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Wouldn't you like to see a bad review

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You know wouldn't you like to see a really bad review of a product that really sucks. It occurs to me that at times I see reviews "finessed". Some of this stuff really has to SUCK don't you think? This is not necessarily directed to Chris (far from it) but its probably the double-bind reviewers find in keeping the flow of review samples coming and the decision to moderate one's views in reviews in Stereophile etc. Just a thought at perhaps how to read between the lines in some of these reviews.


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It may just be marketing blurb / justification ... but in HiFi Choice several months ago there was a letter saying very similar and the magazines reply was that there is very little very bad kit out there. In the 70s and 80s they would receive equipment for review that was badly put together and at times electrically dangerous, but with modern equipment this just isn't the case - the worst speakers, amplifiers, etc are above average from the past.


I think you do need to read between the lines ... an example (that I recall) was the recent Stereophile review of the BelCanto USB Link: they began saying it was good quality, sounded great, etc. but then went on to compare the sound to the M-Audio Transit at a 1/5 of it's price. Read into that what you will...


The problem is ... ask 10 audiophiles to compare 2 products and you'll get 10 answers which is better...


My experience with equipment is that the improvements are by degrees, not the one item of equipment is fundamentally better than another, and this tends to be reflected in reviews. I think reviews are often written keeping "you can't please all of the people all of the time" into account.






...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Very much about marketing, as much as I like Stereophile (and subscribe). The USB Link review all but said the Transit was as good, if not better, for $400 less. Then Bel Canto (a regular advertiser) writes in reply, saying "but we work hard on our gear, also we include a FREE cable, blah, blah ..." Not that I'm knocking Bel Canto -- I own their Ref1000s and S300s, and am quite happy with the sound and their products generally.


Upshot is, the USB Link is now rated Class B in latest Recommended Components issue, and no more is heard of M-Audio (not an advertiser). No one can be objective, and every publisher has to keep the advertisers happy, particularly in the current economic environment, so I take it all with a grain of salt. I guess I take a great review as a starting point, and then I go listen myself.


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product adverts and reviews in Stereophile.

So some years ago I spent several hours going through 30 back issues of Stereophile, put together a spreadsheet of advertisers versus products reviewed, and looked for a correlation. While I'm no professional statistician, it did look as though there could possibly be a positive correlation, but it was very marginal given my small sample size and likely complicating factors (e.g. if a product gets a good review the manufacture may well then decide to start advertising in Stereophile to capitalise on the review).

I sent an email to John Atkinson with my spreadsheet and asked him the direct question. He was unequivocal in denying that there was ever a connection. I later bumped into him at a Heathrow HiFi show and the sincerity of his reiteration of his denial convinced me that Stereophile does not indulge in this practice. He was at pains to point out that while he controls editorial content, advertising is run by an entirely different part of the publishing organisation.




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David ...


Like you say ... does a product get good review BECAUSE of high advertising, or does the magazine get lots of advertising from the company BECAUSE the product received good reviews (and they can stick 5* product mark over the advert).






...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Just to set the record straight, I think there are a number of things that lead to few poor reviews:


1. Limited review space. Reviewers tend to hear equipment or hear about it from those who like it, and ask to review it. There is little reason today with little review space to review stuff that sounds crappy or is far too expensive for the sound it provides. This is the main reason for few poor reviews.

2. Unbiased Favoritism. There is little question in my mind that some reviewers just like some companies and not only review their products kindly, but often. There is a huge amount of good stuff out there that therefore never gets reviewed. For example, see Sam Tellig and Musical Fidelity or the multiple northern italian companies he reviews over and over.

3. Overt Bias. See Taffel/Harley vs. Ayre/Wavelength. If a reviewer and editor are not up to par and/or biased, nothing they say can be trusted. With the wide availability of electronic reviews (like here), why buy TAS? They are digging their mag's grave. I do admit that most reviewers know far more than I do about that which they review. In the cases where that is not true, they should be fired, as I am no expert in anything but eyes and eye surgery.

4. Corporate pressure. There is little question that the editors and the corporate management of reviewing publications exert overt and/or covert pressure upon their reviewers to support advertisers. Generally, this is fine, as those with marketing budgets more often than not make good equipment. The problems are when a good company makes a bad product and when small companies make good products but are excluded from reviews because of lack of advertising funds.


What does this mean?


Use reviews to help to locate products you might want to hear. Listen to other products and compare. Listen to you local dealer and see if you agree with their assessments of their equipment. Listen to equipment in you room with your existing system if possible. Finally remember that we all hear differently and enjoy differences in sound. See Oliver Sacks Musicophilia:


http://www.amazon.com/Musicophilia-Tales-Music-Revised-Expanded/dp/1400033535/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1255619087&sr=1-1 if you don't believe this.


Finally, buy what you like, and stop arguing about what sounds better! You may not like what somebody else does, and you might both be right. (Even if his system sounds awful)...


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Hi Guys - Most of the comments here are right on.


Personally I have no interest in reviewing a piece of gear that I don't like or I don't think sounds very good. I still must consider if the CA readers want to read a review of such a component. I may lean toward reviewing a product that underperforms if I think the review adds value for the CA readers. If a product is receiving glowing reviews from many other publications and I totally disagree, it may benefit the CA readers to have another opinion.


In the print magazines there is a space limitation that those of us online do not have. However, reviewing a component takes a substantial amount of time if it's done with care and due diligence. Most reviewers don't want to spend a lot of time on "bad" components. It's much funner to listen to dCS components and write about them than it is to listen to a Bose system. When one is having fun their job is much easier and is usually done much better.


I know many publishers who try to work things out with manufacturers with respect to reviews and advertisements. For example when a publisher spends a month listening to a pair of speakers in several different configurations with several components, then spends hours writing the review and working with the manufacturer to make sure there are no technical inaccuracies, these publishers often ask for a little reciprocity / support through advertising dollars. It has nothing to do with the outcome of the review. I know this method may not sound perfect, but it's part of business.


A few advertisers on Computer Audiophile, and some soon-to-be advertisers, have put off running an ad until my review was published. They did not want to give the false appearance of swaying my opinion or paying for a review etc... So, the chicken or the egg conversation can be a little confusing without all the details of the publication/manufacturer relationship. Like every business there are a few snakes in this industry. I choose to work with all of the great people who are honest, love what they do, and would never be interested in any "funny business" involving advertising and reviews. Plus, if I review a component or endorse a product from a manufacturer that burns a CA reader, the readers, my current advertisers, and I all lose. A lot goes into this whole thing for those of us who do our homework. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Long term reader satisfaction is what I am after and I won't get there reviewing or talking about snake oil or doing business with snake oil salesman.


OK end of rant. Sorry :~|



Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems

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If by 'bad review' you mean a review in which a product is trashed, the answer is: not particularly.


We've already seen a bad review, in which an ill-informed reviewer trashed an entire genre of products, to wit, the Alan Taffel trashing of USB DACs as a whole.


Now THAT, was a BAD review, IMNSHO.


FWIW, Alan has chosen the Bryston as his 'reference' DAC,

no word on whether he's upgraded from Windows 2000.





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This appears to have struck a nerve. Thanks to all for a good discussion. I certainly understand that no one wants to read page after page about how bad a piece of gear is, that really wasn't my suggestion (or intention anyway). That wouldn't be much of a rag/blog/whatever. Reviewers earn the listener's respect by showing that they discern differences and reporting those differences; that coupled with years of experience in same provides at least a plausible reason to trust a reviewer or two. At the other extreme I'm thinking about a couple of webzines (is that even a word???). These are sites where everything seems to an unqualified rave. If everything at every price point is a rave what kind of information does that say about that reviewers ability to discern and what kind of information does that give the consumer (as even a starting point or winnowed down set of options to explore?). I think that's what led me to bring this whole schmear up.


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I saw an old bad review on the internet recently about an antique sound labs pre-amp. The review went like this: wow, this sound sucks... I must have plugged it in wrong somehow... nope, just shoddy equipment. First one I've come across. Nothing against ASL, just came from my googling. I've also seen a few where the equipment is actually malfunctioning and the magazine waits for replacement equipment before publishing a review.


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I believe that when a writer says something like 'has it place in the market', 'at this low price great value', 'careful auditioning required' - it probably was a bad review. I doubt that anybody is going to write how rubbish something was, for various reasons....looking like a PRaT if he was actually wrong, being one of them.


And i am sure that there is a relationship between ad revenue and glowing reviews. The publisher is going to be obliged to listen to a high revenue client's product. And soften the review if it really was rubbish. On the other side, its unlikely that a company is going to advertise in a publication that rubbished its product. I think the suspicion arises from every review being amazing. But as Chris pointed out, he isnt very keen to review stuff that isnt good to begin with.




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I agree that you have to read between the lines. Having said that I really very much like Stereophile and after a few years of its absence from my mailbox I’ve resubscribed. I let my subscriptions lapse a few years ago due to my former compulsive upgradeitis. I also really like the flat out purely democratic nature of this forum and others like it.


There are a couple of webzines however - definitely NOT to be named here - whose home pages are full - top to bottom - of promo photos of all the obscure brands of gear that have popped up recently in far greater numbers than in the past. This stuff is designed all over the place from truly obscure names to me anyway - all made in China at price points that are temping. Alot of the gear is all cosmetically luscious looking, sometimes exotically designed stuff. Their home page really even looks like an advertisement. They literally GUSH over this equipment and make a point of describing the dozen or so pieces that are in the line to be reviewed next. While I’m suspicious of these sources, I still read them occasionally. Its a “guilty pleasure” of mine. And the gear IS beautiful to look. Call it audio porn. Ha! And actually some of the pieces that originally appears in these online mags have gone on to be widely lauded amp/preamps etc. Would I buy any of this stuff? Probably not. Would I buy the boringly designed ARC stuff (not advertised in these zines). ABSOLUTELY.


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  • 2 weeks later...

I good friend of ours recently started writing for Stereophile, Eric Lichte.


He was given a contract to write 5 reviews for them and he gets to suggest the products that he wants to review. Then stereophile decides if they would like to see those products reviewed.


So over a few beers we were all shooting out different ideas for products to review. All of which were components that we would enjoy hearing in both the reviewers system and hopefully dragging over to our places to give them a listen as well.


I know I wouldn't pick a piece of junk to review and neither would Eric. Although I do believe he had some selectively, unfavorable things to say about one piece of gear that he reviewed. I agree with the other comments. It's really a read between the lines to know what they all really think of the gear.


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I, too, have been suspicious of the absence of reviews which are directly negative in the major audiophile mags. Stereophile, in particular, has just about every piece of equipment reviewed appear in their twice annual recommended equipment list. However, this is not true of Stereophile's companion publication "Home Theater." HT contains many quite critical reviews and this applies to both advertisers and non advertisers. In the current issue (Nov 2009), for example, Toshiba LCD TV gets a rave, while the similar in size and price LG TV gets only medicre marks. LG is an advertiser in the issue and Toshiba is not. Many (most?) of the components reviewed in HT are not chosen as "HT Top Picks." Both magazines share the same slick feel and load of advertising content. The advertising staff of the two publications has major overlap as does the business staff of the two.




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