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Interview
Dr David W. Robinson

Magazine: "Positive Feedback Online"
Position: Editor-in-Chief / owner

Published since: 1990 (printed) | 2001 (internet)
Publication frequency: monthly, 12 issues each year
Country: USA

Contact: 9388 S.E. Hunters Bluff
Happy Valley, OR 97086 | tel.: 503 771 6200
e-mail: dclark@positive-feedback.com | drobinson@positive-feeback.com
Website: www.positive-feedback.com

Interviewer: Wojciech Pacuła | Photos: David W. Robinson/"Positive Feedback Online"

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Published: 1. February 2013, No. 105




I have no idea what kind of mechanism governs access to editors of various audio magazines. It seems to me that I see a pattern in how long I have to wait for a reply (I conduct most of the interviews by e-mail) and what I read when it does arrive. But this is just my guess and I don’t have anything concrete evidence to support it, beyond my hunches. And it's definitely not enough to draw any far-reaching conclusions. Generally speaking, it’s not always true that the longer I wait for the interview the bigger my interviewee’s ego, nor is it that all the coolest, most interesting editors didn’t keep me waiting…
I asked David W. Robinson for an interview exactly on April 10th, 2012 and it was finished on December 28th. So it took a little while. But it wasn’t that I’d lost contact with him – something kept coming up on his side that prevented us from moving forward. Which actually shows the amount of work the chief editor of a large audio magazine have to deal with. But finally, the interview is here.
And I haven’t been so lucky all the time. For example – Robert Harley, chief editor of "The Absolute Sound" responded to my request immediately and then for a year have been apologizing for not having time to do it and asking to postpone the interview. Or, similarly, Constantine Soo, chief editor of "Dagogo". And that’s far from the worst: chief editors of "Hi-Fi News & Record Review", "Hi-Fi +" and "Stereophile", (respectively) Paul Miller, Alan Sircom and John Atkinson never even answered my many-times-repeated e-mails. Of course, I put it down to their lack of time and I’m not giving up – I hope that sooner or later I manage to get through to them. In the February issue of HF we’ll talk to Matej Isak, chief editor of "Mono and Stereo", and now I’d like to invite you to meet David W. Robinson, chief editor, co-founder and co-owner of the American magazine “Positive Feedback Online”.

Having already been published for 23 years, “Positive Feedback Online” is at the moment one of the largest audio magazines in the world. Available online, that monthly magazine is something special. For over ten years it had been published in print and since 2002 it has only appeared online. Today such a step seems perfectly natural; it is taken not only by specialized, trade magazines, although in their case it has most sense, but also by mainstream magazines (vide “Newsweek”). Ten years ago, however, it could have seemed reckless and bore the signs of hysteria. Apparently, David W. Robinson together with his associates (see the interview) demonstrated an extraordinary sense of time and coming trends. This puts them today a few years ahead of other print magazines, some of which will also need to make that conversion. Unless they want to disappear from the market. For some, even that may not be enough help… But regardless of whether the magazine appears online or is published in print, the same concern for high publication standards is required of its editors. It just so happens that at the very core of first "Positive Feedback" and now "Positive Feedback Online" we can see values that today should be expected of all players on the audio market. One of the magazine’s major objectives has been an open attitude towards everything and everyone.
The material entitled Philosophy, which can find HERE says:

Positive Feedback Online is first and foremost a community, composed of writers and creative persons from around the world. Positive Feedback Online is an ongoing "work in progress," chronicling the efforts of audiophile listeners, reviewers, designers, manufacturers, distributors, and humorists to explore the possibilities of high end audio to the utmost. Any audiophile with something worthwhile to say is welcome to contribute to Positive Feedback Online. No false and misleading barriers are put up against "manufacturers," nor do we assume that individuals commercially involved with high end audio are automatically suspect. Informed members of the design/manufacture/distribution community have been enthusiastic and supportive contributors to Positive Feedback from the beginning, with no messy controversies about "conflict of interest."

As you can see, we deal with something different than before. Let’s listen, then, to what Dr. David W. Robinson have to say to “High Fidelity” and compare it to our previous interviews. I hope that it will help the readers to better understand differences between various magazines but also to formulate their own opinion on what they should all have in common.

David W. Robinson’s audio system can be seen HERE .

In "THE EDITORS" series we have interviewed so far:

  • Jeff Dorgay, “TONEAudio”, USA, publisher; interview HERE
  • Cai Brockmann, “FIDELITY”, Germany, chief editor; interview HERE
  • Steven R. Rochlin, “Enjoy the Music.com”, USA, chief editor; interview HERE
  • Stephen Mejias, “Stereophile”, USA, assistant editor; interview HERE
  • Martin Colloms, “HIFICRITIC”, Great Britain, publisher and editor; interview HERE
  • Ken Kessler, “Hi-Fi News & Record Review”, Great Britain, senior contributing editor; interview HERE
  • Michael Fremer, “Stereophile”, USA, senior contributing editor; interview HERE
  • Srajan Ebaen, “6moons.com”, Switzerland, chief editor; interview HERE

Wojciech Pacuła: Please tell me something about yourself.

David W. Robinson: I've been interested in audio since I was 15. My first investment in audio was in a reel-to-reel recorder when I was 16. I did a number of amateur recordings in high school, and then did location recordings and radio production work while I was at Lewis and Clark College, at KLC FM. I got into high-end audio in the later 1980s, after years of mid-fi. Joined the Oregon Triode Society as a founding board member in January of 1990. Took over as Editor-in-Chief of “Positive Feedback” in the spring of 1990 (Issue 3); have been doing it ever since. In 1995 I took ownership of the magazine. In early 2002 I merged with Dave and Carol Clarks high-end audio publication, “audioMusings”, and jointly we converted to full-time Web-based publication in the spring of 2002. We've been publishing for 10.5 years continuously since then, under the dba of "Positive Feedback Online".



Could you outline for us the history of PFO compared to other US audio magazines and tell us what role it plays among them.

PFO is a good bit different than some other audio journals. Our subtitle is the heart of it: "A Creative Forum for the Audio Arts." We're open to contributions of all kinds from many different sources... editors, reviewers, designers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers... provided that an article isn't an infomercial or a flamefest. Over the past twenty years we've had some great contributions from knowledgeable and passionate contributors in the industry, people like George Cardas, Bob Carver, David Manley, Peter Qvortrup, Scott Frankland, Greg Beron, Harvey Rosenberg, Jennifer Crock...the list is a long one!

We've published reviews, music reviews, and show reports, of course, but also essays, cartoons, satires, poetry, prose poetry, gonzo thought pieces, DIY projects, evaluations of modified equipment...

things that are in some cases outside of the usual envelope of high-end audio journalism/publication. Now that we're online, we do a great deal more of it than in our print days (1990-2001), since we aren't constrained by the costs and limitations of paper 'n ink.

Our mission is two-fold: to educate and entertain our readers... and ourselves. And to have a bloody good time doing it!

Overall, I think we've succeeded rather well.

Our role is to provide a different voice and perspective on high-end audio than is to be found in other publications. Anyone who reads PFO and other audio magazines will notice the difference over time.



Which magazines are number 1 in the US, regardless of whether print or Web-based?

My list of leading audio publications in the USA would include “Positive Feedback Online”, “Stereophile”, and “The Absolute Sound”. There are some others out there that might be cited, but these would be on my list.

How does the American market differ from the rest of the world?

It's very diverse; it tends to mass movements in audio, and represents a marketing challenge for high-end audio. Many Americans aren’t even aware of the existence of fine audio.

What do you think about "national" sound preferences - is this still a real thing?

I'm not even sure what you mean by this. I assume that you’re referring to stereotypes about preferences for a given audio presentation in various lands; if so, perhaps it exists only in the most statistical kind of way.

What could web-based magazines learn from print magazines and vice-versa?

Web magazines can learn editorial standards, rigor, cost-control, and journalistic standards/professionalism from print journals.
Print journals can learn to be more flexible in content, more engaged with their readers, more responsive to trends/issues, and that they need to have some element of their publishing online. In fact, I suspect that many audio print journals will be growing their online presence over the next few years. The economic realities driving this are nearly irresistible, and hard to argue with. "It is useless for men to stand in front of steam-engines," wrote Charles Francis Adams in 1868. He's right.

Why do online magazines have so many readers? At least compared to a limited number of readers of print magazines…

Ease of access, clearly, and also near instantaneous publication and "buzz," together with much lower costs associated with publication. “Positive Feedback Online” is far larger in its readership than it ever was in its print days, and now has a global reach that was never possible with paper 'n ink. It was far too costly in every way to attempt global distribution when we were a print publication. The return on investment was poor and uncertain, and profit margins were very slim. You have to be a very large enterprise with deep pockets to play in that game… and even some of those entities have gone down or given up over the years.

Things are changing.

What is your policy of audio reviews? What kind of methodology do you use?

Our editorial philosophy will be found HERE, where it has been published for years. Our methodology is that of the classic subjective review, sometimes with second or third reviewers doing parallel projects, and sometimes with informal listening groups. No measurements; no double-blind.

What do you thing about the future of audio?

I don't think that audio has a single "future"; it's more likely that we'll see multiple futures, as the current technologies and trends, all tending to produce multiple technologies, formats, and standards, emerge.
Clearly we will see more portability, more flexibility, and more computer-based alternatives, but that's true of high-end audio as well as mass audio.
Meanwhile, the classic media (LPs, tapes, SACDs, CDs) will continue to exist in their own world, and high-resolution formats like DSD and Double DSD will break new ground among audiophiles.

Do you think that vinyl revival is a stable trend or is it just matter of time before it disappears?

That's a pretty stable... and growing... trend, I think.

How about hi-resolution audio files?

Definitely. Especially downloadable DSD and Double DSD (very especially!), once people hear what these can do. Various flavors of high-resolution PCM will also be available...from 96/24 to 192/24...though I consider them to be clearly inferior to DSD and Double DSD.



How do you select audio gear for reviews? Do you review stuff you don't like?

We generally find gear by visiting audio shows, and previewing candidates there. What we like or find promising, we attempt to review.
As to reviewing stuff we don't like: no, we don't do that.
Why would anyone review something they didn't like? And would anyone who designed a product want someone to review it who didn't "like" it?

All photographs and image processing by David W. Robinson of Positive Feedback Online (www.positive-feedback.com), and are used courtesy of that magazine. Copyright © 2012, all rights reserved, by David W. Robinson and Positive Feedback Online. These images may not be re-used without the express written permission of David W. Robinson and Positive Feedback Online.

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