The Impossible Has Happened

If you've been visiting this forum for very long you know that many people consider professional audio reviews, the ones in the print (Stereophile, TAS, etc.) and online magazines, at best to be paid promotion and more likely outright lies in an attempt to scam you out of your money.

Here is a quote from a recent thread that was about reviews, not about their honesty or value, but got a number of posts about those attributes anyway.

Just once I would like to read a review of a pricey piece of equipment that said that the reviewer couldn’t hear any difference between that and something far less expensive . . .

Well believe it or not that has just happened in TAS, considered by many to be the worst abuser of the truth. The situation is not exactly as in the quote above, the less expensive gear is being reviewed in this example, but it is the same in essence, IMHO.

Alan Taffel wrote a review of the T+A Series 200 components.  In it he says 

"I happen to own a wonderful-sounding modular integrated amp: the CH Precision I1.  Comparing it to the Series 200 was natural but a bit unfair.  The CH unit costs more than double the price of the Series 200 stack.  Nonetheless, I was glad I embarked on this comparison, because otherwise I never would have known that the two systems sounded almost identical."


The CH I1 starts at $38,000.  Fully loaded it costs over $50,000..

The Series 200 stack, consisting of a transport/streamer, a DAC and an integrated amp in 3 separate boxes, costs $18,475.

So I'm not saying you should believe everything you read in professional reviews or even any of it, but here is an example where a reviewer stated that a system costing less than half a more expensive system sounded "almost identical" to the more expensive system. 

And CH Precision has a full page ad in that issue of TAS, February 2023, while T+A has none.  Just thought you might like to know.


One thing I’ve realized for sure, choosing gear for a beautiful sounding hifi is much like choosing which super model to marry.

They are all among the most beautiful things out there. Which do you prefer and why? Inquiring minds want to know but in the end it does not matter. Six of one half dozen of another.

The thing with hifi gear is unlike supermodels we are taking about a total expense. Supermodels may cost but also earn big time. Look at Tom Brady and Giselle. She made more money than him.

So if you can’t afford a supermodel, there are still many equally lovey ladies out there that you might afford.

It’s all good in the end. Who ends up happiest? Inquiring minds want to know.





Honesty is the best policy.

Back when I was a kid, I won the honesty award. And everyone was so happy for me lol.

Both are beyond affordability for the average middle class American! As regards sounding alike, nothing new about that.  Audio electronics have been transparent to the source for several decades - contrary to what the manufacturers want you to believe! Otherwise how could they differentiate their product from the competition?

Any time a TAS review bothers to compare any review component to something else is indeed noteworthy. 

Their editor in chief must have been on a 3 month vacation with no cell service or electricity to not have “proofed” that out. Then again- maybe it was read ahead of time and inserting the word “ALMOST” was made mandatory. Either way, it’s not enough to drive me back into subscribing.

My view on the rags remains consistent.  Positive or negative I must always consider the effect that advertiser spend, or LACK of advertiser spend may have influenced the reviewer.

Along these lines… what would an ideal review look like and what business model supports a mag full of that ideal review style?

reviewers live in an eco system, often the blunt truth does not serve the eco system

best to understand how the business works, who plays what role in it, how influence works, directly and subtly, to whom and how personal and commercial interests are aligned (or misaligned), and how purchase decisions of the end product are arrived at and so on

developing a nuanced understanding of how the world (or in this case, a rather niche industry like high end hifi) is commercially 'wired' is essential in understanding behavior and motivations of those within it

The T&A 200 dac I know well imo it’s the best sounding dac out there in the even at double the $6800 cost.

A direct question. Has anyone ever read a review of new equipment in which the reviewer simply disliked the product?  Sound quality far below the sales price, overhyped, chintzy build quality, etc?  Has it ever happened?

@chocaholic How about: “it looks like they copied the Titanic complete with the hole and headed out to sea.”

Does this qualify?

I understand, appreciate and wholeheartedly endorse the skepticism in this regard. However, there are some reviewers I've followed and read over the decades whose opinion(s) or evaluation(s) of stereo toys I've come to trust. Sometimes, I've read reviews prior to shopping for a piece of equipment and sometimes afterward. Yes, one should always be judicious about advertisers' influence on the overall picture. Regardless, I find it useful to use reviews simply to keep up with latest developments and establish a list of possible suspects before going out to do my own critical listening and evaluations. I find it informative to pay particular attention to the type(s) or genre(s) of music that reviewers use in their evaluations and obviously personally enjoy. This is especially important for reviews of speakers as some perform better with Rock, some better with Classical, some with Jazz, etc. There's nothing wrong with professional reviewers being politic or polite in their assessments, notwithstanding whatever influence(s) advertisers may have. With the best reviewers, you can usually read between the lines. Have you ever been asked how cute a newborn, or somebody's kid was? What are you going to say to the parents? Ugliest kid I've ever seen? In the end, reviews are somebody's opinion. The most important one, is YOURS.

I have subscribed to Stereophile and TAS from the J Gordon Hold and the Harry Pearson days. Once upon a time you could actually read a bad review. When a manufacturer submitted a component for review they held their breath. So what changed? Here are a few things that I have witnessed in my audio journey.

1. The industry matured and every new component from mid price on up sounds good. Unless you are buying something from a crackpot in a garage, the designer has compared his/her new gizmo with state of the art competitors. New gear isn't released until it has been vetted for acceptable sound. A corollary of this is that the sound of all new gear has converged. There is a generally recognized standard for good sound quality and nobody is going to release something that sounds very different.

2. The audiophile publishing business has ballooned into a much bigger industry with slick magazines staffed by well paid writers that include dozens of full page ads from the major companies. Their role has moved from that of an independent critic to a mission of supporting the audiophile hobby and the related industry. Stereophile and TAS are much more like trade magazines now instead of publications that provide critical buying guidance.

3. The magazines have admitted that if they encounter a substandard product they don't review it. They intentionally filter out any products that would receive a bad review. I don't have a problem with this because if a brand or component has been reviewed positively in one of the publications I'm comfortable that it's going to sound good.

4. The publications have declared war on blind testing exactly because most components sound virtually identical. The entire industry is founded on expectation and confirmation bias. IMO this is fine because we are not using our stereo to treat our chronic diseases (hopefully a bad component won't kill us) but I think that a sober recognition of this is important.

5. I believe that the magazines have adopted a role of making us feel good about whatever gear we purchase. If we are drawn to a particular piece of kit, a thorough review can help us justify spending the money (or perhaps raise a red flag). One especially good feature of a speaker review is an analysis of how that speaker will match with an amp (sensitivity, impedance curve). Same thing goes for amps. Even very positive reviews can be informative and therefore provide value to the reader.

Let’s be clear, the effort that goes into a $10K plus component gets much closer to cost no object engineering than a $1K component that has built in compromises that often prevents them from achieving ‘better’ sound. Beyond $10K the hairs being slit become finer and finer to the point that diminishing returns sets in pretty quickly! There can be some ‘designed in’ (filtering) that can change the character of the sound that suits personal taste, but better becomes more difficult to describe and where different is the better descriptor!

I agree with @8th-note - There is so much good gear around today, why would anyone spend months listening to some piece of junk so that they can write a bad review about it? Wouldn’t a reviewer’s time be better spent finding and telling readers about some of the better gear available? I don’t think gear gets reviewed unless someone at the magazine has heard it and recommends it for a review.

The audio magazines are not an evil conspiracy, and we are not their target audience. They are trying to reach people who buy new gear. That means that there will be a dealer and an audition involved. The magazines regularly remind readers not to buy gear without hearing it first, preferably in your own system.

They are not as pure as the driven snow either. They are a commercial enterprise and they do not stay in business if they completely ignore commercial considerations.  People our age should understand that about anyone offering almost free advice.



“”One thing I’ve realized for sure, choosing gear for a beautiful sounding hifi is much like choosing which super model to marry.“”



a great feature of my dogs and stereo equipment, they don’t drive to cheap hotels and jump on a skin sword. 


Both options remind my of Crazy Eddie: “His prices are insane!”

Both options are … insanely … expensive. I would never consider either of them.

Over the 54 years I’ve had this hobby, I’ve spent no more than $30,000. The most recent visitor said my system compares favorably with one he consulted on putting together that cost $160,000.

Stereo reviews are like car magazine reviews, rarely if ever will one read a bad one. In my case, I like 1970's into early 1990's stereo hardware often very inexpensive to buy (swap meets, estate sales, etc.) and costly to restore, but still far less than a beautiful tubed McIntosh amp. At 73 only my second-hand Accuphase M-60 Monoblock amps and Accuphase CX-260 preamp allow me to hear detail w/o headphones. So much fine hardware out there, best to stick with the proven and less costly.

"A direct question. Has anyone ever read a review of new equipment in which the reviewer simply disliked the product?  Sound quality far below the sales price, overhyped, chintzy build quality, etc?  Has it ever happened?"


@chocaholic in response to your question there was an article in one of the major magazines a few years ago that indicated that they will not print a review of a product that is just downright awful.  They will inform the company as to why they won't run it but don't put it in print.  It has nothing to do with the paid advertising, but the editors of that magazine didn't feel they wanted to be in a position to potentially harm or destroy someone's livelihood (or company) or the employment of the people at said company via their review.   They ask the companies to correct the product and try again.


Still, the reviewer is giving this product a glowing review.  I wouldn’t be surprised if later he reviewed the CH Dac and found “details I haven’t heard before “.

I agree with the above poster who said he used reviews to find out what’s out there and their features.  


It reminds me of car and driver always doing reviews for cars 99% of the population could never afford to own let alone drive. 

I recall in the 1980s one of these hifi magazines raving about how good a specific model of a Radio Shack portable CD player could sound.  The magazine article claimed it was a real giant killer.  Out of curiosity I walked into my local RS store to check it out.  The salesman had the portable CD player in stock and noted the review in the hifi magazine.  His store price for this precious gem was over 2x retail, as I recall.  

The crazy thing to me was that same magazine had an article arguing the difference of using a drive belt vs. using dental floss made on the the sound of the  Airport One turntable.

A study of contrasts.

Audio electronics have been transparent to the source for several decades - contrary to what the manufacturers want you to believe!

If this is correct, can you explain the tubes/solid state that's been going on for so long? The tube guys assert that most solid state is harsh and bright or lean and dry. The solid state guys say the tube amps are colored due to FR variation and the 2nd harmonic. IME there is truth to both positions. 

The publications have declared war on blind testing exactly because most components sound virtually identical. The entire industry is founded on expectation and confirmation bias.

IME this statement is problematic. While there is lots of confirmation bias, IMO its false to say the industry is founded on it! And that's because the first statement is false. There are still plenty of differences you can hear between competent equipment and IME you can measure those differences too.

There's an on-going argument decades old between the subjectivist  and objectivist camps. I'm of the opinion that if you can hear a difference, you can measure it too. Both camps hate that (and this has to do with confirmation bias of which both camps are guilty).  If real progress is to be made, that has to stop. Sure, lots of solid state equipment sounds the same- and IMO/IME, most of it also has the same solvable problems (insufficient, poorly applied feedback, insufficient Gain Bandwidth Product..). There are solvable issues on the tube side as well, where you are far more likely to hear bigger differences.  

I can say from direct experience that advertising does not affect the reviews in TAS. I can also say from direct experience that is most definitely does in Stereophile. I can't say at all for any of the other magazines as I have less experience with them, but for the most part my limited experiences suggest they keep a decent firewall between editorial and advertising. I have also seen some pretty underhanded stuff go on- no organization is entirely squeaky clean. 



Reviews have such a low variance in the reviewer’s options of the gear, with almost all being extremely favorable or glowing. Basically, if there’s is any mention of a negative aspect, it pretty much means that the equipment isn’t particularly good. It’s like online ratings of anything, 4/5 stars is terrible and 4.5/5 stars is average. Everything is compressed. I still like reading reviews for entertainment and to learn about potential performance of gear.

I don't know how anyone can afford to spend this kind of money or get things approved by their wife.

I also receive a number of real estate listing from Red Fin every day to find out what homes are selling for in my area.  I have yet to see a single home with a pair of floor standing speakers in a room.  This includes homes priced over $6 million.  This said, do less than 1% buy sound systems.  I also see TV's and not a single TV has surround speakers.  How could anyone watch TV and especially movies through TV speakers?  I think sound is about 80% of the movie experience.  I wonder if people are allergic to music or are too cheap to buy a system.  We used to walk past our living room, the museum, and decided to turn it into a music room. We now use it to listen to music and to entertain people.  What truly amazes me is to see a listing selling for $2 million without a single speaker throughout the home.  No wonder why this hobby struggles.

Larry 5279 most of the audiophile who spend big money on audio, either they are single. Married but not joint account with wife? Or the wife is just plain supportive like MikeLavigne wife who buys Speakers Cables lifter for Him.Go check his nice expensive system? On reviewers my favorite is Robert Harley on the expensive side then Sam Telling, Herb Reichert and Teajay at times. I do trust their reviews.

Advertisers  especially big companies do get preferential treatment but it does not affect the reviews.

@larryincmh I almost wonder if your explanation makes it worse. If a reviewer will not actually review a poorly performing piece of equipment (and advises manufacturer accordingly), their product remains on the market with excruciatingly detailed spin and rationale for why it’s a marvel of audio nirvana. 

We unsuspecting audiophiles without brick and mortar access buy the product without the benefit of an unbiased review and are left to deal with the headaches. We would be better served if every “commercially released” product is honestly reviewed…even if it is junk. Withholding that info serves no one…except the producer of said junk. 

When I was a kid in High School, the cool kids were mostly concerned about being seen and who they were seen with.  The rest of us obsessed about our cars and car radios dreaming about what we would buy if we had money.  Now move forward 20-30 years.  What has changed?  The cool kids have made their millions and are still focused on being seen and who they are seen with.  The rest of us try to fulfill our dreams of having killer stereos and cars.  Same as it ever was...

@chocaholic I would agree that your assessment is valid. I might not have thought about it exactly that way before. I know for me personally when I’m looking at any piece of equipment or gear I spend a lot of time in the real world user forums like this one to see what people have to say about things. If there’s a review I simply use it as one tool and not the end-all. Of course that’s just me.

what pisses me off is the insensitivity of these reviews. parttimeaudiophile called an 8K component vs a 12K component affordable the other day.

Car reviews are way more mindful of this cost, they don't ever call a 100K car (the equivalent of an 8K component) affordable. They call it luxury. That's what it is. People who can afford a component in the 10K range are really wealthy, in the 5% or are single or have extraordinary wives.  

I recall a negative comment about one of musical fidelity’s x can tube buffer as distortion and a Cary set integrated derided as a tone control in stereophile 

and for the subject, why would any professional reviewer say anything bad about an item the manufacturer lent them? I have read car reviews for three decades now. The way to find out the truth about the car is not when it comes out and gets 5 star reviews but 2 years later when they put it in a 4 car comparison review (one HAS to be 4th) and they write the truth about 3, except the one that just came out (and was lent to them for a round of reviews).  

Maybe, maybe there will be 2 models, to be the exception to this that they will never criticize. 

Back in 1992 Cory Green Greenberg for Stereophile Mag wrote a rather negative review of the Scientific Fidelity Tesla Speaker that some audiophiles claim put SF out of business.

DO you think a person who is both eyes blind can see the difference between yellow color and orange color?

We, all human being, as aged (ca. 55 years or older), are suppose to lose hearing ability, especially high frequency such as 4kHz or higher. 

One professional audio reviewer (about 60 years old) says Amp A is more open at the extreme audio band while Amp B is less open. Can you trust what he says?

Just ridiculous. Please, let's neither believe nor trust him!

I would like to rather believe a blind person's description about nice sky color.



....without taking the time to 'edit' and add audioexotica v. the screen....all the elder listeners are subject to this to varied degrees.  Not mentioning 'selective listening' (ask your spouse/SO....and get another sort of earfull...;) *L*)

I also receive a number of real estate listing from Red Fin every day to find out what homes are selling for in my area.  I have yet to see a single home with a pair of floor standing speakers in a room.  This includes homes priced over $6 million.  This said, do less than 1% buy sound systems.  I also see TV's and not a single TV has surround speakers.

@larry5729, it's impossible to make any judgement based on real estate sales photos, because the property is often professionally staged for sale. That means emptying the house, doing cosmetic things like cleaning, painting and new window shades, and bringing in nice, clean furniture for show (and the sellers have already moved out). Staging with floor standers and surround isn't going to help sell the property.

That said, there is nobody in my personal life (co-workers, friends, neighbors, extended family) with a nice audio or surround setup. I would say that less than 0.1% care enough to spend money on it.

@mspot @larry5729 

I was giving it a thought, and I saw many non-staged open houses. Never saw a decent system. Your have a point though that staged setups don't include a sound system. Opportunity for dealers maybe to team up with realtors and market their systems?



Not real surprising that audio anything doesn't appear in RE listings of any sort, unless it's a particularly lux 'media room' in a 'smallish' hi-$ listing.  And, even then, the focus is on the space itself.  The electronics are generally hidden away...

The focus is on the home and grounds, the main interest of a potential buyer.  The majority could give a fluck about audio anything as a rule.  Anytime I've seen anything of the sort is when the home is owned by one that's involved in 'media' in  some fashion in a trade 'zine or online splash of what they employ in what they  do.  Most of these are 'purpose built' for the 'job at hand', and consist of that which SAF is nil.

It has been noted and even stated that even musicians don't dabble with the likes of which many here enjoy.  Perhaps they're too involved in creation v. 'discerning involvement'....not concerned if one can hear the nuances of fine details that 99.9% wouldn't notice, even if pointed out to them...

Perhaps I'm being a bit snide tonight, but....any and all can ignore this, and carry on.  

It's more or less left up to our sort to impress or distress each other.  Mine would likely fall into the latter round file for most which frankly doesn't really bother me.

Until you actually were Here physically, you've no clue, and no right to opin otherwise.

And I grant you the same. *S* ;)

Cheers 'n jeers, J


More FYI

In the March 2023 Stereophile the Zesto Bia 200 Select tube amp is reviewed. It gets a very nice review but in the Measurements conclusion John Atkinson says:

"I was disappointed by the Zesto Bia 200 Select’s measured performance."

He then goes on to enumerate the measurements that caused his disappointment and ends with:

"...the very high source impedances at all three output transformer taps means this amplifier will sound different with every loudspeaker it is used with."

The manufacturer says that the bad measurements are the result of well used power tubes and will not affect the sound quality of the amp, a statement which Ken Micallef’s positive review supports.

So again, take the review and measurements for whatever you think they’re worth, but here’s another instance where negative things were said about a product under review when the manufacturer had advertised in that same issue of the magazine. Zesto had a half page ad for the Bia 200 Select amp in this issue of Stereophile..