The 2009 TAS Editors' Choice Awards
How We Choose
Editorial By Robert Harley
In this issue you'll find our 2009
Editors' Choice Awards, the comprehensive feature in which we list every
product in every category that we recommend. At forty-two pages, the Editors'
Choice Awards is by far the largest single feature we publish.
But how do we determine which products make the cut -- and
We start by taking last year's Editors' Choice Awards
document and methodically fact-checking every listing to see if the product is
still current and available for purchase, if there's been a price change, and
whether the product is still handled by the same distributor. Discontinued
products or those that no longer have North American distribution are
automatically dropped. We next provisionally add to the list every product
that's been reviewed in the intervening twelve months.
Now that we have the raw material, the next step is a series
of marathon conference calls among Neil Gader, Jonathan Valin, and me (the
entire full-time editorial staff) to determine which products from the
previous years should remain, which should be deleted, and which of the
recently reviewed products deserve to be added. We consult the reviews to see
how enthusiastic (or not) the writer was about the product, and if there's a
question, I ask the reviewer if he or she thinks the product is worthy of an
Editors' Choice Award.
But what makes a product worthy of a TAS Editors' Choice
Award? There's one simple criterion: Would one of us buy the product with our
own money or recommend that product to a close friend or relative? If the
answer is “yes,” the product stays. If not, it's gone. It's that simple.
What's not so simple is when we encounter similarly priced
products that have different musical attributes or form factors. For example,
the category "Loudspeakers from $1500 to $2000" has nine entries,
including such widely divergent products as the PSB Synchrony Two, Tannoy
Autograph Mini, Magnepan MG 1.6, and the Reference 3A Dulcet. In this case, we
can envision a system, environment, and listener that these loudspeakers will
best suit. There's no clear answer to the question: "What's the best
$1500 to $2000 speaker?" All we can do is give you a short list of
speakers we've found to have merit, and provide our view of each product's
strengths and shortcomings. From there, it's up to you to do your own
listening and find the best match for your musical priorities.
In some cases, however, one product is so clearly superior
to another of the same (or higher) price that we simply cannot recommend the
competitor. We can't imagine any listener preferring what we regard as the
lesser product and so we remove it from the list. This happens most often in
digital sources, where a new design outperforms older units.
We then ask the reviewers of the newly added products to
write the capsule descriptions. Those capsules are integrated into the master
document, and then the whole thing is edited and prepared for layout.
It's quite a process, but in the end we have a single
feature that represents the condensed wisdom (we hope) of the entire TAS
editorial staff and freelance writers who collectively have more than 240
years of experience reviewing high-end audio gear. Looking over the finished
document, it struck me that the TAS staff has listened to, and formed opinions
about, the roughly 500 products selected as winners of a 2009 TAS Editors'
Choice Award. We hope that you find our selections a useful guide in
assembling or upgrading your music system.
TAS founder Harry Pearson's selections can be found in this
issue's HP's Workshop.
If you haven't been to www.avguide.com for awhile, you're
missing a wealth of high-end audio news, stories, factory tours, product
previews, commentary, and other great reading. For example, you can read about
my experience with “The Best Stereo System I Ever Heard” and Jonathan
Valin's visit with some of Japan's foremost audio artisans. Other topics
include a listen to Magico's new Ultimate horn loudspeaker, an illustrated
tour of cable manufacturer Transparent Audio's factory, a loudspeaker 20 years
in the making that uses 32 full-range 3" drivers, and “One of the Best
Preamps You've Never Heard,” to name a few.
Web site isn't a one-way street; you are welcome to comment on anything we
say, or respond to other readers. It's an exciting and vibrant forum for TAS
writers and readers that I hope you'll join -- and it's free.
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