Publisher's Biases & Playlist

Everyone has their own particular biases or preferences. I happen to like broccoli but not beets, steaks medium rare, Macs over PCs, football over baseball, redheads rather than blonds.

Of course, my wife being a brunette means they are my favorite. By the way, Linda has been a musician, actress, TV personality and audiophile for many years. She has great ears (among other things) and is a superb listening partner. Everyone has their preferences in life and the same goes for audio. Everyone has their own take on what music should sound like and therefore how audio components should sound as well.

I don’t like listening to audio components – a rather strange admission for a reviewer until the thought is completed by saying I love listening to music.  There is a significant distinction. If a component makes me feel like I’m listening to it, something is amiss. If a speaker refuses to disappear, I’ll generally make it disappear from my system. If an amp will not render a deep, wide, layered soundstage when one exists on the recording, it exits from my stage. Components that are too cool or too warm leave me cold, though I lean toward a little warmth versus a little iciness. 

Give me detail or give me death, but I’d rather die than listen to something overly analytical and etched. And don’t make we work hard to hear those details, but don’t assault my ears with them, either. Let me know if that is an oboe or an English horn, a violin or a viola, trumpet or cornet, Steinway or Baldwin, without making me lean forward or turning it up. But don’t beat me to death with that information. Be dynamic but don’t brag about it. Not too forward, but definitely not to recessed. If a singer or instrumentalist is out front and center on the source, go ahead and place them there - but not in my face. Get the string sound right. If something can get strings, solo piano and vocals right, chances are everything else is pretty good, too. Above all, be musical. Convey the emotion in the music. I can forgive a lot of audio sins if the component I’m reviewing at least makes me feel sad, joyful, funky, enlightened, nasty, romantic, inspired or sexy - depending on what the composer and performers intended. If it compels me to tap my foot, snap my fingers or play conductor, that’s audio gravy.

All of the above influence my listening and analysis playlist.

Like a good investment portfolio, the name of the game is diversification. Unlike most reviewers, I have a fixed list of cuts I throw at everything. How else can one compare apples to apples? These are selections I’ve known for years and with which I am intimately familiar and have listened to on many, many systems from $1,000 to $500,000 in my home, friend’s homes, hi-fi stores and many hi-fi shows. I also include titles with which you are familiar and probably own. The list is comprised of “audiophile” recordings as well as standard issue. A good system needs to be able to handle both types well. The list includes vocals and instrumentals spanning different genres and formats – classical, country, jazz, rock and electronic on vinyl, CD, SACD and ultra high rez tracks at 24/192.

Perhaps most uniquely, I use recordings in which I have participated - either as concert soloist, engineer at home or studio, performed in public or studio, composed, conducted or produced. I began my musical studies at age 5 and played my first public concert at age 7. Got my first studio gig at age 13 where I wrote arrangements and played piano and organ for a custom recording in Cincinnati. Got my music degree in Music in 1975 and worked full time in the music biz until 1995. I’ve traveled and performed all over the world and the US. For 6 years I arranged, composed, recorded and played music for an international TV show that at it’s peak was broadcast to about 2 billion people. Yes, about half the world’s population. The studio players I contracted for the recordings were members of the Cleveland Symphony. I’ll never forget at the age of 25 when I placed my first chart on the stand in front of the Concertmaster for the Cleveland – and his Stradivarius. Of course, he politely but vigorously tore my chart apart, asking various questions for which I had no answer. What they teach you in college can be very different than what you encounter in the real world.

My audiophile trek began at age 12 when I built my first Heathkit and some 2-way speakers. I sold hi-end audio part-time for 4 years while in high school and college. I recite all of that, not to brag, but because it is important for you to determine whether or not my background qualifies for the job – whether I know what real music sounds like, both on the stage and in the studio. You decide.

Let me share just one anecdote with you; I’ve actually performed at Carnegie Hall! Sounds impressive ‘till I tell you the circumstances. Junior year of college when all my friends went to Daytona Beach for spring break, I choose to go to NYC. After I checked into some flophouse on 42nd street, I made a beeline to Music Mecca. The front doors were locked so I walked around the side, just to take in the building’s size and architecture. A door on the 7th Ave. side was unlocked so I peeked in. The lights were on in a rather dingy hallway so entered, hoping I could beg someone to let me see the hall. Nobody home. I kept wandering until I found myself on stage staring at a gorgeous Steinway concert grand. I looked around, but there was not a soul in sight, though someone had thoughtfully left the work lights on for me. I sat down. I played. A Prokofiev sonata. Just a few bars. Still, nobody around. I kept on. And on. It was a full thirty minutes before I lost my nerve and slinked out, the largest grin ever on my face. Thank God for union breaks, I guess.

There are other biases in the audio press biz that you should know about. First, there is "advertising bias". That does not need any explanation. At Stereomojo, that is not a factor for several reasons. First, Stereomojo was not created to be a profit center. No one here gets a salary, including me. We do accepted a limited number of advertisers for several reasons, but please notice the word "limited". We are the only publication that imposes strict limitations of the number of ads that appear at any one time. The first reason for that is that it benefits you, the reader. You have been to the sites that have endless blinking ads all over the place that make it seem like you're watching a PBS fund raiser special. Some even place ads right in the middle of review text so you are forced to read around them. Not here. All ads are only on the sides of the front page. Second, it benefits the advertisers. They have less competition here. Third, it benefits me because I do not want to be a bookkeeper, bill collector or that guy that's always asking for money. I despise asking other people for money. I want to dedicate my time to bringing our readers the best reviews and information possible. So, it is a win-win-win proposition.

So why accept ads at all? I have traveled to five audio shows in the US and Canada in order to inform our readers of the newest and best audio gear and the people who make them. Each trip averages about $2,000. You do the math. And there are other expenses as well. The IRS says that a business has to show a profit in a certain timeframe or all tax benefits are eliminated. In order to show a profit, there must be some income. We don't sell anything here - no carts or baskets on our site - so a little advertising is the only option. Does that make sense? If you think all advertising equals corruption, does the company that feeds your family do any advertising? If they are corrupt, then why are you working there?

Bottom line, advertisers get the same scrupulous reviews as non-advertisers. The Trends Audio amp won our blind shootout over 13 other amps. They are not advertisers. As I write this, we are about to give a "not recommended" review to an advertiser. Or at least they are as of the moment. I can honestly state that whether the product is by an advertiser or not does not effect a review.It's just my nature. It just does not bother me as long as the review is fair and accurate.

However, there is one bias I have a tough time with. I admit it. I guess I would have to call it "people" bias. I have a hard time giving a negative review to someone I like. Why? People in this industry I "like" are people who have demonstrated to me their passion and sincere desire to work hard to develope a product that, in their minds, is really good. To have to tell those type of people that their product is really not so good is difficult. It's like telling a friend who is a new mother that her baby is ugly. I said it was difficult, but not impossible. We all have to do difficult things in life, especially when it is the right thing to do. Perhaps you've noticed in life that hardest things to do are always the most right things to do. But then, life is too short to have to resort to doing bad things.

Here's a link to the current Stereomojo Ultimate Evaluation Test CD - the tunes i use when doing reviews and listening to new gear at the many audio shows we attend every year.


Back to STEREOMOJO home