Mainly Stereophile and if the equipment is old enough Listener, a great magazine that unfortunately did not last.
After that probably the forums and discussions here. Over time it has given me a fair idea of what people like and or listen to or for. Who seems knowledgeable and where and who is more or less open to the fact that it is after all just their opinion.
Will search out the manufacturer to see who they say has reviewed their product. Then do a google search to see who else has, sometimes more come up, sometimes more is revealed. Also will go through about the first 30 or so hits and see which, if any are applicable to what is being sought. Sometimes it is just something new and different, sometimes it is the desire to find out more before making a decision.
Only after that do I head out and see about auditioning equipment. By that point there is a basis of opinion, not necessarily fact, that has resulted from people's and reviewer's experiences. Their rooms and equipment are varied enough that if they all end up saying about the same thing, then it probably is that piece of equipment. Then comes the question of is that the result I am looking for.
In a very subjective world of experience looking for objectivity is a fool's erand in my view. But if you get enough different people saying the same thing, that in and of itself may provide some objectivity
My first and foremost resources are my ears. If I've heard it, than I know what is best for me. When researching gear, I try to listen to my friend's systems, and go to the stereo shows, so I can audition gear myself. (I don't go to B&M stores, as I feel that is ethically wrong to use them for demo's, when I know that I will not be buying from them.)
Second, would be the opinions of my friends and online acquaintances, especially those whose sonic tastes are similar to my own. If they say they have heard a particular piece that I am interested in, and they liked it, then that gives me some more clues as to whether to pursue auditioning that piece myself.
Third, (and this is starting to get pretty far down my reliability list), are online forums such as Audiogon and Audio Asylum. While I don't trust everyone's views, I can usually get a decent feel for where they are coming from. I have found some good information from some of the members of both sites. (Usually I use these sites pretty early on in my research, in order to narrow the rather broad field of equipment.)
Fourth, would be the rock bottom of the resources that I use, which would be the print and online magazines and websites. HiFi+ used to be my favorite print magazine, (when Roy Gregory was there), followed by Stereophile and The Absolute Sound. Online magazines and websites such as 6moons, Positive Feedback, 10Audio, etc... Most of these people either get paid, or get freebies, or heavy discounts, for their reviews, so I really take their opinions with a large grain of salt!
My two cents worth anyway.
I research from many sources and look for patterns of positive comments. If you get several similar comments or observations from multiple sources, then there is a better chance that they are true.
Then I go out and listen to gear wherever and whenever I can.
I second Kurt Tank's response of yourself, friends, Audiogon, and magazines in that order.
I turn to everything from magazines to Audioreview and of course Audiogon. Still, there is no substitute for listening for yourself if possible. In my case it isn't always possible. I read many glowing reviews of the Pass Labs X250.5 for example, and it was not what I expected, and not at all suited to my perferences, even though it seemed from what I read that it would be. On the other hand, I bought Spendor speakers based on professional and consumer reviews, and they were pretty much what I had expected,and I was satisfied.
At the end of the day the ears will decide. But before one can do that, one has to know what is out there crying "buy me". Also, auditioning the object of desire is not always possible (take the example of the splendid SRA platforms that are model-specific and custom-made).
So, even when I'm not looking to buy something, I continuously gather information mostly from magazines and online publications to get as broad an overview as possible of various gear, this may include technical specs as well as listening reviews. That way one also gets a fairly good idea of the reviewer's tastes and biasses. I may therefore be more "forgiving" than many 'goners when it comes to reviews. I just keep in mind that: 1) phrases including the words "The Best ..." are plain balderdash; 2) the overwhelming majority of magazines will never review products of manufacturers that do not take out ads with them (there seem to be exceptions), so the overall picture can never be complete; 3) mostly, you've got to read carefully between the lines to spot critical tones (yes, there are exceptions as well). You asked which ones: on a more or less regular basis HiFi+, LP, Hifi&Records, 6moons, positive feedback, Haute Fidélité, Stereoplay, Image Hifi, Stereo (Germany), Stereo (US), Stereophile, hifi.nl, Music Emotion, High fidelity online, Enjoy the Music, I'm sure I forgot a few. Some of these are more convincing than others, but at this stage all are merely information.
Whenever possible, I try to check that information by listening extensively at fairs and shows, where I also look for opportunities to listen to and compare with gear that is not in the mags or on the web. When I am actually looking for something, I try to broaden the base by asking specific questions on Audiogon (no other forums for me, take that as a compliment everybody) and discussing matters with manufacturers and (only) such dealers that I know very well. Friends and other acquaintances? Sorry not a preferential source, as many of them turn out to be the most biassed of all.
Audio asylum is a good source for leads, this forum can be too but you've got to have a well developed Troll filter and remember that some criticism won't get posted on a sales website forum. Trusted peers are the best source for leads. After reading the 2 most popular US magazines for years and comparing their reports to personal experince, I have no faith whatsoever in either of them.
Thanks much. I do wonder though, just how many alike yet subjective accounts it takes to equate them with actual objectivity?
First hand demos or in home auditions arent always a path one can take, and it fuels my curiosity for this question. What if your interests or desires point to something outside your geographic or financial scope.
No local dealers, or friends that own it, and you can not or do not wish to prevail upon buying a chance audition by paying for it up front with the attached sometimes, 30 day trial period? This latter reality is especially true for the decidedly predisposed pre-owned buyer whose desires out reach their financial wherewithal.
One simply has to go in the bucket. Bust a move and hope.
Im about lessening the hope aspect of it all in this thread.
Personally, that reading between the lines biz is appropriate IMO. Very appropriate. So is seeing much commonalities in reviews and accounts across the web, here and elsewhere. Ferreting out info such as Just what do you voice your amps with or speakers with
? is simple enough and easy to find out. One needs but to ask. Sometimes it doesnt pay off though as the amps or speakers being used are filled with too much unobtainium or cant affordium. Ohso you use, Triangle Magellans? Avalon Idleons? Like them Levinson mono blocks huh? Sigfrieds? Hmmm.
To date, Ive come to this opinion on much of the audio realm
it has classes or divisions. Speaking in MSRP speak with regard to amps, there is the hotly contested under $3000 region, next comes the $4K to $5500, and then the one at and above $6K, most commonly. At $7K and skyward, I feel its more which different you prefer over which is better as Ive heard of no dogs in that arena. More or less the same goes for preamps.
Speakers fit into another class IMO and are significantly dependant upon upstream components and their own geography and surroundings.
Terms I look for or seek out arent the colorful ones, they are the more practical ones, like flexibility, satisfy, ease of integration, simplicity of use. Words like great and best Ive had mean little to me. Happy works way more than those other words. Affordable has some weight. So does a rave on the value of a piece, yet that also depends on my own needs for it.
I look for the broadest positive strokes rather than the narrower end user one off system accounts. As much as is possible.
And dont we all talk to each other and ask something like: So, whats that sound like to you? Or at least, What do you think? In the end within our talks to each other? ;-))
Ive only auditioned before hand, a couple of the things Ive bought so far and have been served pretty well. True too, Ive looked at some more upscale items generally speaking as well
but tried the popularity route too right up front. Ive found out there are a good number of people who have my ear also
more or less, and I utilize them often. Even some reviewers accounts coincide with my own, some of which post here now and then, some do not to the best of my knowledge.
Ive been interested in maybe doing a dedicated HT processor lately. I read a review which makes a very good point in Playback magazine wherein the Parasound and Marantz multi ch proc/receivers were compared as preamps to one another and to the reviewers other two reference preamps. One priced at about $4K and the other at way way more. AS preamps, all were considered from very good to surprisingly good. Or excellent.
I feel the fundamental problem is I tend to seek out a best or perfect match initially, but have continually found there is plenty of very good to excellent around. The path then to outstanding is lessend by my own perceptions therein. Bareing in mind some attendance to the fundamental prerequisites of mating certain components, ie., impedances, efficiency, and power needs. I personally dont see myself finding perfection in a less than perfect world.
As for reviews & reviewers per se, Ill have a look, read, and consider them, IF the context of the review is appropriate. It seems to me a review of thing which is attached to equipment that is as foreign to me as Pluto is, means little or nothing. Hmmm
. Sounds great within a $50K or $75K rig, huh? How about that! So what.
More light is shed by direct comparisons IMO. If a review is to be a review. While Im grunting about reviews, spending 5000 words on the types of capacitors or size of the voice coils is for me, a real waste of space. Especially if no exchange is made to the direct benefit of said items, to the end user. Likewise with notes made using obscure recordings, or entirely basing the review on orchestral or symphonic recordings. What if, dare I say it, you aint into Mendelssohn, Mozart or Beethoven? Its Just more well wasted space. 3rd movement of handles yada yada? Sheesshhh. Maybe I need a movement. To a more down to earth reviewer or review. No offense intended to those so inclined to the more classical ball game. Personally, I just cant relate to the majority of it.
The best currently is HIFICRITIC. In theory I agree with Kurt, in practice the last thing I bought on personal audition was a pair of Fisher XP 10 speakers in the early 60s. Even when I lived in Chicago and New York in the 60s and 70s and later in DC I can't remember hearing a demo at a dealers that impressed me. I hope things are better now. In the years I have spent as a dealer I bought on reviews and reputation of the company or after trying samples at home. I attended the Chicago show every year for over a decade but it was very hard to make judgements about sound as the rooms were generally difficult to work with. I did buy all 17 pairs that Monitor Audio brought over the first year they exhibited at Chicago but it was more because of the obvious build quality and the reputation of the designer than the sound at the show. There really is no subistute for having a product at home where you can listen long term and make adjustments in associated equipment. I have a considerable amount of experience and trust my ears and it still takes me a very long time to evaluate GOOD equipment. I purchased a pair of Mini Utopias last spring as a proxy for the development that had taken place during the 14 odd years that I had been inactive in high end and I still haven't decided how I feel about them compared to my long time references. I find the constant questions about which is the best --- at a certain price point to be equally amusing and horrifying. I am currently listening occasionally to the systems of five of my friends, they do not sound alike nor do they sound like mine. All are good but they were chosen to maximize the aspects the owner feels most important. All of us hear in a different manner and critical thing is to recognize this and try to become familiar with your own taste; the thing that drove me crazy as a dealer was trying to help someone with a system who was constantly changing from one component to another with a completely different sound. Krell and Audio Research are equivalent in quality but sound quite different. Just assembling a group of highly rated components is not the same as putting together a complementary system.
Somewhat like Mapman above, I look at everything I can, and look for patterns, especially negative comments. Equipment owners often speak glowingly about whatever it is they own, manufacturers print only good comments about their products, magazines of necessity hide behind the log; but it's the occasional negative comment which is often most meaningful. I personally think most pro reviewers are acting with as much integrity as they can, under the circumstances, and they can be entertaining and knowledgable, but their references, preferences and biases often render their perspective useless. You really have to drill down in the forums, sometimes, to find one or two comments that really tell you what you need to know. Here on Audiogon, there are truly knowledgable and helpful members, but it can take a while to identify which ones know what they are talking about, and what their biases are.
Thanks for the kind words. My answers to your questions and thoughts may not be THE ANSWER but they are mine.
How many does it take to get a feel that there is some objectivity? Depends to a degree on who is providing the review or opinion. There are some on Audiogon whose opinions have definitely earned my respect. Some like Art Dudley who when he likes a piece enough says he bought it or thought seriously about doing so. Get enough of these to more or less agree on a product and given their differences in music, musical emphasis, tube or transistor camp, etc., a view begins to emerge that says this is a good or not so good or crap or outstanding piece. A number really doesn't work 5+ maybe but if two or three that have gained my respect say the same thing then that could also sway me. Not trying to be wishy washy but it matters who says what and how much they have said and on what for me to consider their opinions worthy of more or less weight.
On home demos: when it was time for a better phono preamp went through six or eight in home demos. Found a number of wonderful dealers all over the US from Colorado west, I am in California, who were willing to send them out to me for two weeks to a month, shipping both ways on me, with no restock fee, and allow me to think about what I heard and what I didn't. As long as it got back to them ok, in the same shape they shipped it out there was never a problem. The one time one came up, was with Thor Audio, great company, had either a 30 or 60 watt tube amp, that would not bias, but played wonderful music. Paul sent out some new tubes, being a former electronic tech we were able to work through some things and finally decided it was the shippers fault and had no problem from there on out.
No doubt there are classes in buying, where the demarcations are will vary but agree entirely. With speakers it is more, at least to me, as to wheather someone wants more of a bass boast, midrange clarity, etc., and certain speakers play to those biases. that doesn't make them wrong just wrong for me.
Reviews depend heavily on have I read enough of this or that person to have a feeling for what they are saying or is it just a puff piece. With some, such as Johnathan Valin, Art Dudley, Michael Fremer, and others I have an idea based on reading their reviews over time and here and there actually having had the opportunity to listen to the product to decide for myself how near they came. So it is not the review nearly so much as the reviewer and where do we agree or disagree so that their faults(?) can be seen by me and adjusted for.
As for musical choices, Michael Fremer tends to emphasize rock, and jazz. Others do classical, do I know all the pieces, of course not, so what. Massed strings in an orchestra are massed strings. A trombone or horn is just that. It is either reproduced correctly or not.
Do not have a lot of upgrading that I have done, things tend to hang around a long time, but now and again things come my way and for me it is a no brainer. Like the time I was offered a Conrad-Johnson Premier 16 LSII for 30% of, a store demo, because the store was moving, so raided my IRA and never looked back, taxes be damned. When I hear something that says, get this, don't think twice, I do it, just am not particularly motivated just because something is heard. Inertia can be a great thing.
As always, enjoy the music.
I agree with that time factor
and limiting changes within the context of the system
save to gain better from the proposed piece.
I have found myself in agreement with Johnston, Dudley, Donnally, and a couple others given I have bought the item later on which they had previously written about. A few times. I also much prefer to hear the truth with regard to the previewed components return or continued lodging by way of things like Id sure like to have it or if the wife says
Rather than those seemingly predisposed done deals of This one isnt going back As the latter claims more to the improvement of the system and its needs perhaps, over that of the pieces virtues. Maybe its as Mike said.. A no brainer. Im good with those items too, yet tend more to the what does my rig need perhaps more so.
I would have loved nothing better than to do a pair of Pauls monos
biasing them however wasnt within my scope, as I found out later
and then there was Pauls exodus. Till the preamp dies or I do, Ill keep the TA 1000 MK II.
From what Ive heard at dealers over the past few years I have to agree with Stan, Ive not been bowled over but once, again, with a 100% Thor power train. Of TA1000 + PA 30s. So much for that. In home is indeed THE no brainer.
My aims usually adhere to the thread of likewise commentary, set against the personality of those who have said it and Im more dismissive of the accounts from those who have switched in & out pieces with great regularity as a rule
though not 100% Everybody has something to offer.
I suspect no slam dunk or crystal ball for upcoming pieces is out there. A preponderance of available info and a feel of its whole still serves. Well, that and my predisposed class segregation of components.
Speakers seem the biggest black hole with regard to other devices
and likely one of my future moves. Having a pair of Wolcotts or Musician III with all the upgrades MIGHT make that an easier step
but I doubt it. Probably Wolcotts though. I cant fade the optioned out Musicians
and the cotts will be tuff enough, if
. As Im pondering wooden Quattros with them. Maybe. Of lcourse, none of that might happen either. lol
The real irony of this debate is that when a certain piece is finally acquired at long last, other items (power cabling primarily) then needs to be reset or added. Lol. Amazing. It truly is amazing.
That really is the truth; set up is up to half of the sound of a system. Since last fall I have made several changes to my system, new [used] amp, 2nd sub, and a newer version of the speakers I was using. Most of the improvement I have made, which according to friends was considerable, was not due to these but to new interconnects, isolation systems, speaker and power cables and room treatment. Just finding the best placement for speakers takes a long time; haven't tried the computer programs yet.
I did acquire the Thor 3000 phono preamp which he allowed me to trade up to the Cantantus, tried at least 6-8 other phono preamps, heard that, and it was here to stay. Agree totally with Stan that setup is so important. And if I were less lazy I would do a check up of mine, for cabling, Kontact or E-SST or something like it, the Cardas sweep record on a more regular basis than I do. But all that said, I am in still pleased with it so.... My score this year was a pair of Wyetech 211c monos. Totally awesome. But like much, acquiring a new piece tells me what needs to be upgraded and so it goes and goes.
take the blue pill and you'll wake up in your own bed, without ever knowing you were here, be back in your own life and continue with it, or you can take the red pill.... and see just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Well.... Welcome to Wonderland. Anyone seen Alice?