Great article — am passing on the link to several friends. :)
You’re right about the very few websites and reviewers online who have sensible views. I’ve learned a lot from Peter Aczel and his superb website, The Audio Critic. He’s gone into retirement, unfortunately. Some people should never be allowed to retire. :) I also bought and read books by Douglas Self and Bob Cordell about audio equipment design and measurement, and those sort of sealed my understanding about this subjectivist point of view. Even audio engineers listen to their equipment and make changes to their designs based on that, but that’s a very far cry from the $3,000 audio cable world.
Since you’re into DIY (I too am using an RPi 3 + Hifiberry Digi+ + Kodi for my main media player currently), you may have heard of NwAvGuy and his ODAC and O2 headphone amp. We don’t know who he is, but his contribution helped separate a lot of wheat from chaff. I began to notice a lot of comments in the ensuing years about his designs, when users reviewed his equipment. They would often say “I liked the sound of DAC X over the ODAC”. They never said “The sound of DAC X was more accurate.” I then realised that a lot of music lovers don’t care about accurate reproduction — they want something they like. Significant doses of second harmonic distortion, slightly rolled off top ends, all become par for the course with such listeners. I guess I’ve just stuck with accuracy of reproduction, and it’s hard for me to discuss my point of view with subjectivist friends. I actually became so tired of this subjective audiophile stuff that I taught myself to design my own speakers. I personally believe my current speakers sound more accurate than one or two $20,000+/pair speakers I’ve heard. No self-respecting subjectivist audiophile will agree. :D If they’d agreed, they would probably have never bought any cables other than something like Blue Jeans Cables, one of the few, ultra-rare, honest cable makers I’ve discovered who make really good cables.
And about the conflict of interest between reader interests and advertiser interests, the less said, the better. I believe there was a showdown similar to what you reported, between NwAvGuy and the administrators of head-fi.org about Schiit equipment (DAC and headphone amp makers). You can see details on NwAvGuy’s blog. It is but expected that such conflicts will arise. There is too much money involved.