Audio vs. Other Reviews

Compared to reviewing in other industries, it seems that audio has very very few poor reviews, and I wonder what the difference is. I read music review magazines and they have no problem giving something one star and calling it horrible. I used to read computer game review magazines and still read a copy now and then, and they, too, have no problem trashing a bad game. In both cases, there is a lot of gradation as well - things throughout the spectrum. Every review doesn't end with, "You should check this out, because it may just be what you're looking for!" as the worst it might say.

In pricier categories, car magazines tend to be a fair amount more critical than audio reviews. They also do fairly massive head-to-head comparisons, comparing, say, 10 sport coupes in single go, and rating them, something we're always asking of, but rarely receiving from, audio magazines.

So why is it that basically every audio review is positive? I realize that often, if you read between the lines, the reviews give you a lot of reasons to perhaps steer clear, but why so subtle? Is it really so much harder to do a head-to-head comparison of 10 integrated amps than the same number of luxury sedans? If audio magazines fear advertisers backlash, how do the car magazines deal with the same thing?

Or is it just that, on average, audio components are very capable, and that criticizing them would be unfair?
First, understand that Audio Mags depend on the sale of audio products for their very existance.

Second, I think the more reputable audio mags (see Stereophile and TAS), try to only review products they already like. This causes them to review everything pretty positively.

Third, always remember that giving negative press to any manufacturer does not help the magazine one iota financially.

Thus, take any review with a grain of salt. Personally I mainly read them for entertainment value.

The other thing that needs bearing in mind, is that certain audio components sound better with certain other audio components. You really need to demo components yourself in your system before making a buying decision (most audio mags stress this).

My 2c.

Check out the website '' which a friend told me about not long ago. Here Richard Hardesky will confirm much of what you are speculating and perhaps much more.

As for me, reading some of the product reviews in TAS and Stereophile is: "Like strapping myself to a rocket sled and lighting the fuse." ;)

While i agree with the two previous posts to a great extent, i'd also like to add that each one of the examples that you chose to list ( computer games, cars, etc... ) are all "stand-alone" products. In other words, you can judge a car or computer game on its' own merits. While the performance of each can be varied somewhat by the fuel used, speed of computer, neither of these type of products HAVE to have support from other components like a single piece of audio gear does. As such, much of an audio review will depend on how well the reviewer tryed to mate it to other components, varied cables, was able to narrow down exactly what was taking place in the system / each component in the system, etc... As such, audio reviewing is a LOT harder than simply trying out 10 different toasters, blenders, power tools, etc... and picking the "best" one. Sean
In rating cars, I found the Lamborghini Diablo to be very poor in off-road rock climbing. It was even worse for hauling sheets of plywood home from Home Depot. In rating the Lincoln Locomotive and the Chevrolet Subdivision, I found them both very poor for road racing and drag racing. Perhaps they were not suited to my needs.
I agree with TOK20000 especially on the following point:

"They only review products they like." This is, of course, exactly what I do. I don't waste time listening to gear that is uncompelling.

Incidentally, it is usually possible to discern the difference between a product the reviewer is really taken with vs others. I have read many 'empty' rave reviews, but must admit that I have also enjoyed many reviews where smart savvy technical guys try to make sense out of superior performance for themselves.
To add to the above, I have also wondered if a reviewer tries a piece and doesn't like it, if they simply do not do a write up on it.
Who cares what reviewers say. Go out and do your own listening. Hell, everyone talks about this being so good and that blowing something away that I take everything with a VERY BIG grain of salt. I've heard differences in cable but to be honest, each one had an attribute that made it ok in some part of the frequency spectrum. I've never heard one that really gets it ALL right.
We have NO standard with which to judge equipment. Everybody hears differently. It's a hit or miss with whoever is doing the listening.
Cars and such are measured to a varifiable standard. Its easy to determine if this car is faster, quieter or whatever. We can test it. Too bad we can't test the "Perfect ear."
I'll give you an example. I had a few negative things to say about a Bryston B-60, that Stereophile reviewed so highly, in another article I wrote. I received personal e-mails at home telling me I didn't know what I was talking about. I feel after 35 years of playing around with this stuff that I am as qualified as the next to give my opinion. But that is what it was---just an opinion. I wasn't doing a survey to see if people agreed with it! A few years later other people are now "Hearing" the same things I heard(once the new was gone.)
So, go with what you like and damn the torpedoes. I'm not even going to tell someone who likes Bose their nuts! If you enjoy it so be it. Isn't that what this is all about or is it my woofer is better than yours crap!
Kirk, Brian, actually I've asked Brian's question of a reviewer or two for a big magazine or two, and was told no, that rarely happens. I think most of the reviewers want to publish reviews and collect their $250 as often as possible.

I think the primary reason you dont see bad reviews, at least w/re electronics, amps, cdps, etc., is that most products are pretty good. The stories reviewers tell to differentiate between similarly priced products are the reviewers' product, all toward selling more advertising. This is not to say that the reviewers do not believe what they write. I think they do, or at least believe that they might be right.

The reason you see the comparison reviews in the car buff mags is that most readers will agree that the test results have some meaning, zero to 60, luggage capacity, slalom course roadhandling, leg room - these are all things that make sense to people and make it possible to differentiate between competing products. Now, audio components can be measured, but most of the subscribers to Stereophile and TAS seem to believe that nothing that can be measured matters when it comes to sound quality (God knows what "high fidelity" means anymore), that is to say, audiophiles who believe that two components with identical measurements can sound different must think that the things that are measured don't matter. So what's to compare, and why take the chance of offending some readers and potential advertisers?

Actually, there have been a lot of comparison tests of speakers, with measurements that vary widely. And it is with speakers that KT's question above really resonates. Speakers sound very different from one another. If fidelity to source is the goal, and accuracy matters, some of them must be closer to right and some very very wrong. So why don't we see more reviewers say that certain speakers are just plain wrong? In my opinion, because most of the reviewers don't know what right sounds like.

I think these reviews should only be used as a "guide" for targeting a list of items to audition. Companies wine and dine writers (Sam Tellig) in Europe (Triangle/Musical Fidelity), and then he's supposed to give a critical and honest review of their product???
However, I do tend to agree with most of his assessments.
The CEO of Musical Fidelity actually plays clarinet on a CD issued by Stereophile. (SLIGHT CONFLICT OF INTEREST???)
As overtly incestious as they may seem, you have to use these reviews as entertaining idea-generators, and not reference gospel. It would be more entertaining if the reviewers were allowed to refer to some of the products as overpriced, overt trash. However that would mean no more wine tasting parties at the homes the company owners. We cannot have that...
Reviews are most definitely not a substitute for personal experience / auditions. My own answer to the question is a combination of a couple points made above - first, that audio components are reviewed mostly as individual components, but behave in the context of a full system, and second, that most products are, indeed, at least pretty good, and therefore fairly difficult to be negative about.

Still, every review magazine is dependent on advertising for its survival. The audio rags constantly tell us of the separation between editorial and ad sales - ie, no conflict of interest. And yet, I regularly read a review of a component where the reviewer clearly isn't particularly thrilled, but any comments get so watered down that it comes out, at worst, as a back-handed compliment. Maybe it's this way with review mags for higher ticket items. It just seems that you read the comment, "can't match the performance of this $2K amp for anything less than $4K!", but you never read the comment, "This $4K amp is excellent, but you can get the same performance for half this price elsewhere. Therefore, while I like this amp a lot, it's not a particularly good value." Maybe I'm expecting too much.
I basically agree with all of the above, fine points made by everyone. I do think that the current standard reviewing style is of very limited value to audiophiles. There are a few good dealers here and there whose takes on what's what are much more on the money than anything you will get out of the mags (although rarely so when concerning competing brands they don't carry). While I have posted about this previously in great detail, I'll just reiterate here that perhaps the most indicative sign of this milquetoast trend is the ridiculous "grade inflation" exhibited by Stereophile's now-worthless 'Recommended Components' farce. There seemed to be a trend a while back in both some mags and webzines toward multiple-reviewer perspectives per component, but that now looks to have fallen by the wayside a good bit, which is a step in the wrong direction - especially given today's impossible proliferation of published 'reviewers' who possess no track record with the readers to refer back to.

But I'm also not sure if a lot of audiophiles could truly handle a 'real' critic in this business. If audio reviewing were the profession of one of history's great critics - say George Bernard Shaw or Mark Twain - then we'd have to accept criticism of more than just the latest black box, and audiophiles as a group are probably just a little too neurotic, anal-retentive, and insecure to deal with that challenge in good humor. In other words, validation, rather than questioning, sits better and sells better with us. Come back to audio, J. Gordon - it needs you!
Right on Zaikesman! I for one am reluctant to subscribe to the "audioperfectionist" as it seems to echo too much of my current thinking. I want more than validation, I want some one who can present a valid challange to my prejudices as well. As for Mr. Holt, his keen ear and no nonsense sincerity is sorely missed. Perhaps he is appropriately pioneering the home theatre front, but I for one have yet to appreciate it.