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If I resist the temptation to generalise and/or am able to successfully combat "paranoid" tendencies, which would lead me to bedevil the entire breed, I've through (much) time and experience learnt to trust those reviewers - not in their judgements, in that they find something good or bad - but in their descriptions of how a unit may sound and perform. This always under the condition, that with quite a few gear, I've more or less heard the same as what they had described. There was a time, long ago, when TAS did not take in advertising and I often felt comfortable with what John Nork and even HP had to say. The early Threshold and the Maggie bass panels come to mind, the SP6, the Dahlquist speakers, but that was long ago. What makes me uneasy these days, is the fact, that often newly published rave reviews in the rags will be accompanied by a first time advertisement of the the same product under review. Also it seems to me, that critical reviews are getting more and more rare.( Which also has a good side, because by hatchet job reviewing, fledgling products can be driven off the market and businesses ruined, (eg Modjieskis "Beveridge"preamp, a very promising design, killed by HP in favour of the SP6) Lets face it, its business and without advertising most publications could not survive. I've learnt to mistrust final judgements like "state of the art", or "Class A products", but with reviewers, whose stile, language and musical tastes have become familiar, I find their description of how a product sounds and with what associated gear, generally very helpful.
Well Bigboy, I'm a reviewer and I know that I'm very honest when I express my views and I believe that the other reviewers who I know personally are also honest about their opinions. With commercial magazines the reality is that for the most part you are only going to see positive reviews because negative reviews scare away advertizing funds (which support the magazine). Often times, if a reviewer gets a product that he really doesn't like it ends up being returned to the manufacturer without a review. The manufacturer is informed of the product's shortcomings. This is actually the exception. Normally, products submitted for review are adroit performers. If you were a manufacturer, would you submit a product for review if you felt it was only mediocre? Believe it or not, I've seen manufacturers threaten lawsuits -- not because their product didn't get a good review, but because the review contained too many caveats for their liking. Recently, I gave a decent tube preamplifier a deservedly positive review. The company's CEO (who shall remain nameless) is no longer speaking to me because I mentioned some mild shortcomings and noted that the unit was built to a price point. Oh well! And believe me, we reviewers put a lot of time and effort into our evaluations -- and though we usually have the option to buy a review sample for around dealer cost (far from free!), reviewers are very rarely offered free gear. I've had about 40 reviews published over the last 5 years and the one time I was offered a free component was after the review was already written and published. I called the manufacturer to make arrangements for the product's return and they told me to keep it with their compliments. Also, this particular item was of foreign origin and was not expensive, which probably had some influence on their decision.
If you see an Audio Magazine where the ratio of ads to reviews is 10(ads) to 1(reviews) you have to wonder. What Hi-Fi comes to mind. They are a budget audiophile to mid-fi magazine. Whenever I look at a copy I am always amazed at how they tend to favor the budget gear over the better gear.
If memory serves they gave the Rotel RCD951 CD Player 5 "gold" stars and the RCD971 something like 3 stars. It also seems that almost no gear gets a rating less than 3 stars. They don't want to piss-off any potential advertisers. They also seem to have never reviewed an NAD or Marantz product they disliked.
Plato, I find this an excellent and well considered post and have voted accordingly. I've followed the "history of reviewing in the then underground mags" practically from its beginning and hence know, how raving mad manufacturers can get, even with a midly critical review. William Zane Johnson of Audio Research for example, would not talk to HP for months on end... and that was after all those rave rewiews about Sp6 and the 110 tube amp for example. On the other hand, I also remember Michael Fremer raving about the (in)famous Tice clock, which, after getting one for myself out of sheer curiosity, proved to me, that reviewers are humans too, not neccesarily dishonest, in this case especially not, but sometimes prone to attacks of gullibility, which none of us can be sure to always be completely devoid of. That's also, why I like mags, where more than one reviewer writes about the same product.
Detlof, you raise some good points and I appreciate your response. As you noted, even the best and most respected reviewers are not immune to psychological hype and can occasionally make errors in their assessments. We are above all, human, and readers need to be aware of that aspect -- especially condidering how subjective most reviews are. Indeed, at times it's more akin to judging a poetry contest than related to science. That said, I've read many reviews that in my view accurately captured the review item's intrinsic character. :)
You just need to appreciate that reviewers have two main incentives. First, they must have some credibility. Arguably, only enough for their target audience, but if they are ambitious they may wish their name (as opposed to the mag they work for) to stand for something. Second, they have to pay the mortgage like anybody else - ask yourself what conditions you have to place on your own integrity at your place of work. Just appreciate that they are neither altruists or public servants.
I think we have to look at ourselves in the mirror when asking questions of these reviewers. They're just feeding our habit and doing so eloquently. Haven't we spent time carefully listening and researching equipment, buying it taking it home and smiling ear to ear only to find out that something better just came out? And away we go again. I read the reviews to see what somebody with more dollars than cents can buy and occasionally to self-congratulate myself on a decision that I and the reviewer came to. I see reviewers as good authors who talk about stuff I'm obsessed with. Don't shoot the messenger.
I suppose there may be a dishonest reviewer or two out there, but I think the vast majority are honest, and their reviews are compromised only by their own belief systems and biases, same as you and me. I see no evidence that any of the buff mags are pimping for the big equipment makers, like the car buff mags do. Stereo Review, of course, if it still exists, is another story. I doubt anyone interested in this topic takes anything in that magazine seriously.
But, what motivated me to respond to this thread is the comment above that reviewers have to pay the mortgage. Except for the principals involved in the serious magazines and the internet mags, my impression is that most reviewers have day jobs. For example, my favorite reviewer (because he turned me on to my Harbeth Compact 7's), Robert Greene, is a math professor.
Now, there are editors and publishers whose livelihood depends on advertising revenue. Thus, I would be surprised to see really negative reviews in the buff mags. What purpose would that serve? Yet, for example, John Atkinson, wrote a very positive review of my Harbeth HL-P3's and later a very negative review of the Harbeth BBC LS5/12a's. (BTW, the P3's, like my Harbeth Compact 7's and all the current Harbeth speakers, were designed by Harbeth MD Alan Shaw and the 5/12a's are a BBC design). Now, Harbeth was never a big advertiser, and Ive never seen a bad review of a B&W, but still my impression is JA is a straight-shooter (quasi-anechoic chamber notwithstanding).
You also have to consider that except for speakers and mass market junk sold at the electronics emporia, most audio equipment nowadays is fairly priced, i.e, performance is about what you would expect for the price.
Well, I'm not sure that "audiophiles are generally no fools." Do you have any idea how hard it is to sell something though really really good is not listed among Stereophile's recommended components. Or how many sales are made immediately upon a rave review to people who have never heard what they're buying? Let's, please, not get into the prices paid for designer cables (I'm NOT a wires is wires troll, but know that the margins are really big).
Red, you're probably right about the salary. They do get good salaries, but the income from their reviews or editing or whatever helps.
As a professional who has spent more than 20 years in the news business including more than a few of those at major national news organizations I have to tell you that all these conspiracy theories about what goes on in new orgs are complete bunk. It's a bunch of people trying to do their best to tell the stories they believe are important for the people to know, and trying hard to get it right and get to the bottom of the stories. Of course it's a human enterprise so mistakes are made, commercial pressures are felt (especially in these days of free ad content, graying audiences for news and shrinking ad revenue), individuals have biases etc., and sometimes very bad things happen. And maybe its true that we journalists as a group have not done our best work over the last 15 years here in the US. But it's not the world of censorship, manipulation and b.s. that people too often think it is. I can't speak too much to the questions about the audiophile press. Trade and enthusiast publications -- where advertisers, sources and readers all tend to come from the same community -- face much more extreme, even sometimes existential ethical and financial pressures than general interest press as a result of that narrow, circular world in which they operate. And I'm not sure what codes of ethics they have in house -- certainly every major news organization I've ever worked for has had extensive, explicit, written and codified ethics guidelines -- and I know that often writers in audio mags come not from the world of journalism but are hobbyists from other walks of life. But still, as someone who has seen this practice from the inside for most of my adult life I gotta say, it's a lot less nefarious than many people seem to presume.
As a professional who has spent more than 20 years in the news business including more than a few of those at major national news organizationsOver 20 years ago I stepped onto the Liberal Land of Free that became gradually Home of the Slave just like it used to be...
Back to the topic:
An English language, by it's not so nice nature, has many words that pronounced one way, but spelled different. I also noticed that not only words pronounced different ways, but phrases also!
You Pronounce: Professional Review -- You Spell: Advertising!
I also have a HUGE list of such phrases that designed to mask truth by being pronounced DIFFERENT, but will probably just say that:
Tomorrow is another New Year and let it be Happy for everyone and let it be tomorrow -- not yesterday and not 20 years ago! CHEERS!
Many years ago I worked at a high-end shop and we had a number of bookshelf speakers in the $700 or so a pair price range. One of the major audio publications of the time gave a glowing review of a pair in that range from a major manufacturer which were well made, but we never sold them after demonstrating speakers from other manufacturers in that same price range, not a single pair. I suspected that, when a manufacturer is spending significant amounts on advertising with a publication/website, that might be sufficient "persuasion" to generate positive reviews.
I will second Plato's response. Several things seem inescapable when you consider this question dispassionately:
1) Good reviews matter a lot to manufacturers and they will do all they can to avoid bad ones, which do more harm than a good review, benefits.
2) It follows they will not give kit for a review, if they aren't sure of a glowing response.
3) Reviewers and editors know this perfectly well, so they won't publish a bad review.
4) If a magazine repeatedly reviews c--p in glowing terms, it will soon be obvious to everyone and they will be slammed here and in other forums and no one will buy the magazine.
5) It follows kit found to be rubbish will be politely returned, perhaps with a note as to why a review isn't being published.
These strictures apply to magazines online reviewers who don't take adverts, just as much, perhaps more. They have to borrow kit as well, for review and a manufacturer will be doubly suspicious when they know a big advertising spend, doesn't give them a hold over the magazine. This isn't my opinion, but what has been expressed to me, by a number of reviewers in sources which do and do not take adverts.
It follows, I believe, that magazine reviews can be relied on, with qualifications, as much as any other source of information. That is as a guide in making a short list of gear to be auditioned myself.