As you may have noticed we are in "the award season." Many sites have golden, platinum, and silver this and that along with the inevitable holiday gift guides. And if you ever wanted to experience puff-piece journalism at its finest, this is the time of year you'll see it most prevalent.
Don't misunderstand me, I'm not an award-hater, it's just that the real meaning and purpose of awards in audio (and other consumer products) are not necessarily for the components themselves as much as it's for other stuff that consumers don't see.
In theory the primary editorial purpose of awards is to remind consumers of what was the best stuff from the prior year. It doesn't hurt that this occurs during the main buying season for electronics (between now and the Super Bowl). But what do the awards really award? For many publications it's more about a company's corporate marketing clout than the actual products themselves.
Awards are earned. Not by individual components, but by marketing and PR departments. Those firms that employ savvy well-connected PR firms or PR directors win more awards than the smaller enthusiast manufacturers because the larger firms focus more attention on the press and inevitably, when firms give the press more attention, the press in turn gives a company more ink or pixels.
I'm sure that some of the more paranoid in the audience are immediately thinking that this all smacks of cronyism. And while at its worst awards ARE rewards for the PR and marketing department far more than impartial arbiters of quality, they also indicate which companies care about marketing and customer support. And companies that care about customer support consistently deliver a better overall experience for consumers. Hello, Apple...
So as you look through the gift guides and multi-metallic awards this season, don't consider them as ultimate buying lists (as the publications and manufacturers would like) but as indicators of which companies care the most about press, PR, and hopefully customer support.
Also bear in mind that come early January, when the doors of the 2014 CES open wide, you'll be treated to a whole container boat-load of new stuff, which of course, according to the marketing and PR departments, will be better than anything on this year's lists...