The politics of this industry rarely make it into print, but that doesn’t mean that
some of the issues involved aren’t worth an airing.
Not so long ago, for the first time in more than thirty years, a review I’d
written was effectively ‘spiked’ at the behest of the manufacturer. I’m not going to name
the loudspeaker, the magazine, or the technique the manufacturer used to achieve this,
but the reason behind the situation still leaves me exasperated, especially as the speaker
involved was rather good, and the review involved was nearly all positive.
The problem for the manufacturer, however, was that my review wasn’t ‘passionate’
enough. Perhaps once or twice a year I come across a product which does inspire a
smidgeon of passion, or at least genuine enthusiasm, but I reckon ‘passion’ is something
that should be applied to people and relationships, not to things.
Frankly, in my opinion anyone who gets passionate about a ‘thing’, or indeed any
inanimate object, needs to reconsider his or her priorities, and the core task of any critic
is to adopt a ‘dispassionate’ stance towards evaluating any product.
Unfortunately, we live in an age of spin, hype and bullshit, so everything in the
garden has to be passionately lovely. I enjoy driving my large Jaguar, especially on a long
journey, but I don’t feel passionate about what is, fundamentally, a lump of mostly sheet
metal. Nor do I enjoy trying to find a parking space big enough for it, or having to put
in £70 worth of petrol every 300 miles.
Like a car, a loudspeaker is a collection of compromises, and my job is to try and help
the reader choose the speakers that will suit his or her lifestyle and aspirations, and not
try to express spurious passion about the sound of Jennifer’s wretched blue raincoat.
Another political issue reared its gruesome head recently. I wanted to try a very
unusual, interesting but again unidentifiable bit of kit. This had already received
some very positive (maybe even passionate?) reviews from other commentators. The
distributor therefore didn’t need another review to help sell the product, and a negative
review wouldn’t have been at all helpful.
I therefore, rather reluctantly, had to give my word that if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t
write about it, assuming (perhaps foolishly, but after reading the other published
reviews) that it would probably sound wonderful. Unfortunately, to my ears at least, it
didn’t, and since I had given my word, I must therefore remain silent.
The politics of hi-fi reviewing are as convoluted as any other form of politics, and
there’s no avoiding the fact that manufacturers and distributors are always trying to
‘second guess’ which reviewers will favour a particular product, and which might take
against it. Happily, I don’t think they’re very good at it, any more than I’m able to
predict how much I’ll like a product before I actually try it.
The relationship between reviewers and those who sell equipment is both highly
complex and essentially symbiotic. We reviewers have our prejudices and sometimes
make mistakes, but such human failings will always be forgivable provided we maintain
the basic honesty that has helped British reviewers gain respect around the world.
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