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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
February 2005

A Reviewing Requirement

What is the most important characteristic or possession an audio reviewer can have? A top-flight audio system against which to compare others? Bat-like hearing with which to discern the most minute of sonic details? Musical training as a standard against which to compare the performance of audio products? A full complement of testing equipment and the knowledge to use it? The ability to design credible audio products?

A recent brush with a product that I've previously reviewed has proven to me that what's most important for audio reviewers is something completely different from any of these things -- and something that is attainable with little effort.

Following the CES, Mike Latvis of Harmonic Resolution Systems drove to my house as part of a longer trip he was on. Of course, Mike brought along many of his products, and after some preliminary listening, he and I decided to try his M3 isolation platforms under every electronic component in my system. I reviewed the M3 last year and was well aware of its sonic contributions -- I had used a pair of M3s since my review. "The increased focus and authority were not subtle" is how I summed things up in my review. Therefore, I was sure that adding more M3s would increase what I had heard during the review period to some degree, but not transform my system's sound. It only stood to reason. So I wasn't looking forward to breaking down my entire audio system to add a little more of something I had already experienced, and then breaking it down again shortly afterwards to take it away.

Nonetheless, Mike and I unpacked his M3s from their wooden crates on my front porch, carried them in one by one, and put them under everything -- mono amps, two-box preamp, DAC, CD player, SACD player, CD transport. The M3s are heavy, especially the big ones needed for amps, and their footers are optimized for certain load ranges, so we had to do some reconfiguring along the way. After everything was set, we let the electronics warm up before listening.

Mike sat down first, and he seemed to enjoy what he heard. He's from Buffalo, NY, so I played some Ani DiFranco for him. He then urged me to take a listen. I was thinking that I'd quickly have to come up with some way of telling him that what I heard was fine, but I didn't want to exaggerate the contribution. After all, I had used the M3s and enjoyed them. I didn't want to deceive Mike, or be a bad host.

Luckily, I didn't have to do either. The level of musically relevant detail that my system reproduced was much greater. What I was hearing reminded me of a demo I sat through at the CES, in which Symposium products were inserted into and taken out of an audio system between playings of the same cut. The results were "not subtle," and they weren't with my entire system floating on Harmonic Resolution Systems M3s either. The effect seemed attributable to less noise, which let the personality of the recordings shine through. For some reason, applause demonstrated this especially well, but music was not far behind. I was nonplussed, but I enjoyed what I heard.

Mike left me with his M3s for that day and most of the next, as he drove to visit a dealer a few hours away. Listening during that time started me thinking about reviewing itself -- how dogma and misconceptions can cloud the process. If a reviewer is going to report on a product, he or she has to be impartial to it, which does not mean indifferent, but rather willing to put aside all preconceived notions in favor of honoring the reviewing process and writing a descriptive and informative article. Other publications may have other approaches, but if they don't have impartiality at their heart, you should be suspicious of the outcome.

Back to the question at the beginning of this article: What is the most important characteristic or possession an audio reviewer can have? An open mind -- the willingness to let the product tell its story, positive or negative, through you. Without this, everything else is wasted.

...Marc Mickelson

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