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The 10 Audioholics Commandments

by February 19, 2010
Dont make us smite you

Don't make us smite you

We here at Audioholics have been thinking a lot lately about rules to live by. After being in the AV business for over 10 years and with literally hundreds of product reviews under our collective belts, we can't help but come to a few conclusions. Commandments if you will. These are things we believe that everyone interested in AV gear should keep in mind before purchasing. Rather than beleaguer the point, let's just jump right into them.

1) Thou shalt get the best subwoofer thou canst afford.

You may have heard people suggest when purchasing a computer to get all the RAM you can afford, and then get the next level up. You literally can't have too much. This is much the same with subwoofers. While all the other speakers play important roles in your auditory experience, no speaker, in our opinion, can make things seem so right (or go so wrong) as a sub. A great subwoofer is a visceral thing, and a device that will permanently put a smile on the face of any man (and many women) while putting the local police department on speed dial of your neighbors.  A great sub will add so much, while a bad sub can literally destroy the imaging, sound quality, and overall experience of a decent set of speakers. A sub is important. Don't skimp.

2) Thou shalt trust objective measurements above all others.

Subjective experience is important, don't get us wrong. Our reviews are full of them. But objective measurements don't lie. They can be done improperly, they can be fabricated, but they can't, inherently, lie. If you have 15 fanboys on the forum telling you a sub is great and one (accurate) objective measurement saying that it rolls off at 40Hz (note - NOT GREAT), trust the measurement.

3) Thou shalt not defy the laws of physics.

As a corollary to #2, marketers love to claim that their speakers/equipment can do things that just aren't physically possible. Bone crushing bass out of a module the size of a shoebox? "Full range" out of a 2.5-inch driver in a plastic egg-shaped enclosure? 8 gazillion-to-1 contrast ratio? It doesn't add up and you shouldn't believe it. While there are tricks manufacturers can do to make things sound/look better (certainly a crossover in a speaker is nothing but a "trick" to make the drivers and cabinet deliver the best possible response), that only works within the boundaries of known (and provable/testable) physics. Don't be fooled by bogus claims.

4) Thou shalt trust thine own ears/eyes.

While this might seem to contradict #2, it doesn't really. As reviewers, we rely on our senses all the time. We know we have biases based not only on what we like, but also on what we've experienced in the past. With us, well, we've experienced a lot. The problem lies in people that want to rely solely on (or think that others should rely solely on) user reviews. We love our forums and we think they are full of very knowledgeable people. But the vast majority of user reviews are written by people that have experience with no more than two products in a line. When they say it is the best receiver they've ever used, they mean in comparison to the Kenwood their parents gave them in '74 from which they just upgraded. You, the buyer, are just as experienced as most of these people. It is up to you to get out there and listen/see the gear you are thinking about purchasing. Even the most remote of locales has a Best Buy or Walmart nearby (or near enough) and if you are serious about purchasing you shouldn't be afraid to take a Saturday to travel to a large city. Don't take the word of someone on a forum just because they used the word AWESOME with lots of !!!!!! after it. 

5) Thou shalt not lead others astray.

Again, this follows closely the previous commandment. When giving your opinion, don't let your ego get in the way. It is fairly easy to fall into the trap of feeling that someone else buying the same gear as you and loving it somehow validates your purchase. If you like it, it should be enough. Believe us, there is always better (and worse) gear out there. Honestly state not only your opinion of your gear but also your experience so that others can put the proper weight on it. To most people, a recommendation with qualifications is more convincing than a recommendation from an anonymous person who seems to be making themselves out to be an expert. As a side note, it's OK that others think your gear sucks. We're experts and we all have gear that we love and others think is substandard. We disagree and we're OK with it. We don't feel the need to flame them into submission on the forums and neither should you.

6) Thou shalt not skimp on thine display.

While this ranks right up there with the sub, the fact is that for most people it is too late. They came to Audioholics (or the Internet in general) after having purchased a display based on the torch-mode at Best Buy or on a pimple-faced blue-shirt-wearing kid. Let me tell you something - your display is too small. If you are not Clint DeBoer (who needs to take Dramamine to play FPS games on his 110" display) than your display is too small. If you went off a recommendation from a sales person - it is too small. If you read a chart at Walmart - it is too small. In our opinion, the "perfect" size screen is one that you can just barely see all sides without moving you eyes... much. But if you really want to know what is perfect for you, go to the movies. Sit in the "perfect" spot and then measure (probably with "strides") the distance to the screen and the width of the screen. Use that as the ratio for you at home. We're betting you'll find that your screen is way too small. In these days when a front projection system that will do 1080p is less than a grand (without the screen), there is no reason you can't have a great big display.

7) Thou shalt calibrate.

While this mostly refers to your display, the fact is that you're not getting the experience you deserve if you're not taking the time to calibrate. This may be as little as running the auto-calibration system on your receiver (and hopefully checking it with an SPL meter) and going through the THX Optimizer audio/video calibration on just about any DVD they've released in the last five years (if you see the THX logo on the spine of a DVD, chances are the Optimizer is on there). It may be as intensive as hiring a professional calibrator to come in and custom calibrate your display for each of your sources. Regardless, you should be doing something. If not, you're risking, at the very least, a substandard viewing/listening experience. You might even be risking burn-in of a plasma display or premature bulb death if you're not at least taking your rear or front projection display out of torch mode.

8) Thou shalt not neglect thine room.

This probably should have been at the top spot. Nothing is a worse crime to us (other than HTiB cube speakers) than walking into a room where someone has spent thousands of dollars on gear and the room is an echo chamber. Hardwood floor, glass walls, vaulted, exposed ceiling... the sound has nowhere to go without being forced back into the room. They want to know why their gear doesn't image well. Well, of course it doesn't because, by the time you hear the sound, it has bounced all around the room and is hitting your ear from slightly different angles at slightly different times. The room is just as important as your speakers. Don't believe us? Take your speakers into your bathroom and tell us they sound the same. They don't. The speakers are the same, so it has to be the room. With all these shows on HGTV showing designers painting colored boxes on walls, don't tell us your spouse won't approve of a few room treatments - just wait for one of those programs and say, "I could make room treatements that look just like that and we could both be happy." Thick rugs, bookshelves, bass traps, panel absorbers... all these can be integrated into just about any decor. Don't skimp, your ears will thank you.

9) Thou shalt not let aesthetics compromise sound... too much.

That being said, unless you have a dedicated room, you can't expect to be able to recreate the bridge of the NCC-1701D in your living room. You're going to have to make some compromises. You may not be able to get the thickest panels or all the bass traps, but something is better than nothing. And remember, compromising may just mean that you spend a bit more to have your panels covered with a print of your wedding day (they can do that now). Sure, it costs a little more but it may be worth it for the relationship harmony you'll engender.

10) Thou shalt not bow down to esoteric gods.

You are going to be tempted. You're going to see the stainless finish, the clean faceplates, the little blue lights and you're going to be tempted. We understand, we've all been there. But don't forget why you got into this hobby - great picture and great sound. If your purchase isn't giving you one of those two things, you shouldn't be considering it. Most of the esoteric stuff out there is either rebadged cheaper stuff, or plain tomfoolery. Silver wires? Crazy amp designs? Cryogenics? No objective reviews and a fanatical following that talks about "veils being lifted" or "chocolatey sounds"? Just walk away. If you are looking for a status symbol, get a Rolex. That'll impress your audio friends too.


About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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