How Hi-Fi Magazines Write about Cables, Part 20: Describing Sound

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an article in this series. But I saw a review today that reminded me of one of the wackier elements of reviews of audio equipment. In this review of a Cambridge Audio amplifier, after discussing connections and usability, the “trusted” reviewer gets to the device’s sound quality. And here we see the obligatory section describing how wonderful (or not) something sounds, using several songs as examples.

The sound quality is typical of most Cambridge Audio products: clean, crisp and rhythmical.

Other than being distorted, I’d assume that any amplifier sounds like this. I don’t know what “rhythmical” means however. Does the sound fluctuate to 4/4 time?

Playing Josh Ritter’s The Beast In Its Tracks album, the deceptive jauntiness of ‘Nightmares’ comes through crystal-clear, with superb separation between Ritter’s seemingly flippant vocals, the upbeat guitar and the funky little bassline.

I’m not sure what any of this means. I would hope that it’s “crystal-clear,” unless it’s really a piece of crap, and I would expect “superb separation” from any device at this price point. Nothing in this description sets the amplifier apart from other amps.

Moving onto ‘New Lover’, the bottom end that builds up through the intro has genuine thump and romps along with perfect timing.

It would, wouldn’t it? It’s not a turntable that may be playing at the wrong speed. I wonder what imperfect timing sounds like.

Things stay just as rosy with Shearwater’s Jet Plane and Oxbow, with the paranoid electronica of ‘Filaments’ conveyed wonderfully by the 851N’s enveloping soundstage.

Ah, yes, the soundstage. Great word, that; it can mean anything.

Even feeding the 851N with some old 320kbps MP3s didn’t make it stumble — they sounded pretty much as rounded and polished as I could have hoped for.

Note that they are “old” 320kbps MP3s; they must be well worn to sound “rounded and polished.”

Of all the BS in audio reviews, this section is always the worst. These descriptions mean nothing at all, and could apply to any device. Yet reviews almost always contain them; at least three songs, most of which readers have never heard of.

This may be an excellent device; I’ve had a number of Cambridge Audio devices, and they’re well built and sound good. But this sort of description of how it sounds adds nothing to a review.