The Absolute Sound

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  • 02-04-2008, 05:05 AM
    emaidel
    The Absolute Sound
    Rather than post this under my "Dirty Little Secrets" thread, which is now a "Melvin Walker Against the Free World" thread, I thought I'd start a new one.

    I have a particular dislike for The Absolute Sound (TAS) due to a particularly unpleasant experience with them in 1993 while working as the VP of Sales and Marketing for Stanton. The Stanton Collector's Series CS-100 had been well reviewed in Europe, and was selling fairly well there, but was doing poorly in the U.S., as were all Stanton "hi-fi," or "consumer" cartrdiges. It was the DJ business that was carrying the company, and no matter how well the CS-100 was liked by those of us working there, our efforts had to be concentrated elsewhere.

    A couple of retailers in the U.S. were selling the CS-100 sporadically, and thought it was an outstanding product. They also often requested that I contact TAS for a review. I didn't have to do that, because TAS contacted me, and therein lies my tale.

    I was contacted by a young man at TAS who said that many of their readers had both phoned them, and sent them letters (don't forget: this was pre-email days!) stating that the CS-100 was such a good cartridge, that TAS was "doing its readers a disservice" by not reviewing it. TAS had previously given a fine review to the Stanton 881-SMKII, on which the CS-100 was based. Naturally, I sent them a "sample." Before going further, the terms "sample," "manufacturer's loan," and "freebie" all amount to the same thing when it comes to sending TAS cartridges. ALL Pickering and Stanton cartridges sent to them over the years were NEVER returned.

    A few weeks later, this same person contacted me again to say that Harry Pearson had heard about the CS-100 and was "so excited" about it, that he too requested a sample for his personal evalutation. This was practically verbatim compared to a call I received from TAS back in 1977 when I was a National Sales Manager for Pickering, after I had sent them a Pickering XSV-3000 for evaluation, and they gave that cartrdige a fairly good review at the time. And so, off went another sample/manufacturer's loan/freebie.

    Then, many months passed with nothing, which is pretty much par for the course. I would occasionally contact them to see how the reviewing process was going, but nobody seemed to know much.

    Then, one day, this young man called me with an entirely different tone to his voice. He began apologizing profusely for having somehow mistaken the Stanton Collector's Series CS-100 with what he now thought "was probably a Goldring," and didn't want to "be held accountable" for me, or anyone at Stanton, believing otherwise. He was so clearly lying through his teeth it wasn't funny. I then said, "I guess you're telling me we're getting a bad review, no?" His response was that he didn't know, but didn't want to "mislead" me to thinking that any and all of his previous statements had anything to do with Stanton, but did with another manufacturer.

    Then the review arrived in the mail, as is customary, for "manufacturer's comments." The review was horrible. For whatever reason, TAS chose another young man to review the CS-100 who was an avowed "Stanton-hater," and who bitterly disagreed with the publication's fine review of the 881-S. This person, aside from criticizing the sound as "clinical," and "steely" (amongst other such adjectives), went on to make some truly ridiculous claims: first, he stated that the manner in which the stylus was held in place ("by friction") was somehow inadequate, and responsible for the cartridge producing something he termed "vibrational torque." He also claimed the stereo image collapsed as the level of the recording increased (which would imply that channel separation was somehow affected by level, which is most decidedly is NOT), and also claimed that all Stantons "were susceptible to acoustic feedback."

    The company's engineers and I jointly wrote a response back to TAS, and did our best to keep our tempers in check. First, we asked just what "vibrational torque" was, and how it could be tested. Not surprisngly, there was no response to that. Second, I pointed out that the manner in which all Stanton and PIckering cartridge stylus assemblies were held in place had worked flawlessly for the company for over 36 years. Again, no response. Then, I pointed out that if Stanton cartridges were somehow "prone to acoustic feedback" that they could never have become the world's best-selling DJ cartridge, since the acoustic environment in which DJ's operate is one with all but deafening levels and highly exaggerated bass. I pointed out that, aside from a considerably stiffer stylus suspension, Stanton DJ cartridges didn't differ that much in overall design from their "consumer" counterparts. His response was, "Whatever a DJ does with a cartridge has no place on the pages of The Absolute Sound." There was also no comment regarding our claim that we were never able to duplicate his observed phenomenon of the stereo image collapsing as the recorded level increased.

    This reviewer actually did provide a brief bit of lip service from the individual who had originally given the 881-SMKII such a good review. That person's comments were very flattering, but completely ignored, and the reviewer simply went on and on about how "awful" the CS-100 was.

    Not surprisingly, the already mediocre U.S. sales of the CS-100 came to a complete and abrupt end.

    I never quite understood the rationale behind using a "Stanton-hater" to review a Stanton cartridge, nor why such a reviewer openly disagreed with the magazine's previous laudatory reviews on Stanton/PIckering products. It was almost as if they were saying, "we gave you a good review before, but now it's time to give you a bad one."

    If the review were simply on merits related to sound, and the reviewer's opinion of that, we we would have been disappointed, but would have (as we did anyway) simply accepted our fate. But this guy just went too far, making ridiculous and false claims, and then placed himself (and the magazine) on a pedestal above all else when taken to task to "prove" his claims.

    I don't think TAS has any idea how they effectively killed all future sales of the CS-100 (European sales plummeted too), nor that they even cared. In the end, they did indeed "do their readers a disservice."
  • 02-04-2008, 05:19 AM
    emaidel
    Just thought I'd add this: I suspect I wouldn't have minded TAS's lousy review so much if I didn't personally like the Collector's Series CS-100 as much as I did then, and still do. I don't work for Stanton any longer, and have no reason to try to uphold the company's (or, more specifically, the original company's) reputation. I just think that the CS-100 is a wonderful cartridge that holds its own, being a "lowly" MM design, against far costlier MC designs.

    Aside from extra careful attention to detail when being manufactured, and running individual frequency response curves (in addition to the standard "Calibration" report), the CS-100 also had a narrow, tapered beryllium cantilever which was sapphire coated. Affixed to its end was a "nude" Stereohedron stylus. And channel separation typically measured 35db midband, and rarely ever less than 22db at extreme high frequencies.
  • 02-04-2008, 06:22 AM
    Feanor
    Mag reviews in general
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by emaidel
    Rather than post this under my "Dirty Little Secrets" thread, which is now a "Melvin Walker Against the Free World" thread, I thought I'd start a new one.
    ...

    I try not to ever base any action or statement of mine on a single review from a single magazine, (online source or whatever). There is simply too much variability, though if several sources concur, then carries some weight. Even then, some products end up more highly rated than they deserve, for example, the much acclaimed NAD C270. I owned a copy and was underwhelmed by its performance -- of course that's just my subjective opinion.

    Let's face it: subjectivity and personal bias is a big factor in reviews. This is the case regardless of the good intentions and sincerity of the reviewer. People really do believe their ears, despite common sense and evidence to the contrary. There a several Audio Asylum members who steadfastly believe that the likes of Brilliant Pebbles, Little Clocks, Intelligent Chips, and TeleTweaks really do work. Amazingly they take offense when people express skepticism.
  • 02-04-2008, 06:27 AM
    emaidel
    Do you mean that those magic pebbles don't work?
  • 02-04-2008, 06:32 AM
    Feanor
    Well ...
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by emaidel
    Do you mean that those magic pebbles don't work?

    I haven't tried them. However if I did, I might not give them a fair review on account of my bias ... which is that they cannot work. :smilewinkgrin: Certainly that's what the likes of Wellfed would say
  • 02-04-2008, 07:35 AM
    Ajani
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Feanor
    I try not to ever base any action or statement of mine on a single review from a single magazine, (online source or whatever). There is simply too much variability, though if several sources concur, then carries some weight. Even then, some products end up more highly rated than they deserve, for example, the much acclaimed NAD C270. I owned a copy and was underwhelmed by its performance -- of course that's just my subjective opinion.

    Let's face it: subjectivity and personal bias is a big factor in reviews. This is the case regardless of the good intentions and sincerity of the reviewer. People really do believe their ears, despite common sense and evidence to the contrary. There a several Audio Asylum members who steadfastly believe that the likes of Brilliant Pebbles, Little Clocks, Intelligent Chips, and TeleTweaks really do work. Amazingly they take offense when people express skepticism.

    I had a very similar experience with a NAD C352 Integrated Amp.... It was the first 'decent' amp I bought... and I pretty much purchased it because of the overwhelming good reviews it received.... Though, it was a good amp, I was never really impressed by it....

    Since then I've learned to trust my ears and use reviews to get an idea of products I should check out... but NEVER buy anything just based on reviews... especially one glowing review....

    Oh, and emaidel - Good thread....
  • 02-04-2008, 11:04 AM
    filecat13
    I tend to use reviews as a means to help me not spend time on a product that receives a number of unflattering reviews. There's just too much out there.

    However, I must be candid and report that I used to put much more stock in reviews from authoritative publishers and their professional reviewers. Perhaps twenty years ago I began to discern that there was far more subjectivism and market positioning going on than anything else at these reputed publications, and I stopped reading them altogether.

    At the time of the TAS article in the 1990s, I was already completely jaded with it and virtually everyone else, but had I read the article in the 80s I probably would have heeded it as gospel and never given the Stanton a chance.

    Such is the power of unchallenged authority in the face of ignorance.
  • 02-04-2008, 11:32 AM
    emaidel
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by filecat13
    had I read the article in the 80s I probably would have heeded it as gospel and never given the Stanton a chance.

    Regrettably, many others did precisely that, as evidenced by the complete cessation of sales of the cartridge. The dealers who had asked about getting a review on the CS-100 because they liked it as much as they did just shook their heads in disbelief.