Recommended components on Stereophile Magazine.

1/ I'm gathering thoughts, if you read Stereophile's recommended components pages, would you buy a "class-A" comnopnent for $3K or spend $8K for a "class-B" ?

2/ Do you fully trust Stereophile's recommendation?

3/Just to be safe, I think I would go with their rec. "class-A" unit for $3K.
No disrespect to the venerable folk at Stereophile, but I find it difficult to believe that as a commercial enterprise their reviews are not influenced, subconsciously or otherwise, by demands of the advertisers--rational human beings simply wouldn't slam a product produced by a big advertiser even if, in objective terms, the product is substandard. Then, too, audio review is scarcely an exact science, and reviewers bring their own subjective biases and conceits to the table. I've previously been burned by buying stuff off their recommended list (JBL S38 speakers come to mind), only to find it deficient. All that said, like most of the yobs on this site I read reviews and recommended lists compulsively, and I find them useful for introducting me to products and giving me information to make a more informed choice. Ultimately, however I believe one is better served by trusting your own ears than by slavishly following the picks of some "expert".
Hi Nasa - this should be an interesting thread. Let me start first with - I think all of the reviewers try and do a good, unbiased job in reviewing equipment. Problem is - with the exception of Fremer and Dudley, the rest of the reviewers are very inconsistent with the sort of sound that they like. Couple that with trying to review components that are integrated into a system whose components are not all that familiar to most readers, with cables that are not all that familiar to most readers, and in a room( and with AC) that is not at all familiar with any of the readers and you start to get the idea that this IS a tough job. They do the very best that they can.
Now they get together twice a year and "vote" on components reviewed by other reviewers and rank them based on the other reviewers ratings. With all of that in mind, the component that "they" might rank as Class B might really perform better than other Class A rated components in some systems ( with other rooms, power, cables, and associated equipment - not to mention EARS). Would I buy a piece of equipment based on their ratings alone - NO. Is there often a really blurred line between a Class A rating and a Class B rating - absolutely. Trust your ears, your room, your system, and the type of music you listen to in order to determine the sonic merits of a piece of equipment ( or cable, etc). Use Stereophile's ratings for what they are intended to do - making up a short list for components that you might want to audition when you are considering an upgrade. Just my $0.02
Remember that there is a wide variation in sound, you should try to determine what kind of sound you like and look for components that give you that. A 5 watt tube SET might be the finest amp in the world but will not work with the big Wilson's. A system should be an integrated whole and one from column a and one from column b is not the way to assemble it.
I really like S'phile but take the RCL with a large dose of salt. Firstly, you've got rankings by committee. No one person has heard everything, cetainly not under the same conditions. One reviewer's class B could be better than another reviewer's class A. Secondly, even if one person did the whole list, it would be next to impossible to directly compare all components. How could that person ever be certain of all rankings? Thirdly, S'phile's own definition of Class A is the "best" sound possible. Shouldn't that mean only one component could occupy that slot? I agree with Jwp: "Use Stereophile's ratings for what they are intended to do - making up a short list for components that you might want to audition". The RCL should be used as a tool to narrow your search but the final pick should be left to your ears - and wallet!
Advertising dollars determines which units get evaluated.
I have noticed the same old brands always getting reviewed.

This could be because it could be the kiss of death if a small manufacturer submits his lifes work for a review and it is not reviewed favorably.
Saying that however, I cant recall when was there was a really negative review in Stereophile???

Take the Stereophile list as a starting point. Read Audiogon and see what actual users think of the products!
I can't imagine buying anything but the $3K class A in your example over the 8K class B. They sometimes put quirky products in their listings, but they usually mark them as such. An $8K horn system that Dudley likes comes to mind. But if you only have one shot at one system,, get the class A.
In my opinion if they say something has a slight flaw,it
may be a lot more than that. It does help to find those flaws when your not listening to it at home on your system. That helps when buying a non returnable item.They have a tendency to like a lot of products I wouldn't recommend to any tone deaf friend. The reviewers disagree with each other too.I use them to help pick out some of the flaws first.But I'm definitely at the point if they give it a top recommendation,it may turn out to be a class C or D component in my opinion.I've herd components at a fraction of their top recommend components price outclass them in every way. That's my 2ยข.
There was a time, long ago, when Stereophile's short RC's was a fairly reliable guide. Then they went corporate. IMHO, now it's close to useless, if not worse.
1) I'd probably buy the $3K Class A rated component.

2) Absolutely NOT!!!!

3) See 1).

1/ no & no

2/ no

3/ no

Stereophile's attempt at impartiality is demonstrated each and every time by John Atkinson vs whatever reviewer has their thesaurus out that week. After their component reviews filled with superlatives (that sometimes resemble a wine review), Atkinson closes the review with his measurement numbers and often finishes with something like this, "I don't know what reviewer X was hearing, but.."
Reading Stereophile isn't convincing. Nothing except crappy success stories from the reviewers without any scientific facts.
3)no again
Stereophile's recommended components pages are very interesting to read but I would never purchase any of the recommended products unless I heard it in my system. Their reviewers make for interesting reading but it is my system, my money and my judgement that counts in purchasing a product. I use Stereophile to help alert me to whats new and maybe what I should listen to. In many cases, I find that the recommended components pages are confusing and it is hard to really pick out the ones that might sound good in my system.
I've kind of come around to giving Stereophile a little more credence than I used to. If you go over to audioasylum critics corner, he answers these kinds of threads regularly and with great aplomb. Also John Marks and others post there. I think they work with integrity. John answers just about every complaint someone comes up with. One favorite is heavy advertisers get better reviews or won't get a bad review. I respect they way he and John reply to questions there. Check it out.
09-01-09: Ozzy
...This could be because it could be the kiss of death if a small manufacturer submits his lifes work for a review and it is not reviewed favorably.
Saying that however, I cant recall when was there was a really negative review in Stereophile???
There used to be negative reviews fairly often when J. Gordon Holt was doing most of the reviewing. But you also have to remember that in the '60s when Stereophile started, there weren't many high end products and a significant percentage of them *were* awful. It's also why they reviewed startups pretty frequently. The readership was desperate for something new and better.

These days there are so many good products it seems pointless to single out the few bad ones and trash them. Every audio magazine I know of, whether in print or online, can't get around to 1/10 the *good* products they know of.

Stereophile requires new vendors to have at least five or six retail outlets in the US to get reviewed, or a well-established mail order business with reasonable trial and return policies, for them to review the product. This helps to avoid becoming the free beta tester and advertiser for startups.

That said, they obviously have their prejudices. They shy away from mass-produced items regardless of how good, in favor of the "audiophile approved" industries. They did give a glowing review of the Onkyo A-9555 integrated amp, but I think the product is better yet than they let on, and it seems that every subsequent ratings issue has backpedaled a bit. Same goes for TAS, who also gave it a favorable review. You'll never see Stereophile or TAS review a Denon Dl-160, Audio Technica AT150MLX, or even a Denon DL-S1 (at about $1K) cartridge.

Another thing I've noticed is that some of the reviewers are so accustomed to their high 5- and 6-figure systems, they're uniformly surprised with--and overrate the quality of--entry-level equipment. I feel that Michael Fremer did this on the Bellari VP-129 phono stage and Outlaw RR-2150 stereo receiver.

The Bellari is $249 and wound up as a class B phono stage among all the $1500 units, yet it is extremely limited in application given its low gain (29 dB). The RR2150 wound up in class C with the Onkyo A-9555 and many of the excellent British integrateds. I owned a 2150 and eventually returned it. I have an Onkyo A-9555, previously had a 50 wpc Musical Fidelity integrated, and have helped friends put together systems that used Cambridge and Creek integrated amps. No way is the Outlaw anywhere near as good as the other Class C integrated amps it's lumped with. The measurements section even shows how mediocre its noise level is, and how slow it is, compromising treble response and overall clarity.
Trust your own ears only. Use Stereophile or any other magazine for that matter for referance only. Not all equipment get along or sound good togeather no matter the class.
I stopped reading any audio catalog or magazined a long time ago, and that payed off in audio diamonds.

Even if their rankings are accurate, and I'm not necessarily saying they are, how about all the excellent components that didn't get reviewed and don't even show up on their radar?

I guess what I'm saying is that there's a whole world out there that isn't showing up in Stereophile and many of these products may be worth consideration.

The Stereophile recommended list includes only a small percentage of products available. Stereophile may be worth a glance from time to time but you've got to keep this in mind when wearing out its pages.
No, no and no again. You can find gear from smaller companies that will never be reviewed in Sphile. Gear that simply far exceeds much of the stuff in class A for mega $$$.

Sure, the class A stuff is fine sounding and some of it great, but you can do as good and even better for far less money. I have owned quite a few units making class a and through much experience have learned one can do better and pay less.

System matching is so very important as the system works as - a system. Each part blending with the others producing sound that is greater then the individual parts or perhaps less if poorly matched.
All the blah blah blah about class A this and class AB that that, and so very few of us who worry about such things have little more than the most rudimentary grasp of why it even matters. Those who say, "trust your ears" are on to something.
For those who care about such things as class A beyond ego inflation - jump over to Randall's site and read his piece titled "The Last Word on Class A" - although in reality we all know it'll never be the last word, but you'll pick up knowledge you'll not get reading Stereophile.
I think that, Stereophile and The Absolute Sound Recommended Components are a great starting point, but not an end-point.

If you look through those components you will be able to narrow your search down greatly as to what you're looking for, then you can compare those components to other online review sites, as well as right here at Audiogon.

Then when you get your list down to about 3-4 components that you're considering purchasing, the next thing you must do is to go and listen for yourself.

The RCL is just a ranking according to taste of stuff they've been able to review in the previous few years. It's a very skewed list. As John Atkinson might put it, I remain puzzled by the rankings and the many omissions.

You also need to pay attention to who did the original review, as your taste and priorities may be very different.

In any case, do not take the rankings literally. I have to make a conscious effort not to do so. Perhaps it's hard for some of us *not* to take rankings like this seriously, at least subconsciously, after so many years of indoctrination with ABCDF grading in school.

I like the TAS "the best" issues a little better, as they don't encourage thinking in terms of ranks like this. But they have another problem: they list by price. While this makes it easier to choose by budget, it enforces the idea that pricier is always better.
Stereophile is a good starting point but you need to then use your own ears and decide. Audition, audition, audition! I used to travel 1 1/2 hours plus to audition gear, or buy it here used and then flip it if I didn't like it.

Enjoy the ride! It can be alot of fun if you let it...don't get caught up in the search for perfect sound, find what you like and keep it!


1) Given only those two options, I'd buy the $3K Class A component.

2) Yes, however I believe what some people fail to understand is that Stereophile
recommends components they believe to offer the best performance, but the
recommendations include *many* flavors, and Stereophile does not do a
particularly good job of describing the different flavors.

Also, Stereophile does not review components from many small companies.
Therefore, a good percentage of possibilities are not mentioned in the

This is why one should use other resources in addition to Stereophile.

3) IMO, this is not a safe bet for the reasons given in #2 above.
Stereophile is not a bible. You are not supposed to religiously believe what it says.

It is a very good source of information nontheless. The measurement section is priceless.

Reviewing audio equipment *is* like reviewing fine wine. Everyone has different taste.
For many reasons, including some previously listed in this thread, the Stereophile Recommended Components List has become obsolete.

A definite pattern I see is that many of the participants in the audio discussion forums seem to have more involved systems than many of the reviewers, and more evolved/refined tastes as well. Beyond that, one of the dirty little secrets of this business is that negative reviewers are persona non grata, not only to the manufacturers, but also the publications and websites. Why would I put any more stock in these reviewers than I would someone participating in the threads?

One of my biggest issues is that there seems to be a lot of "slotting" of components, and by that, I mean, rating a component based more on its pricetag than anything else. "OK, this amp sounds very good, but it's $1250, Class C." There are definite exceptions to this rule, but I think it holds up far more often than not.

Beyond all of this, I've always had a problem with the Class A+ rating. Given that Class A is supposed to be the best attainable sound, how can something exceed that? Rather than demote or reclass products when some component comes down the pike to warrant it (no doubt JGH faced this many times), they decided to create an entirely new class. A lot like the grade inflation that has entered into the world of education.
I'll probably echo things that have already been said here. Music, sound, the "accurate" reproduction thereof in ones home, or perhaps more to the point the "enjoyment" of the reproduction thereof in ones home, is entirely subjective. You might prefer a system that I would not choose myself. We are not machines that respond to graphs and plots and sine waves in a consistent and predictable manner from person to person. That said, like any input / opinions you read or hear on this subject, take them as a point of departure, with a grain of salt, as just one more bit of information to make your own choices, but most certainly do not take any as the last word on the subject. The only opinion that should count in the end is your own. A system is the sum of all the links in it, and stereo systems are highly dependent upon synergy between each of those many links. It is not only impossible for a reviewer to test all possible combinations with any given component, but what they do actually test and comment on, given what is available to them as a system, represents a very tiny, and I do mean tiny, fraction of what is possible for the component being reviewed. As has already been stated, there are a huge number of components and manufacturers that are, for whatever reasons, not reviewed in Stereophile, and that is most certainly not a reflection on their worthiness for your consideration. I could go on. I would no more let someone else choose the gear that I use in my system than I would let them select the music that I use it to listen to.
As further clarification of my previous posts, I'd like to add two comments.

1) I do not fully trust Stereophile's recommendations. In my 20+ years as a subscriber, I've found their recommendations to be hit or miss, just like anyone else's opinions.

2) I will say that after buying and selling on AudiogoN for about 9 years, Stereophile's recommendations DO carry a lot of weight on re-sale prices. I'm not saying this is a right or wrong, it's just a fact that I've noticed.
To me it says that many folks let Steophile make buying decisions for them.
The best part is when I hear something that I like, and Stereophile gives it a bad review. This usually means I'll get what I want at a great discount price.

The last few reviews I have read were of the same basic tone. They liked it. They really, really liked it.

That made me turn away and not renew my subscription. That, and the fact they are, or close to bankrupcy.
These Recomended Componet Lists only help one rationalize and feel good about their purchase of some pretty expensive equipment. The difference between bad good and great equipment is usually easily apparent, it's sorting out that last category where people trip. This hobby is unique in that we make our comparisons and judgement of equipment and systems through articles and reviews, often our ears have little to do with making choices. It's not like we can take our rigs out and compete or see how they measure up to one another. Most comparison is done on paper. Many AGoner's have friends with systems or belong to clubs, but many I assume are pursuing this hobby in isolation with only a few dealers and publications to consult. So much of the stuff pushed on us is hype and even the cult of personality is a marketing tool. Oh well! What I really miss is the Audio Magizine Annual Equipment Directory.
No components get reviewed that are not 'loaned' to the reviewers. Thus many items never get a review because of the maker's policy about sending out review samples. Thus one company gets several reviews.. and many others never get any review because of the 'no loaner' policy.
As for classes, I look at the guide, read the original review if I am interested. I buy what I buy.. Who cares about defending why I made my choice? Beyond that, it is my stuff in my system, and I give a rats-a$$ about other folks opinion.
I used to have a Sterophile subscription and eagerly digested the Recomended Components issues. I'm not a suspicious type, but..

I did a little test - take the preceeding 3 issues, open to the 'Advertisers Index' in each and then look at the Recomended components list. Uncanny similarity between being an advertiser and on the recomended list. This doesn't mean the RC list is useless, just that majority of advertisers products get reviewed. How many Von Schweikert speakers have made the list? Supratek preamps? etc etc.
Be sure to make a note that it's Stereophile Recommended when selling your gear.
Bravo, Marco! Best post of the year, in my opinion.

For a long time, I've railed against the objectivist argument that audio must somehow be quantified. You just put things in far better terms than I am able.

No one tries to measure and assign a set of numbers that serve as the be all and end all to things like upscale jewelry, ice cream, or handbags. So, why do we continually fight this battle in regards to high-end audio components?
Bravo, Marco! Best post of the year, in my opinion.

Thanks, Joe!

I think it's human nature to need to make everything fit into some kind of black and white, better worse, Class A and everything else, us and them scenario. And boy do we love to have our opinions validated by others (except for Elizabeth, of course :-).

No one tries to measure and assign a set of numbers that serve as the be all and end all to things like upscale jewelry, ice cream, or handbags. So, why do we continually fight this battle in regards to high-end audio components?

I think there's the camp ("camp them") that believes that there is some kind of objective "truth" that should not be soiled by our nasty components lest we live under the delusion that we are actually listening to "real" music. They can be spotted chanting ritualistic verse about the sound engineer's intent, reproduction of square waves, and worshiping various authorities who know better than the average bear what music really sounds like. I'm pretty sure if someone came up with some machine that assigned numbers that they claimed quantified the quality of the taste of ice cream there would be a large contingent of people that actually bought into that and purchased only the ice cream that rated the best. It's sad that so many are willing to let others form an opinion that they adopt as their own based upon some kind of popularity agenda.

I ask myself should I put my finger to the left, no
I ask myself should I put my finger to the right, no
I say it really doesn't matter where I put my finger
Someone else will come along and move it
And it's always been the same
It's just a complicated game
If you want to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear when there was a small magazine that took no ads, appeared a little late sometimes and was staffed by committed audiophiles check out HIFICRITIC. Reviews and articles by Martin Colloms, Paul Messenger, Malcolm Stewart, Ben Duncan,Chris Bryant, Stan Curtis and others. Long reviews and measurements that never appeared in the old Stereophile. An article in the current issue examines the work of Miland Kunchur, a physicist at the Univ. of South Carolina who is doing fascinating research on how we hear. He has found that 75% of listeners can detect differences as short an 6 millionths of a second, which seems impossible but is the result of experiment.
one thing to keep in mind with respect to the review world is what their drivers are. Im not an expert on stereo magazines or review sites but I do know quite alot on the motorcycle review world and I'm willing to bet they are very similar. In the motorcycle review world everyone thinks that advertising dollars drive the review. This is to say that Bike World or whatever looses money from ads if they print a bad review. The reality is that the ad revenue is a factor but the real leverage is access to test subjects, in this case motorcycles. Imagine is H****a were to withhold test bikes the review would be at a massive disadvantage. Wanna bet the stereo world has similar drivers? The vendors also know when their stuff is getting reviewed most likely so putting an ad in that magazine makes lots of sense.