Dear Audio Community, Get Your Head Out of Your…

Illustration of audiophiles yelling at eachother

o we are now in the early part of 2022, and after two-plus years of COVID-induced hibernation, we are starting to see and feel some signs of normalcy returning… hopefully. In the meantime, Spring is starting to make itself felt in most places and it feels like a time of renewal in many respects. As such, I feel like I need to get a few things off my chest. Perform a kind of therapeutic cleansing. A detox if you will, of some of the audio-related things I’ve heard and observed which may or may not have gotten under my craw over this past period of pause.

Audio Shows in 2022

After a slew of show cancellations throughout all of last year, we have started to see a few shows actually go on this year. By the time you read this, the Florida Audio Expo, CanJAM NYC, Salon Audio Montreal, and AXPONA will all have happened and by most signs will have been successfully attended, with Munich Hi-End happening just around the corner. And honestly, it’s about time. Having personally attended Florida and CanJAM, it was generally just good to see and catch up with industry friends again after being gone so long. Yes, you can do it over Zoom like so many of us did, but it’s not the same. Greater still, I was also very happy to experience a large variety of great audio equipment again, which in case anyone was wondering, is the point of these things.
Comic illustration of audio show
Throughout the pandemic, I heard more than a few industry people (manufacturers, reviewers, marketing reps, etc.) eulogize about the end of the audio show. It has become unnecessary, both as a method of doing business and for drumming up consumer product interest. Comments like, “Shows are a dinosaur, a huge waste of time and effort, a money pit for us.” I kept thinking to myself that this was almost dangerously self-defeating when I heard it from a manufacturer, and honestly just plain foolish when it came from anyone else. Putting the obvious health dangers of the pandemic to the side for a moment, most audio and video manufacturers I’ve spoken with discovered the whole COVID-19 situation to be an unexpected sales windfall. All of us that found ourselves with little to do and nowhere to go for the past two years sank a bunch of disposable income into our homes, which included things like new or updated audio and video systems. A/V companies now being flush with orders to fill, with many back-logged due to supply chain issues, can easily bag on the idea of doing a show. From their perspective, who needs to bang on your own drum when lots of customers are already coming to you, cash in hand?

Yet sooner or later that will come to an end and there will be other things that will return to fight for those disposable dollars. What happens then? I remember having a discussion with a particular high-end speaker manufacturer on the subject. This company makes very well-respected active loudspeakers. They were of the opinion that modern audio shows were pointless, set up at a show is never ideal, and in the end, did not result in any significant increase in sales for them. I argued that may be so but what about for publicity? They aren’t the largest manufacturer in the world or a household name in speakers so where and how would people be able to experience their products outside of a select few audio dealers? The company rep maintained that shows were still irrelevant. I replied, frankly I personally would not have been able to experience your products at all if I hadn’t been to the Munich show or RMAF. At both those shows, I spent a fair amount of time listening to the company’s speakers and came away very impressed and I knew for myself that yes, these speakers were worth all the hype that had built up around them. Slightly taken aback he replied, well did you buy a pair? No, I said, I can’t afford them, yet. But someday I might. More importantly, though, it established a quality benchmark in my mind, both for the brand and the particular speakers in question. One that I would compare other top-notch speakers to. That is what an audio show is all about! Where else can a bunch of like-minded folks gather in good cheer and listen to a broad variety of equipment?

Comic illustration of a metal head and character in suit with record
And before anyone says that it’s just the same old grey-haired white guys that come to these shows, where that may have been true in the past, I observed a bit of a younger and more diverse crowd at these first couple of shows I attended this year. A byproduct of being extra prudent due to COVID perhaps? Maybe. But for shows, and the A/V biz in general, I’d personally be less concerned about rising COVID cases from some new strain and more worried about high energy prices and recent political turmoil causing issues going forward.


I love reviewing cool, interesting equipment. Of the things I have to do at Secrets, it’s probably the best part of my job. I also enjoy reading other people’s reviews of said cool and interesting equipment. Getting other writers’ perspectives on gear is a constant source of learning and discovery. What I’ll never understand, however, is when reviewers don’t allow reader comments on their reviews.

Well, maybe I do understand why. There is always some overly opinionated know-it-all with generally bad manners that feels compelled to spout off. In this Internet age, it’s not something solely exclusive to audio. But we like it when readers respond to our reviews and as a reviewer, it’s incumbent on me to respond to questions, take accountability if I’ve missed something, dispense comment moderation when appropriate, and outright ban people if need be. That’s part of the gig. Otherwise, reviews without the ability for readers to comment seem largely self-serving.

The CDs vs LP vs Streaming argument

There are a couple of layers to this one. There is no denying that streaming music subscriptions make up the lion’s share of both music industry revenue and consumer consumption. With companies like Amazon, Apple, Tidal, and Qobuz, offering access to vast libraries of music for a reasonable monthly fee and regular promotions, it’s easy to see why streaming is so popular. And if you are more serious about it, music management software like Roon and BluOs can supercharge the experience further. As a result, many have decided to recite post-mortems on the presumed death of physical music media. Yet, in the same breath, there have been overly excited news stories on how vinyl records are now more popular than CDs for the first time in ages. Looking at the recent 2021 sales data from the RIAA reveals that the real story is somewhere in the middle. Streaming, through paid subscriptions and all other methods, generated 83% of all music industry revenues, while paid subscriptions alone counted for over 2/3rds of that figure (roughly $9.5 billion).

Digital downloads make up 4% of total revenues, and something called “Sync” makes up 2%. All physical media sales accounted for 11% of total revenues, a total of 1.6 billion dollars. Of that figure, $1 billion is from vinyl sales while $584 million is from CD sales, with the remaining $35 million coming from music video and other physical media sales. On the face of it, vinyl is generating almost twice as much revenue as CD is, so one could assume that vinyl must be a more popular format.

Not so fast. Vinyl moved 39.7 million units altogether while CD sold 46.6 million units. So CD was statistically more popular than LP selling more physical units yet LPs generated more money in total sales. Understandable since single LPs retail for around $20 to $25 compared to a single CD which costs between $10 to $15 these days. So vinyl is not a more popular format than CD but it is a cash cow any way you slice it as new LP sales have steadily increased over the last dozen years. As a matter of fact, all levels of physical media, including CDs, have seen growth year over year. So to burst another bubble, physical media isn’t quite so dead either. And we’re not even touching on the used CD and LP market in this discussion.

Comic illustration of two characters walking by three different booths at audio show
In a broader context, government, financial institutions, the entertainment industry, etc. have been moving us more and more to an all-digital, non-ownership society, at least that seems to be the trend. People, for better or worse, like to possess things that are meaningful to them and that includes physical music media. The privilege of convenience over the security and pride of ownership only goes so far, especially these days.

Do measurements really matter?

This chestnut has been popping up again and again over the last couple of years on social media audio groups, forums, and even old guard audio journal editorials. I’ve read so many of these posts and write-ups with takes on measurements, either being all that matters or that they are totally useless, that it’s kind of mind-boggling. I’m neither an engineer nor a philosopher, but I have enough common sense and experience to know that yes, measurements are important. They are an indication of a properly engineered piece of equipment and are also a gauge of manufacturer integrity. If independent measurements match or exceed a manufacturer’s published specs, it speaks well to a company’s honesty and respect for its customers. Measurements, particularly regarding speakers and headphones, can in a few ways indicate if their sound will appeal to a broad swath of listeners. Listeners who, through some very involved research conducted at the Canadian NRC and HARMAN, have been shown to like certain very defined characteristics in those types of equipment. I personally would never buy a piece of audio gear without researching its specs and looking to see if it had been independently measured with bench tests.
Comic illustration of two characters deciding which room to go into at an audio show
One of the most fundamental tenets of science is that observations in an experiment must be repeatable in other laboratories. Product reviews that do not contain bench tests are strictly subjective, and this includes A/V products. They are opinions based on the reviewer’s personal set of A/V components. It is very unlikely that very many readers have the exact same set of components as the reviewer. Each component has its own specific sound qualities, so the reviewer’s A/V setup sounds unique, and that sound is what he/she prefers. Whatever unique sound quality a product being reviewed has will be referenced against his/her set of components, and it is difficult to separate his/her sound preferences from entering into the opinions about the product being reviewed. Bench tests will come to the rescue here as objective statements. They will (should) be the same for any review of that product in different magazines.

At Secrets, we perform bench tests on as many products that we review as we can. We are unable to bench test every product simply because of logistics, but we do our best. We consider them to be the ultimate proof of performance. These bench tests are completed after we organize our subjective findings.

What measurements won’t reveal is if you will ultimately like a piece of gear once you get it into your room and into your system. They won’t tell you if you like how your speakers look or if the build quality will give you that certain pride of ownership that you’re after, or even if you like the way they sound, even if all indications say you should. What I can tell you is that looking at measurements is a part of the equation. An important part, but just a part. To me, this seems obvious, basically common sense. I don’t know why this same subject keeps coming up over and over again. Sometimes I think audiophiles (who are very passionate people) like to engage in drama. It’s 2022, enough with the drama! Stop trying to make audio an all-or-nothing, my-way-or-the-highway affair. Be civil. Lighten up and enjoy your music, enjoy your systems, and let other folks do the same.

Comic illustration of 3 cats listening to music