REVIEWING THE 'REVIEWERS'

A Closer Look at Recent Audio 'Reviews'

"Journalists should: Expose unethical practices of journalists"

(Journalistic Code of Ethics)

"Those most skeptical about any profession are its most experienced practitioners."
George Bernard Shaw

INTRODUCTION

THE CRITIQUES
Ultimate Audio
The Absolute Sound
Stereophile
Michael Fremer-Initial Correspondence
Michael Fremer-Threatens me with a Law Suit
The 2007 Digital Shootout Spoof

TOO MANY COINCIDENT COMPONENTS (ON THIS WEBSITE)?

The (Secret) Rules of Audio Reviewing

Personal Disclosure

Journalistic Code of Ethics

Communication Policy

INTERNAL LINKS

INTRODUCTION

THE CATALYST

In Summer 2000, I received an e-mail from Myles Astor, the editor and publisher of the audio magazine, Ultimate Audio. He complained that my many criticisms of the audio magazines within the essay, The Audio Press, were "sweeping generallizations" (sic). He wrote this despite the fact that I had included a 3 page, and extremely detailed, critique of the Stereophile review (November 1995) of the WATT/PUPPY 5 within the same (15 page) essay he was criticizing.

Later, upon reflection, I felt that Mr. Astor still had a point. The WATT review was by then 5 years old and, who knows, maybe that review was just an aberration. Besides, since that time Stereophile's ownership had changed three times, and The Absolute Sound's ownership had also changed. Just as relevant, the Internet had now fostered an entirely new form of communication, the Webzine, such as the audio pioneer of that type, Soundstage.

When considering all the changes that have occurred, plus the sad fact that no one else on the entire Internet appears to be interested in the "job", I decided to accept the thankless task of taking a second, critical look at the new and current audio press and their reviews.

MY LIMITATIONS

As just one person, I can only check out and comment on a modest percentage of all that is written, so I will have to be very discriminating about who I choose to focus on at any one time, and I will also have no time or desire for personal vendettas.

Accordingly, I intend to continually change my focus, so that no reviewer will either legitimately feel personally picked on or, even worse, confidently feel they are above all scrutiny. As for discovering material to scrutinize, based on past experience, that will be easier than finding an attractive woman inside the Playboy Mansion.

THE RISKS

I realize that creating this column entailed taking risks; Financial, since I was in "The Audio Business" when it started and may be considered some sort of "traitor", and Social/Political, since I won't be very popular with either the writers, their publishers and all the other people in the audio industry who want the many favors the press can provide them.

I will have to live with these risks. I just can't stand idly by while a destructive trend spreads like a disease.

THE GOALS

My goal is that if enough audio writers understand that whatever they write can and will itself be reviewed, and those re-reviews posted free at this site, that realization may cause them to think twice before they write anything, or even avoid writing anything, that isn't in the audio consumers' best interest. Which was and is supposed to be their highest priority in the first place.

At the very least, any reader, who takes the (very considerable) time and effort to read and absorb the different articles below, should no longer be under the influence of the respective reviewers and editors that are the subject of focus.

Bottom Line: No reviewer that is reviewed below will ever be able to honestly claim that the "attention" they received was not well deserved. In fact, they begged for it.


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THE CRITIQUES OF THE AUDIO PRESS AND THE 'REVIEWERS'

Please click on the links below to download the file on that particular magazine, webzine or individual.


ULTIMATE AUDIO/MYLES ASTOR-EXPRESSIVE TECHNOLOGY PREAMPLIFIER REVIEW

THE ABSOLUTE SOUND-WILSON WATT/PUPPY 5 AND 6 REVIEWS/CORRESPONDENCE

STEREOPHILE-THE RECOMMENDED COMPONENTS LIST/WILSON WATT/PUPPY 5 REVIEW/CORRESPONDENCE

MICHAEL FREMER-INITIAL CORRESPONDENCE

MICHAEL FREMER-THREATENS ME WITH A LAW SUIT

THE 2007 DIGITAL SHOOTOUT SPOOF

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TOO MANY COINCIDENT COMPONENTS (ON THIS WEBSITE)?

I rarely receive letters such as that below, but then I have also seen similar (or even worse) sentiments posted on other websites. Accordingly, I decided to post this letter and address it, and the larger issue, directly. My posted response below expands on my personal reply to the reader. Here is the reader's original letter, without any editing:

"I've been reading you for the past 10 years and I believe that you should, in order to maintain your image in the audiophile world, either recommend some other brand besides COINCIDENT brand products or another brand that is also distributed by Isreal. It is starting to look as if you have prejedices at the very minimum and monetary connections at the maximum. For your web site sake, find something to support from another company (that competes with COINCIDENT)."

My Response

I believe that there is a misunderstanding by this reader on the purpose and goal of this website. It is NOT to sell or promote specific components, from Coincident or anyone else. I believe that I have made a serious effort, along with absorbing sacrifices and "burning bridges", to be NOT thought of as just one more small-time Stereophile, TAS or even Soundstage.

The primary purpose of this website is to help the readers listen to, evaluate and understand the performance of audio components, and entire systems. This will then identify what is really important to them and decide which direction to take. Then these readers can choose the components and systems that suit them, and their budget. However, I require actual "References" (common points) to achieve this goal, or else it is all conjecture, speculation and "theory".

If someone fully reads my lengthy essay/reviews, they will note that I always explain exactly how and why I reached my conclusions. I purposely do this so these observations can be verified, and the readers will also fully understand my complete thinking, whether they agree with it or not.

If a person believes that I have "prejudices" in favor of specific audio approaches, I would agree with them. I hope that My Audio Philosophy makes them clear. These "prejudices" are based on many decades of experiences and observations; mine and many other audiophiles.

If they also believe I am prejudiced in favor of Coincident components, then it is critical that they note that it took Coincident many years, and many dozens of models and prototypes, to get even one of their components into My Personal System. This is all fully documented on this website. (Other venues, such as TAS and StereoMojo, also favorably review more of Coincidentís current speaker models than I do. Iím only interested in their best model.)

If someone feels that I am actually corrupt, then they should simply go elsewhere. I will not even dignify such a charge with a reply. I have already posted My Personal Disclosure, which is a more informative and detailed report than any other audio journalist has ever provided to the public, to my knowledge. If anyone considers that this full disclosure to be just a pack of lies, than nothing I can do will ever change that.

Further, I donít "support" components or companies, including Coincident (or ZYX, Esoteric, VPI, Dynavector, Manley, CAT, Jadis, Doge or any other company which has multiple components included in my Reference Components lists). They are there because they earned it. If and when that situation changes, they will be removed. (For verification of this claim, one only has to simply look at the recent history of the Reference Digital Sources (2007-15) for specific examples.)

I will only mention competing components when I, or someone I trust, auditions and/or brings such a worthy component to my attention, but not before that. It took more than a decade for me to change my personal reference amplifier and then speaker, so this is not a routine event for me (or for most audiophiles in "real life"). This reality is in stark contrast to what you continually see in TAS and Stereophile etc.

I thank this reader for his concern, but I also ask him, and any other readers with similar feelings, to attempt to change their perspective of my website. Please focus on my thoughts, ideas, arguments and observations, rather than the specific component models which are discussed at any one time. I promise all readers that they will get much more from my website if this is done.

In Conclusion

Ultimately, my observations, choice of "References", opinions, philosophy and advice must pass the merciless test of time. I've now written lengthy essay/reviews on the ZYX Cartridges, Bent Audio Silver Transformer, Frankenstein amplifier, Pure Reference Speaker, Lenco Reference turntable, Class A Phono Stages and the Statement Line Stage. I strongly stand by all of them. I welcome every audiophile to read them. I also welcome these same readers to then compare them, in their scope, detail, logic, argument and current relevance to the finest audio journalism from other sources, such as The Absolute Sound, Hi-Fi+ and Stereophile. I am confident that they will hold up to anything written there, or elsewhere.

A Few Pertinent Facts

1. In 2009, I added 14 components to my References, of which 1 of them, the two-box version of the original Pure Reference, was from Coincident.

2. In 2010, I added 5 components and 1 accessory to my References, of which 1 of them, a MC step-up transformer, was from Coincident.

3. In 2011, I have (so far) added 4 components to my References, of which 1 of them, the Statement Line Stage, was from Coincident.

4. In total, from 2009 to 2011 I added 3 components from Coincident to my References. During this same period of time, I added 9 components from Esoteric. Importantly, not even one person I know of, in correspondence, or on a website, has ever questioned these Esoteric choices, in contrast to my (much fewer) Coincident choices.

5. For the record, Israel Blume, the owner of Coincident, has never been to my home in Florida, where I have now lived for the last 14+ years. It is critical to note that all of my evaluations of the Coincident Frankenstein, Dragon, Pure Reference (Extreme), Statement MC Step-up, Phono Stage and Line Stage were conducted only in my Florida home, and no where else. In short, Blume was never involved with this website's evaluation of any Coincident component, period.

6. The majority of components from Coincident, from its founding in 1993 to 2011, have never been reviewed, or even mentioned, on this website, let alone made "References".

7. I never profit financially, in any manner, from this website, now or since I left the audio business in late 2001. (I do now accept donations, from readers only.) Neither favor nor fear ever influences what I write. (03/11)

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THE RULES

THE (SECRET) RULES OF 'AUDIO REVIEWING'

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.


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Personal Disclosure

(Why am I doing this? Because someone has to start doing this. See "Reviewing the Reviewers" to observe the inevitable results of NON-disclosure.)

There is no reason why audio journalists should not follow the same rules as all the other journalists. Accordingly, I feel that I too must disclose all my conflicting interests and financial transactions. I am, at once, setting a precedent and also immunizing myself from any future charges of hypocrisy.

Disclosure 1: I formerly owned a (part-time) retail store: High-End Audio Ltd. It closed in October 2001. I have not owned, or shared in the profits of, any other audio business since then, or at this time.

Disclosure 2: I purchased all the components of "My Personal System", except for one currently on loan. There have been no "gifts" or "favors". Many of the components have been purchased "used" or even at the full "retail" price. As for those purchased directly, I'm not able to disclose the actual cost because of confidentiality agreements, but I do disclose those costs in relation to the standard wholesale prices I would normally have paid if they were purchased for my former retail store.

Disclosure 3: As of October 2012, I require a token donation to this website before answering most personal enquiries from readers. I also accept normal donations from appreciative and generous readers.

CLARIFICATION: "Standard Wholesale Cost" is usually 40% off the Retail List Price. So a component with a retail "list price" of $ 1,000, would normally have a "standard wholesale cost" of around $ 600.

In short, as a former audio retailer, anything less than "standard wholesale" was a "deal" for me, and may be construed as a potential "interest" or "perk". This is what I paid for the components within my personal system (year of purchase).

Lenco L75 Reference Turntable MK. III (Updated by Jean Nantais)- Standard Retail Cost/Traded for II/III Upgrades (2010/12/14)
Graham Phantom Supreme Tonearm- Approximately 5% below Standard Wholesale Cost/Retail Price for "Supreme" Upgrade (2010/12)
ZYX UNIverse II (.24mV Copper) Cartridge- Traded for a used model with the distributor (2007/13)*
Bent Audio Silver MC SUT- Discontinued Model. On loan from Manufacturer (2006)
Jadis JP-80 Preamplifier- Standard wholesale cost (1989)
APL NWO-Master (Rebuilt Esoteric UX-1Pi) CD/SACD Player- Purchased Used (2013)
Marantz 10B Tuner- Purchased Used (2000)
"The Truth" Line Stage - Standard Retail cost (2016)
Coincident M300B Frankenstein MKII Amplifiers- Purchased in packaged deal for 30.42% below standard retail cost (2006/10)
Coincident Dragon 211PP Mk II (Subwoofer) Amplifiers- Purchased Used (2014)
Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Speakers (Two Pairs)- Approximately 11% less than standard wholesale cost (2009/10)**
Acapella TW 1S Ion Super Tweeter- Standard OEM Price from Distributor (2015)

* Two to three thousand dollars worth of ultra rare and sealed records: London "Bluebacks" (Argenta), RCA "Shaded Dogs", "TAS" etc./II Upgrade was similar.
** The owner of Coincident, Israel Blume, is a close personal friend.

Since I've been around for quite a while now, it would not be surprising if some readers may wonder how my hearing is holding up. To alleviate any concerns, I've decided to forward the results of my June 2012 hearing test to any reader sending me a request. I attempted to post the image, but I was unsuccessful.


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Journalistic Code of Ethics

Please read what is below very carefully.

Then contrast it to the current operating standards and policies of the Editors and Reviewers of the better known audio magazines.

Society of Professional Journalists

Code of Ethics

Act Independently

Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.

Journalists should:

*Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

*Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

*Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.

*Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

*Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.

*Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.

*Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.

Be Accountable

Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

Journalists should:

*Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.

*Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.

*Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.

*Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.

*Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

The complete

Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists

is available at their website.

Communication Policy

This site reserves the right to post ALL communications sent to it.

Discretion may be used in the following circumstances:

A private individual's privacy, identity and address.

Personal information, from both public and private individuals, that is not relevant to the audio issues discussed on this website.


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INTERNAL LINKS

THE REFERENCE COMPONENTS

AUDIO CRITIQUE

THE RECENT FILE

The Supreme Recordings

My Audio System

My Audio Philosophy

COPYRIGHT 2000-2017 ARTHUR SALVATORE