The Guru speaks: John Kotches

Professional Reviewer Questions

1. Without giving the standard "weakest link" or "synergy" answer, what would you as the most important component?
The room. If you don't consider the room a component that needs proper attention then you'll never get the most out of your system.

2. How did you cross over from hobbyist to professional writer?
Stupidity? No, seriously, I answered a help wanted ad.

3. Review superlatives often give the impression of "huge gains". How do you reconcile years of "huge gains"? Are they still that big?
Well years professionally it's "only" been 6, so take this with a grain of salt. When I first started, "huge gains" were the norm. Why? Lack of experience and (frankly) a system that could use improvement. As my experience grows, and my system improves it's harder to find huge gains.

4. Is the sound often simply different and not better?
Different almost always. My idea of better may not equate to your idea of better. We all have our biases and preferred sound and it's our job to relate to you these biases and preferences so that you can use the review to correlate them with your biases and preferences.

5. Do you have a clear metal image of great sound or does it require constant renewal? Are you in AB hell?
I definitely have a clear image in my mind, and it relates to specific live performances I've either participated in or listened to. As for AB hell, it's all what you make it out to be. It's more frustrating for my wife than me ;-)

5a. How long does it take before your know how good a product is?
1) Speakers? 4-5 weeks depending on how much playing time the speakers get.
2) Non-mechanical components 1 week or so but a few weeks to pin it down precisely why I like (or don't like) the sound of a component.

6. What are your audition strong points and weak points, i.e., what problems do you find most difficult to pick up in listening tests? What do you "hate to admit"?
I don't have superhuman hearing gifts, I think I just pay more attention to nuances than most do, and am lucky enough to be able to translate what I hear in a way that readers enjoy. Strong points? I've get an excellent ear for voices, vocal reproduction and wind instruments. Weak points? I'm not quite as good on the differences between various electric guitars. Before the latest round of room tuning, I would say I had the most difficulty in discerning depth of soundstage in a stereo context in the room I am most familiar with.

7. What to you think is that "special something" is that makes some systems sound so good?
Accurate reproduction of the human voice which we are all intimately familiar with.

8. How much of the process is collaborative versus on your own?
It's 90% on my own, and I turn to my editors and colleagues at the publication when I have difficulty conveying something in writing.

9. The constant evaluations and power listening must be very hard. How do you keep it fresh?
By mixing up recordings that are always used as reference discs (whether discussed or not in the review) and other discs that highlight a particular characteristic. I try to avoid more than two consecutive sessions of "review listening" where I'm listening to specific tracks on specific discs versus "regular listening", where I'm listening to an entire disc, or film.

10. What are some of the secret terms you use to lets us know the component really is not as good as it could be?
If I'm doing my job properly, there are no secret terms. Clarity, and making your point effectively is something that should be strived for. You can criticize a product fairly and even handed without being overly abrasive.

11. Someone recently said, "All SS amps not driven to clip sound the same". Do all SS amps sound the same?
Yes. So do all digital transports, preamps, surround processors, cables, tweaks etc etc etc ;-)

12. Which components are peaking in the sense that you no longer have to spend a lot to get great sound?
Power amplifiers and analog preamplifiers.

13. When you get cornered at a party, what is the question asked most often?
It's always "What do you think about product X"?

14. How much should we envy Sea Cliff, really?
That's for you to decide. You did say "we" and not "you". Not having heard the system(s) in question it's a bit difficult to say really.

15. What is the best listening experience you have ever had (other than live)?
Yesterday in my room ;-) No, seriously probably 1988 or 1989 in the Boston suburbs, with Apogee Scintillas an ARC preamp, Krell amplifiers with a CD player and cabling system that escapes my recollection. That led me down the audiophile path with a vengeance.

16. Without blaming engineers, where do you think the most loss in sound quality occurs, live to listener?
Well, engineers have a huge influence on what was captured. With a poor capture, Bob Ludwig can't make it sound outstanding, can he? :-) That said, I go back to the room, followed by the loudspeakers.

17. Have you ever been wowed by a $500-$1000 system?
Of course. Good sound doesn't have to have a big $$$ price tag.

18. How much in analog is really the "Zen" of analog versus true accuracy of reproduction?
Ask someone who's a bigger fan of analog reproduction than I am.

19. Will we ever find the Holy Grail in sound reproduction?
Sure, but it might not matter to us, because we'll be dead ;)

20. So, which is it, tubes or SS?
In my system? SS.

21. What does the future hold for audio?
A digital signal chain that allows for room correction, crossovers and amplification to occur fully digital all the way to the output of the amplifier just in front of the driver.

Regards, John Kotches, Reviewer/Press, Widescreen Review

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Copyright Peter Jay Smith 2005 Return to