Theodore Roosevelt said that comparison is the thief of joy. It’s a lesson that most of us, at some point in life, learn the hard way. Keeping up with the Joneses is expensive, and not just in terms of money. Comparing your kids, your spouse, your income . . . these comparisons, often constant, lead to a life in which gratitude is in short supply and contentment is always just out of reach. Comparison in audio reviews is a different story. Once you buy something, the comparisons can stop. Maybe they should stop. But while you’re shopping, comparisons are critical to making wise buying decisions.
One mistake that rookie audio writers make is thinking that they themselves are the subject of their reviews. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The truth is, no one cares. What readers value -- what they need, why they’re reading -- is that critical nugget of information about a product that can help them discern between this box and the next. Audio components don’t exist in a vacuum: The reader wants to know how component A performs in relation to component B. Only in direct comparison can certain strengths and weaknesses be revealed.
I’ve had a pretty good record when it comes to comparisons, but it hasn’t been spotless. This month I compared two speakers with each other: the Magico Q7 Mk.II and the Vivid Audio Giya G1 Spirit. (I review the Vivid this month.) I’m quite satisfied with how that review -- and, specifically, that comparison -- came out. My hope is that the review’s Comparison section provides some context for the überspeaker market by stating, in plain terms, how these two juggernaut products fared when directly compared with each other. Go read the review, if you haven’t already.
On occasion, I’ve also screwed up. I should have written a review of the original Rockport Technologies Arrakis, but I didn’t -- that speaker was an integral part of The World’s Best Audio System 2009 event, and I figured it would get plenty of press in the myriad articles that always followed a TWBAS gathering. But I should have written the review. It would have been most revealing and informative had I compared the Arrakis with the Wilson Audio Specialties X-2, which also served time in my Music Vault listening room. I think the results would still be relevant today. It was an opportunity missed.
There are many reasons that reviewers don’t compare products. The hard truth is that audio writers often get really close to the manufacturers of the gear they review. Those personal relationships can have a profound impact not only on an individual review, but also on whether or not a direct comparison is made between two competing products. It’s easy to write a review that gives the reader the impression that a component is really good, with few faults, as if it exists in a vacuum of relevant context. But in a direct comparison of any given metric of audio equipment, it’s almost certain that one product will get the short end of the stick. Feelings get hurt, the relationship suffers, and long-term loans of gear are recalled.
Some reviewers never compare products. Other than those we publish across the SoundStage! sites, I no longer read that many audio reviews, but when I do, there are several guys I never read. Some of these guys cover really expensive stuff, as I do, and I’d be interested to read their takes on some of it. But I don’t bother -- I know I’ll never get the real scoop that would result from a comparison of the review subject with the model it replaced in the reviewer’s system. The lack of such comparisons leaves the reader with little of value. The outcome is so dang predictable.
What value is there in a review if it doesn’t help the reader make a buying decision? Not many people read audio reviews for sheer pleasure -- for that, there are usually better choices of reading material. We reviewers need to remember why we’re here.
. . . Jeff Fritz