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What about the HiFi-market

Mulder

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Hey all. After participating in some other HiFi forums on Facebook, I have thought a bit about how the HiFi market actually works and what role ASR actually plays in this market. Here are my thoughts.

I believe that ASR has become an important voice in the HiFi community, insofar as it is at all relevant to talk about such a community. ASR has achieved a position where it cannot be ignored and it has given strength to the argument that there is an objective and measurable aspect of all HiFi, and that good measurement results often have a weak connection between price and the status of a HiFi brand. In connection with this, a group of HiFi consumers has emerged who reject subjective non-factual claims about HiFi, when these are in conflict with measurable results - so-called objectivists vs subjectivists (I think this is a somewhat misleading dichotomy because objectivism in some respects can be another form of subjectivism, on another level)

There are now also manufacturers, mainly from China, who are completely focused on producing products that are objectively as good as possible, ie that strive to achieve as good measurement values as possible . For those consumers who base their purchasing decisions on objectively measured values and want that type of product, ASR has also become a platform where these producers can showcase their new products. Regardless of ASR's intentions, ASR becomes a form of marketing platform. This in itself is not a negative thing, but it does lead to the question of other producers.

Many of the traditional companies in HiFi never seem to send any products to ASR to have them measured. Is it because they think that the "objectivists" are too small a market? Is it because they do not think that “objectively correct sound is desirable at all? Do they think that objective measurements are not at all desirable because everything will then sound the same? Is it because they know that design and subjective experiences are more important decision criteria for the majority of consumers rather than objective facts? Is it because they make products that they know do not measure up? Are they simply incompetent? Or is it about money, ie that it costs more to develop products that measure well without giving any real advantage in the market? Or is it that some HiFi brands simply charge for something other than the performance of the products, ie is a market based on objective measurement data pure death for the high-end market in HiFi? Much of the HiFi press indicates that this may be the case. (There is almost always a high price the same as good reviews) If they hand over their products to ASR then they know that the discussion will only be about one thing, about a single aspect, and that discussion they do not want?

My thought is, is this good or bad? Does this ultimately lead to a division of HiFi consumers into two camps and into two different markets? Is it an illusion that products based on objective data will penetrate the HiFi world as a whole, or will it be a limited niche market within HiFi.
 

Drengur

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I think it is also a generational thing. I do believe there is a paradigm shift happening right now, and that the traditional high-end manufacturers will either have to be happy with unloading their stuff on rich people (of which there are many) or start to produce objectively good products. There will always be a market for audiophile products that are not objectively good for one reason or another. For instance Amir himself has a reel to reel player, objectively not very good, but just as vinyl there can be many reasons for people to want to have such units; you might have a hard time finding a recording of some music that has not been the victim of the loudness war on other formats, you might like the sound, nostalgia, and let's not forget how cool looking many terrible sounding products are.

I am quite optimistic for younger 'audiophiles'. Good sound has never been as widely available and easy. I just bought a Topping DAC, Topping HP amplifier and Dan Clark headphones for much less than any other high-end system I've ever had, and it sounds much better by any metric (including subjective - with a small caveat - I must admit I like listening to speakers more than headphones). Now imagine people younger than me (I am only 40 years old) that spend a few hundred dollars on their desktop system. Now these individuals will get used to effortless, objectively good sound. When they go to their 'boomer' staffed High-end store and listen to a 'traditional' high-end system they will have a much better reference than older generations had. These are obviously just speculations, but as I said, I am optimistic.

It was quite a learning curve for me when I started retailing audio products and realized what a tight grip the audio-press had on consumers. People happily paid more for worse sounding products if some old geezer had written an emotional prose about the product and given it five stars on the basis of it having immeasurable properties, right next to a full page advert from said company. So as a retailer, your job is selling products, and if you have to sell worse products for more, that's what you do. There are very few people I know today who are interested in these magazines, as they have gone far overboard, most of them are obviously marketing tools rather than providing consumers with useful critique. Where I live, the English hifi-press was dominant. Obviously that meant that the most popular high-end products were from England. So I ended up stocking products from England, I had mostly been retailing Chinese stuff since I started (2005).

Now, when you google SMSL or Topping, as an example. You will get less marketing results and more measurements. I would like to think people prefer that, even though it can be hard to understand the objective measurements. Some traditional companies seem to be willing to produce objectively good products, NAD comes to mind as well as JBL up to a point.
 

Frgirard

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Hey all. After participating in some other HiFi forums on Facebook, I have thought a bit about how the HiFi market actually works and what role ASR actually plays in this market. Here are my thoughts.

I believe that ASR has become an important voice in the HiFi community, insofar as it is at all relevant to talk about such a community. ASR has achieved a position where it cannot be ignored and it has given strength to the argument that there is an objective and measurable aspect of all HiFi, and that good measurement results often have a weak connection between price and the status of a HiFi brand. In connection with this, a group of HiFi consumers has emerged who reject subjective non-factual claims about HiFi, when these are in conflict with measurable results - so-called objectivists vs subjectivists (I think this is a somewhat misleading dichotomy because objectivism in some respects can be another form of subjectivism, on another level)

There are now also manufacturers, mainly from China, who are completely focused on producing products that are objectively as good as possible, ie that strive to achieve as good measurement values as possible . For those consumers who base their purchasing decisions on objectively measured values and want that type of product, ASR has also become a platform where these producers can showcase their new products. Regardless of ASR's intentions, ASR becomes a form of marketing platform. This in itself is not a negative thing, but it does lead to the question of other producers.

Many of the traditional companies in HiFi never seem to send any products to ASR to have them measured. Is it because they think that the "objectivists" are too small a market? Is it because they do not think that “objectively correct sound is desirable at all? Do they think that objective measurements are not at all desirable because everything will then sound the same? Is it because they know that design and subjective experiences are more important decision criteria for the majority of consumers rather than objective facts? Is it because they make products that they know do not measure up? Are they simply incompetent? Or is it about money, ie that it costs more to develop products that measure well without giving any real advantage in the market? Or is it that some HiFi brands simply charge for something other than the performance of the products, ie is a market based on objective measurement data pure death for the high-end market in HiFi? Much of the HiFi press indicates that this may be the case. (There is almost always a high price the same as good reviews) If they hand over their products to ASR then they know that the discussion will only be about one thing, about a single aspect, and that discussion they do not want?

My thought is, is this good or bad? Does this ultimately lead to a division of HiFi consumers into two camps and into two different markets? Is it an illusion that products based on objective data will penetrate the HiFi world as a whole, or will it be a limited niche market within HiFi.

The listening is subjective.
The objective data has nothing to do with a hobby based on listening tasting.
The objectivists are a tiny minority like the rest of the population.
 

ADU

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Some interesting questions/observations, Mulder.

Fwiw, I think the push/quest or whatever you want to call it for some greater objectivity and education on the fundamentals of both good sound and video has been going for some time. At least on the home video side. And the "subjective vs. objective" thing is still somewhat new to me, because things don't really work like that in video.

So I was a bit surprised by just how uninterested many of the folks on home audio websites like Head-Fi seemed to be in talking seriously about some of the more objective aspects of their audio gear. And how much emphasis that many (though certainly not all) there would place on the more experiential aspects of audio (ie actually listening to the gear).

Like Drengur, I think it's great that accurate, high quality audio gear is also finally finding its way to the masses, so people can enjoy much better sound and picture on the content they like to watch and listen to. And I credit folks like Floyd Toole and Sean Olive of Harman, and Tyll Hertsens of Inner Fidelity for a good bit of that on the audio side.

I think there can be potential pitfalls though in going to either extreme of the subjectivist or objectivist sides of the equation. Because I don't think science has all the answers on all of this yet. And we are only just beginning to understand many of the more complex aspects of how things like loudness, distortion, frequency response, and so forth really effect our perception, enjoyment and appreciation of audio content. And how you really should measure and interpret all of those kinds of things.

So I think there are still many things that can be learned from both the good listeners, and also the good measurers on this subject. (Just as there were things that could be learned from knowledgeable viewers on the video side.) And that you really need both of these things to move the science and the technology forward.

Alot of folks probably think that good video is a totally objective thing... But that's not really the case either. We know that people like higher contrast ratios, deeper blacks, and more colors, generally speaking. But there isn't necessarily total agreement even on that. And there is certainly plenty of disagreement on the best ways of achieving those things! This is because human perceptions and senses are complex, and are effected by a wide variety of factors. And because there are often other factors that can (and should) effect people's buying/consuming decisions than just the purely perceptual ones, like the cost, convenience, flexibility, reliability, ergonomics, aesthetics, and so forth of a product.

Overall, I think there has been a much healthier interplay between the more subjective/experiential, and the more objective/scientific sides of the equation in the video marketplace, which has resulted in some truly extraordinary improvements in video technology in recent years. (Though it took us quite awhile to get there.) And I hope the same kind of thing can eventually happen in audio as well.

If there is one area where I still think things could be improved though on the video side, it would be in terms of the ease of use or user-friendliness of the technology. Because achieving an accurate picture (with the correct aspect ratio!) on a new HD or UHD TV can still be quite a challenge in some cases, even with all of the new advancements in things like size, thickness, resolution, contrast, color gamut, and so forth.
 
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Killingbeans

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My two cents:
Many of the traditional companies in HiFi never seem to send any products to ASR to have them measured. Is it because they think that the "objectivists" are too small a market?

I can imagine many of them simply feel that it would be beneath them. They have strong convictions about their superiority and see no need to cater to a market that they perceive as misguided.

Is it because they do not think that “objectively correct sound is desirable at all?

Some of them maybe. But many of them seem to cling onto the idea that “objectively correct" can only be defined by factors that science has not yet discovered. And then they just happen to be lucky enough to have "golden ears" that can easily detect those factors.

Do they think that objective measurements are not at all desirable because everything will then sound the same?

I don't think they even consider that concept. In their head everything and anything sounds different.

Is it because they know that design and subjective experiences are more important decision criteria for the majority of consumers rather than objective facts?

The really big ones (subsidiaries of conglomerates) knows that, yes. Many of the boutique brands probably have no clue about why people actually buy their products.

Is it because they make products that they know do not measure up?

Most of them probably do. But when they "tune by ear" it tells them that all of their exotic circuit typologies have somehow dramatically lowered noise and distortion despite of what the measurements says. Instead of questioning their perception, they just roll with it and boast about the fantastic performance of the product. Measurements becomes irrelevant for them for all the wrong reasons.

Are they simply incompetent?

No, I wouldn't say that. Of course there's always some that are, but most are perfectly capable of doing great things. They just spend all of their energy chasing fairy tales.

Instead I'd say that High-End audio has more leeway for incompetence than most other industries.

Or is it about money, ie that it costs more to develop products that measure well without giving any real advantage in the market?

No. It's all about what you focus the development on.

Or is it that some HiFi brands simply charge for something other than the performance of the products, ie is a market based on objective measurement data pure death for the high-end market in HiFi? Much of the HiFi press indicates that this may be the case. (There is almost always a high price the same as good reviews)

Looks, feel, build quality and service are definitely something people will always be willing to pay for. I don't see that ever becoming compromised.

If they hand over their products to ASR then they know that the discussion will only be about one thing, about a single aspect, and that discussion they do not want?

That's quite possible. But then again, that one thing is usually also the one they boast about the most in their marketing materials.

They sort of have it coming :D

My thought is, is this good or bad?

It's perspective. And that's always good for the consumer. I don't see any reason to cry for the industry.

Does this ultimately lead to a division of HiFi consumers into two camps and into two different markets?

50/50? I think there's always been a mix of scepticism and indulgence. The only thing that's shifting at the moment is awareness IMO.

Is it an illusion that products based on objective data will penetrate the HiFi world as a whole, or will it be a limited niche market within HiFi.

A dream maybe. Human nature is a hard thing to keep down. A lie that feels good will always sell better than a boring truth.
 
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Sgt. Ear Ache

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If someone has assembled an objectively competent system (meaning the components are doing a measurably good job of their appointed task) and finds it "boring," I'd suggest they should look for better music to listen to. :D

I'm not sure ANY companies send their products to ASR for measuring do they? Isn't it primarily items sent to Amir by members or stuff he acquires on his own dime? Anyway, as long as there's people willing to believe in myths and snake-oil there will be people happy to sell them stuff based on those beliefs.

(I fail to see the problem of manufacturers who are "completely focused" on producing products that have good objectively-measurable performance. That's the way it should be! The fact that some manufacturers (Chinese or not) can get great objectively-measurable performance at extremely reasonable cost should come as a sobering revelation to the subjective/boutique audiophile community.)
 
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escksu

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Many of the traditional companies in HiFi never seem to send any products to ASR to have them measured. Is it because they think that the "objectivists" are too small a market? Is it because they do not think that “objectively correct sound is desirable at all? Do they think that objective measurements are not at all desirable because everything will then sound the same? Is it because they know that design and subjective experiences are more important decision criteria for the majority of consumers rather than objective facts? Is it because they make products that they know do not measure up? Are they simply incompetent? Or is it about money, ie that it costs more to develop products that measure well without giving any real advantage in the market? Or is it that some HiFi brands simply charge for something other than the performance of the products, ie is a market based on objective measurement data pure death for the high-end market in HiFi? Much of the HiFi press indicates that this may be the case. (There is almost always a high price the same as good reviews) If they hand over their products to ASR then they know that the discussion will only be about one thing, about a single aspect, and that discussion they do not want?

AFAIK, most companies do not engage forums (ASR is a forum) for review/marketing. Gears are mostly reviewed by websites/magazines.

I would say at the very least, ASR would need to be revamped to become a website with separe sections for reviews/articles. Right now, everything is placed on the forum.
 
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Mulder

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If someone has assembled an objectively competent system (meaning the components are doing a measurably good job of their appointed task) and finds it "boring," I'd suggest they should look for better music to listen to. :D
I'm not sure ANY companies send their products to ASR for measuring do they? Isn't it primarily items sent to Amir by members or stuff he acquires on his own dime? Anyway, as long as there's people willing to believe in myths and snake-oil there will be people happy to sell them stuff based on those beliefs.

(I fail to see the problem of manufacturers who are "completely focused" on producing products that have good objectively-measurable performance. That's the way it should be! The fact that some manufacturers (Chinese or not) can get great objectively-measurable performance at extremely reasonable cost should come as a sobering revelation to the subjective/boutique audiophile community.)
I think you misunderstod my point. I did not say it was a problem if manufacturers are focused on products that meassures well. My thoughts was about the development of the HiFi-market. In short - will it continue to turn into a kind of fashion-industry or will ”objective” performace be the norm? And yes, some companies send gear to ASR to be rewieved, and I guess this is not primarly to get their geared masured. I mean, they most often allready know how it measures. I think. I think sending their products to ASR is kind of marketing. I was simply filosofing if this kind of HiFi will grov in importance, and what will happen to all the rest? Or will it be a niche, ie at the market at large, will ”fashion-HiF” continue to be the norm?
 
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escksu

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The enthusiast niche is a tiny fraction of the actual market.

This I have to agree. Most of the hifi folks do not even frequent forums to dicuss about it. Most are just walk into a store, pick what they like or what the salesman introduces. Most do not frequent websites/forums to do research about what they are going to buy. IT applies to almost everything as well, not just hifi.
 
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Mulder

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AFAIK, most companies do not engage forums (ASR is a forum) for review/marketing. Gears are mostly reviewed by websites/magazines.

I would say at the very least, ASR would need to be revamped to become a website with separe sections for reviews/articles. Right now, everything is placed on the forum.
My point is not if they send their gear to ASR or not, but if they will move towards a new approach when it comes to measurents, and if this will be neccesary for them to stay competitive? Or if the number of HiFi-consumers that demand objective measurements will remain small and will be a minority. I think ASR has an impact on the market, but I don’t know to what degree.
 
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Mulder

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The enthusiast niche is a tiny fraction of the actual market.
Which ones do you count as enthusiasts? Are you referring to those who demand equipment that has good measurement values, or are you referring to HiFi consumers in general? When it comes to music consumption, HiFi as a whole is probably a fairly small proportion of all music listeners.
 

SIY

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Which ones do you count as enthusiasts?
People who care about the equipment beyond: I need a home theater/stereo/soundbar/whatever, and purchase at a big box retailer or order from Amazon. Bose likely sells in five minutes more than Topping does in a year.
 
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Mulder

Mulder

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This I have to agree. Most of the hifi folks do not even frequent forums to dicuss about it. Most are just walk into a store, pick what they like or what the salesman introduces. Most do not frequent websites/forums to do research about what they are going to buy. IT applies to almost everything as well, not just hifi.
Yes and No! Maybe. To take a compelling example I think many photo enthusiasts read photo magazines and camera tests and are influenced by this. In much the same way that some HiFi enthusiasts love HiFi magazines. For this group of people, the internet and alternative channels have become more important. The problem is that both HiFi enthusiasts and photo enthusiasts have become fewer. But perhaps those who remain are more interested in exploring more deeply and informing themselves about technical performance. Just a tought.
 

fordiebianco

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I used to read HiFi magazines and I still look at some of them out of pure curiosity to see what's on the market. Unfortunately, for large floorstanders, I still have to rely on the reviews from the likes of 'What Hifi' here in the UK, as Amir doesn't measure these. Nevertheless, I used to lust after esoteric 'big iron', but certainly got cured of that. These days it's small boxes from China or Banagalore (Aiyima, Topping, SMSL, Allo) and my collecion of vintage receivers which I keep mainly for looks. ASR has certainly saved me a few 10,000 quid in expensive pre/power amps and AVRs.
 

pozz

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Hey all. After participating in some other HiFi forums on Facebook, I have thought a bit about how the HiFi market actually works and what role ASR actually plays in this market. Here are my thoughts.

I believe that ASR has become an important voice in the HiFi community, insofar as it is at all relevant to talk about such a community. ASR has achieved a position where it cannot be ignored and it has given strength to the argument that there is an objective and measurable aspect of all HiFi, and that good measurement results often have a weak connection between price and the status of a HiFi brand. In connection with this, a group of HiFi consumers has emerged who reject subjective non-factual claims about HiFi, when these are in conflict with measurable results - so-called objectivists vs subjectivists (I think this is a somewhat misleading dichotomy because objectivism in some respects can be another form of subjectivism, on another level)

There are now also manufacturers, mainly from China, who are completely focused on producing products that are objectively as good as possible, ie that strive to achieve as good measurement values as possible . For those consumers who base their purchasing decisions on objectively measured values and want that type of product, ASR has also become a platform where these producers can showcase their new products. Regardless of ASR's intentions, ASR becomes a form of marketing platform. This in itself is not a negative thing, but it does lead to the question of other producers.

Many of the traditional companies in HiFi never seem to send any products to ASR to have them measured. Is it because they think that the "objectivists" are too small a market? Is it because they do not think that “objectively correct sound is desirable at all? Do they think that objective measurements are not at all desirable because everything will then sound the same? Is it because they know that design and subjective experiences are more important decision criteria for the majority of consumers rather than objective facts? Is it because they make products that they know do not measure up? Are they simply incompetent? Or is it about money, ie that it costs more to develop products that measure well without giving any real advantage in the market? Or is it that some HiFi brands simply charge for something other than the performance of the products, ie is a market based on objective measurement data pure death for the high-end market in HiFi? Much of the HiFi press indicates that this may be the case. (There is almost always a high price the same as good reviews) If they hand over their products to ASR then they know that the discussion will only be about one thing, about a single aspect, and that discussion they do not want?

My thought is, is this good or bad? Does this ultimately lead to a division of HiFi consumers into two camps and into two different markets? Is it an illusion that products based on objective data will penetrate the HiFi world as a whole, or will it be a limited niche market within HiFi.
There are way more than two camps. I've posted this before, so bear with me repeating myself:
  • Consumer (supermarket/retail)
  • Consumer custom home integration
  • Audiophile (boutique)
  • Pro for studios
  • Pro for sound reinforcement (large and small scale, inside and outside)
  • Pro for commercial settings like restaurants, offices, malls
Likely others I've missed. They represent different customer demographics, which historically required different information with marketing shaped to fit. I think what we're experiencing is some convergence that's exposing these markets to demands, informational and otherwise, that they haven't needed to address before. Businesses have rushed in to take advantage of the opportunity to sell old established product lines and accompanying ways of thought from one to the other.

I've spoken to some sales execs and their main perspective is that customers all over have changed their approach. Cold techniques (where you contact potential customers uninvited, for example through mailing lists) are way less effective than having an effective online presence. People search for information, regardless of what kind of information it is, and try to assess it. By the time the company has contact with the customer the sale is mostly done. Closing remains the job of the company, and customer service thereafter secures the relationship.

I'd bet the boutique audio segment was revitalized by all of the user generated and professional reviews that found their way online. The monetary relationships between the reviewers and companies help. As long as companies can manipulate their reputation and influence what is said about them, they will do so. It works.

But with all that, the older expert-based purely verbal reviews are taking a beating because there's very little they can do to come up with new informational tactics. Measurements are simpler and more variable, with a deeper history and bench of references. So there's an advantage to producing reviews based on them. But we all know that interpreting them is far from easy. This area of difficulty is where companies can insert themselves and shift that interpretive context to their favour. Same place where reviewers can exert their own influence. Some of the in between is frankly terrible because reviewers insert just enough measured info to retain their pull and support irresponsible opinions and approaches.

Good? Bad? Definitely more complex. I've liked the work by ASR because it's effective at combating all of the stupidity, anxiety, guilt, expectations and waste that traditionally come with caring about audio. The level of general knowledge has been raised, for sure. But new difficulties have been introduced, too.
 
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Mulder

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There are way more than two camps. I've posted this before, so bear with me repeating myself:
  • Consumer (supermarket/retail)
  • Consumer custom home integration
  • Audiophile (boutique)
  • Pro for studios
  • Pro for sound reinforcement (large and small scale, inside and outside)
  • Pro for commercial settings like restaurants, offices, malls
Likely others I've missed. They represent different customer demographics, which historically required different information with marketing shaped to fit. I think what we're experiencing is some convergence that's exposing these markets to demands, informational and otherwise, that they haven't needed to address before. Businesses have rushed in to take advantage of the opportunity to sell old established product lines and accompanying ways of thought from one to the other.

I've spoken to some sales execs and their main perspective is that customers all over have changed their approach. Cold techniques (where you contact potential customers uninvited, for example through mailing lists) are way less effective than having an effective online presence. People search for information, regardless of what kind of information it is, and try to assess it. By the time the company has contact with the customer the sale is mostly done. Closing remains the job of the company, and customer service thereafter secures the relationship.

I'd bet the boutique audio segment was revitalized by all of the user generated and professional reviews that found their way online. The monetary relationships between the reviewers and companies help. As long as companies can manipulate their reputation and influence what is said about them, they will do so. It works.

But with all that, the older expert-based purely verbal reviews are taking a beating because there's very little they can do to come up with new informational tactics. Measurements are simpler and more variable, with a deeper history and bench of references. So there's an advantage to producing reviews based on them. But we all know that interpreting them is far from easy. This area of difficulty is where companies can insert themselves and shift that interpretive context to their favour. Same place where reviewers can exert their own influence. Some of the in between is frankly terrible because reviewers insert just enough measured info to retain their pull and support irresponsible opinions and approaches.

Good? Bad? Definitely more complex. I've liked the work by ASR because it's effective at combating all of the stupidity, anxiety, guilt, expectations and waste that traditionally come with caring about audio. The level of general knowledge has been raised, for sure. But new difficulties have been introduced, too.
Interesting comments. I think you're right in a lot of what you write. I would like to add that I realize that this I wrote about god and bad is a simplification. But some things can still be a positive development, others more negative. You are of course making an important point that measured values in themselves are not the whole answer, even measured values, and above all the interpretation of them can be manipulated. Just like you write.
 

pozz

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Interesting comments. I think you're right in a lot of what you write. I would like to add that I realize that this I wrote about god and bad is a simplification. But some things can still be a positive development, others more negative. You are of course making an important point that measured values in themselves are not the whole answer, even measured values, and above all the interpretation of them can be manipulated. Just like you write.
Well, overall, it's definitely a good thing to have more data. Casual participants know more about this shared interest, collectively, than was ever expected in the history of audio.
 

LeftCoastTim

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Some people buy cars based on specs, many don't.

Still, I believe having independent reviewers who measure and compare cars to inform the buyer is a good thing.

If nobody verified horsepower and performance numbers, the world would be full of 1000HP cars that gets 100 miles per gallon.
 
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