"This Harbeth User Group (HUG) is the Manufacturer's own managed forum dedicated to natural sound from microphone to ear, achievable by recognising and controlling the numerous confounding variables that exist along the audio chain. The Harbeth designer's objective is to make loudspeakers that contribute little of themselves to the music passing through them.

Identifying system components for their sonic neutrality should logically proceed from the interpretation and analysis of their technical, objective performance. Deviations from a flat frequency response at any point along the signal chain from microphone to ear is likely to give an audible sonic personality to the system at your ear; this includes the significant contribution of the listening room itself. To accurately reproduce the recorded sound as Harbeth speakers are designed to do, you would be best advised to select system components (sources, electronics, cables and so on) that do not color the sound before it reaches the speakers.

For example, the design of and interaction between the hifi amplifier and its speaker load can and will alter the sound balance of what you hear. This may or may not be what you wish to achieve, but any deviation from a flat response is a step away from a truly neutral system. HUG has extensively discussed amplifiers and the methods for seeking the most objectively neutral among a plethora of product choices.

HUG specialises in making complex technical matters simple to understand, getting at the repeatable facts in a post-truth environment where objectivity is increasingly ridiculed. With our heritage of natural sound and pragmatic design, HUG is not the best place to discuss non-Harbeth audio components selected, knowingly or not, to introduce a significantly personalised system sound. For that you should do your own research and above all, make the effort to visit an Authorised Dealer and listen to your music at your loudness on your loudspeakers through the various offerings there. There is really no on-line substitute for time invested in a dealer's showroom because 'tuning' your system to taste is such a highly personal matter. Our overall objective here is to empower readers to make the factually best procurement decisions in the interests of lifelike music at home.

Please consider carefully how much you should rely upon and be influenced by the subjective opinions of strangers. Their hearing acuity and taste will be different to yours, as will be their motives and budget, their listening distance, loudness and room treatment, not necessarily leading to appropriate equipment selection and listening satisfaction for you. Always keep in mind that without basic test equipment, subjective opinions will reign unchallenged. With test equipment, universal facts and truths are exposed.

If some of the science behind faithfully reproducing the sound intended by the composer, score, conductor and musicians over Harbeth speakers is your thing, this forum has been helping with that since 2006. If you just want to share your opinions and photos with others then the unrelated Harbeth Speakers Facebook page may be for you. Either way, welcome to the world of Harbeth!"

Feb. 2018
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Media reviews and (audio) manufacturers - needing each other?

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  • Media reviews and (audio) manufacturers - needing each other?

    One of my entertainments is to read audio websites looking for, among other things, reviews or mentions of new audio gear. Though I have more scepticism than I used to about reviewers' credentials and observations, and take it all with many grains of salt, I find that some sites are at least good sources of information about new products, and also at times lead me to new music I'm unfamiliar with.

    Like, no doubt, many others, I've occasionally wondered about the influence of advertising on reviews sites (or audio magazines), reviewers, etc. Recently, one website - - created a new policy to the effect that, in order to get a review, a manufacturer would have to place at least a single small ad for a limited period of time (I think one month). The rationale was that the review provided the manufacturer with a twofold benefit: (1) a critique and commentary on his/its product by a more-or-less expert reviewer; and (2) publicity for the product. In return for this, the reasoning goes, a manufacturer should pay or contribute something, and that a manufacturer who got a positive notice (or I suppose even a constructive negative notice) but did not pay the magazine in some form was, in effect, a free rider.

    I think this is a really fascinating issue and it would be interesting to see what comes of it. I found a long debate online that hashes out some of the implications, both pro and con (the latter including a manufacturer and a well-known audio reviewer):

    I can see the argument that people should be paid for what they do, and 6Moons is at least trying to be transparent and open about their policy, which is a good thing. But the contrary arguments in the above thread are compelling as well. What do people think?

  • #2
    Cynical me

    I've become very cynical regarding hi-fi reviews. After becoming a part of HUG I'm more concerned with what the company stands for, where the product is built, and the dealers they choose to distribute.

    I'm starting to think those who are content with Beats headphones will enjoy their music far more than the "audiophile" will. Key word content.


    • #3
      An issue as old as printed journalism

      Originally posted by Gascho View Post
      I've become very cynical regarding hi-fi reviews.
      Ditto. All the media is useful for is product information including nice photos.

      The conflict between advertising and editorial content is well known and understood from mainstream newspapers down. Even where advertising does not pay for a significant part of the operations, with reader subscriptions doing this, it has remained an issue that only the best have successfully managed. Where there is no income from subscriptions, and all funding is from advertising, the usual outcome is the result - usually.

      There is one possibility - that a review site is of such integrity and reputation that it is in the manufacturer's interest to advertise to reach the consequent large reader base. And the site commands a diverse stream of advertising to an extent that it is immune to the behaviour of a single advertiser. I don't know of any such hifi review site. If there is, I can't see it needing to implement such policies.


      • #4
        Codifying cosy relationships?

        Eric, I tried looking at that link but lost the will to live after a couple of pages. What were the cons, as presented by the manufacturer and reviewer?

        Personally, I think this is a fine, so long as they're transparent about it and the whole thing is codified. I find this preferable to there being unspoken relationships between manufacturers and reviewers. If a company doesn't have enough money to do minimal advertising, they probably can't be relied on for support for any period of time, which may act as a barrier to entry, of sorts. Well established manufacturers can do without the marketing blurbs from 6moons. But, let's be honest about what reviews have been, long before this policy was proposed. For the most part, they act as free marketing verbiage, with the added benefit of the verbiage coming from known influencers within the market.

        It's interesting, though. Consider a well known manufacturer who has a hot product. They don't pay for advertising. By not having the access to that product for review, 6moons will be missing out on additional page views, which is less advantageous for them when they go to sell advertising. But they haven't spent a lot of time writing free verbiage.

        Maybe it's complicated. Maybe it's not.

        Mostly, reviews are entertainment. Reading descriptions of sound often isn't helpful. I have reviewers who I resonate with, but when all is said and done, it's my money being spent and I need to see if I like it before deciding. They're not appraising reliability. Often, there are no measurements. All reviews offer is descriptions and photos, none of which will tell you how you'll feel about a product. Really, they've always been more helpful to manufacturers than consumers, so why not formalize the relationship?

        Given how many times I've read a rave review of something, only to hear it myself and be underwhelmed, I can't place enough stock in reviews for them to be meaningful. So, manufacturers having a financial relationship out in the open doesn't bother me. And the reviewers whose tastes and sensibilities I trust like what they like, and will continue to do so, despite background contracts on the business side.

        Really, though, the industry struck me as pretty absurd before Srajan came up with this idea, so how much worse could it get? This isn't like corporate lobbyists forming relationships with government agencies so that they can knowingly sell dangerous substances to consumers. It's just "high end audio" and it's SNAFU


        • #5
          Shrinking incomes

          This is a really important subject. It is becoming more important by the month as the income stream generated by media (any media, anywhere) shrinks.

          All views on this matter are greatly appreciated. We would encourage as much debate as possible here.


          • #6
            The minimum, minimum engagement

            Originally posted by anonymous View Post
            Eric, I tried looking at that link but lost the will to live after a couple of pages. What were the cons, as presented by the manufacturer and reviewer?
            Rather than try to summarize, I'll give you the post numbers, to save you some tedium:

            Reviewer (Alan Sircom) - #109, #116, #118 (starting around page 11)

            Manufacturer (Atmasphere) - #124, #128, #130

            Worth reading.

            One of the important questions, I guess, is whether there's any benefit at all in keeping the whole media field going at all. Like most, I'm probably fairly cynical. On the other hand, one thing even the flakiest hi-fi reviewer does do is hold out sound quality as something that matters. Despite all their other faults and sins, I suppose that's a good thing. What if that perspective were lost entirely?


            • #7
              Filling in the numbers

              There is potentially a real logistical problem in capitalism with providing objective analysis of any product, and that of the need for the reviewer to have an income. Objectivity necessitates independence from a producer. Immediately what comes to mind is perhaps a Government agency with no vested interests, (if that can be done without backhander corruption, that is).

              The Which organisation may be a relatively independent one, and I certainly hope so, but if survival needs depend on the result of a report we're stymied; there will always be some degree of leakage between the two conflicting aspects.

              I used to work for the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, one of whose duties was the measurement of the content of the smoke from cigarettes. I know that sometimes the results were missing, and just filled in by staff on a basis of typical values when that happened. This was not a deliberate corruption, just an expedience. How much worse could that be with a financial incentive?


              • #8
                Paying for effort

                Originally posted by EricW View Post
                Rather than try to summarize...

                Manufacturer (Atmasphere) - #124, #128, #130

                Worth reading....
                Thanks for the direct links. I must say that the above three posts, and especially #130 make very interesting reading. There is much I'd like to say here; this is a subject that greatly interests me, but I'll hold back until others have contributed.

                What does come across from the above trail (to my mind anyway) is that critical journalism, review writing, requires no fundamental hands-on skills in the subject, nor the wider subject around it. I could, I suppose, set myself up as an scone critic without every having actually mixed and baked a scone, or even been in a kitchen, nor know about the costs of making scones, nor of running a commercial enterprise, nor of meeting business regulations, insurance, bank loans, employing staff and a ton of other issues manufacturers have to deal with day in, day out, without complaint.

                If I detected that, after a while, I had a certain following and that people were taking notice of my florid reviews of scones, I'd (understandably and rightly) start to feel rather important in the baking world. Living close to the breadline (because we all know journalism is very poorly paid) and returning from field trips to my dank basement, I think I'd become rather embittered at helping to sell scones (and maybe even driving up the quality of scones generally) but not being rewarded for that in my own pay packet. I'd begin to feel that I deserved to be treated rather better and before long would (inevitably) value my contribution to the business of selling scones as at least, or even more important, than that of the flour miller and the baker. That seems to be what is driving this creeping undercurrent towards a shift in the relationship between manufacturers and media in audio-land: the self-evident reward imbalance.

                In simple words: is the reviewer just an inert catalyst in the chemical reaction between the manufacturer and consumer, or is he a vital primary element in that chemistry? Does the 'commercial chemistry' in audio critically depend upon the presence of the catalyst or would commerce still proceed if all audio journalists reverted to their main, paid jobs and audio reviews ceased forthwith?
                Alan A. Shaw
                Designer, owner
                Harbeth Audio UK


                • #9
                  Aren't helpful?

                  I find reviewers most hard to believe when they try to describe the sound, especially when the product doesn't make any.

                  I think the existence of the reviewer is a natural by-product of sought after equipment but they have lost their credibility and commerce would continue without them.

                  A new sort of communication needs to emerge to gain back lost trust. I won't say that reviewers aren't important, more that they aren't helpful. There are those in the audio world that really do look to help, even if it means sending you to another competing retail store. Those are the people I like to do business with.


                  • #10
                    The starving writer

                    Originally posted by A.S. View Post

                    What does come across from the above trail (to my mind anyway) is that critical journalism, review writing, requires no fundamental hands-on skills in the subject, nor the wider subject around it. I could, I suppose, set myself up as an scone critic without every having actually mixed and baked a scone ...
                    Entirely true, but isn't it always this way with reviewers and critics in any field? Whether it's of restaurants, films, books, art, whatever: the reviewer or critic is rarely capable of running a kitchen, or making a film, etc. Or they may have some basic understanding, but rarely at the level of those whom they review.

                    But despite that, do some reviewers serve a useful purpose? Or not?

                    It strikes me that, whatever else a reviewer is (or isn't), a reviewer or critic is essentially a kind of writer. He/she is producing words about something, and hoping (in most cases) to be paid. Now writing of any kind is a notoriously poorly-paid profession: a very few, either exceptionally lucky or exceptionally talented, do quite well - the rest scrape by, or starve. It's even more difficult since the advent of the Internet.

                    Economically, I suppose there's no reason for audio reviewing to be any different.


                    • #11
                      It's all about passion - isn't it?

                      Originally posted by EricW View Post
                      Entirely true, but isn't it always this way with reviewers and critics in any field? Whether it's of restaurants, films, books, art, whatever: the reviewer or critic is rarely capable of running a kitchen, or making a film, etc. Or they may have some basic understanding, but rarely at the level of those whom they review.

                      But despite that, do some reviewers serve a useful purpose? Or not? It strikes me that, whatever else a reviewer is (or isn't), a reviewer or critic is essentially a kind of writer. He/she is producing words about something, and hoping (in most cases) to be paid. Now writing of any kind is a notoriously poorly-paid profession...
                      This is precisely the point.

                      We had some issues with a junior member of staff recently, and just couldn't get to the bottom of what was troubling him. I decided to take him to lunch, well away from the office and see if in less formal surroundings I could prize open his lid. It didn't take long, and the issues were genuine, related to his personal life and with a little support from us in loco parentis, resolvable to everyone's satisfaction.

                      What did come out of that discussion, and it's highly relevant here, was that the youngster said that he was driven by a passion, and that providing he demonstrated that passion during his employment here or for others, he was certain to have a golden financial future. I suggested that passion alone was merely the first few inches on the greasy pole, not the last. He was dumbfounded, and pointing at me said 'you've done OK, and everyone at Harbeth says you've got passion. That's why we have to maintain a high quality ... so if I emulate you, I too will be all right....' I explained that yes, no doubt that I do have a passion, and woe betide the fellow if his passion for quality doesn't match the team's passion, but how does passion alone translate into a decent income, and reliable on-time payment to suppliers and staff? It doesn't; there is absolutely no correlation between a personal passion (whatever that actually means) and running a business. In fact, you could be a vegan, passionate about wildlife and passionate enough to tithe a proportion of your income to an animal rescue charity, and simultaneously be a successful business administrator, a chartered accountant, running a highly profitable sausage manufacturing factory with a record breaking profit legacy, the products of which revolt you.

                      As you say, journalism is one of the poorest paid professions, and the reasons for that are complex and worth looking at later. But anyone who has a passion for audio journalism - an entirely reasonable occupation - may be asking a bit too much of the capitalist system, which concentrates profit in the hands of the makers and distributors, to expect third parties to make much of a living out of commenting on other's physical and mental labours. Especially as they are not privy to any of the secretive and multi-faceted design and manufacturing process.

                      "Passion" just isn't enough to make a living. It's assumed. It's a given. It's FOC.
                      Alan A. Shaw
                      Designer, owner
                      Harbeth Audio UK


                      • #12
                        Undervalued, underpaid

                        Harlan Ellison on why writing/journalism is such a poorly paid profession:


                        "They always want the writer to work for nothing. And the problem is there are so many writers who have no idea that they're supposed to be paid, every time they do something, they do it for nothing.... I get so angry about this because you're undercut by all the amateurs. It's the amateurs who make it tough for the professionals because when you act professional these people are so used to getting it for nothing...."

                        {Moderator's comment: Had to pinch myself. Thought I was seeing the older brother of a well known audio journalist with equally colorful views on life, the universe and everything}


                        • #13

                          Passion has to go a step further into a conviction to do something.

                          George Harrison had enough passion not only to buy a guitar and play it, but to practice until his fingers bled.


                          • #14
                            Voluntary relationships

                            Thanks for collating that, Eric. It helps. I must say, it reminds me of why it is a bad idea for manufacturers to participate in general forums. Alan is wise to restrict himself to posting on his own manufacturer forum.

                            Alan Sircom, to my knowledge, is an employee of a larger publishing entity. In many ways, his is a rival publication, as well as a rival form of media. He is unlikely to be able to make any decision to effect such a change in his own organization, and itís probably unnecessary for them.

                            Ralph is a nice guy, but he does himself a disservice my participating in that discussion. He seems to be taking it too personally. Srajan makes a valid point when he says:

                            Atmasphere: It's true, I've never run a hifi manufacturing company. I've only worked for three in a sales and marketing capacity. That gives me a little insight into their day-to-say operations but certainly nothing like you have. I feel for your lot. It's hard trying to make a living in an overcrowded market place and an eroding dealer infrastructure. Having worked in hifi sales in a shop; and then on behalf of these three manufacturers where the dealers became my customers... I have a solid appreciation for that reality.

                            But I'm not expecting that a manufacturer give a friend of mine a free piece of gear just because he is a struggling audiophile enthusiast and can't afford it. If I flip that around, is it fair and reasonable of manufacturers to expect the work involved in writing and presenting a proper review for nothing?

                            What I hear you say is this (and correct me if I'm misinterpreting and I'm merely extrapolating): *If 6moons has issues with their ability to do free reviews, the problem is likely that their ad rates aren't high enough.* What does that say? That we should increase the financial burden on your competitors (the ones who elect to support us) so that we have more headroom to serve you and others who might be struggling and need help? (I'm not saying you're struggling! This is a discussion about certain principles, not about getting personal.)

                            If that's what you're saying (and it's what I'm hearing), then we have to agree to disagree. I'm not a charity. I love this industry. I love working in it and I think we contribute in a small but positive way. Though we're very small, we're a *commercial* entity. We don't have a for-profit half and a charity half. Do you, Ralph? Do you charge for your amps to half your customers and the other half gets them free? And if those who want free amps grow in numbers, do they come and tell, you, charge more for the ones you're selling and you'll be fine? (And you know perfectly well that if you price your amps out of reach or beyond what they're worth or beyond what makes them competitive and attractive, they won't sell at all. Do you think that raising ad rates makes them easier sells?)

                            I don't think you work like this. But please understand that under the current system, that's exactly how we operate. And I'm saying that I'm closing down the charity division. To continue being approachable by the small companies we love to work with, our entry fee is very low. If that amount really is a stumbling block... well, at the risk of sounding condescending, I'd be worried reviewing product by any company that had issues with it. I'd feel in doubt that they'd be here in half a year's time to service customers who might have bought their product based on our reviews. That is part of my vetting responsibility after all.
                            At bottom, this is one business owner/editor of a small online publication who has made a decision to restructure the way his energies are employed and the way in which heíll receive remuneration for his efforts. It is his business. Not anyone elseís. In the same way that a manufacturer can choose to raise their prices, he has the right to charge for his labor. Advertise with him and have his organization review your product or donít. Heís the one who will have to deal with the consequences of this decision.

                            Will we run out of things to review because manufacturers will elect to not support us? It's well possible. There's no way of knowing without giving it a try and making adjustments where necessary. Is it a risk? Definitely. No corporate outfit could risk it without approval of the mother ship. Since I fly solo, I can give myself permission.
                            I donít think he should be punished for the success of his website (in the form of increased bandwidth costs) and I donít think the manufacturers who have been advertising with him should be faced with a large increase to offset other manufacturers.

                            Of all the reviewers I read with any regularity, only one or two does it as their sole vocation. The rest have ďrealĒ jobs and just do it for enjoyment, or passion, if you prefer to call it that. I doubt any of them could feed their families on the earnings from their reviewing ďcareers.Ē

                            Personally, I find Srajanís reviews incomprehensible, but he clearly has a following in the industry. It is his right to be paid for it. And it is the right of all manufacturers to decide they donít need his services, much as consumers have the right to decide they donít need a particular manufacturerís services.

                            These are all voluntary relationships.

                            I decided that I donít need Ralphís amplifiers. While theyíre very nice and sound good, I consider them too elaborate and costly for my needs. End of story. He has his overhead and knows what he needs to charge to maintain a certain lifestyle for himself and his employees, while remaining viable in the market. Heíll charge as much as he can without pricing himself out of the market. Thereís no point in criticizing him for what he charges for his amplifiers or question the ethics of selling $20k amplifiers. Thatís his reality. Not mine. Why is he unwilling to accept a similar stance toward Srajan and his situation?

                            Itís all well and good for these people to criticize Srajanís decision, but theyíre not facing his economic realities, which may not be all that good given his choice of vocation. If you look on 6moons, youíll notice that they review smaller, obscure, boutique manufacturers more than most other publications or websites. Maybe Srajan is tired of being their unpaid marketing person. Maybe he regrets having focused on small manufacturers within a tiny market. Whatever the case, itís his choice. He probably shouldnít have stated his case in such a general way, implying that his proscription is right for everyone. In all likelihood, itís not.

                            Those reviewers Iíd mentioned, whom I regularly read and whose opinions I respect have day jobs that they enjoy. And they enjoy writing about audio. Itís clearly not a hardship for them to get whatever the reviewer pay is by article or word, because itís not their vocation. Itís part of their hobby. And their editor and publisher deal with the business end in whatever fashion they must to keep things afloat.

                            While it may have started on the hobby side for Srajan, itís clearly become more of a vocation, and since heís essentially a one man shop responsible for paying for 1300GB/month in bandwidth, he has to make the changes that allow him to continue producing his website or do what I see a lot of people who rely on audio reviewing for income do, which is take a position with a particular manufacturer, working on their marketing.

                            I had an unpaid internship once and the fact that I was working for free did impact my attitude toward the work. Others may be fine with it. Apparently, Iím not.

                            At the end of the day, I donít think this will lead to any major changes in the industry. To answer Alanís earlier question:

                            In simple words: is the reviewer just an inert catalyst in the chemical reaction between the manufacturer and consumer, or is he a vital primary element in that chemistry? Does the 'commercial chemistry' in audio critically depend upon the presence of the catalyst or would commerce still proceed if all audio journalists reverted to their main, paid jobs and audio reviews ceased forthwith?
                            Marketing is part of commerce. Given the state of things, with fewer dealers available for people to visit, reviewers strike me as serving a necessary marketing function for manufacturers. Commerce would proceed, but I doubt Iíd even have heard of Harbeth were it not for reviews. I suppose forums have helped fill the void, but thereís little rigour in most user accounts, and I tend to find they create more confusion than anything. One is just dealing with more poorly written accounts of things, rather than well written accounts with little substance.

                            For all their faults, Iíve found the preponderance of audio shows to be helpful. One can listen under terrible conditions, but in a low-pressure atmosphere, and then decide if you want to revisit a manufacturer with a dealer. Ultimately, that was what led me to buy Harbeth speakers.


                            • #15
                              The consumers should pay

                              I have not given over too much time reading "both sides of the argument" here. But the reviewer has to have it all wrong. The reviewer says he wants and needs to be paid for his reviews. If his reviews are wanted and welcomed by readers then it is those that "consume" his reviews that should be paying. "Simples" as the meerkat would say.

                              The business model seems convoluted to say the least. As someone who has no idea of how such business is conducted, I would say the most obvious business model would be :-

                              Reviewer seeks equipment on loan from manufacturers on the basis that a review will be produced. The manufacturer should understand that the review could be favourable or unfavourable towards his equipment. The manufacturer can either choose to supply equipment for review or not. The reviewer has an option to purchase his review equipment.

                              Reviewer seeks advertising revenue whence he can, and subscription revenue from readers for accessing his reviews. The onus would be upon the reviewer to source equipment which the readership or public at large is interested to read about, enough so to pay a subscription for reviews of interesting equipment.

                              It is likely that such a straightforward model has been considered and rejected as unworkable, so plan B was thought up, the convoluted business model which probably will not work either.

                              The reviewer does seem to be between a rock and a hard place, but pressurising/forcing manufacturers to pay for some advertising space seems a bad idea to me.