Unusual TAS bomb

Something you don't see too often in this month's issue of TAS - a truly bad component review, of an Audio Research piece none-the-less. Alan Taffell reviewing the the DAC8 said "Overall the DAC 8 is simply not as involving, musically informative, or relaxing as it must be to compete at its price point" and that might have been the most polite thing he said about it. I've gotten so used to reading fawning reviews I almost didn't think they had it in them to really pan a piece of gear.
What happened? Did Audio Research cut back on advertising? Or maybe Audio Research didn't offer the DAC 8 as a gift. Seriously, I feel sorry for anybody who thinks these reviews have more value than just pure entertainment.
Uh oh.

Somebody didn't pay the piper.

Good for them.
There is an art to reading audio reviews. Anything that is not an enthusiastic comment is bad. I've read a couple. It is pretty obvious when the guy says at this price point I would consider this or that unit. That is different from reviewing this component was transformational, and made me rethink what is possible at this price point.
Surely you guys aren't suggesting that TAS is unscrupulous.
From what I gather the same issue has s stellar review of the PS audio perfectwave MKII DAC. To my knowledge PS audio never spend a penny on advertising in TAS. May be the guy just did not like the DAC8 and that is all there is to it.
Good point Edorr, it could just be that simple.
Well, it gives Audio Research a reason to go build DAC8mk2
I like to read the reviews. When they do tell you about the equipment's flaws, it's usually even worse in your own system. So they do save me time and money occasionally. But, when they tell you it sounds fantastic, don't believe it until you've heard it yourself.
I found the review interesting. But having owned a DAC8 for the past year didn't agree with there findings. I listened to every DAC I could find including some astronomically priced ones, most at home and went with the DAC8 by a long shot. Musical and analog like would be it's biggest improvements over the other's. I belong to an audio club, so many pairs of good ears have heard the DAC8, it is loved by all that hear it. I guess TAS makes mistakes too.
Or maybe it really *IS* all about synergy.
We'll probably find out that the unit had a bad cap or tube or whatever and the new unit will undoubtedly be spectacular.
Chayro, I was thinking the same thing while I was reading. The reviewer suspected that, returned it for repair, and found no difference in the returned one!
How many of you remember when TAS was small, put original artwork on the cover, contained long form pieces on music, culture, audio engineering and the pursuit of high fidelity sound and contained a very low ratio of ads to enlightened text? They also had a steadfast rule that prohibited reproducing review excerpts in ad copy--which they refused to compromise. The same was (nearly) true of Stereophile back in the 80's. I'm always (sadly) reminded of these bygone days when the latest TAS or Stereophile shows up in my mailbox. I look at the latest cover and get a little misty over where this whole thing has gone. It is sad to think that there are new (younger) audiophiles who have no knowledge of the past when these mags were fun and interesting to read and provided solid (though of course subjective) guidance for those of us who were into audio. What is really sad is that the folks at TAS and Stereophile seem to not remember their past and pretent as though they are still offering something more than a glossy rag with sexy pictures that caters to high end manufacturers rather than passionate consumers.
Yep, I remember. I was a senior in high school when I bought my first TAS subscription, starting with the double issue 21/22, quite a big deal back then. I kept up the scrip for maybe 10 years before abandoning. The trend had already started.
Yes, all those small format TAS were great. i remember reading them all at the local library.
And where is HP lately in TAS?
Most the reviews now are not much more than advertorials. Sometimes you get a good one.

I too loved TAS back in the day. But a negative review back then could practically kill a small manufacturer.
I think, TAS made a mistake, they hired a reviewer who is not deaf and was able to identify a pencil after the first try. I am sure, this mistake will be corrected soon...
I think Rrog nailed it. Reviews have become so homgenized in the listening and sound sections of the review to be almost pointless.
Well, in an at least modest defense of the TAS writers.... I write record reviews for All About Jazz, and believe me, by the time you've done fifty of them its really easy to run out of adjectives. It's hard *not* to be formulaic.
Does anyone here honestly think that Audio Research would put out a new piece of equipment one level from the previous piece if they didn't feel that it was superior? People that owned the DAC 7 would do a direct comparison with the DAC 8 before buying and hear for themselves. I would think that AR would have a few DAC 7 units around to A/B compare with the DAC 8. I read the review and even listened to a DAC 8 and I have to tell you, it sounded wonderful to me. At the Store (Stereo Design in San Diego), we A/B'd it against an older Mark Levinson CD/DAC combination, so the comparison wasn't exactly fair, but I was deciding on whether to buy the older Levinson unit and wanted to hear it against the new DAC 8. The DAC 8 was warm and open to me. I think something else is going on with the reviewer. That review was entirely too negative and having heard the unit and knowing the quality of Audio Research products, I would not trust that review and go listen for myself.
To be fair you see this kind of writing in other hobbys. I like cars like many others it is a rare day indeed when a car that isn't a family sedan gets a mild panning. Otherwise everything is pretty positive some writer will alude to a somewhat better function in the competion but saying a car completely sucks is out of the question. Lets also be real the mags depend on adverstizing and if I were a company exec I wouldn't appreciate serious criticism, and if it persisted would stop advertizing. Some measure of reality must be injected into the discussion. As a hobby we don't really have disinterested reviewers, after all the reviewer is usually an owner and might try to justify the purchase of whatever it is he is reviewing. Not always but fairly consistantly.
Audio Research, they simply needed a segue to the DAC 9 Reference Special Edition.

Bashing the audio press is silly. I don't listen with my eyes so they can say whatever they need to say. For $12 a year the periodicals are great fun.
I'll start by saying I'm not a fan of TAS reviews. Not only do they frequently not compare the piece under review to anything else -- which I almost always find to be the most helpful section of any review -- but in the associated equipment area they list every piece of equipment in their system EXCEPT the corresponding component in their system. This strikes me as not only irresponsible but downright cowardly.

That said, at least in this review the writer bothered to compare the DAC 8 to something else, even if it was just a previous version of this DAC. He also took the time to take the DAC to another system to see if it might be a system synergy problem and also had ARC check the unit to see if it was up to spec. So I'm left with giving the guy credit that he was honestly conveying what he heard, and right or wrong it's at least out there for people to keep in mind when they audition the piece. I can't believe I'm sort of defending a TAS review. Ick.

Anyway, the reason there aren't many negative reviews out there is that stuff has gotten so good overall you rarely find a piece that really just doesn't at least pretty decent in many respects. So you're left with relative differences and individual positives/negatives (hence my comment above on the importance of product comparisons) that can be preference and system based. I've had lots of stuff in my system, and through it all there have only been two pieces that if I were writing a review it would be truly negative. On top of that, publications tend to pick equipment that comes from the better manufacturers who tend to know what the hell they're doing or that already has a positive buzz around it in the public domain, which further cuts down the potential to review one of the true dogs on the market.

So while I may have my doubts about the reviewer's findings, I do believe he was honestly conveying what he heard and if I were going to audition a DAC 8 I would appreciate having them as part of my frame of reference as something to at least watch out for. Ick. Now I need to go take a shower.
I still can't fathom the writer finding it unmusical, as I said above I listened to every available DAC at the time ( most at home ) and found the DAC 8 the best by far and the most musical. I found it less warm than the tube DAC7, but less colored and more natural, more like analog. Mine is hear to stay, err , did someone say something about a DAC9 Ref ?
Just to clarify:
Dac7 is NOT a tube DAC!
The TAS review is the opinion of just ONE person, and is no more credible than anyone ONE else who also listens to the DAC8. Not everyone likes the same thing. That's why when you go to the ice cream shop, they offer more than just vanilla. The thing to understand is if anyone auditions any piece of audio gear and likes it, it is good regardless of the opnion of a reviewer.

As an example, perhaps a dozen years ago, maybe more, I had the chance to listen to a very costly tubed Pre-amp that had gotten glowing reviews- TAS, Stereophile, et al. I listened to the Pre amp and for the life of me didn't understand why, despite it's 5 figure price, it was considered awesome. I found it noisy, somewhat phasey, and ridiculously expensive. But mine was my opinion and I am sure many found the Pre amp to be extraordinary. I strongly preferred a Pre amp made by the same company that was far less expensive
At first I was skeptical, too, of the reviewer's conclusions. However, as an owner of a DAC7, I can attest that the reviewer's description of the DAC7's sonic qualities is spot-on. Therefore if he can get the DAC7 right, then the reviewer is at least capable of getting the DAC8 right. Not saying he is right, because I haven't heard the DAC8, but I believe there is enough evidence not to discredit his opinion altogether.
I heard he is now unemployed.
If he got fired for writing an unfavorable review then I have even less respect for that magazine than before. I guess they should fire the editor too since he had it printed. Then they can hire some marketing people from ARC to write reviews and it will all be better.
Good for them. We should have more of these reviews. Most are not much more of propaganda material.
It makes no sense that he was fired for writing that unfavorable review. A negative review such as that would never have been published without crossing the desk of the editor-in-chief, Robert Harley, or at the very least, the desk of the executive editor, Jonathan Valin. One of those guys had to have read, discussed and approved that review before it went to print. Even Audio Research had an opportunity to see the review before it went to print, as evidenced by their response on page 152. Unless there was someone higher than Harley (such as ownership) who saw the review for the very first time only after it was published, and and decided he'd have the reviewer's head. But then again, as Sarcher said, Harley should have been fired too.
Any publicity is good publicity, goes the old show-biz maxim.
Sarcher30 and Nicotico:

I could be wrong, but I think Rok2id's comment was intended to be humorous.


I agree with pretty much everything you said, but one factual correction. The reviewer also preferred the Bryston BDA-1, which he said was on a par with ARC DAC7.
I doubt he got fired for a bad review , more likely bad ears.
Agree with Dougmc that Roc2id's comment was just intended as a pretty funny joke. Also point taken about the BDA-1. Although it was just a sentence or so it's amazing a TAS writer would not refer to just one but two other competitive products. Shocking. Can't imagine how much more effort the poor guy had to put in just to write that extra sentence. Oh the pain.
I agree it is just hear say. Yes Roc2id could have been joking. Sometimes it's hard to tell if someone is joking on the internet unless they use emoticons. I did not really take the comment seriously. I should have stressed the "if" he had been fired in my comment. I did not intend to lend any credibility to Roc2id's comment.
The value of that review was that it woke people up, although I'm not sure it was intentional. I also doubt that ARC would sell the DAC8 if it wasn't damn good, but starting from the rebuttal ARC posted to the avalanche of mail this must have generated, it is fun to watch the spectacle.