On April 15, just two weeks ago, we launched a brand-new feature on this site: Reference Systems. I’ll tell you all about that, but first, let’s recap what’s been available on SoundStage! Ultra.

Near the top of the SoundStage! Ultra homepage, you’ll find the regular tabs that are always present in the menu:

Equipment: Click this and you’ll get a listing of all the equipment reviews published on the site. These are sorted with the newest reviews first.

Features: This tab allows you direct access, via a drop-down menu, to current and archived columns, including my monthly editorial, Jason Thorpe’s “For The Record” column, and Joseph Taylor’s “Recording of the Month” column. Archived columns and interviews are available, too. Ignoring the drop-down menu and clicking on the word Features will bring up the full list of the Feature articles, sorted in chronological order with the most recent ones first.

TWBAS: This tab will lead you to a plethora of archived equipment reviews and features from “The World’s Best Audio System,” a column where I explored the best gear the world had to offer at the time. SoundStage! Ultra published these articles from February 2004 to January 2014—so there are ten years’ worth of them.

Feedback: Here you’ll find letters from you guys, sometimes with responses from us guys!

Videos: This takes you to the SoundStage! Network YouTube feed, including the SoundStage! Talks series by yours truly.

Our Sites: This contains a drop-down menu with direct access to other SoundStage! Network sites.

The new tab is Reference Systems, located between Features and TWBAS. This drop-down menu will take you to one of the most exciting initiatives ever on SoundStage! Ultra. Let me explain . . .


One weakness of single-product equipment reviews is that—let’s face it—they lack context. And context is everything in audio. Of course I’ve always known this, and like most other review publications, we’ve included an Associated Equipment section at the end of every review detailing all the products that were used alongside the component under test during the review period. The problem is, beyond this list, you often get very little information about the system used. Sure, it is possible that a portion of the gear listed has been reviewed over time, and there’s nothing stopping you from looking up individual reviews for specific components. But gosh, there are problems with that approach, too. For instance, you’ll see the speakers I used for an amplifier review in Associated Equipment, and I may well have reviewed those as well. However, when you look up the speaker review, you’re likely to find that the Associated Equipment used for that review barely resembles the Associated Equipment used in the initial amplifier review. You may also find that some of the products in the Associated Equipment lists were never reviewed. Is this all starting to sound like “Who’s on First?” We realized that this is all very confusing, it causes too much work for the reader, and it’s just plain incomplete.

Our new Reference Systems tab addresses these issues. You can instantly see my reference system in total and, better yet, read a description of how the system sounds. After all, we listen to systems, not to individual components (this isn’t SoundStage! Simplifi—see the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin), and it’s the system’s sound that establishes a baseline for the product reviews themselves. This feature will enable you to place yourself in the reviewer’s listening chair—in this case, mine.


But that’s not all (announced in my best late-night infomercial voiceover)! When you click the Reference Systems tab, you’ll be taken to the main article where you’ll see the whole system in photos together with a detailed text description of the sound. However, you’ll also see that each of the components listed includes a hyperlink. Click on any one of these, and you’ll be taken to a mini article on the corresponding component. These mini articles will contain additional information not found in the article about the system. Some of it is pretty standard: retail price, a link to the manufacturer’s website, and a short description of the component’s design. Additionally—and probably most importantly—you’ll find the “Why I Chose It” section. In this part of the mini article, I’ll provide you with details about exactly why I chose to include the component under discussion in my reference system. Want to know why I still use a MacBook Air as my music server when so many of my counterparts are choosing expensive music servers? Click on the MacBook Air link to find out.

As it stands, there are ten individual components in my system, and there are links to mini articles about each specific product (yes, each cable type has its own separate link) in the main article. You’ll also find additional photos of each individual product in the mini articles, showing it in the context of the complete system.

What about changes?

Audiophiles, and especially reviewers, change components regularly. Not every day—or week or even every month—but often enough to mean these links could quickly grow outdated. We have a plan for this eventuality: whenever a component changes, the main article describing the system will be updated, and a link to the new component will be added in place of the outgoing product link. This is a roundabout way of saying that I’ll keep this section of SoundStage! Ultra up-to-the-minute current. You’ll always be able to see exactly what I’m listening to. Short of stationing a webcam next to my listening chair (um, no, this isn’t an option), this is the best way I’ve come up with to keep our readers more completely informed and provide better context for my equipment reviews.


More systems?

Are we going to add more systems? Sure, why not? This new section of SoundStage! Ultra will fill out over time. I’ll be adding one more specialized system in the next six months—can audiophiles ever have too much gear?—and you’ll see systems other reviewers are using, too.

I hope you like the new Reference Systems feature on SoundStage! Ultra as much as I do. If you have any feedback on this or anything related to the site, please email me at the address below.

And as always, thanks for reading.

. . . Jeff Fritz