RMAF 2013 show reports survey

This is sort of a survey of show reports out there. There are others, but the other ones I was able to find seemed to be either random, really short, or just silly ‘feel-good’ reports, or, well, they seemed to be one of those three kinds [YMMV. I didn’t find them all. Didn’t look for them all, just the ones that I go to. Might have missed some good ones.].

Our Ultimist RMAF 2013 report [in progress, *sigh*] is a fierce advocate for the industry and all of its gear. It is even a more fierce advocate for gear that Ultimist sells. This does not require any lying about how magical, lovely, great, awesome things sound but instead vigorously attempts to describe how, why and where everything perfectly fits into the audiophile universe [yes. yes. I know. I *said* it was in progress :-)].

Our RMAF 2013 report on the Audio Federation blog here is, as always, concerned with the ultimate listening experiences. Annoying aspects of the sound means being distracted from having an ultimate listening experience. We don’t like that. Here we are always exploring brave new worlds of music reproduction, seeking out new lifelike sounding gear, and new civilized ways of talking about sound; boldly perusing the ultimate music experiences that have never been [or not near as often as we all would like] experienced before.

JV’s show report over at AVGuide / TAS / The Absolute Sound / HiFi+ is very closely aligned [how close? read here] with what we heard at the show (with the caveat that we all have our personal preferences that come out in the reports a wee bit). This makes me feel a little like we are not living up to our underground publication status 🙂

But, seriously, we are not relativists. Each room has one and only one sound, whether one likes it, loves it, … or not. Show reports should endeavor to accurately report about that sound so well that a person reading the description should be able to determine whether they would like it, love it, … or not. Our reports are no where near good enough yet – but someday…

The Stereophile RMAF 2013 report as is usual has all the information about the names of things and what they cost. Invaluable [and though they make mistakes, they correct them quickly].

Lately, though, Jason Victor Serinus over at Stereophile has started adding more negative comments for many rooms. However, he really fails to differentiate between rooms that committed several atrocities as opposed to those that committed atrocities only rarely. Strangely, the few rooms where he wants to give the Nobel Peace Prize to should really be brought up before the Haig on War Crimes charges. There should also be a rule that one should describe in the same level of detail what was actually right about the rooms, if anything [and if there is nothing, you could do what we do and say nuthin’. Nothing!], as well as what was wrong [I also have a problem with being able to do this consistently. I’m trying to do better!].

The AudioCircle RMAF 2013 show report does not rate things based on sound so much as but uses a kind of social litmus test involving similarly subjective attributes like how cool the gear looks, how cool the exhibitors are, and how cool the room vibe is. Not to be a jibe, these measures are much more closely aligned with marketplace success than the actual sound of the room [to our way of thinking, this is unfortunate]. So, although they cloak the whole thing in audiophile buzzwords, that is not where this report has value. This report is really probably the most important show report for people in the industry to read.

The Dagogo RMAF 2013 Report, this one by Jack Roberts, was one of those reports where someone wanders through what they think are the coolest rooms at the show, finding something nice to say about each room. [This report did remind us that the Coincident room this year did sound quite good. Oops. Added. And thanks]. These kinds of reports kind of reflect what a ordinary everyday audiophile does and sees at a show. So from that perspective it is a good reminder for some of us who have been to too many shows, and it is good for those who want to know kind of what it is like to wander kind of aimlessly though a show [which is what we did for the first few shows until we got frustrated with missing those special ‘wildly hyped’ rooms that everybody said were so great after the show. They weren’t by the way – but we didn’t know that until we started going to all the rooms and making sure we heard them for ourselves. Still regret missing HP’s room at the Alexis Park when he had his big Alons there].

Clement in the Stereotimes RMAF 2013 report takes a lot of photos of the exhibitors [as well as gear] and that is its own kind of fun if you are a people watcher [and who ain’t?]. Funny, he thought the smaller Volti room ran a poor second to the big Volti Vittora speaker room as did we [as opposed to some feel-good reports where you can read that they liked it just as much].

Audio Matters RMAF 2013 show report is written by a young audiophile who has a number of ageist comments to make during his report [but a lot of his generation seem to have similar issues with older folk, that they are superior beings just by the virtue of the newer release date of their smartphone, so what’s new. See, two can play at this game ;-)]. For me, it is nice to read an outsider’s perspective. Don’t agree with much of what he says, but that doesn’t matter, to me, as much as getting some insight into what it is like for a young person to attend these shows.

Then we have the friendly insider’s report at Part-time Audiophile RMAF 2013 show report. Most professional show reporters try and maintain some distance between themselves and everyone else, otherwise it is too easy to start playing favorites, or feeling sorry for your friends, and in general not wanting to harm the friendship by reporting what their room or gear really sounded like. The Part-time Audiophile report tries to walk that line of trying to say perceptive things about the sound but still be part of the ‘good old boy [and girl] crowd’ of exhibitors. Their show report then is really a ‘feel good’ show report done really well.

Audio Shark’s RMAF 2013 show report is exactly like what you might hear from one of your audiophile friends at supper during a show. Liked some rooms. Not some others. A very personal interpretation of what the show was like for them. [agree that Emerald Physics rooms often sound more like music than most, but I think they actually sounded better, more even top to bottom, more of a whole, in previous years at RMAF (yeah, and back when they cost half as much. As did just about everything else in high-end audio, to be fair).].

So, that’s that. A lot of fun stuff to read, peruse, ignore, whatever…. 😉

Perspectives on positive equipment reviews

There is some heated debate among book reviewers / book critics about whether there are way too many positive reviews in comparison with critical reviews. Sound familiar?

Here is a summary of some of the points of view of various people:

book reviews debate

I found most of it to be quite relevant and an interesting perspective on equipment reviews, except that high-end audio reviewers, and high-end audio magazines, have MUCH more financial incentive to publish positive reviews than do book critics [even though our reviewers do not get quoted in the New York Times… ever :-)].

It may just go to show that to a large extent the culture of a niche – whether books or high-end audio or movies or computers or whatever – dictates the percentage of positive reviews versus negative reviews. That even if we, in high-end audio, held reviewers and magazines to a higher standard, so that they had absolutely no financial incentive to publish a positive review – we would still most likely end up with near the same percentage [what is it? 95%+?] of positive reviews.

Why Some Equipment Gets Reviewed and Others Not

This is meant to be just a dispassionate enumeration of the ways that I have observed that the press decides to review a piece of high-end audio equipment (or room at a show). Not saying whether any of this is good or bad; in this world, in this economy.

1. The manufacturer or exhibitor is a heavy advertiser in a magazine [getting this contentious reason out of the way up front]. A certain percentage of reviewers at a magazine will naturally feel appreciative that their mag is being supported by these folks.and write a few kind words

2. Wining and dining [often mass quantities at a show :-)]. A certain percentage of reviewers will naturally feel appreciative of the wonderful food, beverages, cigars, etc. and write a few kind words

3. Being treated as if they were the most important and wonderful person in the world [i.e. the exhibitor or manufacturer is a good sales person]. A certain percentage of reviewers will naturally feel appreciative of the respect being given and write a few kind words

4. An individual reviewer likes the manufacturer, exhibitor, or their products and/or likes what they hear [Reviewer as Champion – perhaps the most ethical reason]

5. Tradition – this manufacturer/exhibitor always gets a few words

6. Equipment on ‘perpetual loan’ [aka free]. Write a few kind words and keep the equipment for an extended period. Feature it periodically in your reviews and show reports and keep it longer. Tried and true, baby.

Ways That Do Not Attract Reviews (if none of the above are working)

1. Being nice, kind and cheerful [these exhibitors abound at shows – nary a review to be seen]

2. Being the most expensive [Where are the top Goldmund, the top Transroter (or ClearAudio) table’s reviews, etc. etc. etc. not to mention how many expensive rooms at shows are ignored. Is this the Triumph of the Mediocre – read any Stereophile letters page about the demand for ‘affordable’ gear reviews – or the manufacturers wanting to keep a mystique around their statement-level products and so avoiding reviews? Don’t know.]

3. Having the best sound [this is kind of weird, I know, but it is a truism. So much equipment out there provides good value at the price and is completely ignored. Having no special ‘aura’ of potential mass amounts of advertising dollars nor forthcoming with the food, wine and treats, and/or free equipment – and no ‘champion’ #4 above – means virtual invisibility].

Things That Do Not Prohibit Getting a Positive Review

1. Sounding worse than its peers

2. Periodically catching on fire [No, I will not divulge, except to say it ain’t nothing we sell… thank goodness]

3. Being outrageously more expensive in the U.S. than elsewhere [this is actually relatively rare in this global economy, but not unknown, and with some popular brands to boot]


As you can see, a manufacturer/exhibitor can take one of a few perhaps dubiously ethical and definitely somewhat costly approaches to get noticed… or hope and pray for a reviewer, hopefully prolific, to like them and what they do and be their free, unfettered champion.

For the purposes of this post, prolific posters on forums behave just like reviewers.