I've found the most useful/honest comments to be random postings in various audio forums (here and elsewhere). Just Google the component in question, and start reading. Unfortunately, ya gotta wade thru some junk and jaded opinions before you get a handle on how good it really is. I'd trust 25 casual opinions, over *ONE* reviewer.
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Its interesting how some see product promotion in some reviews when careful reading by folks familar with the reviewer and the products in general can find all kinds of picks and nits which would kill a purchase.
Interesting kind of conundrum - the person who needs the review the least usually can get the most out of them. Those who read reviews thinking that they are reading something more than a subjective, albeit experience based, opinion are setting themselves up for disappointment.
Ditto in spades for casual user comments which can be forthright opinions or in many cases nothing more than puffery by product supporters like salemen, dealers, distributors and their sockpuppets.
It's a swamp out there..................
Most reviews require you to read in between the lines of what is actually being said, I see many negative opinions that on the face can seem like an over-all positive review.
I do wish the problems with gear were not so cryptic when you read a given review, and half of me thinks most reviewers have made a deal with the devil and complete honesty has jumped the shark, but how can you mix sound business and sound reviews.....its a tap dance.
". . . jumped the shark." You bet! The reviews are all the same, and user reviews must be taken with great skepticism too. Most users write their review while still in the "honeymoon period" and are trying to convince us (and themselves) that they've made a good purchase.
Lose your faith. It's the only relatively sane thing to do.
As for finding reasonably honest reviews. Check out independent reviewers who neither own nor sell the equipment (or bought *after* they reviewed it), AND have a sound methodology along with the required equipment for testing, e.g., The Audio Critic.
I think sleepysurf is onto something.
I do the same thing. I read many opinions of common folk like us and I look for a theme. Theme being, I see a common thred of a certain product getting steller pub from a lot of actual users. This takes tons of research, but has served me well for many years to put an awesome system together for its value.
I don't bother with a reviewer anymore. I recently ended my stereo review and TAS subscriptions.
many audio critics receive the same accomodation and perks that the employees of manufacturers, distributers, and retailers get, even though (unlike the otheres in the marketing chain)they are supposed to be impartial. imagine a football game where the team accommodates the referees, and the spectators think everything is fair and square. reviews are for entertainment value only...like professional wrestling.....and every bit as scripted. `consumer reviews are the best
"reviews are for entertainment value only...like professional wrestling."
That is brilliant!!!!!!!!!!!!!
How many times do you think a reviewer is already wanting an item he "requests" to review in a simple effort to obtain something he really wants anyway on the cheap?
I read reviews and respect some of the folks doing reviews but it just appears that being a reviewer is like winning the lottery for an Audiophile, yea they always go out of their way to say how much work it is and how much they sacrifice for other enthusiasts, it isnt work if it is your hobby and passion so when they try to convince me that what they do is a thankless chore........... I laugh.
Audio is a very, underline very, subjective experience/hobby/addiction.
Reviewers do their best,giving them the benefit of the doubt, but they, like we have their biases. Do you really like hard rock and the thump of a drumkit or are you more into classical with strings or period instruments? Either way what you hear is going to be based on what you expect, based itself on experience, and to a degree what you hoped it would sound like. What it is really like may be neither which can be either better or worse.
Viridian mentioned the Harmonic Technology Cyberlights that John Atkinson gave a solid negative to and Michael Fremer went into hyberbole hell over. Had that been my only exploration of them, my experience might have been different. But, on stereophiles website are the reviews and some unpublished letters, one in which Fremer stands by his statements BUT does not recommend them, nor are they in Stereophile's latest recommended components.
This got me curious, so when a chance to audition them came up, it was taken eagerly.
Like Michael Fremer, they wowed me, but not enough to buy them, where my pockets deeper, sure for a spare set to use only occassionally yes. What they do, they do wonderfully what they lack for me from a phonostage to preamp was after much thought enough to say no.
The rule should be read, read, read and audition. Nothing else gets it home to you as to what it will do and what it will do in your system. A reviewer can only do so much and again like us, they have what works and what doesn't
Check out the reasons why rags like stereophile won't write a negative review at arthur salvatore's site. here's the specific link to reviewing the reviewers:
it's eye opening.
I agree with Audiofeil, look at the pictures, read the physical description. If it sounds interesting listen for yourself.
Reviewers listening impressions really mean nothing to me. They've all become like Stereo Review magazine in the 70's and 80's under Julian Hirsch.
"Of all the amplifiers I've heard, this wonderful amp is definitely one of them." Very enlightening.
IMHO, I find much more information about sonic qualities in on-line discussion forums like this. Just make sure you understand the posters listening bias' (We all have them).
Contrary to what seems to be approaching a general consensus, I have grown to have more respect for Stereophile's reviewers over the years. I can't think of a single component that I have run through my system (that was also reviewed in Stereophile) that didn't sound like the reviewer described. That isn't to say that I haven't disliked a component, I have...many, but I've never walked away saying to myself, "That didn't sound anything like so and so said it did." Other than that, I expect good writing and they do have the best writers by a wide margin.
Reviews are very useful for features, charts and test measurements (less reliable for the reviewers impression of sound quality - unless you can read between the lines).
What Hifi magazine is a probably the most sober guide I have seen.
trust more the products that have been around for some time and enjoy wide succcess.
trust products that are used by discerning customers, such as industry professionals. (i.e. if it is audio then why not pay attention to what artists and recording studios purchase - read mix magazine etc.)
do not trust hyperbole
do not trust magic
do not trust claims that have no physical or conventional scientific explanation (products with precious metals and precious materials but no lab chart showing just why they do sound different)
trust companies that sponsor the Audio Engineering Society over those that don't
trust design practices of modern mainstream electrical and acoustic engineers over those that totally oppose conventional wisdom (admittedly conventional wisdom gets turned on its head from time to time, but this is an exception rather than a general rule)
Of course it is always appealing to have a unique contrarian exclusive and anachronistic product. Armed with something very different from the conventional, one can, as Tom Petty put it, more easily "feel good to be king". An ecstatic review helps to further the pride of ownership in something unique or quirky.
This is probably one of my favorite examples of a review of a great product. The conclusion is "a $998 speaker system that was terrific on a wide variety of music."
The idea that reviews are more for entertainment sounds accurate. I know that listening is an entirely subjective experience, so I would never be able to take the advice of someone I've never even met for guidance about the quality of a component.
On the other hand, I also agree with Sleepysurf that to get a general idea about a component's the best thing to do is search the web for discussion posts and user reviews. As with any kind of data collection, it's also best to drop the top few positives and bottom few negatives to get rid of the lobbyists though.
But just like movies and music, there are certain people whose tastes line up very closely to mine, and their recommendations are taken with more than a grain of salt. These people are usually my good friends. Unfortunately, I don't think I've found a reviewer at this point who I would say my tastes line up with enough to trust anything she writes.
when i first started reading the "little" stereophiles, many reviews would compare two (or more) very similar components price-wise leaving everything else in the system the same.
these real-time A/B tests and the resultant impressions imho
gave the reader an immediate sense of the writer's honesty, musical tastes, and a ruthlessness that could not be mistaken for "gee, thanks so much for your advertising dollars; here's a lovely review of your new preamp". i remember plenty of angry debates in the "manufacturer's comments" section, too. very enjoyable reading, and good ammo when you went out to hear a $5000 piece of electronics or speaker system- now you're either enthusiastic regardless of the lofty price-tag or wary and armed with some questions and perhaps some revealing cd's you brought along.
you forgot to include : trust your ears.
I agree. Armed with your own set of test CD/LP's I think you can't go far wrong. The danger is when the demo is made with unfamiliar pieces. Danger being that the music is selected by the person making the demo; therefore it is likely to be particularly well suited to the system reviewed. A great system will outshine others on a wide variety of music even if another system will outshine it in one or two particular instances (because it happens to enhances some specific weakneses in a recording).
I have been reviewing for 7 years now, and I can only recall one "bad" product. Even the ones that I did not personally care for, Dali Helicon 300 comes to mine, had plenty of positive merits to it that another listener could love and I tried to write about what it does well and bad while being objective. Ultimately, when you compare the price/performance level to a $2000 product to the p/p of a $2000 product of 15 years ago - it is hard not to get pumped with excitement.
Then there are the products that do not represent a good value, yet they sound great. Most common in this area are cables. I have reviewed great cables that I would never buy because there is better or equal at the same or less cost. Same is true for speakers and electronics. But the p/p doesnt define the quality of sound; it may only effect how it may be recommended.
I trust that each of you all would be making similar comments if you were lucky enough to get a steady stream of gear pass through your listen room.
There was one time I was supplied with an integrated amp from a company that does not have much market share and, in fact, may be gone now. I got it in my house and it was awful. I could not say anything nice about and neither could my editor. We informed the company, that under the circumstances, your XYZ would get a horrible review and let them pull the product. This would never happen if it were a case of not meeting preferences or expectations. Maybe the company needed to come back with an iteration or revision but it was so bad it was an ethical questions weather to inform the company and let them pull it.
On the other hand, we all know about a very popular New Zealand based electronics company that has a very well received integrated amp. I reviewed it, found it to be a "good sounding amp" but not worthy of destroying in the press nor did I gush over it. I just thought it was way over hyped but that dose not effect the sound, just the perception thereof.
just my input..
After reading some of the other responses I have some follow up comments.
I have never, ever been exposed to any biasing which could even tangentially be associated with advertising at all. Never. I review products that have appealed to me is some way, I contact the company and make the arrangements. I dont even know if they are a supporter or advertiser of the mag. Heck, they may hate us for all I know. This may sound bad, but I have contacted companies only be told that I already have sent XYZ to ABC at your mag for his review!
I agree, reviewing is a form of entertainment. It is not meant to the definitive word. Our magazine tries to get multiple reviewers review the same product. I recall that I loved the Reference 3A MM Di Cappo (which became my reference for a long time) while at the same time the other reviewer didn't care for them at all. (and said as much)
Next, most reviewers are unpaid volunteer hobbyists audiophiles just like you. Like you, we are looking for the best sound, in "our" room, within our budget. What we have over you, is that we can go through several products, keep them for months AND then decide if it is right for "us". Why would anyone of us buy a product just because we got a deal on it when, chances are, we could get a similar deal on the product we actually want!? When a reviewer buys a product you can be sure that they really like it and it meets their predilections in their price range.
Finally, do read between the lines. I know when there is something I do not like about a product; I say so, albeit in a low key and non-product-bashing way. Mainly because, as I said above, most products are generally very good and because of one issue I may have, that is no reason to toss out the baby with the bath water.