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Anyone for “Musicality”, “Highly Recommended” or a “Veil is Lifted” ?

The prose of a HiFi review is what sets it to be either a turkey or ‘winner winner, chicken dinner’. Sorry.. I can’t apologize to the guy who didn’t understand my slang and colloquialisms – because I am from the Cockney speaking East End. Well, nearby: Essex, in fact. But I digress – back on point, and that’s that the murky borderlines of conveying enthusiasm and creativity in a review and real world product comparableness, against using pretentious and ostentatious language, is a fine one.

So a review that uses the words ‘musical’ or ‘highly recommended’ have their place, contextualised with an impassioned engaging case for a product, conveying what it does. Providing that the product performance hits between the lines of course. OK I took it a bit far with the ‘veil is lifted’ in my title teaser.  But what might words like ‘favouring frequencies above the waist’ actually mean or indeed, the not quite evergreen “a caffeinated top end?” I suppose it depends on whose waist or which cup of tasters choice is your medicine. Those frequencies might have a job getting around Michael Moore’s but not so much Tom Cruise’s.

You’ll love this amp as it has a caffeinated top end?


Aren’t words a means to an end of conveying what you need to know, not to the inclusion of florid language which strangulates itself too much. I’m not talking of the functional straight marching language that some might like from the HiFi print press. It has a place, but the way of creative article writing is essentially to glide through, entertained along the way and maybe have a joke. Leave something to easy imagination, like I just did on the size of guts, whilst giving you all the information you need. That’s partly my aim in writing on 13th Note.

Using comparison is a good way in bending ears because it allows easy parlance to have more meaning. It’s really easy to understand a speaker having more dispersive room filling sound like Definitive Technology’s Demand D11’s against Neat Iota Alpha’s wider soundstage, but being less dispersive. I think most people would know what these terms mean and apply normal meaning that Audiophiles and newbie Audiophiles can mutually understand. I really don’t need to say ‘the treble is like a white wine spritzer’. You understand what these easy terms mean…..then help yourself and take your pick.

A problem is that in an endless way to be more descriptive or creative by making sound comparisons to alimentary canals or coffee beans, it alienates people away from audio. It isn’t an all inclusive meal, rather an ‘exclusive’ cordon bleu one and only for the familiar ‘fine diners’. Not fine diners in budget but in pomposity of language. Sometimes I read certain HiFi blogs and I catch myself wondering more what the words mean, rather than being an easy glide through HiFi. It’s damn hard work. This too is HiFi, and HiFi plus the musical conveyor, be it CD or whatever, equals MUSIC. But Music is non exclusive and universal, so HiFi should be too. As one distributor put it to me, HiFi is the entertainment business.

I shirk at the idea then, that when I read into what should be a non exclusive pursuit, that I somehow have to know what all these descriptives mean before I start. That there is little to be explained but lots to take for granted. To read a car review and have to understand what ‘cornering with a real arching entry’ means. Ok I made that one up, but I think you get me. It doesn’t mean that the review puts off experienced users, as it can still go off on interesting tangents with analogy and wit, and explain technicalities in easy ways, to appeal to all. More new Top Gear concentrating on human benefits of the product, than old Top Gear and too much about unimportant things like the size and design of the wheel arches. Yawn.

Being assertive we can take these words so far, for sure. Most would know what a warm sound means. In fact this is a natural extension of Synesthesia – where you experience one of your senses through another. Clearly there is a place for using more accurate descriptives and I’m not having a go at that. A HiFi is about timbre, dynamics, soundstage and many such descriptives besides. But we’ll have shot ourselves in the foot, if reviewers extend descriptives to a wine connoisseur like Jilly Goolden proclaiming that a certain ‘Cab Sav’ conveys the taste of a ‘plane revving up on the runway’. 😂 Some might think we are already there.

Let’s remember HiFi needs broadening and not restricting and as Audiophiles we have a responsibility to this approach for new entrants because a bigger market means we stand to benefit on price. If anything, with current world events in 2020 and detrimental effects on the HiFi industry, it should teach us we need more people, not less.

What do you think? Please drop me your thoughts – Respectful ones only please!


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  1. My favorite cliche now is “vanishingly” – – it’s like the invisibilitudeness is negatory!

    I recently read an article that claimed a preamp could reveal the Sonic characteristics of the rack it sits upon, but doesn’t, because of its neutrality!

    For the love of Jehovah will someone explain how a non vibrating piece of kit magically transmits the acoustics of a board, without assuming serious microphonics or other electronic problems in the gear???

    • I try not to explain what I hear around what is technically the case or not, beyond a bare minimum understanding. There are a multitude of reasons why it could be sounding like it is, based on technical features, all of which could be argued as academic debate until the cows come home. All these reviewers that make technicality the reason to support a view, are largely conjecture based reviewers and probably extending the technicality of Audio way more than they can, and frankly what people actually care about. All that really matters is how it looks, what it sounds like compared to others, and what features it has. In this sense I see myself as an enthusiast for what the HiFi does, not how you get there. A kind of ears, and eyes of the consumer approach.

    • Thanks For the link Ron. I think in some ways the lazy use of terms like buttery is to avoid having to explain how it sounds. I always convey the main traits and don’t go crazy because you risk loosing sense of main traits by being too broad. Equally when some reviewers start going off on one, I don’t know what they are talking about. If you can make it easy to describe the traits, my attitude is a reviewer should. Like the demand d11s I did. Create the article around that, not make it the core of the article. Room filling, wide, and dispersive with a good linear tone (where I explained what linear means) and you can imagine what the D11s are like. I don’t need to say buttery and smooth or like bushmills whiskey etc.

  2. A really helpful hifi dealer in Liverpool once auditioned me speakers I had around 1.5k to spend. His best advice was to ignore any reviews and listen without a favourable review will cloud my own judgment…he explained at this level speakers are all very good the main difference will be how the particular manufacturers likes their speakers to sound and is that my preference. Best advice I ever had . I purchased Kef reference model one without ever reading a review as they sounded easily the best to me…but that was my preferred sound.

    • Thanks for your comment Daniel. A dealer has that view because they stock only select brands and want to sell as their ulterior motive. A favourable review shouldn’t cloud judgement if you are alive to it, but give you the choices to make over the type of sound you want and other things besides. Plus it’s not always the case that products are just different – there are some shockers which you find out about when you review gear. Plus others that punch above. On the other hand I rate HiFi because I like it and I think others will, and I have no ulterior motive, nor do I limit myself to a relative few brands like HiFi dealers. It’s a journalistic pursuit for me. I realise I’m swimming against the tide, but that’s just how I do it. The problem is many reviewers don’t and that sadly tarnishes people’s view of me, like yours. I think your choice of kef ref one is a very good one! Enjoy,

  3. All reviewers are sign posts at best you learn to trust some more than others.
    Most importantly reviewers you trust can sign post you to products you have missed or previously not considered.

    For myself I keep an open mind when reading the hi fi press simply as they are protecting their advertising streams and a positive review may attract future advertising revenue.

    ‘Highly’ recommended pleases manufacturers and buyers alike I think it is just saying you should possibly consider this model.

    • Couldn’t agree more Gareth and obviously I rely on other reviewers too when I buy. Hope u r enjoying your Mohican. I know Hegel will want their’s back soon. I’ll tip toe about really quietly……

  4. I am still on the fence regarding subjective reviews in general. I think it is more important to form a common technical ground before adding adjectives and metaphors. For instance, the difference between a round bass, and lean bass, the thump of a bass, the punch, the growl, the sub bass stomach pressure etc. can all be more easily understood, if one knows which parts of the bass register evokes which effect (roundness is 100-150 Hz where punch is 70-90 Hz, and so forth). The problem with only using subjective descriptions, is that it prevents people to form a neutral baseline, e.g. what does even, dry bass without room distortions sound like? Before that baseline is formed, “warm”, “round” or “lean” will sway in the wind. In fact, I think many will be suprised to hear what actual neutral bass sounds like in a treated recording studio or cinema.

    • HiFI reviews are for comparisons and aren’t a definitive explanation though Simon. It’s impossible for them to give everything to everyone. They are there for an idea and to make comparisons of products that give you a shortlist to then try for yourself or if people want to buy based on the back of them, fine. They can also add things like commentary on value, opportunity cost, diminishing returns and so on, which is not just a product A job. When I reviewed the Auralic Aries G1 I thought it was bad and sat there trying to find praise but when it performed so similarly to other streamers at x4 price, I cant lie. That’s fairly easy to tell but hard to give out and I risk a lot doing that.

  5. Do you not consider room acoustics to be a very inportant part of — well, HiFi = High Fidelity and being “Audiophile”?

    I’m not sure if you are aware or not, of the fact that in a typical living room with no acoustic treatment at all, and putting the speakers where they just happen to fit, that in the worst scenario ~80% of *perceived* sound are room reflections, and ~20% are direct sound from the actual speakers.

    When 80% of perceived sound is actually interference, it’s just silly and pointless to even talk about “X has more transparency than Y”, for example. And if this is this the case, you can only argue that X has more transparency than Y in your room.

    So what i’m trying to say, it has nothing to do with the products X and Y. It’s just a very subjective and non-informal opinion how they sound in your room — or how your room sounds with the products — but not an actual “review” of the actual products.

    This is why I prefer Stereophile, for example, but most importantly my native Finnish Hifi magazines and webzines, because they have very informal descriptions of the listening room and it’s characteristics, some magazines have subjective listening notations from 2-3 reviewers so you can deduce a concensus, they have both in-room measurements and anechoic/quasi-anechoic frequency response measurements, and they don’t bullshit you with the these wine tasting kind of jargon that you also dislike and avoid. And for that I applause you.

    I don’t mean to be an asshole who thinks he know’s it all, because I obviously don’t, I learn something new everyday. It’s just that here in Finland room acoustics have always been a hugely important factor, because we mostly live in urban areas in quite small stone walled apartments. That’s why Gradient, Amphion, Aurelia, Penaudio, Genelec etc. all have always utilised and invented a bunch of clever techniques to make their products sound exceptionally well in any room or environment. Also Dspeaker Anti-Mode products are designed and made in Finland

    That’s the reason (countering interference from room acoustics) Finnish speakers are known and well respected worldwide, and have won a multitude of awards globally.

    This is nothing personal, and maybe there are different principles in the UK, and that’s fine. I bet it’s a joy to play with gadgets and write opinions with some jokes and puns. But it just isn’t what I consider HiFi is about. Music obviously is non-exclusive, but to be honest HiFi isn’t because it just is very complex and expensive, and there’s a steep learning curve.

    Just my thoughts.

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Written by Simon Price

I'm an audio lover who likes sharing experiences of faithfully reproduced audio in a CREDIBLE, BALANCED and ENGAGING way. I’m interested in products; their looks, functionality and features, and most importantly how they sound! My reviews keep technicalities easy, as I believe great audio is non exclusive and to be enjoyed by all! It's all about the music!

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