The reviewer's role--comparative reviews?

The point has been repeatedly made on this site that we all have ears with which to listen, and in our ears we (should) trust. So what is the point of reviews in audio magazines and on-line sites? What is the role of reviewers? What could be the role of reviewers?

I'd like to suggest that comparative reviews would, in general, be much more useful to us that the single-piece reviews that are usually the rule these days. For instance, the recent AD review of the Harbeth 40.1s in Stereophile was enhanced for me by the ensuing exchanges between JA and Alan Shaw, but how much more useful the original review would have been if AD had pitted the 40.1s against their closest conceptual rival, the Spendor SP100Rs.

How many of the rapidly declining number of b&m audio stores in the US actually carry *both* Harbeth and Spendor? Come to that, in how many cities across the US could one find two stores that, between them, carry both lines?

Reviewers have time (months and months of lead-time) and at least some clout that would enable them to get obvious pairings into their listening rooms, but how often do they do that? I suspect, of course, that manufacturers are less than keen, for who wants to see their product ranked second in a head-to-head comparison? Especially if it costs $3000+ more than the other one...

Coincidence that you post this now. I've recently been going through my old Stereophiles (80's, early 90's), that mag was so much better then, everything was comparatively reviewed, tons of context. I may not renew, where I could read the old mag for a month, I can get through present Stereophile in an hour or two, very little context, Fremer may be the last there doing comparitive reviews on a regular basis.

It does seem rather peculiar that reviewers play it so 'safe' today, they must be afraid of losing add revenue. Also, seems a lot of reviewers these days haven't auditioned a sizable amount of equipment, calls their judgment into question. Finally, I doubt some of these systems have enough resolution to properly evaluate the equipment.

I can't remember the last time I bought something based on a formal review. I generally make my purchasing decisons based on lots of feedback over a long period of time. Relying on the 'professional' reviewers is like trusting your investments to the genius financial service industry gurus, very few are worth listening to.
Between ad politics, personal bias and the lust many a reviewer has to own the gear they review (for unknown discounts AFTER a glowing review) its very hard to read many reviews and keep a straight face. They will continue to insist they have a hard job and provide a valuable service and we will continue to know a fair amount of what we read is bullshit, then audition and make up our own minds. I doubt I am alone in thinking this way.
What is the role of reviewers?
To provide written entertainment to audio hobbyists, and some presentation of new products out there.
What could be the role of reviewers?
(other than above) TO educate audiophiles in listening to music and speech; to provide guidance in choosing and setting up reproduction systems... and to help in the pursuit of sonic quality in pre-recorded music.
Subscribe to the HIFICRITIC mag. It is a throwback to the old days, no ads, small issues, direct comparisons. Done by some of the best reviewers in audio. They also have a forum. Check out HIFI Wigwam site also from England for some interesting discussions.
I agree that reviews are mainly for entertainment, but I certainly like them when I learn something. One of the things I like best is when reviewers do comparisons - it doesn't have to be in-depth, but the comparisons often shed the most light. Anthony Cordesman had a whole series of reviews in the old Audio that contrasted $10K speakers. Wes Phillips is good at comparing speakers in this way. Again, I'm sure there is a reluctance to do so based on not wanting to alienate and an attempt to be "fair", but the comparisons can be very useful without coming close to being inflammatory, and I wish they were done more often.
Reviewers goal is to get you to buy something. In the corrupt, concocted world of hi-end audio there can be no losers. Common sense left hi-end audio long ago.
The average consumer is not stupid. Most pass on the hi-end audio nonsense. Hi-end audio is left with those of us who want so bad to have good sound we are willing to sift through all the B.S.
Even What Hi-Fi who does do comparison reviews have been allegedly brought to court over giving good reviews if they get paid off. And what if I said that Legacy speakers are garbage and deserve an "F". I'd get blasted by all the legacy speakers out there who absolutely LOVE their speakers.
There really is no way to get to the absolute truth in hi-end audio.
Well Cdc, my father owned the Focus 2020 for years and it was no "A" speaker, not an F either but was easily replaced with no sorrow at all. I agree there is no truth, half truth, cryptic insults masked in praise and clever wording that leaves any smart reviewer wiggle room to avoid being pinned down is the norm. Its really sort of a big joke we all are not in on and while there are well thought out and honest reviews they are far enough apart to be really insulted by the process as a whole.
Hate to burst any bubbles, fellas, but there are no universal truths here. There are educated opinions, and there are ignorant opinions. Neither reviewers nor end users have a corner on either. A little bit of critical analysis will go a long way when reading/listening to anyone's opinions. You will have a good chance of succeeding and you won't have to blame a reviewer,dealer, or other consumers for making a bad choice.

But I guess it is fun to rag on the reviewers! :-)