TAS. The Absolute Sound?

Has it lost its way? 

I just happened on Bob Harleys' Ref System. Does this have relevance?


Could it be it’s not quite  so absolute these days? Things ain’t what they used to be.

The presumption being that reviewers must have the ultimate in gear to be qualified  to write about lessor offerings affordable to mere mortals?  And in this case affordable means equivalent to the cost of two or three high powered luxury automobiles.  

Robert Harley and Micheal Fremer are the ying and yang of stereo reviewers.  One has this pristine, perfect room for listening optimized to the point of being in the middle of a desert to preclude any outside noises or risk of any spurious sound reflections bouncing back from adjacent homes while the other is in a cramped, messy room full of gear and more records than the library of congress.  The design and construction of Mr. Harley’s perfect listening room is fascinating.  In contrast, watching Mr. Fremer chronicle the revamping of his house’s old electrical system was equally fascinating.  

I’m a neat freak myself and could not relax in my listening room if so much as a CD case was out of place.  Could that be why I find Mr. Fremer so charming?

@tonywinga   You would like my listening room. Check it out. I strove for perfect symmetry in the name of maxing out imaging.  The part you would really like is the custom DIY cabling--no mess there.  Now the stacks of CD's next to my chair---that would clearly have to go!!

His gear system look well chosen for sure...

But anyway one thing matter the most and is not fully explained : specficity of the room acoustic design and devices... 😊

@corelli ,

You seem to be sitting a bit to the left looking at the butt cheek imprint on your chair. Your slightly skewing the optimal sweet spot.

LOL! Good observation.  I'll recheck my measurements and my butt cheeks.  

I have a post deleted for no reason at all but this kind of gobbly-goop stands. 

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I've often said that TAS and Stereophile, as well as many of the online only review sites have reduced themselves to audiophile porn.  Highlighting that which is only attainable by a wealthy few, leaving those of us for whom it is unattainable drooling.

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I bought a one-year subscription to TAS for $7 online. The March issue was their thumbnails of reviews in all their categories including one new one. Harley’s Complete Guide to High-End Audio is indispensable, I think for audiophiles on any level. The new category is "Pre-amplifiers with Digital-to-Analog Converters." The site where you can subscribe cheap is Zinio.com

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I wasn't trying to be funny.  I was trying to be helpful. You are obviously suffering. Lack of attention, daddy issues, your partner left you, whatever? You are taking your anger and frustration out on people here, and it's not helping. It's really not the best way to solve your problems, we are here to talk about audio stuff not about how the world is unfair to you..

I hope the rest of your day will go better.

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I still have all those journals from that period. Would read it from cover to cover and there were always nuggets for tweaking your system. The journal cover art work was suitable for museums in the early days.

@audio_is_subjective64 is the former earlflynn, jerryg123, skypunk, etc. etc...

Wonder who he’ll come back as next. Bye now.

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If anyone is interested, @audio_is_subjective64 is the former @jacobsdad2000, jeffrey125, recklesskelly, jerryg123, earlflynn, juanmanuelfangioi, skypunk, etc. etc. etc.

All banned.



@viridian: I’m in complete agreement with your opinion and statement.

I had already been reading J. Gordon Holt’s reviews in his essentially 1-man operation Stereophile Magazine when Harry Pearson started TAS. Holt’s number one priority in assessing the reproduction of recorded music was accuracy of vocal and instrumental timbre, freedom from what he termed "vowel coloration." His second priority was transparency, the freedom from a thin gauze being introduced between the recording and the listener. JGH also addressed imaging in his reviews, but it was Pearson and the other TAS reviewers who elevated the ability to create a "sound stage" to a very high priority in their assessments of component quality.

While many recordings of Classical music contain an audible sound stage---the locations of the instruments in an orchestra to one degree or another "visible", more so in recordings made in the 1950’s and early-60’s---very few recordings of Pop, Rock, Country, etc.---particularly those recorded in studios, do. The reason for that is studio recordings have no sound stage to "capture" in the first place; in studio recordings each instrument is recorded with it’s own microphone (drumsets typically recorded employing a half dozen mics), the artificially-created imaging created during the mixing process. In many studio recordings, some instruments are recorded in isolation closets.

The late, great Art Dudley was head of reviews at TAS for a while, eventually leaving and starting his own fantastic mag Listener---and later joining the staff of Stereophile---ranked sound stage towards the bottom of his priority list. He dismissed sound stage imaging as "parlour tricks" 😆. Like JGH, Dudley considered the ability to reproduce the timbre of acoustic instruments and vocals a very high priority, but went further and introduced the relatively-new issue of "touch" (the physical playing of an instrument) in his reviews. That concept was missing from both HP’s and JGH’s reviews. That, as well as the ability of a component (or full system) to recreate the "forward momentum" of a musical ensemble. That concern may have been a result of Dudley being a musician.


Interesting takes; thanks for the comments. I'm just getting back to music enjoyment and part of my effort for good sound is learning from the various reviewers; and of course my (asylum :)  classmates here at Audiogon and elsewhere. The Wadax "tone control" is something us long experienced listeners have used-- and then determined was ultimately detimental to the sound. OK, what's old is new again. Interesting to see the intense effort on power supply. It has been and will continue to be a focus for me as my background as a Yamaha supported Grand Prix motorcycle racer has instilled the fact that "the Juice" is foundational for performance. Wilson Audio must still be foundational for TAS or Mr.Harley as we observe their "far from top of line" speakers - associated - with all these extraordinary and expensive components. Surely an indication that even Wilson's basic efforts are worthy of such esteemed company. I find the whole presentation interesting and certainly informative. Certainly Bob gets a view from a unique  perch virtually no one else will experience.   

I got seriously into Audio about 25 years ago and for many years regarded TAS and Sterephile as unimpeachable sources.  Gradually I realized that as knowledgeable as the writers may be, there is a tremendous amount of subjectivity in Audio, and there is also a need to sell magazines and keep their advertisers happy.  I particularly lost respect for TAS when they became the cheerleaders for MQA.

  Regardless, the value of these magazines is to alert one to technology development.  The internet now can perform the same function.  It would be interesting to see if these magazines survive another 25 years 

TAS has zero credibility at this point, they are just a marketing tool for advertisers. In my opinion Tom Martin is a complete blowhard.  Their reviews have very little content that is reliable or trustworthy.  


Tom Martin comes across to me as do the salesmen in some high end shops.


Prior to the appearance of TAS in 1973, J. Gordon Holt (who started Stereophile in 1962) was the only hi-fi reviewer assessing the quality of components based on their sound, rather than test bench measurements. How he rated components included the consideration of price-to-performance ratio. He never used the term "high end", that was introduced into the hi-fi lexicon by Harry Pearson.

Pearson and his TAS staff focused on components which advanced the state-of-the-art, regardless of the cost required to accomplish that goal. We soon saw the emergence of companies whose products cost far more than had hi-fi up to that point. Companies such as Levinson and Wilson Audio.

When in 1973 I bought my first "high end" system, the Audio Research SP-3 pre-amp sold for $595, the Dual 50 power amp $695, the Dual 75 $995, and the Magneplanar Tympani T-I loudspeakers $995/pr. Those prices were not all that much more than mass market products.

When Levinson introduced their first pre-amp, it was---iirc---priced about double that of the ARC SP-3. And the price race (to the top) was on! It seemed as if high end companies were very interested in finding out just how much audiophiles were willing to pay for gear.

It’s gotten rather out-of-hand, wouldn’t you say?


And I think that Stereophile has even less cred. than TAS. Point is that TAS doesnt even claim, really, to be an untainted source. Stereophile does. The only issues I read from either of these sources and the ones I get for free at the various shows, but last time I looked TAS seemed much more apt to review products outside of the the small circle. The business model is flawed and so are the magazines. 

@jomace. Thanks for info. I agree about the Guide and always used to buy it. Will again now. I was shocked- and put off-  at the cost of the dac; therefore questioned relevance. Having gone through the full presentation of the room development I appreciate what I learned; and respect the accumulated expertise and effort that went into it. I respect attention to detail. The speakers just happened to be those under review. Knowledge is power and I expect to gain some by reading about stereo/ hi-fi again. 

@ bdp24.I too feel pricing is extreme. But, there are people with the money & desire to create and buy " the ultimate". I think now more than ever. My buddy drives a Brabus Mercedes G Wagon. Spent big bucks. It's the least comfortable vehicle I've been in. Also, you rarely see them poke their nose out of downtown and a comfy garage. But his chest size went up significantly once he turned the key; and it still does-- so there is a measure of happiness... Can't argue that; can we?

At least Stereophile has John Atkinson's measurements while TAS is just "my golden ears" tell me it is so. I called out Michael Fremer on Facebook for touting a $6K power cord.

Remember in the Matrix how the operators could visualize the scene by watching green symbols raining down the computer screen?  Apparently, Jason doesn’t need to listen to the music, he watches a graph of the music.  A $300 bluetooth amp should generate some great looking charts for you.

I still laugh at how we were all caught up in amplifier specs in the late 70s/early 80s.  % THD and power output seemed so important.  Then one day I heard a good amp without negative feedback which is how they got such great looking specs.  The lesson is measurements are a tool for the designer.  How it sounds is for the listener.

Very true indeed!

I cannot even imagine that a so simple acoustics truth is denied because someone believe as ultimate measuring truths solution the designer marketing department so good his amplifier could be...

i will add for more precision : "the lesson is (electrical )measurements are a tool for the designer .How it sound is for the listener" in his room dimensions , geometry +acoustics materials content for his specific ears canals measures and HTRF .



still laugh at how we were all caught up in amplifier specs in the late 70s/early 80s. % THD and power output seemed so important. Then one day I heard a good amp without negative feedback which is how they got such great looking specs. The lesson is measurements are a tool for the designer. How it sounds is for the listener.

@jasonbourne71 . Here's a footnote from Archimago--

"Abso--- So--d even declared MQA “better than Hi-Res!” on an issue cover and the editor Robert Harley even states that “MQA is the most significant audio technology of my lifetime.”

Gotta love sellers/ sales-persons ....  Don't lose your salt shaker :)  (RIP Jimmy Buffett.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again, TAS, Stereophile and other uber-high-end mags and sites are nothing but audiophile porn - enticing us to drool at the (for most of us) unattainable.

I think TAS and Stereophile are a great place to start. Helped me as did AG forum. Big learning curve. I will never spend uber dollars though. For me a system of $4000 may suffice, well $12000 if i could. Enjoy.



The Absolute Sound, Stereophile, and HiFi+ are outstanding sources of information and comparisons. While there is some variability in neutrality, it pales in insignificance to other sources…  forums, marketing info, etc. They use accepted terminology, typically identify their components, venue, and history. They review a significant number of core contemporary components. Critical in this is very high end components that we cannot afford. It identifies the state of the art, providing a reference to what can be achieved at the cost no object level, so they (and we) can assess lessor products.

I have read these magazines more or less continuously since around 1980. The landscape is many times more difficult to assess because of the incredible proliferation and diversification of products. This is the place to start if you are serious about high end audio. Read about every product you can. Then go listen to them. Over time you will understand what they are saying and will be able (this takes a long time) to read a review and go in to audition a component and know what it will sound like.

High end audio is a very complex and ambiguous pursuit… these publications… although not perfect are outstanding guides. Never read marketing info… now that’s not going to tell you anything.

I guess i am old too, well 66. Big learning curve. I am probably more causal, like once a week but you know if busy doing stuff around the house the JBL blue tooth has made me cry a bit, grabbed my heart. Enjoy.