If you’re reading this article before August 15, 2018, you won’t see a new menu option on this site that says “EISA.” But on or after August 15, it will be there -- you’ll be able to click it and see submenu items, including one for the EISA 2018-2019 product-award winners, as well as another for an EISA-related video that we produced. But even if you’re reading this before August 15, at the top you’ll see EISA’s logo alongside our SoundStage! Hi-Fi logo, as well as elsewhere on our site.

What’s EISA? And what are these awards? What do they mean?

According to the “About EISA” page on the official EISA website, www.eisa.eu: “EISA started in 1982 when the editors-in-chief from five European photo magazines came together to select ‘The Camera of the Year’ for the first time. They had no idea that out of this meeting EISA -- the European Imaging and Sound Association -- would emerge some years later. This historic moment took place in 1989 after another 10 photo magazines had joined the group in the meanwhile.”

EISA grew and evolved in the years following, involving many more magazines and many other product types -- such as hi-fi equipment. From what I understand, though, back then it was getting a little scattershot, with so many different entities and product types. In 2013, to better organize everything, they made a significant change to their structure by creating six Expert Groups, one for each main product category: Hi-Fi, Mobile Devices, In-Car Electronics, Home Theatre Audio, Home Theatre Display and Video, and Photography. Each group has a manager, all overseen by EISA’s president. The current president is Paul Miller, who was elected to the position by EISA members in 2015 and whom I’ve known on the publishing side since 2010 -- he is the co-owner and editor of the well-known British hi-fi print magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review. The current manager of the Hi-Fi Expert Group is Jamie Biesemans, a technology writer from Belgium.

Paul MillerPaul Miller speaks to the EISA members

The purpose of EISA has been, from the beginning, the creation of product awards that are selected not by a single publication but by an entire group of publications. As the saying goes, there’s strength in numbers. From what I can tell, it’s worked -- although not that well known outside of Europe, within Europe, EISA awards carry clout for manufacturers and, more important, consumers.

Although they’ve had success, a few years ago, Paul Miller recognized that, with the ways the world’s media landscape is changing, particularly with the rise in the importance of the Internet, the group could no longer restrict itself to Europe or to print-only publications, if their goal was to grow in size and importance. As a result, about two years ago, Miller got agreement within EISA to bring in as new members print and online publications from around the world, to make EISA a truly modern, global association.

In early 2017, Miller talked to us about SoundStage! Hi-Fi becoming an EISA member. At first, we didn’t know what to make of it all, mostly because of that first word in the organization’s name: European. We didn’t understand how we, based in North America, could be involved without having a European wing. But once Miller explained the organization, its global plan, and what that meant for the relevance of their awards, as well as the relevance of all the member publications, we knew that we wanted in, and to help the group become more international.

With EISA’s new global slant, the evolution of the association’s name will be interesting. Because most of their branding uses the acronym EISA instead of the association’s full name, there is understandable reluctance to remove the E or replace it with a word that begins with a different letter. Building a brand is difficult and expensive -- you don’t change it without carefully thinking it through. We’ll see what the future brings in this regard.

Kasteel den BrandtKasteel den Brandt

Becoming a member of EISA wasn’t as easy as simply saying “Yes.” In the middle of 2017, we sent in a detailed PowerPoint presentation about SoundStage! Hi-Fi so that current EISA group members could look at it and decide whether or not they wanted to admit us. That hurdle jumped, I then made a formal presentation at EISA’s next general meeting, on May 22, 2018, in Antwerp, Belgium, at the beautiful Kasteel (Castle) den Brandt, which was built in 1790 and serves as a prestigious backdrop for the organization. A few other print publications and websites based in other parts of the world were also making their presentations. The group members then voted on whether or not to admit us.

Kasteel den BrandtKasteel den Brandt grounds

All candidates were accepted as official EISA members. That brought the total number of print and online publications that are EISA members up to around 55. From what I understand, more will be admitted by next year from other parts of the world; the membership could soon exceed 60.

EISA poster

Also part of the Antwerp meeting was EISA’s annual press convention, a sort of mini trade show. This, too, was held at Kasteel den Brandt, as well as at a nearby hotel at which all visiting members were staying. I don’t know how many manufacturers in all gave presentations across all six Expert Groups, but in three days there were 15 for the Hi-Fi segment alone. Each presentation lasted up to two hours, in which an audio manufacturer showed in detail products in current release or about to be released. Some products had already been reviewed by member publications; others would be reviewed shortly after the meeting. Sitting through all those presentations, held one after the other, was tiring but valuable -- I could see it all, and get all the information I needed in a very short time. Those, too, are important aspects of EISA membership -- you’re on the cutting edge of knowing what’s new.

KEF at EISAKEF’s Johan Coorg presenting to the EISA members

The Antwerp meeting also marked the beginning of the selection process for EISA’s annual product awards. One month later, most EISA members convened for another three days, this time in Serbia, to hash out what the EISA awards for each Expert Group would be for the year. The products finalized by that group at that time are the award winners for 2018, and will be announced August 15 on this site, as well as on the websites and in the print pages of all other member publications. Being a brand-new member we weren’t involved in the Serbia deliberations -- new members must first learn EISA’s ropes. Plus, we need time to formally review enough of the components reviewed by other members to provide valuable input -- but we’ll be directly involved in selecting the 2019 product awards, wherever in the world that process might take place.

Elac at EISAElac’s Andrew Jones addressing EISA members

Going global means exciting times for EISA and its member publications. For the SoundStage! Network it’s not only thrilling, it’s gratifying to know that we’re part of a large and growing international group of publications that’s been carefully vetted, in order to keep the quality of the association and its awards high. For now and the foreseeable future, only three North American publications will be EISA members: SoundStage! Hi-Fi, Sound & Vision, and Stereophile. This is good company to be in -- and EISA is a great, globally expanding organization to be a member of. We look forward to contributing to it.

. . . Doug Schneider