Why I wont be renewing my subscription
Hopefully this is the right place for this as I feel the need to get some things off my chest about what used to be my favourite AV magazine.
Firstly, some background... I've been reading What Hi-Fi since the early 90s. It was what guided me to my first Hi-Fi system, and I appreciated the informed advice that it gave me. I've had my subscription for a while now.
Recently though I've noticed that things have just gotten to such a low point, I feel I can no longer justify spending money on buying your magazine. Some of the reasons why I will outline below:
1) Poor technical understanding of equipment that is reviewed. For a magazine that is potentially advising people to part with vast sums of their own personal money, you seem to have no published or acknowledged technical standards. I believe you have stated that you use THX or DVE to optimise the displays you review by eye. Is there no-one at What Hi-fi who is ISF certified that can use the correct calibration equipment to ensure things have been calibrated to D65 standards? Is there anyone there who is HAA certified to ensure that the audio equipment you are testing has been set-up correctly too?
If the answer to this is "no" then how are you sure that problems you encounter during testing are faults of the product, or because you've set-up something incorrectly?
We want to see if products can be calibrated to a high standard, not how good they look out of the box. It doesn't need to go to the levels of showing us countless gamma and luminance charts... but some mention of it would be nice, even if it's just to see if you bothered to set these things up correctly!
Another item that highlighted What H-Fi's poor technical understanding, and change of paradigm, was the Audiolab 8000AP review. The AP was slated because 'Lacks the ability to decode high-definition audio soundtracks, which is unacceptable at this price level' for a unit that costs £1000. Which shows a total lack of understanding about these products. Not only Audiolab, but Arcam, Meridian, and numerous other top-end home cinema manufacturers have stated that LPCM is the optimum way to enjoy the HD sound formats. You let the player decode (decoding being a simple case of 'unzipping' an encoded audio file, it either works or it doesn't... no levels of quality of decoding) and then pass this information onto the DAC... whether that be in a processor, an amp, or whatever.
You then wrote about an Arcam processing unit: 'True, you won’t find the
cutting-edge decoding features present in many cheaper components, but
even so, living with this Arcam would never be hard work.' which you seem to find acceptable, even though the Arcam costs £3750. Totally illogical.
These products are not about having the latest fancy marketing speak, or lots of legacy inputs that are mostly redundant for people. They are purely about getting the best sound for you money. You seem to have lost this essential element in all the manufacturer marketing speak of 'deep colour' (makes no difference until films are made that way!) and other useless modes/features that most people don't need in order to hear brilliantly reproduced music or soundtracks. For the money, the Audiolab has yet to be beaten. You are doing the AV industry a huge travesty by not reviewing this product again, with your informed hat on.
2) Inconsistency and dubious reviews. One thing that is very annoying is the fact that you seem to change your mind on previous reviews. A prime example of this was last year when you compared a Samsung Q97 to a Panasonic PX70. At the end of the comparison you concluded that the Samsung gave you a slightly better picture for the money. However, in following months you awarded the PX70 the award for being the best television in this range. Yet again illogical.
What makes this further dubious is that when I spoke to a representative from Panasonic, AND later a representative from Samsung... they informed me that What H-Fi had never had a Panasonic PX70 in house to test! So how could you review this? Why would two totally seperate companies tell me the same thing? The Samsung representative even suggsted that this had caused the editorial changes seen at What Hi-Fi last year once it had been discovered. Is this what happened? If so, why was there no apology offered to the readership?
3) Bias that cannot be ignored. I've read over and over again how you claim that your advertisers do not affect what you review and how it rates. However this is not what the magazine reflects, except in a few rare circumstances.
A good example of this is Sony. Now they were the only BIG AV manufacturer at your What Hi-Fi live show this year. Your JVCs, Pioneers, Denon, Samsungs etc were all conspicuous by their absence (this begs the question why? Do they no longer have faith in What Hi-Fi either?). After this news was announced, suddenly all the Sony LCD televisions have started to get 5 star ratings. Now I have seen these sets in action, extensively. They are average, nothing more, nothing less. When you compare one of these to a (rightly) 5 star Pioneer Kuro, it's like night & day. The Kuro blows the Sony ranges away in every category. Every professional AV installer in the country knows this, and would never recommend a Sony as the display. They cost the same, or are even more expensive than the Kuros. So how can they be recommended at the same level? It just smacks of favouritism because Sony were kind enough to attend your event.
HDMI cables that are recommended over others because they 'offer deeper colours and make the picture really stand/pop out'. How does an HDMI cable allow more of a colour, or different video information to pass through? Now I am not one of those people who believe non-stop that all HDMI cables are equal, as in each cable there is an analogue timing signal. However, the only thing this can affect is motion and timing (i.e. prevent break-up of the picture, or HDCP handshake loss). There is absolutely no scientific way that one HDMI cable can transfer colours with different saturations, hues, or luminances to another cable. How can you claim this is possible? Again I believe this is down to advertising bias, as there's no possible reason you could claim otherwise. If you disagree, how about you use the correct gear (a colorimeter and some software to read it) to show, with physical measurements, that a cable does affect the intensity of colour coming through from the source. Prove it and put your money where you mouth is, and end this debate for all your readers once and for all.
I really want to see What Hi-Fi get back to the roots that established it. Before I renew my subsciption again I would want to see evidence that you are testing these things correctly, that you are taking steps to ensure things are calibrated, and that we are getting fair and unbiased reviews and reporting. Please, please address all this and make What Hi-Fi the respectable magazine it once was. In doing so, you might attract all the big manufacturers back for your next live show in 2009!
All the best,