The hyperbole of audio show reviews

Don’t buy hyperbole!
It seems most of what I see in reviews of audio shows is either hyperbole or someone with a chip on their shoulder getting out their carving knives to slice and dice everything and everyone unfairly. (I know one exception to that rule). In my opinion, I think that many reviewers and most folks for that matter don’t fully realize what audio shows are really about (and certainly don’t realize what it takes to put one on, but everyone is not expected to know that part of it of course). In other words, I think expectations are set too high sometimes. Yes, one should expect the best possible sound given the room that gear is in and that the gear should work as advertised. The key here is “best possible sound in the given room”. Hotel rooms can be challenging environments acoustically by nature, but some living rooms can be odd as well, so it is not much different. Also consider the walls and floor. Walls in hotel rooms are very thin and if you are not on the ground floor, that adds another dynamic to deal with as the floors above ground level are very bouncy both physically and acoustically.

So, is it wrong to expect good sound at an audio show? No, it isn’t, but expectations should be realistic and part of it is the efforts by the exhibitors to work with the room. Time is limited for exhibitors to set up rooms and some go through more effort than others, but I do think that if an exhibitor wishes to show their gear most positively, then they must put in the effort to properly set up and not just blame the room as an excuse to do nothing. Note I said, “work with the room” as opposed to working against it. A few exhibitors have figured it out, but one can’t expect everyone to be room experts.
Having been to two shows as  an aware person or as a journalist with number 3 coming, I have heard good sound in one room and not in another on the same floor many times. Considering that most of the rooms on the same floor are identical, seeing that I have heard good sound in rooms and bad sound, the argument of blaming the room falls apart. It’s like someone setting up their turntable or system incorrectly and then blaming the dealer. Exhibitors complain about power in hotels as well and that is a legit complaint as power in hotels is sketchy and there is not much, if any control they have over that.

I believe one should walk into a room at a show with an open mind or as bias-free as possible. Though of course, one should also choose which rooms to visit, if you are not interested in certain products or price points, then you should avoid those rooms because it would be impossible to enter without extreme prejudice. I’m talking about the rooms you do want to visit or are even curious about as the ones to be open about.
Too many times I see reviewers bashing the gear when they need to take into account the room or set up. A poor setup attempt will have bad sound every time even with the world’s best and most expensive gear. One also needs to take into account the appropriateness of the gear to the room. If you are stuffing horn speakers the size of battleships into a 300 square foot room, you are going to have issues. So trashing the speakers in that case makes no sense to me. Even trashing the room in that case makes no sense. Too often I have seen reviewers and seasoned attendees trash all the gear in the room while ruling out mis-matched gear to the room because some people did not like the way it performed in the room. In reality, there is most likely nothing wrong with the gear, it is just being shown outside its optimal environment.

Let’s face it, audio is subjective, no two ways about it. I’ve seen praise of sound given to exhibits I thought sounded awful and bashing to other exhibits I found delightful. The point is that you will never have all boxes checked in any exhibit, but those that check the majority, you will like more than others. Also one needs to take preferences into account, if you don’t like horn speakers or ribbon tweeters, then you will not like those things, so what is the point in bothering to check them out? Basically, sugar-coating things and bashing things with reckless abandon or as part of some personal agenda is to do a great disservice. That is partly why I don’t take “best of show” awards seriously at all, in fact, I don’t bother even wanting to know. Everyone likes different things so one person will be of the opinion that some system had the best sound at show while someone else will say that same system sounded horrible to them.

Look, some rooms pull off really good sound and some not so good. If you hear something at a show that sounds really good to you, chances are that it will sound incredibly good in your room at home provided it is accommodating to said gear unless your room is worse than the hotel’s. The flip to that is that you cannot really draw the same conclusion for the rooms that sound bad. That would be putting the cart before the horse. It could be that the gear or setup that sounds horrible in the hotel room might sound fantastic in your room at home. Remember, set-up and gear-room matching are big factors.
Also keep in mind the fragility and variability of human perceptions. It is entirely possible that towards the end of a day and especially two or three days one’s ears may have had enough and be too tired for more input and end up interpreting everything as bad. Continued on page 2