Audiophile reviewers and disclosure.

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Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash

A word of warning before you read this, if by any chance you review audiophile gear keep in mind that I’m probably not writing about you.
With that out of the way, I’m totally against people who say they are reviewers or make review blogs just to get free samples or even money for their opinions.

In fact this post came to be because I started to notice a pretty awful trend on so called headphone reviewers, most of them do it because they receive free stuff which they get to keep after their reviews.
Bloggers know it’s wrong and the companies who supply them often make a blind eye, because it brings them more customers already primed by word-to-mouth hype.
In fact this kind of marketing strategies were one of the reasons the FTC made US bloggers disclose any kind of endorsements or free samples.

No wonder we never read truly negative reviews on some audiophile sites or blogs.
Those writers refuse to review bad products because it would ruin their relationship with the merchant who’s giving them free samples! Sad but true.
Sure some bloggers will disclose they are receiving free gear but it’s all for nothing if they are reviewing just to receive the gear, thus they lack the main thing any reviewer amateur or professional needs above all, integrity.

I totally understand the rush of receiving new stuff on the doorstep, but these writers are literally selling their opinion to the lowest bidder.
Because of them most who are serious about their work or hobby are faced with the sad reality of being pressured by those very same companies for positive reviews. After all if one reviewer sells out everyone else will surely will!

I totally suck as a reviewer and I lack the necessary wine tasting vocabulary most use on their articles, but I do strive for honesty on my opinions.
For example in my KZ earphones guide I disclosed this:

– All earphones are bought with my money from various online shops.
– I’m not endorsed by KZ in any way nor do I want to be. 

I can fairly bash any KZ earphone I bought because of this, It’s my money and I’ll give my blunt opinion on the gear. Until now I never gave a negative opinion on any KZ product, but I don’t know what the future holds.

In this niche everyone has their fair share of blame for the problem.   
Some reviewers are addicted to free stuff and sadly some consumers need to confirm their purchases with positive reviews.
Reviewers are very important to the current consumer society but they are also accountable for their words.
It’s up to each one of us to understand what’s bullshit and what’s not.

On the Sony NW-WM1Z Walkman.

Most guardians of the galaxy Walkman fans know the Sony TPS-L2 was released in 1979, in fact we (yes, yours truly included) celebrate this Japanese icon anniversary on 1 of July. Sadly this year I’m a bit late for the party, so to make up for my delay I want to share my opinion on the hefty price tag of the Sony NW-WM1Z Walkman, which was something that was nagging me for some time now.
For the ones who think I’ll be bashing right and left, sorry but you are out of luck, I’m a Sony Walkman fan.

The Sony NW-WM1Z Gold edition that goes for almost 3000€ on Amazon (July 2017) is one amazing piece of engineering at least on paper.
I never had a chance to actually hear or hold one, thus I won’t write about the sound quality of the product but knowing Sony I’m sure it’s Hi-Fi enough.

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Sony NW-WM1Z photo belongs to Sony Corporation.

I want to point that even if I think the price is batshit crazy, I totally understand why a company like Sony actually made this player.
Besides of course the marketing for their 70th anniversary, Sony built it because there’s a market niche who will pay crazy amounts of money for this kind of digital audio players.
Yes, some enthusiasts will buy a 3000€ Walkman because they truly believe sonic nirvana is right around the corner.
Sure some people will purchase this Walkman because it’s a status symbol, but I think the enthusiasts just want the best quality on the market and they’ll go to great lengths for it. Sony was the one who taught people how to use a Walkman during the 80’s, so they know there’s an audience for this kind of product, after all if my memory doesn’t fail me consumers always reacted nicely to other Walkman anniversary editions.

Sony since the TPS-L2 model always injected on their flagship models every know-how they had on portable High-Fidelity and that’s something every enthusiast must respect. Sure sometimes Sony jumps the shark and their marketing teams just look like they want to make a easy buck out of enthusiasts. Akio Morita must be turning on his grave for that one, for he always had a massive respect for Sony costumers.

Looking at the hardware and research they obviously pour on this over-engineered golden monolith. One can only imagine what great things they could have achieved earlier if they didn’t focus so much in their proprietary audio compression format ATRAC and weren’t so stubborn about not supporting MP3 thus allowing the iPod and other MP3 players to dethrone the Walkman.
Now with the portable music players market share devastated by smartphones, Sony must also face heavy competition from cheap and not so cheap Chinese brands and other established Japanese and South Korean companies who jumped on the Hi-Res bandwagon.

In the end all of this competition will be great for enthusiasts and it’s quite welcomed in a market dominated by smartphones.
It would be a nice idea if Sony made a special edition of the TPS-L2 Walkman for their 75th anniversary, I would buy it for sure.

China, the new audiophile superpower.

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Photo by WillSpirit SBLN on Unsplash

I could write a full article about the massive Chinese audiophile community, but I won’t go there for the sake of my sanity. Lets just say they are very enthusiastic about Hi-Fi.
In one point I think most occidental audiophiles agree, the Chinese are very serious about their Hi-Fi and they have the power of numbers on their side.
Those numbers are in fact their biggest strength when it comes to demand accessible high quality High-Fidelity gear, and Chinese companies are more than happy to deliver the goods usually at the expense of quality and originality.

During the 80’s Japan was in the forefront of everything Hi-Fi and the American and European companies struggled with the fierce Japanese competition.
That came to be because the occidental companies lacked courage to release new radical products on the market. Sure some companies had great products but their fear to fail on their shareholders crippled their imagination.
Today ironically that very same problem plagues Sony, a company that in the 80’s was the perfect example of a Japanese giant with amazing research and development (R&D), factories, distribution and marketing.
Japanese Hi-Fi companies like Sony had great quality assurance (QA) when they entered the international markets, mostly because they had very aggressive competition towards them and also because it’s was expensive to send the parts overseas to service the products.
Sure some Japanese companies built factories in the US and Europe but quality was and still is their best weapon to fight competition. That attention to detail and quality still stands today, as “Made in Japan” still means high quality workmanship, QA and a heavy price tag.

The problem with quality is that you have to pay for it, that premium even if well received by most audiophiles is the weak point of companies that need to uphold their brand name, after all it would be beyond awful if a batch of Sennheiser or Beyerdynamic headphones failed unexpectedly after 6 months.
When buying a product from a established Hi-Fi company the consumer pays R&D, production, distribution, marketing and of course QA, this is to name a few because it’s a complex subject which I didn’t study too deep.
With all that system in place for the established Hi-Fi makers, it’s normal that Chinese companies are now in a position to actually compete with cheaper prices because:
They can literally copy designs without legal issues and have the equipment and materials available, because most established companies make their stuff in China, thus no R&D.
Production is cheap for various social-economic reasons I won’t explain here.
Distribution is supported by the government and various local and international commercial agreements. Chinese companies help each other at least from my point of view, but as in all things I can be wrong.
Marketing is not really necessary because word-of-month between enthusiasts is enough, in fact word-of-mouth is so strong it can actually inflate the prices of products praised by the community.
QA focus in making the product work at a short term, because after all most of these Chinese companies don’t really worry about servicing their cheap gear,  they can always send a replacement unit.
Sure not all Chinese Hi-Fi companies are like the above, but let’s be sincere most of them are and they face no competition besides their own.

Having a massive enthusiast base and small companies that only need to worry on the short term makes China the new audiophile superpower.
The large community gives their opinion about the gear and factories almost in real time adapt to their requests. Very few established companies can actually do that and in my opinion some of them should actually start taking notes from their Chinese competition.

I still believe Chinese brands will have a hard time competing against established higher priced gear, after a certain price point enthusiasts will bash any company that doesn’t do serious QA on their products, plus legal problems will arise as soon as some companies setup offices outside China.

I must admit it’s a great time to be a audiophile, thanks to the Chinese enthusiasts and companies anyone in the world can enjoy a good song.

 

ZS5 added to my Knowledge Zenith guide.

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KZ ZS5

I updated the KZ earphones guide with the new ZS5 model.
I’m not a reviewer so my opinion is a blunt one. If the KS5 fits your ears go buy them.

KS5 
– Currently the best KZ IEMs I own. Sure there is some hype on the community about these, because after all we are talking about a 2 dynamic driver + 2 balanced armature IEM for less than 30€.
– Their sound has all the good vibes of the KZ IE8, plus one amazing bass that doesn’t overtake the music even if you are hearing metal. They are detailed and very fun to hear but they can cause some fatigue in the long run with some types of music.
– Noise isolation is decent but the fitting inside the ear is not for everyone, some adjustments need to be made for a comfortable fit and even so they can hurt a little in long listening sessions. In terms of comfort these IEMs are not for people with small ears.
– The shells are mode of plastic, they are sturdy enough but not amazing.
– Detachable stock cable is ok but I prefer the silver cable for some comfort around the ears.

Read more at KZ earphones guide.

If you enjoy your hobby write a blog.

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Photo by Camille Kimberly on Unsplash

When I wrote my first opinions on this blog I did it mostly to vent some criticisms related to the audiophile hobby. I was truly tired of not having a voice in the community.
After being quiet for decades I had the need to stand my ground on controversial subjects, even if I had to criticize and offend other enthusiasts along the way.
These days I must admit that I don’t feel the urge to complain so much. Writing on my blog actually released me from the frustration of not having a voice, so now I don’t need to be so blunt when I see companies trying to sell snake oil to audiophiles or other related bullshit.

I believe having a voice and a space also made me a better person online, I don’t feel so inclined to be a asshole when participating on audiophile communities. Looking at the current state of some forums I also believe many commentators should actually write a blog to release all of their hate speech, saving some newbies along the way.

In fact it’s my opinion that if you truly enjoy your hobby, you should write about it if your time allows it and your inspiration gives you a hand from time to time.
It’s fun to have our own uncensored online notepad. Communities like Reddit and forums belong to people or companies with their own agendas, so in those usually highly moderated places it’s hard to give an honest opinion without being down-voted to oblivion or harassed by other users. I more often than not watch really good opinions being down-voted by the community just because they don’t follow the sheepish opinion those users have about a brand or topic.

Lets not forget that in those communities discussions can be toxic for newbies, making them frustrated for not having the “golden ears” some audiophiles claim they have, like it’s some God given gift that only they can achieve.
These days when I visit some communities, users often discuss topics like they are in a competition. Everyone wants to win but in the end nobody actually wins anything besides some kind of status which can be removed as soon as the administrators feel you are attacking their sponsors and source of income.  Looking at the fast pace things change the best way to actually have a voice is to write on a blog.
Discussions can still happen and people can refute your opinions on their own blogs.

My wife often laughs at me when I’m ardently fighting discussing something on a social network, deep down I also laugh because I know it’s a total waste of precious time.
I could be using all that time to actually write about things I enjoy on my own blog.
Social networks are an amazing way to find people and chat about daily news but they are too volatile to be of any use in the long run. That’s why all the best articles I often read are on websites or blogs, in those places time has a different meaning and the readers actually read, unlike the users of social networks which are expected to interact with the platform.

In the end if you enjoy your hobby and want to learn more about yourself and the world, I highly advise you to write a blog one day.