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The TAS 2009 Editors’ Choice Awards-How We Choose

The 2009 TAS Editors’ Choice Awards—How We Choose

Robert Harley

We’re putting together the 2009 Editors’ Choice Awards, the comprehensive feature in which we list every product in every category that we recommend. At about 40 pages, the Editors’ Choice Awards is by far the largest single feature we publish. (The feature will appear in the September issue, which mails to subscribers on July 28.)

But how do we determine which products make the cut—and which don’t?

We start by taking last year’s Editors’ Choice Awards document and methodically fact-checking every listing to see if the product is still current and available for purchase, if there’s been a price change, and whether the product is still handled by the same distributor. We next provisionally add to the list every product that’s been reviewed in the intervening 12 months.

Now that we have the raw material, the next step is a series of marathon conference calls between Neil Gader, Jonathan Valin, and me (the entire full-time editorial staff) to determine which products held over from previous years should remain, which should be deleted, and which of the recently reviewed products deserve to be added. We consult the reviews to see how enthusiastic (or not) the writer was about the product, and if there’s a question, I ask the reviewer if he or she thinks the product is worthy of an Editors’ Choice Award. We also take into consideration whether a price increase diminishes the value equation to the point that the product should no longer be recommended.

But what makes a product worthy of a TAS Editors’ Choice Award? There’s one simple criterion: Would one of us buy the product with our own money or recommend that product to a close friend or relative? If the answer is “yes” the product stays. If not, it’s gone. It’s that simple.

What’s not so simple is when we encounter similarly priced products that have different musical attributes. For example, the category “Loudspeakers from $1500 to $2000” has nine entries, including such widely divergent products as the PSB Synchrony Two, Tannoy Autograph Mini, Magnepan MG 1.6, and the Reference 3A Dulcet. In this case, we can envision a system, environment, and listener for whom each of these loudspeakers is ideal. There’s no clear answer to the question “What’s the best $1500-$2000 speaker?” All we can do is give you a short list of speakers we’ve found to have merit, and provide our view of each product’s strengths and shortcomings. From there, it’s up to you to do your own listening and find the best match for your musical priorities.

In some cases, however, one product is so clearly superior to another of the same (or higher) price that we simply cannot recommend the competitor. We can’t imagine any listener preferring what we regard as the lesser product and so we remove it from the list. This happens most often in digital sources, where a new design outperforms older units.

We then ask the reviewers of the newly added products to write the capsule descriptions. Those capsules are integrated into the master document, and then the whole thing is edited and prepared for layout.

It’s quite a process, but in the end we have a single feature that represents the condensed wisdom (we hope) of the entire TAS editorial staff and freelance writers who collectively have about 240 years of experience of reviewing high-end audio gear. Looking over the nearly finished document, it struck me that the TAS reviewing staff has experience with, and opinions about, the roughly 500 products selected as winners of a 2009 TAS Editors’ Choice Award. We hope that you find our selections a useful guide in assembling or upgrading your music system.

By Robert Harley

My older brother Stephen introduced me to music when I was about 12 years old. Stephen was a prodigious musical talent (he went on to get a degree in Composition) who generously shared his records and passion for music with his little brother.

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