When SoundStage! founder Doug Schneider and I created SoundStage! Solo, we decided to try some ideas that other SoundStage! Network sites had never explored. We expanded the publishing schedule, added a comments section to the articles, and -- at Doug’s suggestion, and against my hesitation -- introduced ratings. Why did Doug’s suggestion worry me? Because I’d asked the “ratings or no ratings?” question so many times since I started as a tech journalist in 1989, and I’d never really come up with a satisfactory answer.
I don’t often participate in online audio forums; I have a great outlet here at SoundStage! Solo, and don’t want to invade someone else’s space. But I do read the forums to see what audio enthusiasts think about various products, and about the reviews of those products. While reading online forums can sometimes diminish one’s faith in humanity, I generally like what I see on headphone forums.
Almost all audio product reviews share the same conceit: the idea that the opinions of the person doing the review will correspond with yours. That’s because almost all evaluations of audio products are performed by a single reviewer, with negligible, if any, solicitation of or mention of others’ opinions. The premise has always been that because the writer is an expert, he (or in very rare cases, she) will understand the product well enough to predict whether or not an audio product will be a good choice for you -- or at least he or she will be able to describe the product’s characteristics accurately enough for you to get a good idea of whether or not you’ll like it.
Yesterday at the IFA show in Berlin, Qualcomm announced aptX Adaptive, the latest in a line of audio coding technologies intended to improve the performance of Bluetooth audio. During the advance briefing I received early in August from Chris Havell, Qualcomm senior director of product marketing, I was excited about what aptX Adaptive might do for headphone sound quality, but also wondered about the reaction it may get in the audio community.
When people who own gear priced in the thousands of dollars encounter similar gear priced in the hundreds of dollars, human nature practically forces them to disparage the cheap stuff. So I wasn’t surprised to see a few professionals disparaging the new miniDSP EARS headphone measurement jig on social media. I chimed in myself, predicting that the EARS might be part of an ongoing “crisis in headphone measurement.”
If you read audio websites often, you’ve surely seen discussion about whether or not measurements are important in audio reviews. Unfortunately, few of the people writing about this topic have experience in audio measurement, and their comments rarely amount to anything more than excuses for why they don’t do measurements. Because measurement is such a big part of SoundStage!’s group of websites, and SoundStage! Solo in particular, I thought it important to explain why we do measurements, and what conclusions you should draw -- and not draw -- from them.