How Hi-Fi Magazines Write about Cables, and When They Copy and Paste Reviews


Following yesterday’s article about expensive digital cables and journalists who believe in magic, I thought I’d have a look at how What Hi-Fi? – the magazine for which said journalist pens his reviews – actually writes about cables.

Much of my work involves reviews: professionally, I review apps and music, but I also review books, films and theater productions here on my website. So I know a bit about what it takes to write a review, and the kind of content one needs to write. A review should present a product, and explain what is good (or not) about it, if possible by comparing it to other, similar products.

Apparently, hi-fi cable reviews don’t get that kind of treatment. Here’s one, for a £185, 0.5m digital cable:

Clearly this is a premium cable for premium systems – to connect a CD player to a DAC, perhaps.

But the Clearer Audio Optimus will win you around once you plug it in. It’s a terrific sounding cable, outgunning the opposition for bass depth, midrange drive, treble purity and soundstage openness.

Its chunky Super Suppressor collars make it stand out – so does the brilliance of its sound.

That’s it; that’s the extent of this magazine’s review of a cable that costs £185. You’d think they’d try a little harder, and at least make up some reason why it sounds better, rather than just write four sentences stuffed with fluff.

Two points here. First, for something that pricey, there’s no excuse for such a short review. Second, how much time can the journalist have spent testing this cable to only come up with 66 words, only half of which describe the cable?

Here’s another one, for a £1,000 analog cable (1 m):

Some people will never be able to get past the Indigo Plus’s hefty price. But, expensive though it is, used in the right set-up these interconnects are extraordinary.

Those with systems below the five grand mark shouldn’t even think about getting them. It only really starts to make sense with systems at around double that.

The original Indigo was dynamic, bold and musical in a way that eluded most rivals.

The ‘Plus’ is noticeably cleaner, unearthing even more subtle details. The differences aren’t of the night and day variety, but they are enough for the Plus to keep the Indigo at the cutting edge of high-end interconnects

Out of all that – a whopping 109 words – only half of the review talks about the cable, with just this to actually describe it (in comparison to an earlier model):

The ‘Plus’ is noticeably cleaner, unearthing even more subtle details.

Or how about this, for a £750 cable (1 m):

We know there are many readers who will never get past the price of these Atlas cables. Thankfully for Atlas, these cables are great performers in the context of an appropriate system.

We’re quite fond of the 15 percent rule, which says that you should spend that percentage of the total system cost on cable.

Start thinking of the Mavros in the context of a 20-grand-plus system and the price doesn’t seem so outlandish, particularly when you hear just how clearly this pairing out-performs cheaper, quality competition.

Neutral, detailed and smooth
As you would expect, the Mavros sound is very much in the Atlas mould: it’s neutral, detailed and smooth without blandness, except here it’s to a higher level than we’ve heard from the brand.

Listen to Beethoven’s 5th and the cables deliver a greater level of insight and stronger dynamics than most other cables we’ve tested.

It’ll come as much down to taste and careful system matching as anything else, but either way, at this end of the market, the Mavros makes a strong case for itself.

Now that’s a much longer review; but less than half of it talks about the cable. And there’s one glaring sentence that cannot escape the attention of classical music listeners:

Listen to Beethoven’s 5th and the cables deliver a greater level of insight and stronger dynamics than most other cables we’ve tested.

Which “Beethoven’s 5th?” When was it recorded? How? Was it recorded in analog or digital? If I search, I find 276 hits for “beethoven 5th symphony”, and that’s just on CD. Would any Beethoven’s 5th benefit from “a greater level of insight and stronger dynamics?”

But it gets better. The above review was for an audio interconnect; that’s the cable that you run from, say, a CD player to an amplifier. But look here, at a review for speaker cables from the same company: it’s exactly the same review! Word for word; it’s a copy and paste (though the header, Neutral, detailed and smooth, has been removed from the speaker cable review). Speaker cables and audio interconnects are two totally different kinds of cable, and it would surprise me that it is possible to say exactly the same thing about two different kinds of cable.

These people are charlatans.