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Self–Censorship, or the Art of Saying “No, Thanks.”

As an equipment reviewer, a fair amount of new gear comes across my desk. If you’ve ever seen my office, you wouldn’t be surprised at the resulting clutter. I request equipment based on either my limited experience with the product at a trade show, or via a positive recommendation by someone I trust. Unfortunately, like on–line dating, expectations do not always hold up to critical evaluation.

In the past few years, I have hopefully requested some piece of kit only to find that, upon critical listening, it’s performance is so strange, flawed or outside my ken that I politely return it without writing it up for public inspection. In all cases, the gear has been either loudspeakers or headphones. Am I deluding myself to think they are the most difficult class of product to design? Or, is it that our tastes are all so personal?

Take, for example, a new line of entry level loudspeakers from a Brit manufacturer long know for their horn–loaded, concentric mid/high drivers. Since some manufacturers have found a successful solution to eliminating throat resonances in dual concentric drivers, the KEF LS50 comes to mind, I thought I’d revisit this other company’s new offering in the hope of finding a great example for the entry level or budget listener. Alas, the “cupped hand” that I had always heard throughout their lines was still there, so back they went.

Similar experiences occurred with:

• speakers from a respected Canadian manufacturer of amplifiers, music servers and, more recently, loudspeakers

• speakers from a small American company’s compact active two–way

• a UK company’s promising Chinese manufactured hollow state/hybrid all–in–one with bundled LS3/5–style speakers

• a relatively new UK manufacturer of spendy “pro” headphones

I like to think that, due to my background and experience, I can offer a more informed opinion than your average audiophile…I’ve been helping to make recordings, or helping to make the gear to make recordings, for quite a while now. I’m also a music maniac, absorbing new works and new artists every day thanks to public radio, word of mouth from friends, and publications. I’m lucky enough to be able to vet artists new to me via TIDAL and my local public library systems; I have three to draw from. Having an mastering engineer’s tastes and sensibilities; low distortion and subjectively uncolored gear is good, I love artful examples of every musical genre and age. That’s what I steer toward in my reviews, declining gear that would cause me to be honest in a negative vein.

Critical does not mean negative. I have yet to find a piece of gear that doesn’t have some flaw. I always mention the downside in a write up, but the merits easily outweigh the shortcomings in the products that I review. Think of my evaluations as having bandpass EQ, allowing what I consider the good stuff to make it through to your brain, while the questionable gets shunted to ground.

There are those without a filter in their head. Most of us though, self–censor every day, whether it’s being diplomatic at work, or conjuring up a gentle deflection of your loved one’s inquiry about something, er, important. We all have our peculiar tastes and predilections so, finding a reviewer whose opinions match your own is important…

Find your own path, and keep listening!


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