I wouldn't listen to any of them to be honest.I would suggest using the Audiogon forums to get straight answers!
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I think that if you are looking for published advise (there are good reasons) you should find individual writters that seem to share your appreciations and prejudices. Most magazines have many writters with varied preferences and opinions. Further more, these writters seem to move from one magazine to another quite often these days. That said, there is no substitute to your own listening.
I agree with the above posts, from what I've seen (heard), most reviews depend heavily on personal preference and associated equipment. Even if a product gets unanimously good reviews it may not suit your taste, though this does help narrow down the list of components to audition.
I know you didn't ask for amp suggestions but I would add the Rega Mira to your list. I recently bought one have been very happy with it. I think a Mira is a little cheaper ($950 list) than the amps you have listed and would leave you more $$ for the rest of the system. Good luck!
I've found that in the old format Stereophile was more weight to carry than The Absolute Sound. However given The Absolute Sounds new format in the coming months it will be a toss up. The number of pages and paper thickness will most likely be the overall determining factor as to which will weigh the most when carrying them to the trash.
-for the entire history of audio, if the reveiwer's, dealer's or manufacturer's lips are moving, he's probably lying. *Almost* everyone says they make the best stuff in the world, but only one truly can be (else they are using an alternative meaning for the word 'best' I was previously unaware of...).
Audiophiles have grown very used to this. While you might pay attention to something because it got some press, the bottom line is you have to hear in your home to really know for sure.
Trust *your* ears, no-one else's!!
I really like What HiFi. Their hearing must be like mine because their descriptions match what I hear in stores. Unlike Stereophile which leaves me confused and feeling like I need to spend more money. For example, the latest buzz on M-F upsampling DAC which, thankfully, people on this site have pretty much exposed it for being a scam.
So why do I like What HiFI:
1) Direct comparison reviews eg. B&W 602's, Triangle Titus, KEF, Acoustic Energy, etc. Whereas Stereophile won't do comparison reviews and when they do compare will compare to older stuff like Mission (can't recall the model) or $1,000 Alon Circe. Not the latest and greatest.
2) Actually build systems like "The best L500 system".
3) They regularly bash stuff.
4) Recommended components in every issue.
5) People write in with their system and What Hifi suggest what to improve.
I do think they have some unfair biases towards Mission speakers and they play games like giving Marantz ST-17 five stars but conveniently ignore how good the ST-6000 is for 1/4 the price or less.
Also they only review relatively cheap stuff and U.S. mags review expensive stuff but maybe because people in US spend more. Should I say maybe Brit's are more savvy and aren't conned into wasting their money on imagined improvements?
So find a mag that matches your taste in music. Bottom line for me is What HiFi helps cure my audio nervosa while Stereophile gives me the disease.
In general I think mag reviews should be treated like stock analysts -- use them to get information and some indications, but do your own homework in making final decisions on what to buy. Even if a reviewer does a great job and is completely honest, they're only reporting from the context of their room and their system with their own biases and tastes mixed in, and your experience could be very different.
And I do think tastes vary across the pond just as they do in Japan. In Europe you'll find a lot of cement walls and in Japan you'll find lots of small rooms, and these types of things lead to certain preferences dictated somewhat by geographical/cultural differences. So the same rule applies -- try before you buy. In general I find the Brits prefer a warmer, richer sound with fuller mids and more laid-back highs(maybe due to those cement walls), which would somewhat explain their lukewarm response to the Creek that is more in the neutral camp. Likewise I find American speakers to be more lively and detailed, in general, than speakers from the U.K. Of course this varies significantly from model to model.
All that said, one thing that really bugs me is when a reviewer gives no context for the review by not including a comparison with other similar equipment. If he doesn't have any suitable competitor on hand he should get something or give the review to someone else who does. It is very hard for humans to make absolute decisions -- we are much better at relative decisions, so when a reviewer relates how one piece of equipment sounds relative to another it goes a long way toward helping us as readers figure out where a certain product fits in the audio spectrum. I won't read any publication that does not provide this context.
I also won't read reviews written by people who clearly haven't been "audiophiles" very long. You can tell by the limited way they describe the sonic characteristics of a product if they really have the breadth of knowledge and experience to back up what they say, and sometimes they'll write something that is flat out wrong. I can also sometimes tell by their "reference" system that someone may be a novice with no fear of spouting out crap. I see no value in these reviews and find that they can actually do more harm than good, and with emags becoming more prevalent I'm seeing more of this disturbing trend(although some of the emags I find quite good and in some ways prefer them to their print counterparts).
So for me I guess they all carry about the same weight in that I'll use them purely for information (exceptions above excluded) and that's it. Anyone who uses audio reviewers (or stock analysts) to make buying decisions deserves what they get.
As for your situation Matty, if I were buying an integrated I wouldn't buy it in a vacuum -- I'd at least find the speakers I was going to match them with to make sure there is good synergy there. Otherwise you may buy the amp and find later that the speakers you really like actually sound better with one of the other integrateds or require more power than your integrated can deliver, and that would be a shame. Best of luck.
Use all mags to draw up a shortlist, then audition as many as possible, in as similar conditions as possible, preferably using your speakers and CD player.
No mag. should be used as a blind (should that be deaf) purchase decision.
Also since amps and speakers must be matched a particular "great" amp might not work for you.
Personally I hate What HiFi ... I think they're paid off by some of the bigger names like Marantz. That said, they're product guide page is a good starter place to draw up a list.
Like a previous reviewer said US audio people spend soooo much money on gear it's hard to find out about reasonably priced stuff.
All audio rags should be read for enjoyment only. They're good for giving you an idea of the range of equipment out there, and some of the characteristics you might enjoy the most. If I was in the market for a new pair of nice speakers, I'd use the reviews to get down to a list of maybe 10-12 lines I'm interested in, but not to pare down the list any further. There are just too many variables, and as others have said, too often there isn't enough context given to really know how your own experience would match up. I find most of the rags enjoyable enough for the price of admission. -Kirk
I agree with what has been said above. The mags all have their perspectives and if you read them long enough you can kind of predict their review. Agon has great advice and there are lots of threads on integrated amps. But, to repeat the most important recommendation, don't let anything substitute for your own ears. Many times it is best to first select the speaker. However, if you want to buy the amp first, I suggest that you find the one you want and wait on the actual purchase until you find the speakers you want. This gives you some room for changing your mind, upgrading, etc. You may save yourself some hassel and money. Patience may pay back big time. Good luck.