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It’s Difficult To Read An Audiophile Guide As An Analogue Engineer

Nov 15, 2023

Sitting on a train leaving the Hackaday Berlin conference, and Hacker News pops up Julian Shapiro with a guide to HiFi. What Hackaday scribe wouldn't give it a click, to while away the endless kilometres of North European Plain!

It's very easy as an analogue electronic engineer, to become frustrated while reading audiophile tracts, after all they have a tendency to blur superficial engineering talk with pseudoscience. There's a rich vein of parody to be found in them, but nevertheless it's interesting to read them because just sometimes the writer gets it and doesn't descend into the world of make-believe.

This one is probably par for the course, we raised an eyebrow at the idea of comparing different speaker setups merely from sampled recordings, and rolled our eyes at the usual price-tag worship, but at least some of the acoustics stuff isn't from another planet. The stand-out quote that motivated its write-up here though is the following, where he addresses the relationship between the audiophile industry and the audiophile press:

Also, note that almost all hifi reviews are positive. This is because reviewers typically return products without review when they dislike it. They do this to maintain relationships with manufacturers and to give them another chance with new products in the future.

Perhaps unwittingly it reveals in a nutshell the problem with the audio reviews. He's dead right in that HiFi reviewers return positive assessments as a matter of course to maintain relationships with manufacturers, but omits the crucial point that they do so to maintain the hefty sums those manufacturers spend on advertising in their publications. We’d suggest that better reviews would come from a truly independent publication giving the only HiFi verdicts that matter, blind tests and measurements from a high-end audio analyser, but we suspect that the industry lacks the courage to do so. Until that happens, almost everything remains subjective, and coloured by advertising budgets.

Want the straight dope on audio? Read our Know Audio series.

JBL loudspeaker header image: JPRoche, CC BY-SA 3.0.