REVIEWING THE 'REVIEWERS'

ULTIMATE AUDIO

EXPRESSIVE TECHNOLOGY PREAMPLIFIER

LETTER FROM MYLES ASTOR

MY REPLY TO MYLES ASTOR

INTERNAL LINKS

EXPRESSIVE TECHNOLOGIES MODEL 1 PREAMPLIFIER

The "honor" of having the first review ever discussed in this column goes to the magazine, Ultimate Audio, along with Myles Astor, Publisher, and Dr. Michael Gindi, Senior Editor.

The review is in their Summer 2000 issue and starts on Page 48. The review is a full 3 pages in length, including a couple of color pictures and a "technical highlights" section.

This magazine was chosen to be first because the Publisher advised me to be more specific in my criticisms of the audio press and this particular review epitomizes, to my mind, everything that is wrong with almost all of the high profile 'reviews' that are published today.

Now to the details.

THE BASIC FACTS

First the overview, or in other words, just the facts. The Expressive Technologies (ET) Model 1 is a tube preamplifier with a low-gain phono stage and a line stage. There is no provision for moving coil cartridges, but since ET also makes what is considered the finest moving coil step-up transformer in the world, that is not a problem. The two are obviously meant to work together.

The ET Model 1 costs $ 15,000 (all dollars listed in this entire website are in United States denomination) and has been "7 years in the making". This means that the two components cost around $ 19,000 in total. So this combination is a costly, serious and all-out assault on the state-of-the-art of phono reproduction. ET is located in Massachusetts, while the two individuals from Ultimate Audio both live in the New York City metropolitan area.

THE REVIEW

The ET receives a "rave" review from Dr. Gindi. In fact, he claims "the Model 1 is also the single best, all-around preamplifier I've heard", but nothing is written or followed-up by Mr. Astor.

Dr. Gindi, to his credit, mentions some downsides, including its plain appearance and the fact that the less expensive Hovland preamplifier still has "unrivalled top end extension". He mentions a few CDs he used to audition it (all Pop) and describes how the ET enhanced their sound. He concludes the review by stating that he would "put it head to head with any other preamplifier in the world, including those costing well more."

I realize that for most of their subscribers and readers, this review would appear as simply "typical", and not one that either demands criticism or is distinguishable for that matter. Most readers will also feel that the reviewer, Dr. Gindi, is sincere in his evaluation, as do I, but that is not what I take issue with.

There are two major "issues" with this review, and each individual shares some of the responsibility.

ISSUE 1

While I believe Dr. Gindi is being honest when he proclaims that the ET is the finest preamplifier he has heard, he never mentions what the competition is.

We know the Hovland is among those left behind, but is comparing a $15,000 preamp to one that sells for $4,800 fair or relevant? See Secret Rule No. 3B (below). So, how does the ET compare to the numerous, relevant models that Dr. Gindi has heard over his many years as an audiophile and reviewer?

Is it better than the Conrad Johnson ART, the Audio Research REF, the CAT, the Rowland, the Krell, the Levinson, the Jadis etc.? We don't know. It is here that Dr. Gindi now follows Secret Rule No. 3C, which directs the reviewer to "neglect" to inform the readers which components were compared to the reviewed unit.

This makes the review, in the final analysis, useless, since we don't know what the competition consisted of. Dr. Gindi must obviously know all the model names, but he (and/or Mr. Astor) decided to keep this very important and vital information from his readers. Why?

What about the inferior preamps that were even more expensive than the ET? Shouldn't at least their model names be listed to protect the subscribers and loyal readers from a potentially costly mistake? Why weren't they?

Only Dr. Gindi and Mr. Astor know the answers to these questions. I regret to say that Mr. Astor must take full and sole responsibility for the next "Issue".

ISSUE 2

Alert readers will have already noticed a much more serious concern with this 'review'. Dr. Gindi used only CDs to test the ET, while its entire 7 year development, and even its very existence, was founded on its ability to amplify the phono signal from a turntable; To hear a record. This is obvious considering that their first and only component was a moving coil transformer.

According to correspondence from Mr. Astor himself, Dr. Gindi didn't even have a working (set up) turntable at the time. This tactic is the equivalent of a restaurant magazine sending a vegetarian to review an upscale steakhouse.

Meanwhile, relatively close by, the Publisher, Myles Astor, did have a very high quality turntable system (VPI TNT/JMW Memorial 12 tonearm). He could have tested the full capabilities of the component(s), and in the manner that any potential customer would appreciate.

He also had one of the main competitors of the ET at his home at that same time, the Conrad Johnson ART and their Premier 15 phono stage. It is here that Mr. Astor chose to enthusiastically follow Secret Rule No. 3; "avoid making any comparisons".

MYLES ASTOR'S RESPONSIBILITY

Mr. Astor was acutely aware that Dr. Gindi could not even listen to the most important section of the ET, its phono stage, let alone compare it to its peers.

A number of pertinent questions now become unavoidable:

1. Why did Myles Astor choose Dr. Gindi to review a phono preamplifier he could not listen to in the first place?

2. Why didn't Mr. Astor himself take advantage of this unique opportunity to audition the ET and then compare it to the rival Conrad Johnson components he uses as a reference? (What true analog loving audiophile wouldn't relish hearing such a component and making such a comparison?)

3. Didn't the subscribers of Ultimate Audio deserve to know what combination of components is superior? Wasn't it in the audiophile community's interest to know which one was better?

4. Why should such important information be kept from the readers?

And, finally...

5. Who profited from keeping this information secret?

Only Myles Astor knows the actual answers to these questions.


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LETTER FROM MYLES ASTOR

INTRODUCTION: This response from Myles Astor was prompted by my critical re-review of his magazine's review of the Expressive Technology Preamplifier.

My critique was originally posted at the end of August 2000, so Mr. Astor had more than 10 weeks to formulate this response.

Myles Astor's response is unedited and uninterrupted.

My reply to Mr. Astor is just below.

The policy on posting responses is in the Communication Policy section at the bottom of this column. Myles Astor did not request any special privacy agreement prior to transmitting his response. If he did, I would not have agreed to his request.

I certainly will not now submit to his unilateral demand that his response neither be published nor posted.

RESPONSE FROM MYLES B. ASTOR, PHD, PUBLISHER OF ULTIMATE AUDIO

Subject:The World According to Arthur Salvatore
Date: Wed, 15 Nov 2000 09:57:43 EST
From: AudioMaven@aol.com
To: arthur@high-endaudio.com

NOT ONE WORD OF THIS IS FOR PUBLICATION, REPRINTING, ANY OTHER USE OR FORM OF DISSEMINATION.

Vis a vis
http://www.high-endaudio.com/index_ac.html

The "honor" of having the first review ever discussed in this column goes to Myles Astor, Publisher, and Dr. Michael Gindi, Senior Editor. The review starts on Page 48, and is a full 3 pages in length, including a couple of color pictures and a "technical highlights" section. This magazine was chosen to be first because the Publisher advised me to be more specific and this particular review epitomizes, to my mind, everything that is wrong with almost all of the high profile 'reviews' that are published today. Now to the details.

And you epitomize everything that is wrong with the net! Anyone who has a computer is a self-proclaimed, know-it-all expert. Yeah, it's real easy to be an armchair quarterback. I'd like to see a list of your publishing/reviewing experience listed on your site.

Perhaps one of these days, you'll start taking medication for your paranoia. OTOH, it might be like one of my colleagues said: "you can't tell whether they're crazier when they're on or off their medication."

Dr. Gindi, to his credit, mentions some downsides, including its plain appearance and the fact that the less expensive Hovland preamplifier still has "unrivalled top end extension".

Well that's mighty big of you. What you perceive as a rave is a critical assessment. That is what I charge my staff with doing -- and which my reviews are a model for the rest of the staff.

You'd be dangerous if you understood the concept of the magazine. The magazine's mission is to search out and review today's finest high-end equipment and recording (and selecting what WE/reviewers feel are today's cutting edge components). You may disagree on our selection. Fine. So start you own magazine (or should we go into how dealers are sales shacks for products they sell?). But the bottom line is that our readers are quite happy with the magazine and we're constantly striving to improve it -- the last year of which is the best indication.

As far as your comments on Dr.Gindi's review.

So, how does the ET compare to the numerous, relevant models that Dr. Gindi has heard over his many years as an audiophile and reviewer? Is it better than the Conrad Johnson ART, the Audio Research REF, the CAT, the Rowland, the Krell, the Levinson, the Jadis etc.?

Simply impossible to do (perhaps you'd like to fork over a million or two to hire a full time staff --in US, not Canadian dollars). If you think it's easy, then start your own mag or web zine and do it. It's impossible to get all of the units in at the same and burn them in (not to mention if the manufacturer will send the unit to us) at one time -- and by the time it would be through, the units would be obselete.

Then again if you actually read the magazine, you'd see that we've started the Replay section which is for reviewers to offer further comments on equipment that has been previously reviewed/updated. But no, you conveniently leave that out because it doesn't fit the facts according to the world of Arthur Salvatore? I'd call that parochial wouldn't you?

Now if someday you ever read the mag other than the conclusions, you'd be dangerous.Yes, someday, you'll actually read the whole issue other than asking someone to read the last paragraph to you.

Meanwhile, relatively close by, the Publisher, Myles Astor, did have a very high quality turntable system (VPI TNT/JMW Memorial 12 tonearm).>

Really. Might big of you again. Do they have Republicans in Canada? Would you care to define for your readers what's "relatively close" together? 1 hr.? 2 hrs? Less? More? Same country? Same world? Same universe?

But the real point is your parochial writing. If you read the magazine and told the real truth and facts -- like a real journalist--you'd see how ridiculous your comments are.

Oh and your insipid harping on ad/reviews. Why don't you tell the truth about the products we've given negative reviews to? Or do you sell them? Don't want to lose money do you?

FYI, many of the companies appearing on the cover of UA (to wit Krell, Sutherland, VAC, McIntosh, Classic Records haven't advertised or advertised years later. Other products we've liked haven't advertised -- and some we haven't liked still advertised. So where's the link genius?

But no the biggest example of your total lack of reasoning ability:

Is it better than the Conrad Johnson ART, the Audio Research REF, the CAT, the Rowland, the Krell, the Levinson, the Jadis etc.?

Let's see. According to your warped sense of reasoning, we're not comparing the ET to the aforementioned unit for fear of losing advertising. Duh! Who out of the list other than cj or Rowland advertise in the mag (and if you think we'd lose cj or Rowland over something like this--then you're worse off than I thought).

Why don't you talk about the cost we incurred shooting the cover product? Think that is cheap genius? Top notch photographers run $2,000 per day. Think it takes an hour to set up, style and shoot a product. But then again, all this shows is how little you really know or understand about publishing.

Issue 2. Alert readers will have already noticed an even more serious concern with this 'review'. Dr. Gindi used only CDs to test the ET, while its entire 7 year development, and even its very existence, was founded on its ability to amplify the phono signal from a turntable;

So you care about analog. I care about analog and do the best I can to support it in the magazine. Hmmm....where is that mentioned in your diatribe about our EXCELLENT analog recordings section? Or that we're still covering analog products? No again that doesn't fit the world according to Arthur Salvatore. You're worse than the person who see the glass half empty...you see the mold growing.

The reality is that many audiophiles don't use analog and only use digital (oh and Dr. Gindi had the SCD-1 in too -- which comes damn close to analog--and in many ways, esp. at the extremes, has some very good points). Fine. Then don't read the review but it doesn't negate what he's said.

Pray tell me though. Have you heard the Altis gear in your system before criticizing Dr. Gindi.

And yes Mr. Expert. You're wrong. Dr. Gindi does indeed own the Forsell though it's not set up at the moment.

Myles B. Astor
Publisher
Ultimate Audio

END OF LETTER


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MY REPLY TO MYLES ASTOR

INTRODUCTION

I was a bit dismayed when I first read Myles Astor's response. The letter was permeated with a mean spirited and humorless tone, a thoughtless ranting and an uncontrolled anger. I have seen more rational and mature reactions from victims of violent crimes. Mr. Astor seems to have forgotten that: Audio is a passion and a hobby, not a matter of "life and death".

Later, on second thought, I concluded that Myles Astor's letter was actually a gift to audiophiles, because it fully exposed the "thinking" of a well known audio publisher. (Michael Fremer's letters are an even greater gift.)

Here is just one example of Myles Astor's "discourse":

"Perhaps one of these days, you'll start taking medication for your paranoia. OTOH, it might be like one of my colleagues said: "you can't tell whether they're crazier when they're on or off their medication."

I will not lower myself to Myles Astor's level, no matter how many assorted insults, ad hominem attacks, sarcasm's or innuendoes I am baited with.

As for Mr. Astor's "arguments", as you will read below, almost all of them are either irrelevant or based on false assertions, accusations and assumptions. (Myles Astor, amazingly, has a Ph.D.)

Furthermore, despite the length of his letter, Myles Astor avoided directly addressing the only two "Issues" discussed in the UA critique:

1- The relevant models that were inferior to the Expressive Technology (ET) linestage.

2- His own refusal to listen to the ET phono stage and compare it to others.

Myles Astor doesn't even answer the most basic question:

What sense is there to review a phono preamplifier and not play a record?

MY RESPONSE TO MYLES ASTOR

EXPLANATION:
This color and script = The original critique (AS)

This color and script = Myles Astor's Letter (MA)

This color and script = My response to Myles Astor's Letter (AS)

(MA)...you epitomize everything that is wrong with the net! Anyone who has a computer is a self-proclaimed, know-it-all expert. Yeah, it's real easy to be an armchair quarterback. I'd like to see a list of your publishing/reviewing experience listed on your site.

(AS) I have never "proclaimed" myself to be a "know-it-all expert." (This is Myles Astor's 1st False Assertion.) My only "claim" is that I have more than 30 years of experience with high quality audio equipment, and associating with fellow audiophiles and music lovers.

The contents of "Audio Critique" are the totality of my writings on audio. No "list" is necessary.

(AS) Dr. Gindi, to his credit, mentions some downsides, including its plain appearance and the fact that the less expensive Hovland preamplifier still has "unrivalled top end extension".

(MA) Well that's mighty big of you. What you perceive as a rave is a critical assessment. That is what I charge my staff with doing -- and which my reviews are a model for the rest of the staff.

(AS) Mr. Astor can't resist using sarcasm even when sincere credit is given.

"A rave is a critical assessment" only if it is actually deserved. That is a rare occurrence in the real world. However...

Within Ultimate Audio, "raves" are routine events.

(MA) You'd be dangerous if you understood the concept of the magazine... You may disagree on our selection. Fine. So start you own magazine (or should we go into how dealers are sales shacks for products they sell?).

(AS) Another (2) false assertion: I did not "disagree" with the "selection" of the Expressive Technology (ET) Preamp, only the lack of thoroughness and disclosure in the 'review'.

I CHALLENGE Myles Astor to follow through with his offer to "expose" the inside sales practices of high-end stores and "salons". I was already highly critical of audio stores within the essay "Audio Retailers". Does Mr. Astor have the backbone to do the same?

(AS) So, how does the ET compare to... the Conrad Johnson ART, the Audio Research REF, the CAT, the Rowland, the Krell, the Levinson, the Jadis etc.?

(MA) Simply impossible to do (perhaps you'd like to fork over a million or two to hire a full time staff --in US, not Canadian dollars)...

(AS) Another (3) false assertion: My exact words: "...how does the ET compare to the numerous, relevant models that Dr. Gindi has heard over his many years as an audiophile and reviewer?" (My underline). No further listening tests were either requested or required.

Concerning "a full time staff", Vacuum Tube Valley does "shoot-out" comparisons on a regular basis. (So did The Absolute Sound at one time.) The VTV "staff" participates for free.

(MA) Then again if you actually read the magazine,... Now if someday you ever read the mag other than the conclusions, you'd be dangerous. Yes, someday, you'll actually read the whole issue other than asking someone to read the last paragraph to you.

(AS) More (4) false assertions: I did read the entire magazine prior to writing the critique. (I still don't feel "dangerous".)

Any strengths, or weaknesses, that existed in the remainder of the magazine were totally irrelevant to the issues that I brought up in the ET review.

(AS) Meanwhile, relatively close by, the Publisher, Myles Astor,...

(MA) Would you care to define for your readers what's "relatively close" together? 1 hr.? 2 hrs? Less? More? Same country? Same world? Same universe?

(AS) Yet another (5) false assertion: I wrote that "the two individuals from Ultimate Audio both live in the New York City Metropolitan area." (It's at the end of the 2nd paragraph.)

(MA) But the real point is your parochial writing. If you read the magazine and told the real truth and facts -- like a real journalist--you'd see how ridiculous your comments are.

(AS) Another (6) false assertion: I "told the real truth and facts-". They are very simple:
1- The phono stage of the ET was never used.
2- The competitors of the ET line-stage were never named.

Those two facts are absolutely undeniable.

(MA) Oh and your insipid harping on ad/reviews. Why don't you tell the truth about the products we've given negative reviews to? Or do you sell them? Don't want to lose money do you?

(AS) More (7) false assertions: There is not even one mention of "ad/reviews" within the entire UA column, let alone "harping".

There were no "negative reviews" within the entire (Summer 2000) issue. I am still waiting to see Myles Astor's list of the components that were "given negative reviews".

(MA) FYI, many of the companies appearing on the cover of UA (to wit Krell, Sutherland, VAC, McIntosh, Classic Records haven't advertised or advertised years later. Other products we've liked haven't advertised -- and some we haven't liked still advertised. So where's the link genius?

(AS) Another (8) false assertion: There was no declaration of a direct "link" with advertising within the "critique".

Advertising is not always as important as the...

"Personal Relationships" Myles Astor has developed with the manufacturers. "Cronyism" is secretive by nature, because it's in no one's interest to report it. Accordingly...

Only "personal relationships" entitle Mr. Astor to receive his valuable rewards; "loans", "favors", "gifts", and "sweetheart deals". It is no innocent coincidence that Myles Astor never discloses what he actually 'paid' to 'purchase' his components, accessories and software, if anything.

The inevitable question: "What do the manufacturers receive from Mr. Astor in return?"

(For further thoughts on the subjects of "Advertising" and "Cronyism", please read the essay, "The Audio Press", and the "Journalistic Code of Ethics" below.)

(MA) Let's see. According to your warped sense of reasoning, we're not comparing the ET to the aforementioned unit for fear of losing advertising. Duh! Who out of the list other than cj or Rowland advertise in the mag (and if you think we'd lose cj or Rowland over something like this--then you're worse off than I thought).

(AS) Another (9) false assertion: There was no mention of the "fear of losing advertising". However, some important factor caused Myles Astor to avoid making comparisons. So a few questions are in order...

1. Has Myles Astor ever published a review where the cj or Rowland ended up as "second best", or worse?

2. If not, does Mr. Astor really know how they, and other manufacturers, would actually respond to an unexpected "negative review"?

This brings up the next logical question.

3. Would these manufacturers still provide Mr. Astor all those "benefits" listed above?

And this leads us to the...

Final Question: Will Myles Astor ever risk losing all of his present advantages to find out the real life answer to question 3?

Only Myles Astor knows the origin and nature of his fears. We can only see their ultimate effects.

(MA) Why don't you talk about the cost we incurred shooting the cover product? Think that is cheap genius? Top notch photographers run $2,000 per day. Think it takes an hour to set up, style and shoot a product. But then again, all this shows is how little you really know or understand about publishing.

(AS) Now it's a false assumption: I published two softcover books, and also managed a mail-order book business. I feel that...

Spending $ 2,000 per day on "top notch photographers" is a waste of the subscribers' money. Serious audiophiles don't give a damn about "the cover product", only the content inside. Mr. Astor should remember that he is photographing inanimate amplifiers and speakers, not fashion models.

(AS) Issue 2. Dr. Gindi used only CDs to test the ET, while its entire 7 year development, and even its very existence, was founded on its ability to amplify the phono signal from a turntable;

(MA) So you care about analog. I care about analog and do the best I can to support it in the magazine. Hmmm....where is that mentioned in your diatribe about our EXCELLENT analog recordings section? Or that we're still covering analog products? No again that doesn't fit the world according to Arthur Salvatore. You're worse than the person who see the glass half empty...you see the mold growing.

(AS) Myles Astor refused to even listen to the phono stage of the ET, which ET took 7 years to develop. (Think how ET must have felt about that.)

Mr. Astor even argues that reviewing records is somehow a legitimate excuse to avoid reviewing the phono stage of an important new preamplifier.

(MA) The reality is that many audiophiles don't use analog and only use digital (oh and Dr. Gindi had the SCD-1 in too -- which comes damn close to analog--and in many ways, esp. at the extremes, has some very good points). Fine. Then don't read the review but it doesn't negate what he's said.

(MA) Pray tell me though. Have you heard the Altis gear in your system before criticizing Dr. Gindi.

(AS) None of the above excused Myles Astor from his primary responsibility: To audition the ET phono stage, compare it to its competitors and report the results to his readers.

The final (10) false assertion: I did not "negate" or "criticize" what Dr. Gindi "said", only what Dr. Gindi neglected to name (the inferior line-stage models). The quality of the "Altis gear" is irrelevant to the issues I have brought up.

(MA) And yes Mr. Expert. You're wrong. Dr. Gindi does indeed own the Forsell though it's not set up at the moment.

(AS) Yes, I was wrong.

Far worse, now we find out that Mr. Myles "I care about analog" Astor couldn't even bother having Dr. Gindi's Forsell "set up" to properly review the ET. Worst of all...

Mr. Astor never used his own turntable, and it was "set up". The only relevant point is simple and direct; NO turntable was ever used in the ET 'review'.

IN CONCLUSION

Myles Astor has demonstrated a consistent routine when he "communicates" with his subscribers, readers and the entire audiophile community.

Either through gross indifference, incompetence, laziness or even deliberate suppression, Mr. Astor just isn't interested in sharing important information. Consider his actions with just the ET alone:

1. No names of the components that were inferior to the ET linestage.

2. No listening tests of the ET phono stage.

3. No comparisons of the ET phono stage with any of its competitors.

4. Myles Astor even attempted to suppress his own "defense" of these 3 previous actions; this posted letter.

Myles Astor always easily avoided answering serious questions in the past. How? They were never printed. That monopoly is now history thanks to the Internet.

Time is now an enemy for Myles Astor, and similar publishers. Mr. Astor's confidential and haphazard methods of operating, discussed in this response, column and web site, are now out in the open. His own actions, defended without serious thought, are inconsistent with any claims of competence, objectivity and credibility.

Myles Astor still feels that any throw-away, nonsensical "answer" will satisfy his critics. This is a grave mistake. Mr. Astor is seriously underestimating the intelligence of the readers of this web site, the audiophile community and his own subscribers. In the final analysis, the only thoughtful sentence in Myles Astor's entire letter was his initial request that his response not be seen by any others.

Myles Astor should have fulfilled his own request.

THE AFTERMATH

Since the above critique and correspondence has been posted, Ultimate Audio has ceased publishing. This is no surprise of course, but I would have preferred an alternative scenario where the magazine actually became relevant and found more subscribers.


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INTERNAL LINKS

REVIEWING THE 'REVIEWERS'

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Reference Components

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Arthur Salvatore

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