The Value Proposition
I am responding to reader Greg Francis who wrote in the December issue (Letters, “Where’s the Value?”) about the last page of Sound & Vision being devoted to items that are way overpriced and only used as bragging pieces to the rich who throw money away.
I actually look forward to seeing the items on the last page—just to see them. Yes, these items, and the even more expensive items you cover, need to be covered as well! They are or can be a part of home theater, and many of us like to see what else is out there, even if we will only be looking at them and imagining if they can achieve $30K+ worth of performance or are simply designed to provide the rich with bragging rights. Incidentally, I like the last page as well as the movie reviews that lead up to it. You turn me onto films I’ve never heard of before, which I then check out!
Chris Troxler Via e-mail
Regarding letter-writer Greg Francis, I disagree with just about everything he says. First, I’d like to know about the survey he carried out to enable him to say “I know I speak for most of your readers ...” He most definitely does not speak for me, and I am not a rich person who hires minions to do my Sound & Vision bidding. I am a retired 70-year-old on a relatively modest income. I thoroughly research my hi-fi purchases (including via S&V) to make
my decisions. Can I afford items that appear on the last page of S&V? Probably not. But I do have dreams. I do have aspirations. Maybe one day I will be able to afford the mega-speakers on the last page. But in the meantime, I very much enjoy reading about them.
So, please don’t rain on my parade, Greg
(and Mr. Editor). And, if it really bothers you that much, ignore it and turn the page to see something a little cheaper on the back cover.
Robin Smith Lenoir City, TN
To summarize, Greg’s letter took us to task for featuring what he felt are a few too many highpriced aspirational products in the magazine that don’t adhere to real-world budgets. He pointed particularly at our closing Premiere Design feature as a wasted page, suggesting that these types of products are sold primarily to wealthy one-percenters who don’t read Sound & Vision and rely on installers (“minions,” in his words) to select and buy these products for them. He was also particularly annoyed at our granting a $31,000 Paradigm speaker system a five-star Value rating in our review. I explained the practice of featuring aspirational products as being a part of the hobby, and the five-star Value rating as being defensible against the even more breathtakingly expensive mega-priced speakers the Paradigms are intended to compete against.
I’m gratified to see some readers taking the other side of the argument here, but I did and do think Greg has a reasonable gripe. I’ll admit that there are times when we have a good, long run on what seems like an endless string of fancy high-end gear, and that things can start to feel a little lopsided. Truthfully, selecting the equipment that goes into our test well is a lot less rigorous and planned than it might seem. It starts with us seeing products at trade shows or press introductions, or getting pitched by public relations reps about our interest in reviewing this or that. Sometimes we chase an item that isn’t available yet for a particular issue, sometimes someone phones up and says they have a sample of the XYZ Too-Smart Streaming Amplifier Fry Cooker combo or whatever. If I think it’s something that might be of interest, whether because it looks like a great value or it’s super high performance or just too cool-looking for its own good, we’ll assign it to a reviewer and bring it in. Depending on when it arrives and how quickly our reviewer can execute, it’ll either make it into the issue we’ve initially planned for it or get pushed to a later issue, or maybe just to our website. We do try to make sure every issue has a mix of different categories: a video product (ideally a display, but maybe a Blu-ray player), some piece of audio electronics (an AVR, integrated amp, or power amp, typically), and some sort of home theater speaker system or stereo pair of interest (ideally a minimum 5.1 home theater kit or soundbar). To this we’ll mix in the ancillary lifestyle or other products, things like headphones or wireless/ desktop speakers or an accessory product. Most of our issues also have an editorial theme that may sway the balance; July/August is outdoor A/V, September is our speaker issue, and November is AVRs, for example. With all this going on, it’s not always easy to ensure we have an even mix of price points in any given issue. Nonetheless, it all balances out over time. As I was compiling our Top Picks of the Year list for 2017, I was surprised at how many affordably priced products we tested that made our Value category.
One more thing: Our Premiere Design page, which old Home Theater readers might recall from as far back as the mid-1990s, is intended to highlight products with particularly compelling industrial or technical design, irrespective of price. More often than not, these carry a high price tag, but we’ve also featured less expensive products that are both visually striking and/or technically interesting. Case in point is this month’s write-up on the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset, which costs all of $300.—RS