What is the album of 2021? Is it Idles’ Joy As An Act of Resistance or Low’s Double Negative, both released in 2018? Or maybe it’s Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell, released in 2019? Or maybe it’s Fontaines DC’s A Hero’s Death, released in 2020? 🤔
Music moves much faster than hi-fi. More music was released in 2021 than hi-fi products were launched. That’s no different to any other year. And it’s unlikely that many hi-fi reviewers will have home auditioned more than fifty or so products in 2021 — that’s only a few per cent of all hi-fi products coming to market in a year and considerably fewer than the number of new albums s/he might listen to in the same time frame.
Reviewing one product a week for most of the year is to travel at quite the clip. If video production is involved, a product may only get a day or so’s playtime before thoughts about its performance and functionality must be coalesced into a script, spoken into a camera, b-roll shot and the whole lot edited into something presentable.
Even when covering thirty or so products per year, I spend more time in the video editing suite than the listening chair. Covering fifty products per year would push my workweek beyond an already unreasonable 70 hours and – worse still – it would compromise the reliability of my findings. This isn’t a complaint but a statement of fact. Almost every other hi-fi reviewer’s product sample size in any given year is small. Less than fifty products per year spread across many different product types is the norm: loudspeakers, amplifiers, DACs, phono stages, streamers, turntables, cartridges and headphones.
How then to reliably call headphone of the year when one has only heard two or three models? Or DAC of the year when only four have been tested? The upshot is that no hi-fi reviewer on the planet is able to form a proper overview of a single product category, let alone all hi-fi products landing in a single year. ‘Best of’ effectively dresses up a publications favourites to sound more authoritative. For some, such shortcomings strengthen the temptation to reach back into early 2020 (or 2019!) when pulling together a shortlist for ‘Best of 2021′.
I’m not deaf to my audience’s collective thoughts on the matter. Using the YouTube Community page, I polled ’em on whether or not products from years passed could qualify for ‘Best of 2021’. The response from 5400 people was a 2-1 nope.
Coming next are my favourite hi-fi bits of 2021 but with a twist.
Oh — and my favourite sounding record of the year? That’d be Alva Noto’s HYbr:ID I.