How I do My Reviews – The 13th Note way!

Reviews are for guiding people into HiFi purchases (or for shortlisting) whilst keeping an article engaging and entertaining for those who like to keep in the know too. I also post informative articles about new products, reports from shows, and features imparting my love for all things audio.

Whether you are an Audiophile or want information about a product, my attitude is that you don’t need specialist knowledge. Getting great audio is a non exclusive pursuit to be enjoyed by all! This is my steer on audio products – I’m interested in what they do, how they look, and mainly how they sound. If I can avoid it, I don’t get bogged down in the technological minutiae so often burdened by HiFi reviews. If you want me to answer your queries about how products perform please feel free here.

“audiophile” or “audio lover”

noun : a person who is very interested in and enthusiastic about equipment for playing recorded sound, and its quality.

Cambridge English Dictionary

I can write my reviews freely and impartially without hindrance, as I am independent of manufacturers.

The Ten Golden Rules I Follow with my Reviews;

1. No Self Indulgence – Music is Why I do this!!

Most Audiophiles are into HiFi because of the music and this colours the whole purpose for being into audio. My tastes are as wide as Electronic to Classical and you won’t always find the usual ‘audiophile’ music suspects being played from my library. So for me HiFi is not a self indulgent pursuit of owning HiFi gear for the sake of it.

2. Credibility and Balance Always

My main aim is to give fair, credible and balanced HiFi reviews with integrity which are both fair to consumers and manufacturers alike.

I tread this line carefully and often agonise over what I say to get this right. Rightly so, there is a lot of mistrust with HiFi reviews where consumers are dubious of many reviews because of ulterior motives and sometimes because of there unbalanced nature. Manufacturers are thanking me for this approach in an effort at differentiating worth of products.

3. Reviews Should be Engaging and Enthusiastic!

I try and write in a perfunctory style that is engaging and creative and uses wit and analogy. Not the dry way of some reviews ; I liken it to trying to be more ‘new Top Gear’ than ‘old Top Gear’.

4. Reviews Can be Objective

My aim is to give my own subjective opinion but drawing on opinions of others too and what I think most will prefer. In this sense, reviews are not just subjective but can have an element of objectivity too ; objective consensus, and objectivity through comparison as well……

5. My Reviews are Comparison based Always

Rating all gear as fantastic, or implying so, but not saying why it’s better than other products, makes a review lack credibility. This is the bain of many HiFi reviews and it serves no purpose due to low credibility. I spend many hours testing HiFi gear – it is not a two hour job and can sometimes take days or a week per product (particularly as video editing takes days and days).

If a product stands out, it will understandably receive my praise! On the other hand, if it underperforms then I will draw comparisons in a fair, non derogatory way. I am mindful others will disagree and everyone is entitled to an opinion which is to be respected. So ultimately it would be unfair to be hyper critical.

If a product performs very well I give it an “achiever award”. Be weary of reviewers who proclaim *best in class*, as you can be pretty sure they haven’t heard all the competition, because it is only really possible to review around 1-2 products a week, if done properly, and this is not enough to form views about products being the best. What it is possible to say is that product X differs to product Y, and so on.

6. I Keep Technical Language to a Minimum

Most of us are not HiFi technicians, designers or electronics engineers. If a product has the features and functionality, it looks good and sounds tremendous, this is all we need! Roger Federer doesn’t need to know the minutiae of why his technique is good, if it gets him results.

I’m generally not interested in a debate about whether the technical features should in theory make a product better or not. For every technician who believes in one technical viewpoint there will be another with an opposing view. For this reason it’s better to keep the review on track of how the product copes in the real world.

If it becomes more about the technology, then the review becomes self indulgent as audio is to be enjoyed by all. Again I reiterate it’s non exclusive and enjoying faithfully reproduced audio, is for the masses. The point is I don’t want to *analyse the passion out of why I do this* (THE MUSIC), which I think happens as the review becomes overly technical – reason number 1. It would be like analysing the chemical content of food as to why it is good!

7. Non Pretentious Relaxed Reviews

This is from one review I read ; ““Listening to the 16-bit/44.1kHz TIDAL version of Dane Agnes Obel’s haunting 2016 album Citizen of Glass through this digital to analogue converter saw her mastery of the keys hanging delicately in 3D space while her voice arched upwards and over the ghostly accompanying bass, string arrangements and backup singers whose modulated voices fleshed out a sonic palette coloured with shades of a darkened and bruised sky which captured the moody winter feel of cuts like ‘Familiar.’”

Sorry, you won’t find that here! It doesn’t convey how the product sounds and is pretentious and over indulgent. My take is that you want to know the main sound quality traits of a product (always in bold in the review). You won’t read through one of my reviews to be presented with pretentious descriptions that doesn’t inform you about the main sound quality traits. I want to get to the products feature set and sonic Unique Selling Points. As regards sonic traits, a review that can be copied and pasted onto the next is the bain and boredom of reading audio reviews. Aaaggghhhh!

I’m a “music first” Audiophile. I use my HiFi to listen to music faithfully reproduced, rather than using faithfully reproduced music, to listen to my HiFi! Again no self indulgence. I will select lossless music no matter its quality as the HiFi is serving the music, not the other way around. Lest we forget!

8. I don’t Undertake Measurements

I don’t do this, not least I don’t have the gear and it’s complicated again. Also measurements are not the whole story in predicting how a HiFi is going to sound or perform. I don’t believe in thinking that measurements dictate what I should or shouldn’t derive from a product. I believe it’s based on what the product does and how it performs in the real listening world.

9. Home Listening Tests

Unless I say so, I always conduct listening tests in my home environment. The room is known to have a huge influence on the sound of audio, so we need to keep that the same. For the same reasons of isolating sonic qualities, if I’m testing HiFi separates I always remove one item at a time but keeping the rest of the system the same, or one I’m very used too at least. You’d be surprised that many reviews don’t get conducted on this basis.

10. I Post Videos and Articles

Videos take ages to edit and can sometimes take days to put together but I try and conduct a video review for every written review I do. It also gives a chance to add comments as you live with the product and shows how thorough I am with my approach. My aim too is not to churn out review after review – I’d prefer to do one well, than five quick mediocre ones.

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