Enjoy the Music.com
The Absolute Sound
March 2007

Reflecting a Rich Diversity

  In this issue's Letters section, reader Jonathan Stutt expresses his opinion that The Absolute Sound no longer reviews "cutting-edge equipment" and instead focuses on "status- quo" gear, to use his terms. Consequently, Mr. Stutt believes, TAS has "lost its way," become complacent, and no longer explores interesting products.

This is a good opportunity to explain how we choose products for review as well as how those product choices reflect TAS' responsibility to its readers and to the goal of promoting high-performance music reproduction in the home.

The first thing you should know is that the competition for the finite number of review slots is intense. Consequently, a filtering process is applied so that we present the most relevant and responsible picture of the industry as a whole.

Of primary concern is whether the company behind the product under consideration is viable, legitimate, likely to support the product years down the line, and truly dedicated to delivering quality gear. In this regard, TAS has a responsibility to its readers to avoid reviewing products from companies that can't deliver long-term satisfaction and value. A high-end audio product is more than a box; you're also buying into the company behind the component.

We also look for companies with solid distribution so that readers can go and hear the product reviewed. I'm inundated with review requests from companies with no North American dealers who intend to use a TAS review as a means of establishing a dealer network. Publishing a review of a product that readers can't hear and buy is pointless (unless, of course, you're the manufacturer or distributor of that product).

Our selection of review products is also intended to contribute to the greater good of the industry and to bring high-performance audio products to a larger audience. Companies with long track records who make great-sounding, reliable, and affordable products that are readily available through a large dealer network (think Rotel, NAD, Arcam, Bowers & Wilkins, Paradigm, PSB, and NHT, for examples) are given high profile simply because they make wonderful products that bring great sound to a large portion of our readership. Our overriding goal is to connect readers with music; featuring products that are in many cases comparably priced, but vastly superior to, mass-market audio serves that goal. It's worth noting that the companies those of us in the high end consider "mainstream" are actually extremely esoteric to the larger potential customer base for high-end audio.

We balance this coverage of affordable, widely distributed products with reviews of the type Mr. Stutt would like to see more of. A look back over the past year's reviews reveals a number of products that I suspect were first brought to Mr. Stutt's attention by TAS Lab 47 Pi/Tracer CD player, Lyngdorf Audio RoomPerfect room-correction system, Phonar Akustic Credo loudspeaker, Funk Firm turntable, Ascendo M-S Mk.II loudspeaker, Bolzano Vi]letri Torre 3005 loudspeaker and Vecchio subwoofer, NuForce S9 loudspeaker, London Reference phono cartridge, Hansen Audio's The King loudspeaker, Cayin A88T integrated amplifier and SCD-50T CD player, Pathos Endorphin CD player, Joule Electra VZN-80 Mk.V OTL amplifier, Eben X-3 loudspeaker, Class-D amplifiers from Kharma, NuForce, Red Dragon, Channel Islands Audio, and Spectron, PrimaLuna Prologue tube amplifier, Wilson-Benesch Torus subwoofer, EAR. Disc Master magnetic-drive turntable, Zanden 2000 transport and 5000 DAC, Blue Note Stibbert CD player, Sound Fusion Hyperion SF-81 loudspeaker, Tyler Acoustics Lynbrook loudspeaker, to name a few.

In striking this balance between relatively mainstream and esoteric products, we're always cognizant that the high end was founded by visionary thinkers experimenting in garages. The review-selection process must have a way of identifying those fledgling companies who have truly created something special, deserve to be recognized, and could one day become part of the high-end audio "establishment." A good recent example is MAGICO. Before we covered its Mini loudspeaker (reviewed by Jonathan Valin in Issue 163 and named the TAS 2006 Overall Product of the Year in Issue 169), I visited its California factory, looked carefully at the build-quality of the product line, got a good feel for founder Alon Wolf's aesthetic, and listened to his speakers. Although MAGICO was a one-man operation, and the Mini was available in limited quantity through just a couple of dealers, the product deserved your attention.

To return to Mr. Stutt's view that TAS has "lost its way" because we include reviews of affordable, widely distributed gear, I posit that a segment of the industry that pursues increasingly tweaky products, narrower distribution, higher prices, lower value, smaller production quantities, and an evermore exclusive cachet is what has "lost its way." Fortunately, high-end audio is a big enough tent to encompass the spectrum from the lone passionate innovator to the established corporation, and TAS' selection of review products will continue to reflect that rich diversity..





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