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KIH #19 – DUI

  • I think it’s fair to say that most hifi listeners who are involved enough to read reviews expect some type of emotional response from their system. Be it endorphins or adrenaline, the actual enablers are quasi drugs. They put us under the influence of altered blood chemistry. Chances are, we soon get used and inured to this influence. Now we need bigger doses. The hamster wheel of upgrades begins turning. It’s not the wheel of dharma the Buddha had in mind.

    Reviewing equipment isn’t unlike buying it. Whilst the former must give it back and the latter holds on to it, either is confronted by the new and unfamiliar for the period which matters: obtaining the impressions required to write a review; or making the purchase decision. The question becomes, is being under the influence the proper condition to make important decisions; or commit to eternity review opinions which turn to facts?

    Is getting married quickly whilst the honey moon is sweet and sticky really better than awaiting its inevitable wane to see how much of shared interests, habits and character traits remain attractive? Westerners have big issues with the notion of pre-arranged marriage. If such arrangements are based purely on fiscal or dynastic concerns, they seem little more than loveless business contracts. But if they factor in education, interests, personality, character, calling, destiny—all the various influences we might group under compatibility—then arranged marriages can be far more successful than those based on initial sexual attraction even if they don’t start out hot and heavy.


    The implications for hifi decisions and review findings are obvious. As long as we’re aroused by the new and unfamiliar, we’re under the influence. We don’t entirely see or hear straight. We go for immediate gratification. Calm reason takes a back seat. Small things seem big and important. We’ve all been there and done that.

    How to avoid it? For reviewers, hanging on to things rather longer seems one solution. But there are practical implications. If you review a lot, one quickly amasses quite the standing inventory. Not only does it take up space which could soon be in short supply, it all remains on outstanding loan hence a burden on the true owners. For the buyer, a 30-day home audition should be sufficiently long to hit a post-coital state of normalcy, with the thing to be replaced still present to conduct level-headed comparisons.

    Perhaps it seems a bit perverse that the infatuated state many hope for isn’t the most ideal to render judgment or make costly decisions. When it comes to reviews, no doubt their kind makes for the more exciting read. A chap (or chaperone) under the influence gushes. Such intoxication is mightily infectious. It creates a contact high from which desire rises. And we all know how pleasant it feels to be turned on.

    A calm methodical approach seems far more boring. It has sublimated initially big differences into far smaller things. Early excitement has cooled to practical criticism. Writing from there is far drier. It also feels much the same as the review before it and the one before that.

    Here the question is, do you read reviews for entertainment or for business advice? If the former, chronicles on how a writer ‘got laid’ by the latest loaner are clearly sexier. If the latter, an accountant’s report would seem rather more useful.

    Thinking about this pragmatically, one would wish for a bit of both – sexy entertainment and cool accounting. In short, passion tempered by experience. At least to me this seems like a good middle ground to aim for. Because when you consider it, rave after rave soon rather wears down and the takeaway from it gets smaller and smaller. If everything is awesome and fabulous and wonderful and the best the writer has heard (until next month), sameness and disbelief take over. One soon stares at wordy emptiness like deserts which are too sweet. They actually become a bit disgusting. Totally empty calories but loaded with fat and sugar.


    How to be genuinely useful, honest and fun… that’s arguably the challenge and holy trinity. Given that hifi playback is a lifestyle and something one does for gratification and pleasure, reading about it as a bean counter’s test score does little indeed to convey any excitement which might create aspiration. If it additionally requires wrestling with secret lingo that’s alien to the outsider, it closes doors. So does pomposity which talks down to the newbie; or political or religious comments bound to offend some.

    Even so, there are technical concerns and implications one must know to build a good system and get one’s money’s worth. That is ground which must be covered, in simple language and approachable examples. Tough for the writer is the fact that soon all of it becomes ground already tread ad infinitum. Yet each new review must anticipate that at least some of its readers came to this hobby in this particular form for the very first time. This is their moment of initiation and awakening. What kind of impression will they take away? Hooked for good? Turned off forever?

    If only one could talk exclusively to readers who had accompanied one’s work for a goodly period. Now one could use short hand. One could take certain things for granted. One could refer to established knowledge or data points without rehashing basics. But that’s not the case. Here working online has the practical advantage of embedded links. They can turn short hand into long hand without requiring sifting through back issues.

    Anyhow, approaching my self-imposed word count for these columns, it’s time to bow out for today. None of the above is news or particularly deep. It’s all obvious to anyone who thinks on the matter a bit. The only purpose then to talk about it is to prompt some thinking on the subject, some disagreement, some interaction. So fire away. (Incidentally, just because I might verbalise these points doesn’t mean I’m particularly good at actually obeying any given one.)

    Further reading: 6moons

    Srajan Ebaen

    Written by Srajan Ebaen

    Srajan is the owner and publisher of 6moons. He used to play clarinet at the conservatory. Later he worked in audio retail, then marketing for three different hifi manufacturers. Writing about hifi and music came next, then launching his own mag. Today he lives with his wife Ivette and Nori and Chai the Bengal cats in a very small village on Ireland’s west coast, between the holy mountain Croagh Patrick and the Atlantic ocean of Clew Bay in County Mayo’s Westport area. Srajan derives his income from the ad revenues of 6moons but contributes to Darko.Audio pro bono.


    1. Food for thought indeed and I agree with you wholeheartedly.

      I can relate to this analogy as very recently I was enlightened by a UK HI Fi magazine on the USB cable debate and was seduced into purchasing their best of the bunch from the review.
      The honeymoon period lasted a few weeks on this occasion as I was enjoying the delights of added detail, forward vocals and extended highs. As you say I was caught up in the moment of excitement but just as the marriage was about to cement I noticed something, where was the bottom end extension?

      Going back to my old girlfriend, sorry USB cable, I could hear a more balanced presentation and appreciated it more. Needless to say I’m still using it today but seduction is only around the corner I’m sure.

      Lesson learnt, take time and live with the new partner for a while and hopefully they won’t let the mask slip one evening.

    2. Srajan,
      I read reviews for entertainment. Maybe because my two pairs of speakers are older than John Darko and there is no reason to upgrade. And reviews are entertaining if you know the back story behind the musical references made. I love reading Ken Kessler reviews. You hope when he refers to percussion behind the opening harmonica in J Geils Band’s “Cruisin for a Love” it is from Live Full House but then your hopes are dashed when it is actually the debut album. But you pull out your iPhone and listen to the debut album just to hear the percussion behind the harmonica anyway. Then laugh to yourself because the reference is irrelevant.

      In my opinion the reason reviews read the way they do is compression. The differences heard cease to matter in the overall picture. On a scale of 1 to 100, my 1 is the small pocket radio from my youth and 100 is a rehearsal by the Emerson Quartet in Kaul Auditorium at Reed College. I listen to Rock and Americana mainly but greatness is greatness. Two channel stereo on my scale can only get to 75 on my scale because there is that much difference to me between live and recorded music. The best systems I’ve heard are based on the Infinity Reference Standard Beta, 71 and the Magico Q7, 70. Pretty close to as good as you can get in two channel stereo. The problem is on my scale my AR-4x speaker based system (the restomods and digital) is 48 and my Klipsch Heresy and Advent 300 receiver system (analogue) is 52. This means the vast majority of equipment reviewed is between 55 and 65 on my scale, not a lot of difference in real terms.

      And finally the actual accounting side can be very interesting. Ever wonder why McIntosh Labs has been sold three times since 2003? Or does Astell & Kern actually sell many units of their high resolution players? It is all dull accounting.

    3. My approach has been a simplistic one. Initially, I treat all hi-fi reviews the same way I treat TopGear reviews – mainly for entertainment or to pass the time.

      If something leaves an impression – either from the photos, specs or the reviewer’s own words (assuming they’re not as empty as Clarkson’s) – then I do a bit more research, possibly Googling and checking out a couple more reviews and/or the manufacturer’s website/forum, cross-referencing with the initial review at times.

      If I’m still interested after all that, I start weighing stuff in my head. Can I afford it? Can I justify it even if I can afford it? Do I save/starve for it? Can I demo it somewhere? Can I still bring myself think about it after watching today’s news headlines?

      Then I sleep on it. It all gets a bit blurry after that.

      Like you, I don’t always heed my own advice, but I am getting better at it. As a result, I don’t have a setup that most audiophiles would envy, but I think I’ve, for now at least, found a sweet-spot between euphony and practicality…… or confusion and epiphany if you’re a glass half-empty type.

      A great read, as always, Srajan. Here’s wishing you, your family, and all of the 6moonshine crew a Merry X’Mas and Happy New Year.

    4. Trying desperately to stay with the topic here I have my entertainment unwrapped ready for a cosy evening by the fire in Scotland for new year, yes one of the oldest HI Fi magazines still going with contributions from the aforementioned Ken Kessler and the like.
      So it’s pure entertainment for me this time as the upgrade piggy bank is now empty so seduction is out of the question. What reason would I have to read it other than to dribble at the likes of Sonus Faber, Audio Research, Magico and the like.

      Sexy entertainment indeed.

    5. Happy New Year to all and a great start to the year with a great article!
      I think the relative dearth of variety of equipment being reviewed plays a significant role in “standardized” reviews.
      Really, how many Wilson reviews are we to be subjected to this year and how difficult for a reviewer to summon up much enthusiasm…
      One of the main reasons reasons I came down with 6moonfever was the pleasure in reading about so many brands that are not seen in US and Canadian based audio media – I enjoy drooling over equipment I can neither access nor afford!
      Cheers to all from quite chilly Canada,

    6. Another good read – thank you and Happy New Year.

      A humble submission from a novice…
      It’s been established that listening is the only way to know if a bit of gear will flip the switch. That switch is different for each of us. If I am looking to make a purchase, reading the reviews is a good way to limit the list of candidates I may want to hear. Because my budget is modest, most of my reading is simply a diversion, though I do hope to discover something new in the process. And, while I do want to better understand the technical aspects – and, I do understand the importance of it – once I have made my purchase I simply want to listen to music. What I want is not a forensic review of a song, but an immersive experience. So, I will read those who provide interesting insight and a unique perspective along side the measurements, product comparisons and criticisms first. And last.
      In the end I find myself returning to those writers in whom I recognize a bit of myself. Common ground. Taste in music, maybe. Or, those who’s overall perspective makes sense. Or maybe they are just funny. I have on occasion found new music amidst the technical talk. There it is.
      Perhaps this choice is personal too – much like choosing my speakers. Or socks. If when I try them on, they make me happy, I will buy them. Regardless of the performance measurements. Emotion has as much to do with my choices as the logic does.
      I enjoy reading yours and Darkos work more than most others I have found. There’s more talk about music and life mixed in with the rest. That’s what it’s about. Yes, I have, and will become enamored with that next lovely new box of metal and glass. However, they are only lovely because they mean music to me.

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