell myself once I finish lugging a product like the Wilson Audio WATCH Dog up my stairs that I need to slow down, listen more and write fewer reviews. This would not only be good for my mental health, but also give me more time to devote to each review. But here at SoundStage! at least, audio reviewing is driven by our twice-a-month update cycle, so at some point I have to let go of a review and move on to the next. Real writers make their deadlines.

I talked with Alan Yun at Silverline Audio this week. At CES we discussed reviewing his new Grande La Folia speakers -- which are nearly six feet tall and weigh 350 pounds each. Audio reviewing is work.

...Marc Mickelson
editor@soundstage.com


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