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Hi-Fi Reviews

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the record spot's picture
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First post to the new website - smart looking thing it is too (the site not this post)!

 
Can someone explain the review policy/procedure in the mag please?  I've been buying WHF for years and a subscriber for the last ten.  One thing that's struck me is the number of products that seem to be missed from the reviews and tests in recent years.

 
Missed may be the wrong word and I realise that the magazine is a pretty broad church these days with a wide range of systems and means of playback to cover, but (yes, there is a 'but'!) the hifi element seems to be overlooked - to a degree - in favour of yet another review of LCD or plasma TVs which seems to feature every other month.  Alternatively, when it comes down to recommendations, you can virtually put your money on someone being pointed towards Cyrus, Roksan and  Cambridge being the stock choice if the budget's between the £200 to  £650 range, for instance.

 
When it comes to vinyl, it's even worse!  If I'm in the market for a new turntable, my options based on the magazine's recent coverage in the budget sector is Project.  No mention - at all - of the Rega range in virtually any recommendation or review in recent months, yet they've updated the P3, reintroduced the P2 and brought out the P1!  Has their been a fallout with Roy Gandy?  He's reporting brisk business for his vinyl making team, so why isn't at least some of the product range covered?  When did you last cover anything from Nottingham?  Their entry level deck's changed to the Horizon, but where would the mag tell me that?!

As for Goldring's Rega derivatives GR1 and GR2 decks, nary a mention in the last couple of years.  Thorens have upped their game recently but you wouldn't know it.

I find myself reading as much Hi Fi Choice and Hi Fi World (the latter probably where WHF was 15/20 years ago in terms of style, perhaps somewhat uncharitably) and they are different beasts being purely hifi and mostly mid-to upper end product at that, but their coverage of new product is pretty sound. 

In fairness - it's not all "gripe, moan"! - I was impressed to read the new Ortofon 2M Blue review this month, likewise the front cover is adorned by new B&W product and the pre/power combo group tests which is excellent.
 

I still enjoy the mag, but find I can skip some sections without a backward glance and reviews of mobile phones are best left to What Mobile! 

Sorry, I don't care that I can access movies on my Sony Ericsson or play music on it, or get Radio 4, or surf the web, etc, etc. It's extending your remit too far guys (and gals)!  Likewise "Instant Expert" - too repetitive after a time (CD and turntables have been repeated in recent months) and only reinforces the limitations at price points of the usual recommendations again; Cambridge, Project, Roksan, Cyrus, Arcam, with the odd esoteric item, e.g. Moon, thrown in at the top end.

My gut reaction to the magazine these days is it's trying to be all things to all people and although good, it's not really excelling.  You're cramming too much in and reviews are suffering accordingly, especially in group tests where you can't really give a solid account of an item in such limited space at times.
 
There seems to have been a change in the last few months for the better (I may be wrong) but if it wasn't for my good subscription rate, I'd be off to one of the aforementioned mags and buying your annual HiFi compendium (the £5.99 roundup of the year's products) and the Awards issue instead.

Very encouraging to see the likes of the AstinTrew and Flying Mole CD player and amps covered (respectively) recently.  More please!  Consumers can then make an informed decision, not solely that Cyrus or Roksan are arguably better products, but why when compared to other competitors in range.

So, to go back to my original query, how do you go about selecting items for review?  Do you contact manufacturers?  Do they send you gear?  Do you need a hand with listening tests, I can do Saturday mornings?!  (Okay, the last one may have an element of self-interest inherent to the proposal, granted...). 

 
Thanks for reading.  One big plus though, and you have NO IDEA how big a plus this is, you've stopped calling music 'software' !

It drove me to utter distraction so much, you very nearly had another rampaging Jock piling over the border and heading south to throttle some hapless unsuspecting hifi hack to a miserable end!  It was bad enough when talking about CD (I don't care that it's a pile of 1's and 0s - it's NOT software!) but it flipped me over the edge when somebody applied the term to vinyl!!  Gaaaah!!! 

 
(As you can see, I still get wound up by it!)
 

__________________

 

Onkyo TX-NR818 / Tannoy DC4 speakers / Marantz UD-7007

AVI Lab Series & Marantz CD63 MkII KI CD players / various cables 

Clare Newsome's picture
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Joined: 4 Jun 2007
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Re: Hi-Fi Reviews

Hello, and welcome to the site!

Thanks for such detailed and heart-felt feedback on the magazine - it's always good to know what everyone does and doesn't like.

Firstly re reviews. Stage one: we spend a lot of time at hi-fi and home entertainment shows and launches, globally (it's a tough job etc), and talking to manufacturers, finding out all the juicy products coming out in the months (sometimes years ahead). We often put in our review requests there and then, to guarantee that What Hi-fi? Sound and Vision readers will be the first to find out how good something is.

All products are tested by a dedicated team of reviewers in our purpose-built suite of test rooms. We're the only magazine to have invest in both the staffing and facilities to ensure every product is tested in the same conditions (not random freelancer front-rooms), by a team of reviewers (nothing is tested in isolation) who have access to a stockroom of comparative kit (no second-guessing about whether something is better than something a freelancer may or may not have tested months ago).

We get sent kit from manufactuers - as do all the magazines - but we get second samples if we're not happy something is representative, and do buy products if we need to.

Often, a First Test of a product that changes things in its class - or has the potential to change things - will kick-off a subsequent Group Test (or even a Supertest if there are enough products) to see how the current class leaders cope with the newcomer. We then call in any extra products we need that we haven't got in stock, and comparatively test the products, using both reference systems and price-comparable systems plus a wide range of music/movies to ensure we've seen and heard exactly what a product is capable of.

When we judge the Awards, we test the best new entries we've had in against the current class-leaders. Again, we don't rely on memory, which is why - when the rest of the world is off having holidays - we're putting in a lot of extra hours judging the Awards - and we've still got over a month to go before the list is finalised!

On your question of the brands we feature. We approach every brand - big and small - that we think has a suitable product, and anyone is obviously free to come and talk to us about their gear and submit it for review. Our only ask - and this is where we may differ from some other magazines - is that we ask a product has reasonable distribution, so that if we do recommend it, our readers can get to hear and see it for themselves in a demo (or on home trial). This came about after one too many times of readers being unable to experience a product we'd recommended, which was useful to no-one!

It's also important to understand that we test products on a performance-per-pound basis: it's not good enough for a product to perform well on its own, it has to also represent good value for money. That doesn't mean the cheapest product win tests - far from it, quite often - but that a product has to justify its price in comparison with what's out there for the money. If that means we quite often mention the same products, it's because nothing has come close to them in value terms.

Right, got to go now - there are some shops awaiting my attention - but i'll be back later to explain the hi-fi/AV split issue you've also raised.

__________________

Group Marketing & PR Manager - Computers Unlimited;

Former Group Editor of What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision and Whathifi.com

Twitter: @ClareNewsome

Clare Newsome's picture
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Re: Hi-Fi Reviews

OK, have shopped, now dropped in for a quick pre-dinner Forum session.

Re hi-fi coverage. When What Hi-fi? (as it was then) launched in 1976, a hi-fi was about all the home entertainment there was apart from a small TV in the corner, and certainly more central to most people's entertainment than the latter, with its few channels and frequent test-card appearances.

The magazine was launched as buyer's guide to the mainstream hi-fi market - aiming to help as many people as possible find the best music system they could buy for their money.

That aim hasn't changed in 31 years - but what has changed is the ways people enjoy their music (on the move, in every room - not just on a central hi-fi stack, wirelessly...), and also the other forms of home entertainment they can enjoy. The TV has also become more central to people's lives, obviously.

So What Hi-fi? (Sound and Vision) has made this evolution, too. We're here to help as many people as possible get the very best performance from the home (and mobile) entertainment available to them, whatever their budget. And if that entertainment includes a mobile phone, yes we'll add that to our reviews roster - no other magazine is going to seriously rate a mobile for its music-playing abillity, but if you're looking for a portable music solution, it's certainly an option you'd consider, and want an independent, expert opinion on the performance of.

Hi-fi is and always will be core to what we do - it's always the first consideration when we're drawing up our contents lists - but as the market has changed, so the range of hi-fi products being made and sold has shrunk, and the gap between new releases has typically got longer. For example, when we were judging our Awards last year, the CD player category stayed exactly the same as the year before - no new decent players had emerged in over 12 months.

Less new products means less tests to run - though we keep covering core topics to make sure first-time readers get the advice they need, plus of course list all current products in our 1400-product Buyer's Guide.

However - and i'm glad you've picked up on this - there's been something of a hi-fi renaissance in the past few months, with new models arriving from a range of names big and small. We've tested as much of this lovely new stuff as we can get our hands on, and you'll continue to see reviews appearing as we work our way through many of the exciting Awards entries.

__________________

Group Marketing & PR Manager - Computers Unlimited;

Former Group Editor of What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision and Whathifi.com

Twitter: @ClareNewsome

the record spot's picture
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Joined: 13 Oct 2007
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Re: Hi-Fi Reviews

Thanks for taking the time out to provide such a detailed reply Clare, very much appreciated.

Is there a trend in the current marketplace towards dynamism and attack in products over a less forthright sound presentation? Thinking about the Flying Mole review from a few months back (the CA-S10 at £1000 in the July issue) this product enjoyed an excellent review in one of your rival titles, but picked up three stars in WHF. Compared to - and very roughly speaking - the Roksan L.III and Cyrus v8 at £800 which were preferentially recommended.

First off, this isn't suggesting that because one reviewer gave it the equivalent of a five star review, WHF ought to have done too, far from it and I wouldn't expect two people to give an identical review anyway.

Both reviews were carried out in isolation (i.e. not part of group tests), but where they commend the detail and insight of the product, the WHF first test comments on the dynamics or relative lack compared to the aforementioned two amps.

In cases like this - and this is perhaps more down to the quality of product coming out now at lower prices - is the FM amp overpriced for what it is, or are its' qualities matched (tonally) by the other two? I understand from comments in WHF in the past that the Cyrus amps can sound a little lean in their presentation, so does this mean that the FM is more of a brittle performer and the others being punchier, more dynamic and expressive, with the Roksan at the top of the (small) pile?

In any case, I'm not singling out one product, just using this one as an example (although it does look like I'm singling out one product I accept!). I suppose what I'm thinking of relates more to which systems a potential Flying Mole buyer would want to slot their purchase into and you don't necessarily get that from the review?

I think once the mag would give an indication that "a product" would work well a given type of music and although that does still happen from time to time, it maybe doesn't seem to as often. Perhaps the Flying Mole might work for listeners enjoying a more analytical sound, or those who prefer chamber pieces or acoustic guitar and vocal? Just a thought.

But this all seems a little to much like all gripe and nothing else; the mag is the first stop for me when it comes to the buying guide at the back - there simply isn't anything else out there to touch it, whilst the reader advice and hi fi related first tests are always informative.

Anyway, as I've just remembered, I need to 'fess up on a grand scale; thanks to your mobile phones review of a recent issue, I stuck with my Sony Ericsson K750i (a belter of a handset) in preference to their new W950i which didn't cut the sonic mustard - the review saved me a fortune in contract terms! So what do I know eh?!

Time for my Sunday morning cuppa and a slice of hot humble pie I think...thanks again for your reply and sorry for another long post!

__________________

 

Onkyo TX-NR818 / Tannoy DC4 speakers / Marantz UD-7007

AVI Lab Series & Marantz CD63 MkII KI CD players / various cables 

Clare Newsome's picture
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Re: Hi-Fi Reviews

Hello again!

OK, more clarification. Every First Test, although a standalone review of a product, is typically tested with the current class-leader in its category. If you see a comment in a First Test about how it compares to a rival product, that's because we got the kit out of our stockroom and ran the products head-to-head.

In that way, we're not relying on memory to say whether something is better/worse that its rivals. It's all too easy for reviewers to be generous to a product that sounds good, when they haven't got something that sounds great to hand.

The Flying Mole is a good product - hence a three-star rating, which says it's average for the money. As the review states, it does a lot of things very well - the mention of classical music in the text is not incidental! - but just lacks the abilities of some of the bettter amps around this price point. Maybe it's because it's a digital design - we've noted a similar lack of dynamism and expression in other digital designs. But then as a vinyl-lover, you'll appreciate the analogue vs digital argument!

You also mention about if products are good for a particular type of music. If something's excellent for a specialist purpose, we'll always mention it - whether that be an exceptionally musical AV amp, speakers that only suit small rooms, or hi-fi that's ideal for certain styles of music, to give just three examples.

Quite often, these products will be beaten by all-rounders, but we'll always highlight their strengths so readers can make their own minds up. I personally use several four-star products in my system, because they suit my particular tastes.

That's why we always urge everyone to audition before they buy, using their own music/movies, so they can find their perfect entertainment partner. As we write every issue in our Buyer's Guide, we're here to help you build a shortlist...

__________________

Group Marketing & PR Manager - Computers Unlimited;

Former Group Editor of What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision and Whathifi.com

Twitter: @ClareNewsome

Mr.H's picture
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Re: Hi-Fi Reviews

Hi Clare,

Great to see you taking the time making such thorough posts - much appreciated. "the_record_spot" has raised a couple of issues that have occurred to me over the last several months (been reading What HiFi since 1993).

user="Clare Newsome" wrote:
Our only ask - and this is where we may differ from some other magazines - is that we ask a product has reasonable distribution, so that if we do recommend it, our readers can get to hear and see it for themselves in a demo (or on home trial).

Does this explain why you don't review Mission speakers any more? Do you even require "reasonable distribution" for your "temptation" feature?

user="Clare Newsome" wrote:
So What Hi-fi? (Sound and Vision) has made this evolution, too.

Whilst I appreciate What HiFi?'s need to move with the times, and am grateful that you cover home cinema products as well as HiFi, I can't help feeling that you've forgotten that the main title of the magazine is "What HiFi?". The last three issues or so, I've had to double-check that it really is "What HiFi?" that I'm reading, not "What Home Cinema" or "What Plasma and LCD TV". Could it be that your "reasonable distribution" requirement could be restricting the amount and variety of HiFi products you can review. Also, being the most widely-read HiFi magazine, do you not feel that you could be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy - you stop featuring various brands in your magazine, leading to lower awareness, leading to lower demand, leading to poorer distribution.

Clare Newsome's picture
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Re: Hi-Fi Reviews

Hi Mr H,

We certainly haven't stopped reviewing Mission speakers any more: they simply haven't had anything new to test, and have discontinued a lot of models that once sat in our Buyer's Guide. However, that's all changed with the new Mission "E" range, which we'll be First Testing very shortly.

As regarding our Temptations products: yes, we do still lay down distribution criteria, but are slightly more forgiving, as we figure if readers are serious about buying a specialist/high-end product, they'd be prepared to travel a little further to see/hear it in action.

I'll repeat something I said earlier in this thread: What Hi-fi? is and always has been a mainstream Buyer's Guide, aiming to help people get more from their home entertainment, whether that be music, movies, TV or MP3-based.

Yes, hi-fi will always be core to what we do - we still cover more hi-fi products every issue than any other title - but it's just part of today's home entertainment experience.

While we understand the impact we have as a magazine, we're not arrogant enough to believe we started the trends towards home cinema, flatscreens, iPods etc - or the relative decline in hi-fi, as people chose to apportion their home entertainment spend differently.

What we can do is ensure that if that's how a consumer wants to spend their entertainment money, we're guiding them towards the very best kit for their cash.

__________________

Group Marketing & PR Manager - Computers Unlimited;

Former Group Editor of What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision and Whathifi.com

Twitter: @ClareNewsome

Mr.H's picture
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Re: Hi-Fi Reviews

user="Clare Newsome" wrote:
We certainly haven't stopped reviewing Mission speakers any more: they simply haven't had anything new to test, and have discontinued a lot of models that once sat in our Buyer's Guide. However, that's all changed with the new Mission "E" range, which we'll be First Testing very shortly.

Hmmm, I'm not convinced. There are plenty of models from other manufacturers that you've featured several times; I'm not sure why Mission should have to have something "new" in order to appear in a "group test" or "test express" for example. You've also never reviewed the awesome "Pilastro". Your readers could be forgiven for thinking that Mission don't exist any more.

That said, I look forward to reviews of the E series Smile

katsuret
katsuret's picture
Re: Hi-Fi Reviews

user="Mr.H" wrote:
the awesome "Pilastro"

Awesome? You mean speakers, unlike codecs, can sound different? Next you'll be telling us cables do, too.
Careful, Mr.H - your subjectivist slip is showing...

Mr.H's picture
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Re: Hi-Fi Reviews

user="katsuret" wrote:
user="Mr.H" wrote:
the awesome "Pilastro"
Awesome? You mean speakers, unlike codecs, can sound different? Next you'll be telling us cables do, too. Careful, Mr.H - your subjectivist slip is showing...

Of course speakers can sound different. What with the way that they have different frequency response (amplitude and phase) different headroom and different distortion characteristics to one another, there are several mechanisms by which loudspeakers can sound different to each other.

What I said in the other thread was that *lossless* codecs cannot possibly sound different to one another. I'm sorry, but you'd have to be barking mad to think otherwise. I invite you to suggest how two different lossless codecs can possibly sound different, other than one or both of them not actually being lossless.