It’s that time of year!
Up until fairly recently I was immune to the whole forensic TV
show phenomenon. But then I started watching re-runs of House while I was at 24-Hour Fitness (which is not to say I endorse
24-Hour fitness. My local branch is a hole with a locker room designed by
someone who obviously had never set foot in a locker room or a gym, coupled
with an antiquated ventilation system that fills the air with eau de old sweat
sock). But House led to NCIS and CSI, so now I’m solidly hooked. But watching
these TV mysteries while sweating profusely got me thinking – Audiophiles who
are into vintage audio gear and want to do it successfully need to be able to
read audio reviews like forensic pathologists.
Here’s the way the process works for me – I see something on
Ebay or Audiogon that catches my fancy, I Google it, looking for reviews and
descriptions. Once I find a review the fun begins. If it’s a full review from
someone I know, I can apply what I know about their tastes to the review. Even
more importantly, if it’s a TAS or Stereophile review I can see what other gear
was in the signal chain during the review process.
Next, it’s time to read the sonic description and see if any of
the sonic characteristics the reviewer attributes to the review component could
be attributable to something other than that the particular piece of gear. This
is where the gear list is vital – it is a compilation of reasons the system
sounded as it did. Each piece added it’s own colorations and quirks to the
equation. See how this is getting to be more like an episode of NCI. We have
our list of suspects.
If you are especially thorough, you can spend quite a bit of
time working your way through a signal chain, finding reviews of each component
and seeing if that review has any info that’s relevant to the sound of the original
component you’re researching. Did I mention this could take some time?
One of my theories, completely unsubstantiated by any
meaningful statistic or research or any kind, is that during the 70’s, 80’s,
and yes even the 90’s, many of the “reference” source components were not as good
as we originally thought, so many of the preamps and power amps that received
less than stellar reviews may have been unfairly tarred by the brush of their
source components upstream. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying a Phase Linear
is as transparent as a Krell. But Motif and a number of other ’90’s solid-state
amps and preamps might not be as bad as originally reported, just a bit too
revealing for their time…