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KIH #44 – Chicken’n’egg fry

  • What came first, the chicken or the egg? With writing and reading, the answer is easy. The written word can, happily or not, exist without anyone ever reading it (author excepted). However, readers without something to read aren’t possible. For that equation, clearly the writing came and still comes first. With luck and perseverance, the second happens as well.

    But when it comes to audio reviewing, something still comes firster: the gear. Without it, our kind would have nothing to write about. Without procuring actual review loaners, all we’d write about would be news items, editorials and fluff pieces. From that follows that to keep working, reviewers depend entirely on the existence of those who fabricate the stuff they write about. The opposite isn’t true. If for example a COS Engineering from Taiwan were content to do purely local business, they only need make the regional dealer demo rounds to sign up retailers. Show attendance with prior invites to desired shop keepers and importers could enlarge their sphere of business, no press involvement required whatsoever.

    This then becomes the perfect place and time to openly and sincerely thank all the many manufacturer who have opted to work with 6moons and DAR over the years; and who continue to supply us with grist for our two mills. Again, they aren’t obligated to in any way, shape or form. They could sidestep reviews categorically; or work exclusively with our competitors to freeze us out. Shipping loaners to and fro, bearing border crossing and possible VAT fees and, even if in perfect condition as they should, getting back B-stock that can’t be sold as new… those are all very real expenses they must bear. What’s their upshot?

    If there was such a thing as review psychology, their practitioners would certainly point out that even a single criticism in an otherwise enthusiastic review—the retina-searing power light for example–can be the one thing readers end up remembering or homing in on. Entering the review process opens one up to not just this psychology. It also exposes one to potentially unfavourable comparisons; to unforeseen component interactions, setup and/or room issues; to rare failures which now are documented in full as though they were commonplace, not the exception. Then there’s the question of readership size and whether it equates to sufficient eye balls to be worth the trouble.

    Given these risks plus the associated expenses, it’s not surprising how prevailing beliefs insist on a built-in quid pro quo. It just doesn’t seem sensible that manufacturers would enter this game under such adversarial conditions without certain guarantees in place. And indeed, there is such a quid pro quo. It’s called professional standards. For their investment of time, money and risk, the manufacturers have every right to expect timely, fair, comprehensive and attractively presented coverage. If true, the other kind of quid pro quo which cynics and conspiracy theorists love to invoke would quickly become counterproductive. Should a given brand enjoy coverage in a certain publication that’s invariably over the top, far too regular and seemingly to the exclusion of their toughest competitors, the thinking public would quickly conclude something untoward. This would soon discredit and hurt not only the publication but also the manufacturer who keeps working with it. Readers aren’t stupid after all. Nor are they silent, especially in today’s climate of instant social media and forums.

    From the magazine’s side, the really best way to become an attractive information portal which manufacturers want to be associated with is consistency of quality. The simple case evidence of one’s body of work reduces the risk manufacturers face. If they pay attention and due diligence—which is nothing more or less than to actually read what a given writer and publication put out—they know exactly what to expect. They know a magazine’s style and approach, a writer’s exposure level, resident hardware, room and tastes. As long as consistency factors and the maker has no unrealistic/overinflated view on his product which the review punctures, expectations will be met. If puncture happens, it’s an opportunity to improve the product. At least to my thinking, that’s the quid pro quo upon which this enterprise hinges. It must be mutually beneficial. If the publication upholds professional and consistent standards, the maker is assured fair and attractive exposure across a certain readership whilst the publication continues to have something to write about.

    To get chickeny and eggy once more, it’s also true that manufacturers could do without the formal press; or become their own press via blogs and newsletters à la PS Audio; or even a book like Schiit. That’s why it seems fitting to once more express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to the many makers who, for 15 years with 6moons and going on 7 years with DAR I believe, have supported John Darko and I in doing what we love doing. Without them, we really couldn’t do it. So – thank you!

    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. Well said, Srajan! There is a symbiotic relationship between audio manufacturers and the audio press. What I most appreciate about 6moons and DAR is that I never sensed a less than objective view on behalf of your readers. You two are proud ombudsman for the readership! No fake news here!

      Cheers, Michael FANNING
      Charleston, S.C.

    2. As a consumer my feedback is that when I read reviews by the better writers in the field, like Srajan, I oftentimes get a serious hankering for the product under review. Much more so than a glossy ad that makes outlandish claims. The message is that we want more! More hifi+, more Absolute Sound, more Stereophile and more of the online independents too. I can absolutely say, without question, that I have bought more equipment (and will continue to buy more equipment) because I enjoy reading about our hobby.
      To get all chicken and eggy on you: its starts with me: without those of us who lay out the cash there is no industry.

    3. Much like your point that the manufacturer can clearly suss out the intent and honesty of a reviewer, so can we readers and for that, I thank you, Srajan and Mr. Darko, for what has been done and what is to come. Once a line of communication is open, be it from the maker or the reader, to the reviewer, a bond is made, which must frustrate some other venues but they’ll have to make do with their fast-food equivalent of reviewing.

      Your style of chicken-egg cooking is much more authentic and has taste to boot. Thinking of this reminds me of the nasty business conducted against you some time ago when you came out with your review policy and yet, your eatery is still open with a line outside the door. Don’t fire with the chef!

    4. Hi Srajan, I do appreciate your passion and expertise in the field and enjoy reading both yours and John Darko’s articles. However, I have always wondered how there cannot be an inherent conflict of interest in this industry when reviewers are dependent on manufacturers for providing them the equipment and, even more problematic, directly for revenue through manufacturer advertisements?

      I don’t think I’ve ever come across a product review anywhere that ended with “not recommended”.

      • I think the check to that balance is that gear which does not meet the reviewer’s standard is less likely to be written about at all.

        I’d love to see a list of all gear that made it to the reviewer’s bench but was sent back silently. I’m sure it happens regularly!

        • Not here it doesn’t. Gear is usually sussed out in advance via audio show demos and factory visits. As 1) I’m the main man for DAR reviews and 2) I do roughly one review per week, there is only so many reviews that can be completed in any one year. Travelling to shows allows me to separate what I wish to review from that which I don’t. I can therefore be *extremely* selective about what I write up in feature articles. Over DAR’s 7 years, I’m now at a point where I’m reasonably confident of a piece of gear’s audible prowess in advance of its arrival. Why waste my time (and yours) on gear I don’t think I’ll dig so much – gear that doesn’t play to my music tastes? This site offers doses of infotainment but readers looking for manufacturer blood should click elsewhere.

    5. Alan:
      You’re quite right, without the buying public, the hifi manufacturers would go out of business. But the buying public needn’t read reviews to do it. They can just walk into a shop or mail-order something off the web. The review press fits in there alright but isn’t absolutely necessary.

      Definitely a triangle of mutual dependency though whose upshot, in the very end, is that being about entertainment, all if it is unessential. One could live without hifi and listening to music and of the 8+ billion people on the planet, we have to assume very many in fact do. Having the means and time to enjoy this hobby is clearly a luxury to be grateful for and not something to take for granted -:)

    6. Rahul:
      Think about a referee or judge or arbitrator or building inspector… in short, jobs where a person gets paid to render an opinion or judgment. In those professions, it’s not an alien concept at all that opinion could stand “objective” and separate from financial considerations or the support system. Not that say that judges don’t make mistakes; or that there aren’t bad arbitrators or dishonest inspectors. There are bad apples in any endeavour.

      If reviews are judgment (calls), then the equipment provided is simply the case evidence. In standard court, it’d be proof, testimony, police reports, financial reports… whatever has a bearing on the case which the judge or jury must consider. With audio reviews, the hardware is that evidence.

      That’s the main difference. A client pays a lawyer to represent them in court but can’t be assured that the judge or jury will rule in his/her favour. Likewise, the symbiotic tie-in between maker and reviewer doesn’t guarantee a specific outcome either.

      Is the system foolproof? Are human beings perfect?

      At the end of the day, I come back at what I said in the article. Let the entirety of someone’s body of work be *your* evidence. It should tell you all you need to know to, within reason, conclude whether a given writer seems to be consistent, fair and, wherever you can check because you are familiar with a particular component, on the money… or whether he’s on and off, sometimes on, sometimes way off… or if you can’t get a fix on him or her whatsoever to feel at a loss how to relate.

      If somebody’s work speaks to you and has the ring of authenticity… these other concerns are somewhat abstract and not really relevant, are they? “I’ve always wondered how”… well, why bother wondering if there are certain writers you like and respect? If they apparently manage just fine, why should you worry about how they do it? Just enjoy their work! The rest is taken care of already…

      As to “recommended”… if you look at my reviews, that’s rarely how I finish off. To the right person, nearly anything can be recommended. The right person may only be one in a thousand but for that person, the thing under review could be perfect.

      As such, “recommended” can get vague quickly. It’s far more relevant when, instead, the findings are specified as “if you’re looking for so and so, or have x-y-z to spend, or like the Soulution sound but can get by with 15 watts and have €3’000 to spend”….

    7. I love reading reviews! It’s all i do. And while i’m reading about the latest dac or the newest speaker in town i listen to music for hours and hours on my humble set. Dreaming about my next upgrade. Thank you for all the reviews! And keep them coming.

    8. Geoffrey: “I’d love to see a list of all gear that made it to the reviewer’s bench but was sent back silently. I’m sure it happens regularly!”

      Our list would be… zero. Our attitude is that if we commit to a review and a loaner is dispatched… the game is on. But that’s us. Other publications can have other policies…

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