REVIEWING THE 'REVIEWERS'
THE ABSOLUTE SOUND
WILSON WATT/PUPPY 6 SPEAKER SYSTEM
CORRESPONDENCE FROM "SCOT MARKWELL" OF THE ABSOLUTE SOUND
A 'DEFENSE' OF HP BY RANDY TOMLINSON OF THE PERFECT VISION
FURTHER CORRESPONDENCE WITH RANDY TOMLINSON
TAS, ROBERT HARLEY, MIT ORACLE AND NORDOST ODIN CABLES
The (Secret) Rules of Audio Reviewing
ISSUE 100/ISSUE 125
I have found, for some strange reason, that audio reviewers have a unique problem dealing with speakers from Wilson Audio. In fact, the entire section of the website (Audio Critique) began with a critical analysis of the 'review' of the WATT/Puppy 5 in the November, 1995 issue of Stereophile. It was incredibly glowing, which is consistent with almost every other review I have read of any of their speakers.
The only exceptions to this rule, at least that I am aware of, are in The Sensible Sound, The Audio Perfectionist and The Audio Critic.
The WATT/Puppy 6 eventually replaced the above mentioned Model 5, which had been in production for almost 6 years. According to the TAS website "Review Index", the Model 5 was reviewed once by them in Issue 100, by Thomas O. Miiller (See Footnote 1). There is no other mention of the WATT Model 5 in their index.
To fully appreciate the serious concerns brought up by the Model 6 Review in Issue 125, we must briefly go back to the earlier review of the Model 5 in Issue 100, Page 121. It is 6 pages long. It was published in 1994.
The reviewer, Thomas O. Miiller, describes the Model 5 as a "breakthrough" and "revolutionary", in the most positive sense of those words. Miiller then describes all the changes, including the fact that "the Puppy cabinet and design are new".
"Three of the Puppy's six sides (top, bottom and faceplate) are now made from the same high density material used in the X-1 woofer cabinet".
The end result of these changes:
"the WATT/Puppy System 5 is ready to ascend to its place among the long-lived audio classics".
Then Miiller concludes:
"While there may be a System 6 someday, the WATT/Puppy 5 architecture has reached a level of refinement such that it merits designation as a standard in the tradition of the Quad and Linn. It's a classic."
Could any review be more of a rave? Meanwhile...
The (then) Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, Harry Pearson, had no comment on this review at the time. Nor am I aware of any other comment of his (with the exception of a very short later footnote) concerning this speaker during the entire period from Issue 100 to Issue 125. (See Footnote 2)
First, what's on the cover? "HP: (In Awe!) Of Wilson's Watt/Puppy Six Loudspeaker". You really don't have to read anymore than that (do you?), but we must. The actual review is on page 117, with the title "hp's WORKSHOP". It was published in August/September 2000.
It is the first part of a two part review, and it is almost 3 pages in length. I have numerous problems with this partial review, but I am limiting the discussion to only three. Two of them are important, but the third is far beyond that:
The third "issue" is critical to the very integrity of both Harry Pearson and of TAS.
There is no context or perspective at all in this review.
The only other speakers that Harry Pearson refers to are other, older models from Wilson, particularly the earlier Model 5. Pearson's own (2 year) reference at the time, The Nearfield Pipedreams, at $ 75,000, aren't even hinted at, and just a while ago he had considered them a breakthrough. (The Revel's are mentioned, but not compared.)
So the inevitable questions arise:
1. Is Harry Pearson impressed (In awe! actually) with what the Model 6 can do "for the (still big) money"?
2. Is it because they compare favorably with the (3 times the price) Pipedreams?
3. Are they even better than the Pipedreams, since he never stated that he was "In awe" of them?
4. Are the Pipedreams now obsolete?
It's all a big mystery, and Pearson isn't telling us the answers.See Secret Rule No. 3A. (below)
Harry Pearson uses the words "In Awe!" to describe his reaction to the Model 6, which is the strongest and most positive reaction I can imagine.
As you will soon see, Pearson wasn't exactly "in awe" of the Model 5, so how does he rationalize and explain the sonic improvements?
Well, the WATT itself is still exactly the same. However, "The Puppy Tail is now integral to the system" and "you now use spikes under the Watt enclosure". The largest improvement was "mostly the execution of the Puppy's enclosure, now made of the same non-resonant material used in the X-1". That's it folks.
Readers will remember that the Puppy 5 already utilized that same material in the 3 most important sides. So the total improvements are:
1. A new Puppy Tail (a cable)
3. The remaining 3 (least important) sides of the Puppy enclosure using the deader material.
The simple, inevitable and obvious question:
How can a speaker, the Model 5, evolve from having serious problems (my characterization of the first 5 paragraphs of the review-see Issue 3) to being "awesome", the Model 6, with such minor changes?
Only Harry Pearson knows the answer.
I mentioned in Issue 2 that Harry Pearson had some "serious problems" (my words) with the now discontinued Model 5. What were they? How did Pearson actually describe the WATT/Puppy Model 5?
Pearson first describes them as:
"a radical shift...away from the studied attempts at tonal neutrality of the earlier versions",
Then he goes on to say that they were:
"aimed at a market... of listeners seldom passionate about the absolute". (Pretty good insult.) Then he writes,
"For most of us at The Absolute Sound, the transmogrification of the Wilson sound was viewed with deeply mixed feelings".
It is critically important to know when Harry Pearson heard these problems:
Harry Pearson even received "a repeated visit from Wilson himself", and all of this to no avail. Pearson's bottom line on the WATT/Puppy 5:
So, Harry Pearson "gave up" on the Watt/Puppy Model 5 "early in their production run", and his subscribers and readers find this out in Issue 125. By an astonishing coincidence, of course, this is just when the "updated" Model 6 is reviewed. Please see Secret Rule No. 2.
1. Why did Harry Pearson wait 6 years (25 issues of TAS) to tell his readers that the he "gave up" on the Model 5?
2. Why didn't Pearson even allow his other writers ("most of us") to share THEIR "deeply mixed feelings"?
3. Was is just sort of some incredible coincidence that Pearson chose the WATT 6 review to finally reveal his own, true negative feelings about the WATT 5?
1. Why was this misleading (from Harry Pearson's perspective) review by Miiller allowed to be published in the first place? (See Footnote 3)
2. Was it not always the policy of TAS, from the very beginning, to have a second view or opinion, even if that opinion was similar? Why change that policy when the differences were so profound?
1. Why didn't Harry Pearson simply admit that his magazine's only formal review of the Model 5 was wrong and grossly misleading?
2. Why didn't Harry Pearson even mention Thomas O. Miiller's Model 5 review within his own Model 6 review?
In a footnote (***) on page 117, Harry Pearson describes his "strong affection for both the Wilsons", and mentions that they "treated me honorably", even though "we had serious disagreements over (the WATT 5) speakers", which "would have caused less principled manufacturers to behave badly". However, he writes, "The Wilsons would have none of that: I respect their integrity." These comments raise another question...
Why would Harry Pearson ever think that the Wilsons would "behave badly" towards him considering all that he did for them?
1. Pearson deliberately suppressed his own, true, negative feelings about their speakers, from his own subscribers, for almost 6 years and, even then, he only "went public" after the offending model was discontinued and replaced.
2. Pearson also made certain that no other writer on his staff presented their criticisms.
3. Worst of all, Pearson even allowed a "rave review" of these same speakers to be published in his own magazine, which he felt was totally undeserved, and without even one qualification, challenge or reservation.
The Bottom Line- Since when does it require "integrity" to restrain yourself from "behaving badly" towards a person who would actually mislead his own trusting readers just to help you? Harry Pearson's definition of "integrity" is very different from mine and, I suspect, most other audiophiles. See Secret Rules No. 7 & 8.
1. Thomas O. Miiller was the former publisher of the magazine "Audio Adventure". No magazine I have read, before or since, has more blatantly pandered to advertisers and those with whom he had a "personal relationship", including the Wilsons.
Miiller would include lengthy biographies, with family pictures and even staged photographs. The 'reviews' were all raves. After the magazine went out of business, Harry Pearson immediately rehired Miiller.
2. There was one negative footnote by Harry Pearson concerning the WATT/Puppy 5. It was in Issue 109, Page 88. It was very short and even somewhat ambiguous, because Pearson used the qualifying term "unmodified" when describing the loudspeakers. I have no knowledge of Pearson auditioning "modified" Wilson speakers, or Wilson Audio even marketing such products.
3. Below are the exact words of Thomas O. Miiller and Harry Pearson, as they each described the WATT/Puppy 5.
I am not able to reconcile them. Try yourself. If you can't, don't be too concerned, Harry Pearson didn't even try himself.Miiller: Breakthrough, revolutionary.
Miiller: The Model 5 is ready to ascend to its place among the long-lived audio classics.
Pearson: Aimed at a market of listeners seldom passionate about the absolute.
Miiller: It merits designation as a standard in the tradition of the Quad and Linn.
Pearson: A radical shift from tonal neutrality.
Miiller: It's a classic.
Pearson: I gave up on this speaker.
Date: Mon, 2 Dec 2002 14:49:20 EST
Subject: RE: Your diatribe on hp's Wilson review
Your article (...) is a fine piece of moronic fiction and entertaining in the extreme, but unfortunately it is a real crock of shit. You speculate about things that you have no idea abut (sic) and ask questions that are just plain infantile.
One cannot even begin to discuss the various idiotic topics that you broach. Give us all a break and go back to your day job ad (sic) leave analysis to those who have a clue. You people with your conspiracy theories and fear of hidden agendas kill me. Worse, you bore me intensely.
MY REPLY TO "SCOT MARKWELL"
December 3, 2002
The TAS/Wilson essay was posted for more than two years before your response was received, so I must assume that this is your "best shot".
Your letter is full of pejorative expressions ("moronic", "crock of shit", "infantile", "idiotic"), but is totally devoid of even the smallest amount of relevant and substantive information.
I can fully understand your extreme reluctance to "even begin to discuss" the two (indefensible) "topics":
1. Why Harry Pearson permitted a grossly inaccurate and undeserved rave review of the Wilson Watt 5 to be published without even one reservation?
2. Why Harry Pearson kept his negative opinion about these speakers from his own subscribers for almost 6 years?
By defending these past actions through an attack on the messenger, you are making it crystal clear that similar behavior is still acceptable at The Absolute Sound.
I thank you for this important announcement.
Aside to readers- I was aware that the descriptions of "entertaining in the extreme" and "you bore me intensely" within "Mr. Markwell's" letter are acutely inconsistent. I didn't mention them in my reply to avoid offending "Mr. Markwell".
A FURTHER REPLY FROM "SCOT MARKWELL"
My above reply elicited three further replies from "Scot Markwell", on Tuesday, December 3, 2002. They are very entertaining and informative. These are the highlights, verbatim:
"Nothing on this earth will ever change your insipid opinions and ridiculous conspiracy theories. You are simply so far out in space that the oxygen must be gone from your brain. The bottom line is that you are no more than a foolish little man who cannot see past the nose on your face, and I am actually sorry for you. Reality seems to be a secret thing that you have no idea about. And no, this is only a "shot" based on just having read your swine-like rantings. Nothing "best" about it. Dolt. You do not bother me; you just make me sad."
"What a cowardly little excuse for a man you are. And such a profound critic! I am sure your fans are just loving this. Those of us in the real world have better things to worry over. Have a ball with whatever. You seem to have no idea how many folks are laughing their assess (sic) off at you and your prattling."
MY FURTHER REPLY TO "SCOT MARKWELL"
December 3, 2002
Dear Harry,... I mean "Scot",
Thank you again for your trio of "enlightening" responses.
I am happy to hear that my website and "prattling" have brought laughter into the lives of "many folks". This observation is consistent with the "joyous tone" of your own letters.
I expect that your letters will do the same for my readers.
THE FINAL REPLY FROM "SCOT MARKWELL"
December 4, 2002
"You truly are pitful (sic). I do wish you were closer to me so that I could spit on you. God you must have led a shallow and disappointing life."
MY FINAL REPLY TO "SCOT MARKWELL"
December 4, 2002
Thank you, Mr. Pearson, for not denying you are Harry Pearson, which is just stating the obvious.
Note to Readers- The correspondence between "Scot Markwell" and myself is now over.
Further- On December 6, "Mr. Markwell", in another (unposted) e-mail, finally denied being Harry Pearson.
MY COMMENTARY ON THIS CORRESPONDENCE
A total of TEN letters were received from "Scot Markwell". There is absolutely nothing within any of them that is explanative, informative or directly relevant to the WATT/Puppy 5 and 6 critique that I posted above.
I decided to count all the (originally written) words of all the letters that originated from "Mr. Markwell". The total number of words is (approximately): 700. So "Scot Markwell" went through the time and trouble to write 10 letters, 700 words (enough for 12 paragraphs), strictly to communicate a ubiquitous and irrational stream of personal insults and completely irrelevant observations to the writer of this website. Meanwhile, the serious issues I discussed within the critique were never addressed. Instead, they were avoided to even a greater degree than proverbial vampires avoid sunlight.
The issues I brought up were very simple to understand, and refute, if such evidence actually existed. It obviously didn't. That fact is infinitely more important than anything else contained in the correspondence. Ironically, if Harry Pearson had used just 10% of those same 700 words to honestly communicate his serious concerns about the WATT/Puppy 5, when it was actually relevant (Issue 100), there would have been no criticism of his behavior in the first place.
Finally, Pearson uses the words "pitful (sic) shallow and disappointing" when referring to me. This is sheer psychological projection on his part. Why? That is how you describe a man, who after spending 30 years of his life building up something, ends up having to censor his own personal thoughts and beliefs (along with his other writers), and at the direct expense of his readership. Pearson should have added "sad" and "tragic" to be complete.
The writer used Scot Markwell's e-mail account and also (eventually) claimed that he is, indeed, "Scot Markwell", while I am convinced that the writer is actually Harry Pearson. Who is correct? Let's look closely at the evidence, which is the actual correspondence itself.
There are two distinguishing factors within the correspondence that must lead any objective observer to conclude that the writer is Harry Pearson, and not Scot Markwell.
1. The highly emotional tone of all the letters, especially taking into account:
A. The relentless, mean-spirited and hysterical personal insults and the
B. Elementary spelling mistakes.
They are an unmistakable indication that the writer is:
Harry Pearson's hyper-sensitivity to even a hint of criticism has been well-known for decades. It is fully documented within the pages of The Absolute Sound; in his typically waspish replies to readers, manufacturers and even Pearson's own (now former) editorial staff. By contrast, Scot Markwell, in both his writing and personal contacts, is well-known to be "laid-back" and even-tempered. His casual attitude is the exact opposite of Pearson's.
The only person whose behavior was questioned in the WATT/Puppy 5 and 6 critique was Harry Pearson, and not Thomas O. Miiller and not David Wilson. Miiller has a right to his opinion (no matter how ill-conceived) and Wilson has both a right and need to promote his products. Scot Markwell was never involved in this incident in the first place. He was only Pearson's trusted set-up man, and nothing else.
2. The very idiosyncratic style, rhythm and particular choice of words are another persuasive indicator that the writer is:
Harry Pearson. The above letters are like a forensic fingerprint, matching the now almost 30 year record of Harry Pearson's (voluminous) writings. Scot Markwell's writing style is far different.
Expressions such as "crock of shit", "have a ball", "and no", and the particular use of the word "do" in "I DO wish" point directly to Harry Pearson. Words such as "prattling" and "dolt" are indicative of an older person. More observant readers will pick up other examples that I have missed. Meanwhile, none of these expressions have ever been used by Markwell.
The Bottom Line- ALL of the unique and identifing indicators apply and point directly to Harry Pearson, while NONE of them apply to Scot Markwell.
No one but the author can know for certain, but he must have been extremely reluctant to let anyone know that he wrote (or even just thought) the words that he sent to this website. This fear is also consistent with Pearson's initial fear and reluctance to publish anything negative about the Wilson Watt/Puppy 5 in Issue 100.
The letter below is a "defense" of Harry Pearson and The Absolute Sound (TAS). The writer, (the now tragically late) Randy Tomlinson, was a reviewer for The Perfect Vision, which of course is affiliated with TAS. As far as I was able to tell with a search, Mr. Tomlinson was not an audio reviewer for TAS, or anyone else, but I could be wrong about that.
When this letter originally arrived, I decided, after some thought, to ignore and edit out the animosity and sarcasm as best I could, while still leaving in the "meat", meaning the useful information. I did this because I respected the author's experience and wanted to continue some sort of dialogue with him. For, unlike earlier letters from "Scot Markwell" and Michael Fremer, this writer actually provided observations that could be relevant to some audiophiles. This website welcomes knowledge and thoughtful observations, and I'll even compromise my feelings to get them.
I felt "going public" with the negative parts, while making a spirited public response myself, might end any chance of ever starting some type of relationship. So I turned the other cheek and, while still defending what was posted, sent Mr. Tomlinson an olive branch.
Mr. Tomlinson's response was to criticize my editing, demand that I post his letter unedited, and even throw in a few personal insults and false charges to boot. So here is Tomlinson's letter, unedited. I will respond to each issue immediately, and then add a summary at the end. I really wanted to avoid this, but I had no choice.
From: Randy Tomlinson
Sent: Friday, February 20, 2004 12:34 AM
Subject: Hurricane Amplifier Review
"I read your write-up of the ASL Hurricanes. There are several things you do not seem to know:
First, the amp will sound very different in triode mode because triode inherently sounds different, but also (and primarily) because a particularly opaque sounding capacitor influences the sound in ultra-linear but is out of the circuit in triode. A huge change can be made in the sound of the ultra-linear amplifier by replacing this cap with just the right kind."
Arthur Salvatore (AS) replies- 1- There was never a formal 'review' of the Hurricane on this website. What I posted were the observations of some readers and an associate who owned them, plus my own feelings when I heard them on a few occasions.
2- I'm aware of the sonic differences in the "triode mode" since I've heard the changes with numerous amps, some I even converted to triode myself, starting back in around 1980.
3- None of us had a schematic and/or knew about the extra capacitor in the Hurricane. This cap explains the noticeable problems which were already emphasized in a July 2003 update, based only on what I/we HEARD. The reality of the problems is more relevant to the listener than the cause, which is still interesting to know.
4- It is important to note that Mr. Tomlinson decided not to divulge the the identity of the "just the right kind" capacitor which replaces this "particularly opague sounding capacitor".
"Second, having no feedback, the amp is incredibly sensitive to loudspeaker loads. It would be impossible for two people to agree on the sound of this amp if they used two different speakers with differing impedance curves. A zero feedback amp is totally at the mercy of the load it drives when it comes to flat frequency response. There was no mention of this when comparing opinions of reviewers."
(AS)- 1- The audiophiles, including myself, who have commented on the sound of the Hurricane (none of us are "reviewers"), used a variety of speakers, most of which were high-sensitivity models with a high impedance. One or two other readers have also used it with electrostatics, which are very different loads, with equally good results.
2- There was "no mention of this" because it hasn't been relevant yet to ANY of the users who reported their observations to this website. When other readers, with different speakers, report their results, positive or negative, they will also be posted.
"You talk about the MIT caps being used as "cheap" (which, by some standards, they are), but they're the caps of choice for Judd Barber in his Joule Electra amps. Of the MIT coupling caps I've tested, only the Exotica (Teflon) and Polypropylene/TinFoil sound better, and that would depend somewhat on the system."
(AS)- I sold hundreds of MIT caps, and also installed them in numerous amps and preamps, including my own. The MIT metallized caps, which Antique Sound Labs used, are the cheapest they make, and easily THEIR worst sounding. MIT also has polystyrene caps, which Mr. Tomlinson ignores, which are also much better than the metallized version. So let's summarize this MIT issue:
Mr. Tomlinson already admits the metallized MIT is the worst of the three MIT caps he's heard. Then there is the MIT polystyrene, which is even better than the polypropylene. This means, that out of 4 MIT capacitors, the metallized is the worst (and the cheapest let us not forget). It appears that Mr. Tomlinson agrees with my initial opinion without even "knowing" it.
Whether Mr. Barber, or anyone else, uses, or doesn't use, the MIT caps in their electronics has absolutely no bearing on their inherent quality. Mr. Tomlinson later charged that I even edited out Mr. Barber's MIT cap preference because I was fearful an "authority" would "contradict" my observations. That is both a pathetic and a ridiculous suggestion.
"There are at least 3 design errors in the Hurricanes which, if corrected (in 5 minutes), significantly reduce measured distortion and improve inner detail and clarity with no negative effects."
(AS)- This information, if true, is great news for Hurricane owners. It should also be available to the public.
Readers should carefully note that a PATTERN is now developing: This is the SECOND time Mr. Tomlinson mentioned having important knowledge about the Hurricane, while deciding to keep it a SECRET.
"Buying a pair of $50 input tubes would be foolish unless you could get them hand matched. With zero feedback, the gain of the input tubes is critical to overall amplifier gain and L/R stereo balance. Nothing like this was ever mentioned."
(AS)- 1- The people who used the "$ 50 input tubes" did NOT report any problems with gain, so it must be assumed they had matched tubes or enough tubes to match them themselves. "Nothing like this was ever mentioned" because the readers themselves didn't mention it! I certainly didn't censor them. I've heard the Hurricane 4 times now with a variety of input tubes, NOS and stock, without any gain problems.
2- I've used "zero feedback" amps for many years, personally and in my former store, and have NEVER had a problem with gain matching due to the input tubes, or OUTPUT tubes for that matter, which Mr. Tomlinson ignores. The potential mismatch will always exist in theory, with $ 50 or $ 5 tubes. The price is irrelevant. Readers who want to be safe should buy backups just in case.
"As for the Tutay Altec amps: someone suggested they be combined with the Hurricanes and allowed to drive the bass part of the speaker. Once again, someone didn't have a clue. The Altecs have NO bass power. They'll do almost 200 watts at higher frequencies but less than 100 at 90hz and less than 20 at 30hz. The output transformer was never designed for deep bass power."
(AS)- Mr. Tomlinson makes a seemingly strong point about the Altec/Tutay amps, but I'm presently using them for bass amps myself with excellent results. Maybe I don't need more power at 30Hz. The speaker that the reader ("someone") reported using the Altecs with is a high sensitivity and high impedance model. How does Mr. Tomlinson know the (bass) results he's enjoying with those particular speakers? Maybe he doesn't require the extra power either.
If the Altecs won't work with a certain speaker model, or a type of speaker, state it plainly, but, until then, reported results mean more than bench readouts on theoretical loads.
"How do I know all this? I own all of these amps, have done extensive testing and modifications to them, and am personal friends (for 30 years) with Tom Tutay, in addition to being one of those incompetent magazine reviewers."
(AS)- 1- The readers of this website can decide themselves the actual extent, practicality and relevancy of what Mr. Tomlinson "knows", and his willingness to share it with others in good faith.
2- I do have one thing in common with Mr. Tomlinson, because while I am not a "friend" of Tom Tutay, I do respect his skill and experience, and have sent him customers. In fact, he is the only technician/engineer I've listed in my Links File. TAS and the other mainstream audio magazines have totally ignored Mr. Tutay. Readers can do a Google search on his name for verification.
3- I've never written that "magazine reviewers" are "incompetent". I've only been critical of AUDIO reviewers, and with good cause. In comparison with various other reviewers; cars, restaurants, music, computers, and video for example, audio reviewers stand alone in their combined breadth of cowardice, corruption, arrogance and ineptitude (incompetence). There is also no other group of reviewers that is less concerned with their readers' welfare.
"With your own shortcomings, I don't see how you can criticize other reviewers (like HP) so mercilessly."
(AS)- It's too bad Mr. Tomlinson had to mention "HP", and "other reviewers", and compare him, and them, to my "own shortcomings". I feel this is a serious charge and it deserves an equally serious reply.
Mr. Tomlinson accuses me of criticizing HP without mercy. But I made a point of complimenting HP (and TAS) for reviewing the Hurricane, and recommending it to their readers. Mr. Tomlinson, typically, ignores this fact. I guess it didn't fit into his simplistic and single-minded manner of "reasoning". In fact, it is Mr. Tomlinson himself who attacked me "without mercy". Not once did he admit that I was correct about the Hurricane, or anything else, even when he agreed with me. Mr. Tomlinson is not only "projecting" his own prediliction, but he's a hypocrite as well.
HP had various versions of these amplifiers in his own system, and for a long length of time. In contrast, I never once had the Hurricanes in my own system. Instead, I have listened to them extensively on some systems I was very familiar with, and at the 2004 CES.
Harry Pearson stated in his TAS review, according to multiple posts on Audiogon and Audio Asylum, that the Hurricane is essentially "the best amp in the world". That is an absurd claim, which is usually made by novices. If he believes his own numerous criticisms of the Hurricane above, Mr. Tomlinson even agrees with me.
On the other hand, I am not personally crazy about the Hurricane, as good as it is. This is clear if you read the Hurricane file on this website. I/we only recommend it for people who require its huge power, which, admittedly, is still a large number of audiophiles. I have no interest in using it in my own system, except as maybe a bass amp.
Even though I have not lived with the Hurricane, I heard, and reported, more sonic problems with it than HP. Hearing these problems didn't require any special skill on my part. Anyone who has heard a variety of better amplifiers will hear them just as well.
Then there's HP's unqualified preference for the metallized MIT caps. I wrote that HP was wrong about these caps back in November 2002, and Mr. Tomlinson actually confirmed my observations, despite his protestations. Time has favored my/our opinion about the MIT caps.
That's now 0 out of 2 for Pearson when it comes to the really important judgements that his trusting readers are paying him for. If they followed HP's advice, they would NOT have even purchased the best available Hurricane, let alone 'the best amp in the world'.
But HP did a lot more than miss the sonic problems of the Hurricane and the MIT caps. That's small potatoes for him. We have to go to his days as the Editor of TAS for the really important "shortcomings".
As the Editor of TAS:
1. Harry Pearson published a rave review of the Wilson Watt 5, a speaker he was personally contemptuous of, with no qualifications.
2. Pearson did NOT report his own highly negative opinion about these speakers, to his own paying subscribers, for almost 6 years.
3. Pearson then made certain that the negative opinions of all the rest of his staff about the WATT 5 were also NOT made public during that same period.
4. Pearson waited until Wilson's replacement model, the WATT 6, was available before he finally reported his serious reservations about the, then discontinued, WATT 5.
So Mr. Tomlinson is actually equating my lack of knowledge that the Hurricane:
1. had an extra cap in pentode, and
2. was a zero feedback design,
to HP's repugnant actions with the WATT 5 speakers.
Mr. Tomlinson and I have a profound difference in measuring and judging the degrees of "shortcomings" in audio writers. Ignorance, which we all have to some degree, should never be confused with a blatant act of betrayal.
This is another worthless "defense" that ignores the direct and justifiable criticism of Harry Pearson's WATT 5 betrayal, along with "Scot Markwell's" letters. This is not surprising, because they are indefensible.
It is obvious that Mr. Tomlinson, by his own words, has considerable experience with electronics and audio equipment in general. The problem is his personal values, character, judgement and perspective. They can also be discerned by his own words and actions.
Mr. Tomlinson first informs the readers of this website who own, or are planning to buy, the ASL Hurricane, that he has knowledge of some easy ("in 5 minutes"!) circuit and capacitor changes, which would greatly improve the amp's performance. But not even one useful detail is provided. I asked him for some details in my reply, but in the two subsequent e-mails he's sent me, I've only received total silence from him. That's just cheap "teasing" to me, and it's inexcusable. (I realize greed might be involved, but he hasn't mentioned money, at least not so far.)
Then there is Mr. Tomlinson's response to my attempt to start some sort of civil, beneficial discourse between us. This is what I actually wrote to him in my reply to his above letter:
"Dear Randy, I appreciate the time you took to write this letter and the information on the Hurricane."
And, after defending my contributing readers and myself, this was my final sentence:
"Despite the fact that I couldn't disagree more with your opinion about what constitutes serious "shortcomings", I would like to continue our correspondence, since you have experiences and knowledge that I would like to share with the readers of this website.
What was Mr. Tomlinson's response to my peace offering? He called me a "phony" for editing out his personal comments. He even questioned my honesty and integrity by a further accusation that I only "presumably" heard MIT caps. I never once challenged anything Mr. Tomlinson claimed he did, heard or measured. I turned the other cheek, and he slapped that one also, even harder. There were no standard, civil salutations in his original letter or in his two replies, only pure hostility and arrogance, which is the one common personality trait of these people.
Finally, there's Mr. Tomlinson's implausible equation of HP's WATT 5 disgrace with my ignorance of a couple of details of an amplifier I've never owned or even opened up to look inside. I actually believe he is sincere about this. Why? Because he most likely feels he is now a member of an important "inside group", with privileges he can't, or won't, give up under any circumstances.
Within this group, like many such groups, there is only one 'capital crime'; exposure and betrayal of the people, and their activities and deficiencies, who also belong within this group. Traits such as incompetence, and activities such as routine ethical misconduct are irrelevant, ignored and taken for granted. When given the opportunity of acknowledging HP's blatant mistakes and his odious betrayal of his own readers, Mr. Tomlinson chose instead to totally ignore them, and remain a 'member'.
My bottom line opinion:
Randy Tomlinson, regardless of whatever experience and talent he has, is now too "in love" with his new position as a "reviewer" to be considered objective, reliable or trustworthy by audiophiles, when communicating in public. His "choice", of where his ultimate loyalties lie, isn't that unusual, but it's still a shame, for everyone.
Further- I have found that the video reviews of The Perfect Vision and Stereophile's Guide to Home Theater are generally both objective and competent. I have no reason to believe that Mr. Tomlinson's efforts for TPV are not at that same high level. Readers should always make a distinction between video and audio review(er)s. The people may sometimes be the same, but the two worlds are a galaxy apart.
Randy Tomlinson was unhappy again, even after I posted his entire letter above, at his (dare and) request, and so he sent me some more letters. He also wants me to post them all in full, without any interruption. Sorry, no deal. I posted his first letter in full, and took (actually wasted) the time to answer it.
But I promised him, in April 2004, that I would eventually post his reply, mainly because he was concerned there could be serious inaccuracies, misunderstandings and mischaracterizations arising from his first letter posted above. I agreed, and this is it:
Randy Tomlinson (RT)- "Here's the problem I have with your posting: You take my letter and split it up into tiny parts which you viciously tear apart. A reader has a hard time really seeing the 'tone' of my letter with it being split up this way..."
Arthur Salvatore (AS)- I disagree. The "tone" of your first letter is hinted at in your first sentence. The rest of your letter is further confirmation, especially the final sentence.
(RT)- "Also, I can't find where you posted my second letter to you in full..."
(AS)- You'll never "find" your second letter posted "in full" here. Within it, you describe me as a "phony" and "intellectually dishonest", simply for editing your letter when I first posted it. For the record; I edit EVERY letter I post. That's why you will never see any compliments of this website, or personal information concerning the writer of the letter.
Further, I have since posted your entire letter, which makes your charges mute, and so all the personal and baseless insults directed towards me will not be further dignified on this website.
(RT)- "I have no intention of making any money with Hurricane mods, but why would I give you the mods and parts for your website when you're cutting me to shreads. Come on now, get real! Would YOU, if you were me?"
(AS)- 1. I'm happy to hear of your "intention" of not making "any money" on the Hurricane mods. Hmmm...
2. You could have given the mods within your first letter, but you didn't.
You could have given the mods even AFTER your first letter was posted with the edits and without the "shreads", but you didn't.
3. I'll "get real". If you have any true desire to help your fellow audiophiles, you can post ALL the mods within the "Tube Asylum" and/or "Audiogon". I'll be watching, but not waiting. Surprise me Randy, be a mensch for a day.
(RT)- "I NEVER 'admitted' that the PPMFX (metallized polypropylene) caps sounded the worst. Where did you get that? You keep saying that I agreed with you. I did not. I simply stated that the Teflon caps and the polypropylene and TIN FOIL (different from std polypropylene) were the only two types I liked better. MIT makes more than just 4 types. Have you heard the 'copper'? I personally like the metallized polypropylene (in most applications) over the polystyrene and the polypropylene and aluminum foil. You should point that out. And, Judd Barber has tried the other MIT caps. He STILL prefers the PPMFX. You should also point that out."
(AS)- It honestly sounded like that to me, but I stand corrected. I only knew of the four types. I haven't heard (of) the "copper". You have your opinion, and so does Judd Barber. That's now official and posted as I promised. My opinion, based on countless mods on numerous components, not just amplifiers, is that the metallized caps (PPMFX) are the worst sounding of the MIT family. This opinion is also shared by every person I know, with the exception of you and Mr. Judd. We're just going to have to accept each other's position.
(RT)- "About the (ASL) Hurricane 'gain' problem: Maybe some audiophiles don't notice a 1 or 2 db channel unbalance--I do. If the INPUT tubes (others with less gain are far less critical--particularly the outputs) are even slightly out of balance, you'll get this much variation amp to amp. I tried every possible combination of the six supplied 6SN7 tubes between amps, yet still was only able to reduce the gain difference left vs right to just under 2DB."
(AS)- This problem will exist with BOTH stock or NOS tubes. That's the point I made above. I haven't heard any balance problems myself, and neither have ANY of the owners of the Hurricanes that I've been in contact with. Other amps without feedback will have similar problems. Maybe you're more sensitive to the problem, or maybe they use their volume or balance controls to solve any obvious lack of channel balance.
(RT)- "The Tutay Altec amps: you might not NEED more than 20 watts in the deep bass, but transformer saturation at these low frequencies will definitely hurt the sound in the upper ranges. It's one of the amps few weaknesses, but the amp is outstanding as a full range amp (at low to moderate power levels) in spite of the transformer limitations. The modified Hurricanes vs the Tutay Altecs was a very close and interesting comparison, but it changed RADICALLY (as did the frequency response differences) by switching from Energy Veritas speakers to Magnepan 3.6s."
(AS)-I'm glad you finally mentioned some real speakers instead of theoretical loads. This information can be important for owners of the Magnepans who are considering the Altecs. In my system, this warning is irrelevant, since I don't use the Altecs "in the upper ranges".
(RT)- "(Harry) Pearson's position, I believe, on the Hurricanes, is that they sound like live music more than any amp he's heard (on his particular system). 'Best in the world' would not accurately describe his actual belief since that's far too vague and a statement no one could make.
(AS)- While Harry Pearson doesn't use the actual phrase "best in the world", he implies that exact judgment over and over again within the actual review. Readers can judge for themselves; here's a very small sample of HP's Hurricane review, verbatim (TAS Issue 140);
"Once in a decade an amplifier comes along that achieves an entirely new level of musical realism..."
"(it) forces the reviewer to redefine the state of the art in reproduced sound."
"this amplifier delineates certain...aspects of recorded sound, that I've heard from no other."
"(it) raises the bar on what we should all expect to hear with our basic amps."
(AS)- What about low-level information in such a powerful amp?
HP further observes;
"the Hurricane, maybe alone among amps, can reproduce low-level cues with full fidelity."
(AS)- HP's bottom line;
"these amps recreate a sense of live music second to none...
(AS)- And any "shortcomings"?
"I will gladly live with (them) until someone does it better..."
If all the above isn't an unqualified description of "the best amp in the world", I can't imagine what would be. I do agree with you that it is "a statement no one could make", but HP certainly made an absolutely definitive imitation of it.
(RT)- "I certainly don't feel special or in some unique 'club' by being a reviewer again. In fact, at CES, I usually try to avoid manufacturers whenever possible and just tour incognito. It's fun playing with the latest gear, just like it was 30 years ago, but there's certainly no money in it and no "perks" that interest me either. I wrote an article for TAS on the Kimber Palladian power cords but it wasn't because I wanted to get back into audio reviewing; it was simply because I felt they were too important to high-end audio to be overlooked, and nobody else at the time seemed all that interested."
(AS)- I'd like to believe you, but the hesitation (which is an understatement) that you, and almost all audio reviewers, display by ignoring the growing commercialism; the blatant ethical misconduct and the general avoidance of direct and tough criticism of audio components, makes me highly skeptical, though I'm still open-minded. Maybe I was too tough on you.
(RT)- "Finally, don't get offended by the lack of formality (like no 'Dear Arthur', etc) in my writing. It's just email so I just write it like a conversation. If I was trying to be rude, I could do better than that."
(AS)- It was NOT "the lack of formality" by itself that "offended" me. It was the inflammatory words you used; "phony" and "intellectually dishonest". To make it clear from my perspective, you were much more than "rude" to me in that letter. I found it highly offensive, despite that fact that it was "just email".
(RT)- "So, Arthur, why don't you get real brave and publish this letter (and the last ones as well) in their entirety with your comments only at the end. Let the readers see for themselves what we're discussing without fragmenting it into tiny parts and distorting the message. If you're gonna be intellectually honest, you've got to put it all out in the open as written rather than taking a sentence here and there out of context from various letters and using them to rip me apart.
(AS)- As it turns out, I did end up posting almost every word you wrote in this letter, which I didn't intend to do when I started. You're "tone" was not objectionable, so I didn't feel there was anything to edit out. Sorry, there are just too many topics for me to wait for "the end" to make a comment. You'll have to accept this "compromise". Your letter was posted in the exact order it was written, and nothing was taken "out of context".
(RT)- "Incidentally, I'm enjoying this little 'volley'. We should keep it up--it's fun. But, you've got to agree to play fair."
(AS)- I can only "enjoy" our "volley" in the future if there's (ultimately) some relevant information that may enlighten myself and, of course, my readers. I always play "fair", but I don't "play" at all if I'm unfairly attacked.
With shock and sadness, I found out that Randy Tomlinson died in a plane crash on June 16, 2007. As a person with unique abilities and experiences, with both audio and video components, Randy will be greatly missed. Thankfully, after a rocky beginning, we concluded our correspondence on a peaceful and accommodating note.
In 2007, there was an advertisement in The Absolute Sound, where the MIT Oracle speaker cables were described by Robert Harley, the Editor, as both "insanely priced" and also "insanely great". I knew, with a conviction which can only be born from direct experience, that the latter description was false (see below). As for the former description: Were they actually "insanely priced"? The answer is obviously yes, but the insanity applies to only those fools who pay the asking price, or anything remotely close to it.
Here are the insane details...
A 10 foot pair of MIT Oracle speaker cables are priced at $ 25,100. Further, the price is "$ 1,000 for each additional 5 foot increment". Thus, working backwards, this must mean that the Terminations alone, along with their "Interface Boxes", are priced at $ 23,100. (The same price of a Brand New 2008 Honda Accord!)
MIT is not unique when it comes to the insane pricing of their cables. Let's now look at the Nordost Odin cables...
The interconnect cables are $ 16,000 for a 1 meter pair, and $ 20,000 for a 2 meter pair. The speaker cables are $ 20,000 for a 1 meter pair, and $ 26,000 for a 2 meter pair. Further, using 2nd grade math skills, we can quickly calculate that the I.C. cables, on their own, cost $ 4,000 a meter ($100 an inch), while the speaker cables, on their own, cost $ 6,000 a meter ($150 an inch).
Now, in the next step, by using simple subtraction, we can determine the exact price that Nordost is charging just for the Terminations alone:
For interconnects, the price for 4 RCA Males is: $ 12,000
For speaker cables, the price for 8 Spades and/or bananas is: $ 14,000
Yes, there is labor too, maybe an hour for the 4 RCA males, and 90 minutes for the spades, tops.
I realize that people aren't forced to purchase anything, but reviewers, and editors with integrity and a conscience, have an obligation to their readers to point out what are outrageous prices, and the fact that no cable (let alone a connector) can ever be worth anywhere close to these prices. Now, one can ask, what if the cables are "insanely great"? What would be a fair price then? It's impossible to know that, because no cable can ever be "insanely great" or "shocking" in the first place.
How do I know this, and with "conviction" no less? Because I have extensive experience bypassing cables when I used to hard-wire components together back in the 1990's, and even much later when I hard-wired my Forsell tonearm wire directly into my MC SUT.
I know, from numerous direct observations, what "no cable" sounds like on a high resolution system. "No cable" is exactly the same as a theoretically perfect cable. Yes, there is an noticeable improvement when a cable is eliminated (bypassed), but it's not a big deal in most cases. By this I mean a non-audiophile would probably not even be able to hear the difference. The sound is somewhat more direct and immediate, plus there are no roll-offs or rounding, but all of this is usually subtle, unless the cables that were removed were particularly bad (meaning they were noticeably filtering the signal), excessively long, or between the turntable and the phono stage (where the signal is most delicate and corruptible).
Once you experience a direct connection, all cable performance claims, no matter how initially convincing and enthusiastic they appear, permanently lose their effect, because these cables themselves can never sound better than what you have already experienced. In fact, it's highly unlikely they will even equal what you've heard, no matter what the price or technology used. This is why I don't make a "big deal" about cables on this website. Yes, there are sonic differences, but once good quality cables are found and installed in a system (optimized to be as short as possible), the focus should shift to the actual components that make a serious difference, plus the listening room.
Cables are NOT "components", should never be thought of as such, and unless an audio writer has actual experience with a direct connection*, and uses that as their ultimate reference, their observations and recommendations can never be credible and reliable, let alone definitive.
Personally, I find the price escalation of audio components in general to be a decadent exercise, because none of these hyper-priced components have proven to be worth their asking price, with actual superior performance. The price escalation of cables, like these from MIT and Nordost (plus Tara Labs), is even worse, in both effect and image.
The ridicule that the high-end audio community now routinely receives from those on the outside is totally justified. The purchasers are fools, period, and all those who would take advantage of their naivety, ignorance and trust, both the "manufacturers" and the "reviewers" (who give them hype, credibility and cover), are an audiophile disgrace. In just one generation, the audio industry, led and inspired by the audio magazines, has gone from the idealistic quest for superior audio performance, to the selling of fantasies.
*I realize that this experience is rare, and it's also impractical to accomplish for most audiophiles, even for those that consider themselves "experts". However, Wireworld sells a Comparator that basically duplicates the same experience. Reviewers thus have no excuse. The fact that they have avoided the Comparator like the plague, is indicative of their desire to be ignorant of the true and ultimate reference, though never admitting to this in public.
1. Never anger any protected audio industry entity, such as:
A. An important current, or potential, advertiser; including manufacturers, distributors or retailers, or...
B. Any other audio establishment which has a "personal relationship" with you.
2. Delay acknowledging any serious problems with a "protected" component until you give another rave review to the "updated" model which replaces it and "corrects" the problems.
3. Avoid making any direct comparisons with a "protected" component, but if you have to, follow these "Solutions":
A. Compare the component only to older and/or obsolete models, especially from the same manufacturer. (See Rule #2 above).
B. If Solution "A" is not possible, compare the component to "competitors" costing either MUCH more or MUCH less.
C. If both Solutions "A" or "B" are not possible, "neglect" to mention the actual names and model numbers of the rival components that you compare it to in the review.
D. If Solutions "A", "B" or "C" are all not feasible, and you must compare the model to a current, similarly priced (and "protected") competitor that you must name, then you must be:
1. As ambiguous as possible, and you must also...
2. Never describe any problem as "serious" (See Rule #3.E)
3. Never proclaim one model to be clearly superior to the other(s). In short...
4. Both (or all) of the components must be seen as equally desirable and of similar value.
E. Problems or imperfections that aren't obvious (such as no bass below 40 Hz with small speakers), may be described as "serious" (easy to hear) only when using Solutions "A", "B" or "C".
However, any problems described when using Solution "D" must always be "subtle" and "difficult to hear", or even described as an "advancement" if possible.
4. You must never inform readers if an "audiophile" accessory or tweak is also available in a generic form at a fraction of the price that the "protected" manufacturer is charging (Blue Tac and RFI rings etc.).
5. Any and all "transactions" between you and any of the parties mentioned in Rule #1 must always be kept strictly Confidential. Accordingly...
A. You must never divulge the actual price, if any, you paid to "purchase" your reference components or accessories, or any extra costs you paid, if any, to have those same components updated, modified, repaired, replaced etc.
B. You must never divulge any "gifts", "favors" or "perks" that you received from the "protected" audio entities, or those with whom you have a "personal relationship".
6. You must never mention the actual costs, even at retail prices, of the parts that are used to manufacture the component.
7. Further to Rules #4 & #6, you must never state, or even imply, that any component or accessory is "over-priced".
8. The more corrupt your magazine is, the more you shall proclaim your honesty.
9. Magazines shall never divulge the actual percentage of their advertising revenues to their total revenues.
10. OVERRIDE CLAUSE- Some of the preceding rules (#1, #2 & #3) may be ignored only in the event of either a serious (and apparently indefinite) breach of the "personal relationship" between the audio company and reviewer/magazine, and/or the termination, or non-payment, of their advertising contract.
REVIEWING THE 'REVIEWERS'
THE RECENT FILE
COPYRIGHT 2000-13 ARTHUR SALVATORE