Anyone who follows politics can spot a talking point a mile away. A talking point is an oft-repeated statement designed to convince those listening or reading that a particular stance is correct. The problem with talking points is that they so seldom contain any substance. You hear them again and again until you fall asleep from boredom, still left wondering what the politician’s stance on the issue is, actually.
Audio reviewers have their own talking points. Often, after reading a review, I wonder just what the real deal is with the product reviewed. I know the reviewer thought it was good, but I still don’t know if the reviewer thought it was better or worse than the competition. Why? There are many reasons. The reviewer might not be confident enough in his or her skills, or hasn’t heard enough of the competition, to go out on a limb and declare a winner. Perhaps the reviewer doesn’t want to offend anyone, and figures that treading the middle ground is the safest bet. Perhaps there really isn’t much difference at all between two products, and they’re essentially interchangeable. Maybe the reviewer just doesn’t know which is better. Regardless of the reason, the reader is left wondering.
Then there’s the problem of using talking points instead of straightforward language. In 2006 I reviewed the Audio Acoustics Sapphire Ti-C SE loudspeaker. In that review I said, about that speaker’s lack of low bass, "I can’t argue with anyone who’s thinking that the performance of a pair of speakers costing $81,000 should not be compromised in any way. Still, if what the Audio Acoustics Sapphire does excel at is your thing, you might find no better loudspeaker for your needs. The market will decide whether this strategy is accepted." I went on to conclude, "How do I explain a relatively compact $81,000/pair loudspeaker? I don’t. That’s the designer’s or the dealer’s job." That last part, about it being the designer’s or dealer’s job? Pure talking point, and I wish I’d never written it. Here’s what I should have said: "It doesn’t have enough low bass and it’s too expensive." I shouldn’t have left it up to the reader to read between the lines of my talking points.
Such language is all too common in today’s audio press. Recently, in The Abso!ute Sound, I read a review of Rockport Technologies’ fabulous Altair II loudspeaker. I’d owned the first version of this model, and my mouth watered as I began reading Robert Harley’s review. I wasn’t at all surprised that he was greatly impressed, but just a few months earlier he’d been similarly impressed by the Vandersteen Model Seven. The burning question in my mind was Is the Rockport better than the Vandersteen? It costs twice as much. Both speakers were auditioned in the same room, so surely Harley has an opinion on the subject. But his review doesn’t tell us. I couldn’t help but think that, instead, I’d been given talking points.
In July 2010, Stereophile published Wes Phillips’s fabulously positive review of the Vivid G1Giya loudspeaker, in which he said, "Is Vivid Audio’s G1Giya the best loudspeaker I’ve ever heard? Yes. And it will be my yardstick from now on. Whether or not you can afford a pair, you should listen to them so that you know exactly what is possible in a high-end loudspeaker." Man, that Wes can write. The problem? A year earlier, he’d pretty much written the same review of the YG Acoustics Anat Reference II: "[W]hen I want to hear what a recording really sounds like, I’ll want to hear it through the Anat Reference II Professionals. Like my pappy used to say, it ain’t braggin’ if you can actually do it." That last sentence was in reference to YGA’s claim that the Anat Reference II is "The best Loudspeaker on Earth. Period." Wes used to work for the SoundStage! Network, and gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever had in my reviewing career. After editing a review of mine, he told me (I paraphrase), "I want to read what Jeff Fritz thinks. That’s the review I really want to read." Well, I want to read what Wes Phillips thinks is the best speaker in the world: the Vivid G1Giya or the YGA Anat Reference II? That’s the review I really want to read.
I called it like I heard it in my review of the Magico Q3 speaker, in which I compared it to the Tidal Piano Cera. I’ve taken some heat for that review, but that’s alright -- it comes with the territory. I also, and rightly, took some heat when I did not flat-out tell you that I thought the Rockport Technologies Altair was easily the better speaker to my ears when I compared it with the Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria X-2, a pair of which I had also owned and had heard in the same room. But the Altair was easily the better speaker. So there.
Some 13 years into my audio career, I guess I’m just plain sick of talking points -- my own from years past, and those of others I read today. It’s a systemic problem in audio reviewing, practiced even by some of the best ears in the industry (and I believe Robert Harley and Wes Phillips are two folks who can really hear). I want to know what everyone really thinks -- politicians and audio reviewers. It’s high time we had that level of candor, and did away with talking points forever.
. . . Jeff Fritz