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No Stupid Questions… Part 5: Miscellaneous

by August 03, 2008
I could go on and on... oh wait, I already did...

I could go on and on... oh wait, I already did...

As a reviewer (much less the host of AV Rant), I am asked on a regular basis for my opinion. Everyone from the checkout guy at the supermarket to random people at parties want me to tell them which is the best display or speakers or HTiB. Family and friends are no better in that they ask for specific suggestions to the vaguest of questions. Sometimes they want specific answers to specific issues with which I am unlikely to have an answer (what are the best wireless headphones, best VHS to DVD recorder, etc.) and other times they just want to know what is the ultimate, best, "X". Invariably, their eyes glaze over as I wax poetic about the differences between LCD and Plasma, or HTiBs and banging your head on the wall, or how they measure contrast ratios by tossing little plastic Smurfs coated in bacon grease at their dog and multiply the number eaten by 1000 and putting a :1 after it.

Audioholics has put together a number of documents to help people help themselves.

This will probably not really be one of them.

Someone once said that there are no stupid questions. That person was stupid. People who repeat that idiom are either stupid or are looking for material for their blogs. You'll notice that while many of the questions I cover aren't particularly stupid, the lack of thought or the inability for any human to answer them is what puts them, and their asker, squarely in the "I eat paste" camp. This installment will deal with questions about general questions.

Miscellaneous Questions

There are a few other questions that are more general or that just don't fit in one neat category. That doesn't make them any less annoying.

Is brand X or brand Y better?

We've dealt with this slightly in the speaker section but this is both more general and more specific. I get questions that just don't make any sense. Like, "Should I buy these $100 speakers or this set of $1500 speakers?" Umm… what? If your budget is $1500, why are you considering the $100 speakers? Oh… I get it… some forum troll is posting all over the net that they got some great speakers at the local big box store for next to nothing and says that they are better than anything ever made, ever. His energy is so contagious that others have purchased and agreed that that are very good speakers. Let me tell you something about this phenomenon:

  1. That dude almost certainly is an employee trying to pimp their wares. But, for the sake of argument, let's assume that he isn't.
  2. That dude is almost certainly an idiot that doesn't know what the heck he's talking about. But for the sake of argument, let's assume that he isn't.
  3. That dude is almost certainly a first time buyer that doesn't have the knowledge or experience to compare his purchase to anything other than the clock radio his parents gave him when they "upgraded" to a wave radio. But for the sake of argument, let's assume that he isn't.
  4. That dude is almost certainly is experiencing some sort of expectancy bias, placebo effect, or psychotic break because there is no physical way that a speaker at an extreme low price point (like $100) can outperform a speaker at 10 or 15 times the cost.

As someone that has been around this phenomenon enough, let me tell you what will happen:

  1. Someone (probably a LOT of someones) will run out and buy said speaker
  2. Some of them will actually realize that they are good for the price, but not nearly as good as they are being touted.
  3. They will say so.
  4. They will be overruled (and quite possibly berated) by the hysterical masses.
  5. Two months later you will start to read posts about people with quality problems. Customer service will universally suck.
  6. Four months after that people will start to admit that the speakers aren't all that great.
  7. Six months later and most of the people that "loved" those speakers so much are back on the market.
  8. Six months after that and you couldn't find those speakers at a pawn shop much less in someone's living room

When you feel yourself having a near irrational need to run to a store to pick up something because of things you've read on the Internet, you probably aren't "near" irrational. You're all the way there.

Why doesn't X work? Or, I couldn't get X to work right with Y, what did I do wrong?

How the heck should I know? Am I in your home? Did I wire your system up? No. So if you want a solution, here is the general answer:

  1. Check your connections
  2. Check your settings
  3. Repeat

If it isn't on fire it probably is one of the two things above. It is near impossible to diagnosis and fix a problem over the phone much less over email. Mostly because you don't know enough to give me the information I need. If you knew enough to help me help you, you could help yourself and leave me alone. AV University is your friend.

I want to get X from my computer to my home theater, what is the best way?

Wow. How geeky are you? How much do you want to be involved in this process? Almost everything these days has an Ethernet port which can be used to stream content, and there are USB ports which can pull in music and photo files. There are a ton of devices that are made specifically to stream content. Heck there are ever receivers, displays, and players that are out or on the way that will interface with your computer. The sky is the limit and the deciding factor is how much you want to be involved and how much you are willing to pay.

Now, if you want to make the process easy, seamless, and rock solid - burn it all to discs. I've yet to find a device that I completely love. I really like some in comparison to others but there are always issues. Connection problems, network incompatibility, Smurfs… the list goes on. Just resign yourself to the idea that it is not going to be easy. It will either be frustrating, irritating, or (most likely) emasculating. But you have fun with that.

I saw your review of X, you're an idiot and here are all the reasons why.

I'm SO glad you love your device. I'm SO glad you spent all that money on it. I'm sorry that I think it is crap or, more likely, that I think it is slightly less than the orgasmic experience you think it is. You don't have to take it back. You don't have to hide it from your friends. Heck, if I come over, I promise not to mention how badly you got ripped off. But thanks for your input.

By the way, I place the "I own this device and think the exactly same thing as you" in the same round file as the above emails.

People want you to buy what they have

Remember, people want validation (see previous question). They want to know that they spent their money wisely. When you ask them what to buy, they tell you what they have because it is the best, right? Or why else would they have bought it? But owners are generally NOT the best person to ask for advice. You can ask them what they like about the device or what they don't like. They can usually answer that well enough. But asking them what to buy will generally lead you astray.

Reviewers are a bit better in that they generally have experience with more gear and are less ego-invested in the gear. But that doesn't make them the all knowing repositories of all gear ever made, ever. I mean, they aren't Papa Smurf or anything. Assume that they don't have experience with gear they haven't reviewed. Because they generally haven't - at least not in an "official" capacity. They may have heard it at a show or at someone's house but (as we all know now) that isn't the same. And a reviewer, if anyone, should be cognizant of the fact that the room (especially with speakers) makes a big difference.

Press releases as reviews

If you do any research online, you'll find "reviews" that are almost word for word on many different sites. These aren't reviews. They are press releases that have been provided as content to sites. They always talk about how great the product is, there are rarely (if ever) ratings, and it makes it seem as if it is the greatest product on earth.

It probably isn't.

Real products don't need marketing shills to hawk their wares. They stand on their merits not the trumped up marketing speak. If a product is good, they will send it out for review, if not, it is press release city. Websites post this stuff because it is content and it drives hits. If they can get it up first, they get good search engine placement. That brings traffic which brings more ad dollars.

Just like when they have a good TV show, the reviewers get advanced copies and you are reading reviews before the show ever comes out. Audio gear that is good will have plenty of real reviews. Reviews that may or may not have measurements but obviously have a real person behind them. Your job is to decide if that person can be trusted.

In closing…

When looking for advice, mine or anyone else's, be sure to carefully temper that with your own experience. Just because everyone thinks that a speaker is so great doesn't mean that you will. What it does mean is that others will feel validated if you buy something based on their recommendation. If it sounds good to you, do yourself a favor and take six months off the Internet to enjoy it. Come back after and do a search to see if others agree. They you can start shopping again. Upgrading is, in all honesty, part of the fun.


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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