Turntables and Trusting Online Reviews


I’m getting ready to upgrade my turntable to something in the $2500 price range including things like the VPI Prime Scout.

So naturally I find myself hunting for reviews on the various turntables in that range and came across one by Paul Rigby. Now all the media captured in the review includes a Ortofon 2M Red which even I’d consider low for this level of turntable but it was the only cart that he didn’t comment on.

Asking him in the comments about that cart (curious to see how much difference between something that low level and the higher ones that he did demo) he admitted that the media wasn’t even his, that he found the pictures and used them for his review.

So now I find myself asking the question, if you aren’t producing your own media, are you even reviewing the equipment?

Is this common place? Are there reviewers who are more trustworthy than others?

Or it really does come down to audition with your own ears because not only can you not know what another prefers, they may or may not be honest in their own right?

Help me out here?
Or it really does come down to audition with your own ears because not only can you not know what another prefers, they may or may not be honest in their own right?

Yes. Not so much a question of honesty but of finding out if you like it. It is not just a blind idiom, but another man’s meat can be another’s poison. One thing I’ve learned is that if any flaw or preference or trait is professed by a reviewer, you can bet the actuality is more serious. E.g. "a slightly warm recessed treble" = dull and plodding!
And as for the veracity of online reviewers?

How common is it to grab someone else’s pictures and represent them as your own along with a review?

Is this laziness and people truly have the item they are reviewing or is this more akin to skulduggery?
michaelr23 writes:
Or it really does come down to audition with your own ears because not only can you not know what another prefers, they may or may not be honest in their own right?

Help me out here?

Bingo! We have a winner!

And it has ALWAYS been this way!

There's an art to reading reviews. A big part of it is you need to develop your own internal hierarchy of veracity. Like, reviewer says turntable has 4 feet, great, it probably has 4 feet. Reviewer says they are rubber, okay maybe. Reviewer starts jabbering about how they isolate vi-, I have tuned so far out my eyes are already scanning to see if there's anything left worth reading at all. Because at that point all the reviewer is telling me is a) they can regurgitate ad copy and b) they think they can mislead me with technobabble.

Let that last bit sink in. Lotta guys fall for the technobabble. Most, even, far as I can tell.

But I feel for you. 25 years ago I was right there. Trying to choose between a Basis with a Graham arm and a VPI. Reviews helped me narrow it down but I just couldn't find one to audition- and I KNOW you MUST audition so.... wrote Michael Fremer and... dude called me back. So yeah even I who knows better had to rely on a reviewer.

(Which Mikey to his credit did NOT recommend one or the other to me but even more valuable helped me to clear up a lot of what I was already thinking, enabling me to make the right decision myself- what a reviewer SHOULD be doing!)

Another bit to let sink in, this was 25 years ago. Which means, among other things, no internet. There was no Stereophile On-Line there was only Stereophile On-Dead-Tree. Which in case you forgot (or ever knew) meant there were editorial standards. In order to get published you had to get past an editor. Not like today. Today you hit Post Your Response, you're published!

No wonder there are "reviewers" like this one clown I know, who after 30 years still can't build an interconnect. But he's got one serious audiophile Jones, and there's dudes with crap to sell willing to send him some for free if he'll shovel some drivel their way.

The good news however is you are looking at turntables. Skip the Bose crap like VPI, focus on specialty makers like Kuzma and Origin Live that have been around a long time. (Because if you can survive without advertising, reviews, and a big dealer network it can only be because your product is your advertising.) And budget yourself into a realm where success is virtually guaranteed. $2500 is barely getting there- too much of the purchase price is going into packaging, shipping, and handling. Seriously. That's just reality. $2500 each for table and arm, now you're talking. New, that is. 

Personally i don’t care much about reviews, especially on turntables.
Those guys does not review top quality vintage Direct Drive turntables anyway and most of them raving about cheap and ugly belt drive turntables, mediorce cartridges and tonearms of today. In such reviews i’ve never seen any of them comparing all these modern garbage to some serious vintage High-End gear.

If the review dedicated to some $30 000 turntables, $20 000 tonearms and $15 000 cartridges i don’t read it.

I’m more happy to read posts from our old contributors here on audiogon about carts, arms, turntables.

There are many so called classic turntables, tonearms, cartridges that you can’t go wrong with. Finding and buying them is an interesting process, it is an education, personal experience ... in your own system with your records. Selling them without loss is not a big deal. You’re saving a lot buying vintage High-End, but not because it’s cool looking boxes, i mean serious high-end classics like Japanese Direct Drives, Carts ans Arms from all over the world.

I just don’t need a review for some new overpriced mediorce turntable if the reviewer comparing it so some other ugly new turntable. Same about cartridges and tonearms. WHne i asked some of the reviewers i realized that some of them never ever heard/owned some amazing High-End classics from the 80’s for example. Most of them are in love with digital which is also a bad sign for me.

And while i’ve been reading some nice reviews on 6moons for an amps for example, those guys reviewd thousands of different amps later on. It is just an opinion, an audiophile’s diary. I have my own everyday experience with different audio components, it’s fun, it’s a hobby.

It is more reasonable to read a particular reviewer is you know that he share same preferences (for example: full range high efficient speakers, low power amps etc). But you have to watch for them to find such person and then to read his articles. It’s also nice if the reviewer share same musical preferences, but this is much harder.

Reviews from the past is interesting for me, especially if i own the same cartridge for example. But it’s hard to find reviews made in the 80’s, most of them are not online, mainly in the old magazines.

@noromance , hit it on the head, especially with the comment about reading between the lines of if they say this they mean that.
If you're gonna read reviews you have to read all the reviews. What I mean is you have to read enough to get a handle on the reviewers. Yes even the reviews of the $600k speakers you will never see let alone buy. Yes even the $16k Koetsu even though you only care about digital. Because this is how you learn where each reviewer is coming from, what they mean, how they see and relate to things.

Also at the same time you have to actually go and listen to a lot of stuff. So you can relate your experience to theirs. Then in only a few years time you might maybe have put together a pretty good picture of what's going on and finally be able to read a review and glean some really actionable guidance. Until then they are at best a filter to help you decide what to audition, at worst misleading infomercial ad copy.

Its worth all that trouble in the long run because an awful lot of the best components simply are not out there where you can just go and check them out. My first Basis turntable was bought on the basis (heh) of reviews. Heck, I even talked it over on the phone with uber reviewer Michael Fremer! My Melody integrated, Koetsu Black Goldline, Origin Live Conqueror arm and Herron VTPH 2A phono stage were all bought entirely off reviews. Some of these have been with me over a decade now, with no plans to replace any of them, ever.

But getting to where that was possible, besides the decades of reading all kinds of reviews, every single one of these also involved reading essentially all the reviews. And I mean all. Including every comment on every audio forum my search engine could find. 

You don't just, oh good review, one-click purchase. Recipe for disaster.
Is this common place? Are there reviewers who are more trustworthy than others?

Or it really does come down to audition with your own ears because not only can you not know what another prefers, they may or may not be honest in their own right?

Help me out here?


In this business it is a rule not to write negative, even when you get ear cancer. A favor here for a favor there, that's the way it works. 
The worst you can do is to educate yourself. When you learned something you will discover how many distributors, manufacturers, dealers are in this business who would fail in any serious business. Opinions rules this business. Not knowledge.

The only reviewer I ever trusted was Harry Pearson RIP. His reviews were always artfully written and cogent. Johnathan Valin is okay otherwise forget it. It gets more ridiculous by the minute. millercarbn is correct in that sometimes if you look at a series of reviews on a piece you can get a good idea on what you are getting. The Parasound JC1 was a good example. Mostly you are on your own. You just have to know what you like particularly when it comes to turntables. I like belt drive suspended turntables with either vacuum or mechanical hold down like SOTA, SME and Basis. I don't bother with anything else. I do not like unipivot arms. Too many degrees of freedom. In my view it is a cheap easy way of making an arm. Don't have to worry about expensive bearings, tolerances and preload. I know this for myself because I have owned 9 turntables and God knows how many arms and cartridges. Experience. Very expensive experience. My favorite stupid purchase was the Transcritors Vestigial Tonearm. Talking about warp wow.
It would be nice if you could just land on the right product. The reviews are illegible. You go to a store and they are going to try and sell you what they have then bad mouth everyone else equipment. So in essence we are all on our own. If you know what you like stick with it.
But how to figure out what you like? The variables seem almost endless—or at least very difficult to account for. I’ve been putting in a concerted effort to crack this nut. I think I’m getting closer, but it feels like I’m going to have to roll the dice.

The absense of dealers is certainly a factor, but I’ve made two recent treks to very reputable dealers far from my hometown to listen to decks. I’ve been told that the table, arm, and cartridge are a system, greater than the sum of the parts. Yet, when I do comparatively listening all the variables change. Yesterday, I listened to two rooms at the dealer. Each room had two turntables hooked up to the same electronics and speakers. That’s a start, but far from allowing me to isolate the contributions of the table from the arm from the cartridge.

At AXPONA this year, I tried to listen to as many analog setups as I could. Trying to broadly educate my ear on the range of sound. I really liked a room featuring the AMG Viella. It had two arms and the person running the room played me the same track to compare the two arms and cartridges. This at least allowed me to hear a huge difference between the two.

I’GE heard great things about Avid still never heard one. Listened to the Luxman 171a at the show in Chicago but really didn’t care for the speakers.

I can anticipate the comments saying that you have to demo at home in your room and your equipment. But that ain’t happening with turntables, at least where I live. I guess it’s like expensive wine you just have to shell out and pop the cork. You don’t know until you dive in. I’ve wanted to find a value “giant killer.” It would suit me fine not to overspend. Vintage is enticing but I don’t know what to look for and I’m not a tinkerer. The value decks I’ve heard such as the MoFi have underwhelmed.
Not sure about you guys, but if you read old Martin Colloms reviews - he did not pull punches although he has a Linn champion. If you speak to reviewers at shows you actually get the best/most honest info. Alvin Gold wasn't too bad back in the day, in addition to that there are others that have their moments ie: Roy Gregory, and Jason Kennedy. I chime in with what Syntax said that nobody writes bad reviews - that said I spoke to Simon Pope and he said that:
1. Really rubbish components are not made anymore;
2. If something is to be a shocker the manufacturer is told - they can get item pulled
3. manufacturers often ask for reviews and pay for them

In respect of turntables I spoke to the guy at Expert Stylus in the uk and he said that once you get to a certain level it's all about the cartridge/arm combo.

Jcarr from Lyra pops up here and there - he's pretty knowledgable and honest. 

Surprisingly enough some manufacturers and shops can be very honest - especially the ones who are honest and confident enough to admit that an items sold by a competitor is as good or superior.
The more you describe what you want/dont want/aren't finding the more specific others can be in helping you triangulate.

Also you may gravitate to a certain product or topology that can influence the rest or the system choices to a far narrower group.

*if* you want to consider only new table/tonearms at $2500 or so, the list of real contenders is pretty small and the task more objective.

*if* the budget was $6000 table/arm the list is larger and the realm of subjective greater.