Darko.Audio’s biggest success of 2018 wasn’t website related. It took place over on YouTube where a collision of circumstances – a new contributor whose day job turned out to be a professional cameraman and the laying off of Stereophile’s video editor – saw yours truly kick video production into a much higher gear.
I’d been shooting show reports and factory visits on a smartphone since 2016 but if videos were to stand in for the words and pictures found in feature articles, they would have to be shot and edited to a professional standard. They would have to (and this is important) properly reflect the luxury nature of hi-fi gear. High-end hardware selling for many thousands of dollars demands more than a smartphone and a single shot of a talking head. Production values matter.
After cameraman Olaf von Voss and video editor Jana Dagdagan and I had a handful of videos under our belt, one viewer applauded our efforts: “You didn’t just stick a phone on a tripod and talk for twenty minutes!”. Damn straight we didn’t.
Further, videos allow me to more tidily weave in music choices and to show you what a product looks like and the ancillary gear with which it is used.
Another nice video side-effect is being able to better show the single most important component in any loudspeaker system: the room. (You have to wonder why so many reviewers shy away from this). Mine’s nothing fancy and not without its challenges – an average apartment in the dead centre of Berlin – and perhaps not unlike your own.
In other words, videos allow me to make hi-fi gear more easily understood — more relatable. And it’s this R word that drove the editorial focus for videos made during the back half of 2018.
Another watchword now driving my video work, one that often gets overlooked by those lumping all reviewers in the same ‘Consumer Reports’ basket, is entertainment. Reviews should be enjoyable to read and/or fun to watch.
This Relatable Entertainment approach to video ‘reviews’ seems to have resonated with those seeking out hi-fi coverage on YouTube. The Darko.Audio channel is now growing at a rate of 4,000 subscribers per month with many videos attracting tens of thousands of views. That’s far, far more than any written piece on this website.
Our KEF LSX video is currently sitting at 160,000 views, the Schiit Modi 3 video at 140,000. Two very strong signs that Darko.Audio videos are reaching a far broader audience than just the audiophile faithful.
And we have done all of this in under a year and without resorting to sponsored content: where the subject of the review pays for the video and is declared as such in the (not so) small print. I’ve no interest in making promotional films and passing them off as advertorials.
Like Darko.Audio’s written content, the videos are not for sale. Manufacturers are only sold banner ads on the website and, in 2019, twenty-second pre-roll spots that will run at the start of a YouTube video. (Ads are what fund my role as a full-time audiophile – something that Patreon could never do).
When we go to a store to buy a piece of audio gear, we (try our best to) listen to it first, maybe comparing it to similarly-priced rivals. If the store owner is particularly generous, s/he will let us take it home to demo in our system and room. We don’t take a measurement rig to the store. We buy based on subjective judgements and Darko.Audio’s approach will continue to reflect that.
Subjectivity has been my review language for the past eight years and it will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Complaining that I don’t speak your language – measurements or ABX – echoes the conceit of Berlin-based expats complaining online that a local government institution only speaks German.
Every reader/viewer must find a reviewer that speaks his/her language and there are enough of you reading this website – almost a quarter of a million per month – and even more of you digging into our YouTube channel – now 400,000 per month – who see value in the work we do. (Videos also force would-be skim readers to slow down and saves them the embarrassment of asking questions already answered).
Clearly, YouTube is where the broader audience live. And despite a lower awareness of the perils of jitter and electrical noise, a mainstream-crossover audience will be my primary focus in 2019. Why? Because the hi-fi world needs mainstream exposure as much as it needs another audiophile opinion.
Regular Darko.Audio contributors Phil Wright, Steven Plaskin and John Grandberg will continue to pen pieces on audiophile gear piquing their own interests.
My first video of the season will be a long and winding run through a high-end desktop head-fi rig that will set out the stall for follow-up videos.
Ahead of that video’s arrival, I unboxed Chord’s DAVE DAC for your viewing pleasure:
Considerable credit goes to cameramen Olaf von Voss and Line Kühl as well as video editor Jana Dagdagan who brings their footage to life.