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True to source

  • Got the itch for a new piece of audio gear? Chances are you’ll visit your local hi-fi dealer for a demo. Will you take your measurement kit with you? Most dealers would tell you to take a hike. Like me, you probably neither own the hardware to take measurements nor the technical nouse to interpret the results. (And if you did, you’d probably find more satisfaction with another hi-fi publication).

    On an in-store blind test to compare A and B, the dealer might be more accommodating…but is such a scenario realistic? I’ve never seen it happen nor have I heard about it happening. That doesn’t mean in-store blind testing doesn’t happen, just that it’s rarer than rocking horse shit.

    And of all the audio shows I’ve attended this past ten years, I’ve not witnessed a single blind test. Not one! With most systems holding their static configuration for the show’s duration, even sighted A/B demos are hard to find.

    Most consumers conduct in-store comparisons with the product/s fully revealed to them. I did exactly that at the UK’s Richer Sounds on more than one occasion during the nineties. This was long before I began writing about audio. Occasionally, the guys at Richer Sounds would loan me gear so I might conduct sighted demos at home. The notion of a blind test never came up – not once.

    My hi-fi audition process got turned up to ten when I jumped into Sydney’s second-hand hi-fi market in the late noughties. I would buy a piece of gear, play with it at home for a few weeks and then sell it. I’d lose money in the process but buying second-hand lessened the bank account blow. Occasionally, I would write about my findings on forums. Occasionally became regularly and after year on the second-hand hardware treadmill, this website was born (in 2010) with sighted home demos as its backbone.

    Nowadays, I buy very little gear – it comes directly from manufacturers as loaners – but I still audition it the way I’ve always done: at home for a number of weeks — because long-term listening at home reveals far more than an afternoon in-store. Whatever the length, my review process is built around sighted demos. All findings are, therefore, subjective.

    What about objectivity and measurements? This year, we’ve heard from experienced audio engineers like HEDD’s Klaus Heinz and MBL’s Jürgen Reis that measurements only tell designers if they’ve made a mistake and not how a piece of gear will ultimately sound. Final voicing must be done by ear. ELAC’s Andrew Jones took it a step further and questioned the helpfulness to consumers of measurements published without interpretation.

    Those thumping the table about what a reviewer should do are reminded that many, like myself, are self-employed. We are therefore free to set out our own terms and conditions of work. Each publication is different and readers are free to choose which magazine speaks their language. This website aims to provide an entertaining summary of sighted demos. Product safety is taken care of by each device’s CE certification.

    In other words, Darko.Audio is an extension of my role as a store-visiting, show-attending hi-fi consumer. My review process is heavily informed by the in-store and at-home auditions of yesteryear. It remains true to its source.

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile. John used to live in Sydney. Now he lives in Berlin.

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