Pink Paper #001 – TEC Awards Are Spurious

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Pink Paper #001 – January 25, 2016

Problem: 2016 TEC Technical Achievement Award was given to the Antelope Satori monitor controller, a piece of equipment with documented and published technical faults.

Goals: To raise consumer awareness about the spuriousness of TEC Awards. To disseminate information about problems with Antelope Satori monitor controller.

Tape Op Jan/Feb 2016 issue #111’s Gear Geeking column with Andy Hong made known the following problem with the Antelope Audio Satori monitor controller.  We quote: “…although the virtually perfect phase and frequency response of the Antelope Satori are what you’d expect from a “mastering grade” monitor controller, when you A/B its inputs, the output level of its summing bus changes, and clicking noises are imparted on the bus. Moreover, clicks appear on the summing bus when you operate the volume control. At first I thought bone conductance was causing me to feel and “hear” the clicks of the attenuator and switching relays through my fingers, but REW [Room EQ Wizard – a measurement software] quickly confirmed that the level changes and clicks are indeed making [it] into the audio stream. If you’re a Satori user, don’t touch the monitoring volume or input controls when you’re printing a mix through the Satori.”

Two days after Hong’s assessment was published, The Satori won the TEC award for Amplification Hardware – Studio and Sound Reinforcement. I don’t think we need to spell out the inaccuracy and irony of this device receiving a Technical Achievement award, or what it tells us about the way that such evaluations are carried out by the TEC Awards program.

Wikipedia tells us this about TEC: “Originally founded in 1985 by Mix magazine, since 1990 the TEC Awards program has been headed by the TEC Foundation (formerly the Mix Foundation) for Excellence in Audio, a 501(c)(3) public benefit organization that also offers scholarships and works to mitigate noise-induced hearing loss.”

TEC’s Website tells us that nominations and final voting is carried out as such:

“The nominees and winners of the TEC Awards are determined through a three-step process. In June, a “Call for Entries” was posted on the TEC Awards and NAMM  website, posted in audio media outlets and emailed to audio manufacturers and sound production professionals. Initial selections were made in September by a Nominating Panel comprised of professionals and thought leaders from all areas of the audio industry. […] Names and descriptions of the nominated products and projects were posted in October to the TEC Awards website. Eligible nominees are those projects or products that, in the opinion of the Nominating Panel, represent superior accomplishment in their respective fields. […] Voting for the 31st Annual TEC Awards is open to prominent professional audio and music industry organizations, journals and websites, including the Producers & Engineers Wing of the Recording Academy, select NAMM members, the NAMM TEC community, the Game Audio Network Guild (G.A.N.G.),, the Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE), Mix, Pro Audio Review, Pro Sound News, Electronic Musician and Sound & Video Contractor. Voters registered online per instructions of participating organizations, and voted via secure online ballot during the month of December.”

What’s conspicuously absent here is that, clearly, none of the voting parties was expected to use or listen to the products being voted on. Given the number of people voting and the number of products being entered, it would be a complete logistical impossibility for anyone to have spent any actual time with these products (unless they happen to be regular users, which creates a whole other level of bias).

What we have in the TEC Technical awards is a case of industry marketing hype and built-in nepotism.

It’s common in many industries for not-for-profit awards programs to emerge. This is all fine and good if these awards programs bring professionals from within the field in to actually evaluate the products, but in the case of pro audio and the TEC we can assume that it’s nearly impossible to do that. It may sound blunt, but the TEC is like running the Oscars based on the votes of people who haven’t seen the nominated movies.

There are instances when the TEC awards highlight a truly interesting innovation, but this doesn’t mean that there is any kind of meaningful evaluation of the products receiving those awards.

We at Pink Noise offer this short Pink Paper as a two-fold consumer advocacy suggestion:

1) Remain very wary of the products on the market and work with your colleagues, salespeople, journalists (like Hong) and anyone else who can help to make meaningful evaluations of the tools.

2) Ignore awards and other marketing tools (if not marketing all together), as the pro audio manufacturers seem to be sinking deeper into the mire of unsubstantiated hype. That hype can only work if we remain an uncritical and uninformed end user base. Let’s not be that user base.

Stay wary,

Editors, Pink Noise – January 25th, 2016