If you have an engineering background and spend any time at all in professional broadcasting and recording studios, you will read most hi-fi magazines and many internet blogs with a sense of mounting incredulity. Half-truths, mis-statements, deep-seated irrationality and what might charitably be described as confusion are everywhere. So-called ‘reviewers’, most of whom seem to be fellow-travellers of the advertising and PR industry, claim to be able to hear subtle differences which defy measurement.

Their habit of placing the validity of their subjective experience much above anything approaching engineering common sense seems to me to verge on the immoral.

One might perhaps cite the example of the reviewer who asserts that different loudspeakers can alter the “pace, rhythm and timing” of music, or his colleague who states that the pins of mains plugs must be gold-plated to avoid “…phase distortion”.  And as for cable directionality, bi-wiring using cables costing £800 per metre and so on, words fail me!

I carried out a good deal of reviewing for assorted magazines in the mainstream audio and car audio sectors some years ago. Much of it involved a panel of experienced listeners making carefully controlled comparisons with references on an unsighted A-B basis. At one level this work was interesting and illuminating. At another it was thoroughly depressing, chiefly because many parameters that matter very much in consumer electronics – engineering design, ergonomics, reliability, constructional quality – were not interesting to editors. And the frequent lack of correlation between price, quality and performance all too often put me on the wrong side of the advertising department! Pointing out that the sound of a particular speaker is chiefly a function of the room it is in together with the properties of the ear-brain system of the listener does not endear one to readers whose primary unconscious wish is often to have their expensive choices uncritically validated after the fact.

Despite this, my colleagues and I still carry out evaluations of audio and RF electronic equipment – but for manufacturers rather than magazines. We can assess performance, standards compliance and various aspects of manufacturing quality. We can arrange for contract manufacture if required, together with factory liaison for assessment and quality assurance. And we can write the operating and service manuals too.

Further reading

A recent response to a client’s question in respect of EMC evaluation