Monday, August 20, 2018

Time to give up on TAS

I've been a subscriber for over 20 years and have the back issues to prove it in my basement. There's no doubt it's a beautifully produced magazine with wonderful photography which I happily browse  and consider too good to throw out when done. But the time has come to recognize that for me at least, the content is no longer there.

I took a look at the last year or so of issues as I got ready to consign them downstairs and, on a whim, took a page count. More than 50% of every issue is an advert, which probably does not surprise anyone, after all it is how they can run a mag of this production quality at a profit. But of the slightly less than half that is given over to content, even this has a recycled quality to it. You know some expensive product will get a dominant position and rave review; that MQA will be advocated, blind-testing devalued, and pricing rarely critically evaluated. I also get that this is part of the process. But what has stretched my patience is the rest.

The regular content now has too many show reviews, with too much cookie-cutter coverage that is too late to matter.  And in these reports I get to read again and again how difficult it is to cover the show, how Jonathan Valin gets to check out the ultra expensive speakers, that show conditions are not great, that the first day is a sonic mess in  most rooms, but the usual suspects get to be 'best of show' anyway.  Rinse and repeat, adding other writers for other product niches but generally sticking to script.

And if it's not shows, we get historical and memorial pieces, apparently lifted from the TAS glossy books produced and sold at great expense a few years back (yes, I paid good money for two vols), repackaged now in the monthly issues which honor the greats of the industry (not only re-using content but presumably keeping certain industrial participants sweet on the mag too).

Sure I wish there was a bit more on music, fewer 'awards', and yes, I also wish some more effort was made to compare 'systems' at price points using audiences (not just reviewers) with no stake in the products to give their reactions. And yes, I wish there was greater acknowledgement of the challenges facing interested consumers in really hearing and evaluating the products covered in the mag (but that's true of all mags where being told to 'go hear for yourself' serves no real purpose other than to protect the writer's opinion). What bugs me further are cartridge reviews without compliance details (matters a lot to me in my rig) and those mega-buck cable reviews where the company press-release is repackaged as part of the review ('croy-alloy proprietary windings' indeed).

Anyway, without malice, and with no little regret, I shall not be renewing my subscription and thus I bid farewell to a reading habit of decades. It's mostly been a lot of fun but life moves on. Anyone want my back issues?


Anonymous said...

I agree with the comments in this article, TAS has lost its direction or can’t afford to pursue it anymore. One thing that was not mentioned is when you first start your audiophile journey the road is wide open. I noticed years ago that it was harder to find articles that stimulate, they became retreads. Almost like the music industry, the road has been well covered. What we need is a magazine or website that pursues that next step in sound reproduction, probably with loudspeakers and source material, at a reasonable price. It can’t be that difficult to make a good sounding 50K speaker. Source wise we settled for convenience over sound quality, it’s a great idea just pop it in and play music. I don’t miss the ritual of vinyl just the sound. Maybe we are just getting old.
Thanks, Mike

Anonymous said...

Give a go

Unknown said...

I've been reading their reviews less and less. They seem to be thrown together without much listening time. In a lot of cases, it's something like "it's not as good as my reference, but it gives you a good percentage of the performance for a decent price."

Anonymous said...

TAS has ONE value to me. It gives me a peek at some of the equipment out there and for me it is like looking at a catalog. Nothing more and nothing less and that includes the advertisements.

The ultimate absurdity of TAS is demonstrated when they give the D'Agostino Relentless amp "The most coveted product" at Munich, even though they never heard it????

Bruce said...

Sterophile’s just as bad. Constantly reprinting ancient, and I mean ancient, reviews of obsolete equipment on their website, a medium specifically geared to quickly presenting *the latest.*. They stopped publishing their Annual Guide to High End Audio Equipment years ago, which was the most useful issue of the year, probably because it required too much work to compile. Much easier to republish old stuff.

Scipio said...

Your points are well taken, however, if anything, you're too charitable.

The Absolute Sound (and to a lesser extent Stereophile) are the products of an industry not merely in decline but rotten through and through.

Subjectivism (meaningless prose poems describing sonics) and sycophancy ("this $40,000 CD player represents an outstanding value" , "John Smith's designs are proof of his unrivaled genius") are the order of the day. Cut and paste advertising copy masquerades as content.

I don't mind reading this stuff but how about some balance? How about we get to hear from a no nonsense, flattop haircut meat and potatos electrical engineer calling b.s. on florid desriptions about interconnects. Or perhaps after some blowhard extolls the aforementioned $40,000 CD player a disembodied voice is heard to say "Oppo 205."

But no cheerful derision, gleeful mockery or goofy fun allowed in these pretentious rags -- its all deadly serious and pretention. Graphic design is stuck in some long ago decade -- page layout makes me want to gag.There is precious little time given to education about acoustics or circuits.

Some people bemoan the dearth of millenials in the industry/hobby -- far as I can tell there's very few Gen X writers.

Its a Godddamn wasteland out there.

Terry McCarthy said...

Yes, actually. I've been researching the history of high-fidelity audio since 2011. Another two years of data collection and validation and I'm done. I've been helped By Siegfried Linkwitz, Bruno Putzeys, Daniel Weiss, Yoshihisi Mori, Bob Carver, David Fletcher, Pierre Lurne, and many dozens more. As this is an after-hours project, it is difficult to get to research libraries during the hours they are open. It would be beneficial to be able to skim, scan, peruse as needed after working hours for these. If you are serious, please let me know, thank you.

Anonymous said...

I recently gave up on TAS because they truncated my subscription with no explanation. When I called their customer service number, they insisted that I pay them $5.00 before they would talk to me. I was outraged and wrote a snail-mail letter to them to which I have received no response. I can live without them, particularly given the slide in content. Goodbye.

j.phelan said...

I'm surprised you still subscribed...

For me, the killers were Robb-report prices, a smallish classical-acoustic music section, editors touting MQA as the Coming of Christ -w/o proof it sounded better (than current digital formats).

And sometimes, "flash" one-page reviews. Are they even serious about their work ?

On the plus side, they don't waste large-amounts of space on graphs, although a few would be helpful (like HiFi News UK). And they DO good reviews sometimes -the latest ones include grounding devices. And some great-value speakers under 10K were also done.

Steven Stone and Robert Greene are the ones that review high-value, solid-science type equipment. They're my favorite.

Anonymous said...

Your decision is understandable. All TAS seems to do is shill for MQA.

J said...

I'm always puzzled as to why people hang on to old and dated back issues of magazines. Do you sit down and browse through them on a regular basis? Do they contribute anything other than a musty smell to your basement air? Are you hoping they will increase in value and fund your retirement? Is there a nostalgic value that gives you a warm feeling when you look at them on the bookshelf? Beats me. I sold all my back issues over 20 years ago when I realized I would never look at them again.

Anonymous said...

Dumps on TAS but praises Waldrep? Your perception is out of whack!

All that's required to host a blog is a single finger.

PatrickD said...

Praised? I suggest it is your perception that might be in question. All that's needed to comment is an agenda, right?

jackson smith said...

It's not just TAS that has seen it's best years.

The online magazines that have replaced print are also wallowing in dreck.
From the excessively wordy Positive Feedback to the advertorial look of ToneAudio.
New pretty boys The Occasional and Fidelity have lots of pretty pictures but so far no writing of substance.

Treasure your old issues for we will never see such writing again.

Billy said...

What hifi is almost criminal in the way it gives out good reviews. For the most part it's obvious, the same group of companies for the last 15 yrs get the exposure. What's curious are the really good brands which don't feature at all in their reviews. Hegel for one.. never featured in What Hifi.

PatrickD said...

Phew...took my eye of the moderation list and missed tons of comments here. Thanks all (even if you want to dismiss the post). Hum...where to start?

I still think the mag is good to look at, yes it is more catalog than journal and I subscribed all these years cos it was just so cheap and easy to have it delivered. It still is, but I'm beginning to resent the clutter of unread mags.

Why keep them? asks 'J'......Age old question...why do we keep any material object that is disposable or replaceable by digital copy? Security? Tactile pleasure? Comfort of things? Old age? I've loved magazines and books all my life so my home is full of them....(and yes Mike, I'm serious about finding a good home for the years of TAS and even Stereophile if someone wants to discuss, the challenge is always cost to ship).

One interesting thought here, at least for me.....if the mainstream mags so obviously get it wrong, why has an alternative not arisen online? Serious pay-to-read journalism is challenged in all areas so it is not a surprise that audiophile coverage is light. Setting up critical and comparative reviews is not simple, I know, and while some of us can contribute to online hobbyist mags on audio, manufacturers often decline to play with us in HiFi'Zine cos we are just not influential or sufficiently widely read. And we haven't even touched here on the standards of reviewing...

And though no-one asked, I will be keeping my subscription to S'phile. It's the better of the two main ones and I always smile at Art Dudley and Mikey Fremer's columns.

thanks all.