The F*ck*d up nature of The Audiophile Audio Industry

In a series of articles tagged ‘The END’, I’m going to be shining a light on the poor elements of the audio industry from my experiences, without naming names. Goodness I’ve spent disproportionately more time promoting the good products and positive aspects of audio, but with the sites demise, more time to centre the aircraft balance ball to notions of independent writing. No slipping or skidding away from it here (you’d have got this analogy if you are an aviation freak like me)……

Here’s the thing…..A HiFi company sends you a pair of speakers to review, nothing is agreed beforehand. They are fantastic speakers, one of the best I’ve ever tried at home. I do the review, they try to change it via their PR agent because they don’t like some of the English, albeit a style thing and grammaticarally correct. I tell them that I will be deciding on the wording. I thought I was the writer come editor? …Unless my arms aren’t my arms, my legs not mine too, unbelievably my pen even comes from someone else’s hand….

Balanced reporting

I not only do a written review after three or four days listening and an article which takes a day, but I also produce a video review to my YouTube channel (as I did with all reviews) and so far its had thousands of hits. The videos normally take 3-4 days, so we are over a week of work.

What then happens is numerous people contact me via my website and SM channels and say they have purchased these speakers based on my review. These are people who trust me and my honest approach to HiFi reviewing. It was never my intention to rate a product based on making money because the review site is honest as a number 1 objective. But that, if it is a very good product and I do work for a manufacturer, I should benefit if I generate sales in such circumstances. No free lunches and all that. The dealer has been only transactional in all this – simply a conduit to buy the product as the manufacturer don’t sell online or direct. With margins of speakers around the 20-30% point, or perhaps more, they have gained over £1k in the process of me doing the dog work. That’s for each of the dealers, for each of these sales.

This company only advertisers in one well known big circulation magazine and openly admits they don’t pay for any other advertising, which I find out after being loaned the speakers on speaking to the PR agent.

I ask the firm if they can support my site with an ad banner, which is before ascertaining they don’t place banners with other sites, in exchange for ad income. In any event the case at the moment, in Covid-19 times, is that marketing budgets have dried up to Saharan proportions, pretty much everywhere. The response from the firm is a firm NO, so I ask if they can support my site with a notional or nominal fee based on evidential sales the article and video has generated. Still NO. What? – are you kidding? This is not how the industry works, I get told.

The Dark Side of the HiFi Industry. Extrapolate to something costing £1000 ??

So lets deconstruct that comment. The ‘way the industry works’ is we give you a product, it gets sales, and we don’t offer you benefit? I mean how else are you to receive support? It’s a mutual process to maintain a relationship in a business sense – one thing in consideration for another. My consideration is reward for effort and promotional work, just like the plumber or painter and decorator gets reward. I’m not even after masses of cash. Survival is king and I need to feel valued, to boot. But they are putting the boot in… It’s not reward for the fact I get exposure to my site where this manufacturer never has any intention, as we have established, of financially supporting the site. It’s actually anti business to have someone secure you sales but not offer reward, because it means ‘why should I bother again’? The firms attitude to me sending in emails of the people buying based on me, redacting personal identifying data of course, is “we don’t want them”. Maybe it’s the uncomfortable truth of their poor practice which elucidates such a comment?

So what do they want? They want sales but don’t want to benefit others who achieve it for them! This is the boys club of HiFi I often hear talked of, an unwillingness to expand the firm and bring down unit prices to exploit bigger markets and gain new entrants. They seem to be anti-business people, in business? It doesn’t make sense and it’s all a headf–k to me.

And I can hear or feel other reviewers of review sites shifting in their chairs uncomfortably – this isn’t how it worked for me…..I had to do this for years and years before it earnt income and a review from one firm who didn’t advertise was succour to traffic to the website to eventually build paid banners. It’s not just me though. On 6Moons, owner and editor Srajan Ebaen posted an article that it is disrespectful for manufacturers to expect reviews to be done for nothing where they don’t place advertising – he is right of course. Their review policy is to charge small nominal fees to help with costs, otherwise they say it is disrespectful to expect work for nothing. I agree – it too doesn’t mean people should be influenced if they are credible and the review is journalistic, as Srajan is clearly achieving. That the industry works this way to not pay reviewers on a case by case basis, is not the point is it? And my plight might make me sound extremely entitled in this and the above context – I’d of course say it isn’t, so would 6Moons, but why do I think so?

Latin tags

If you provide services for others, certainly in the UK, Quantum Meriut applies. This means “a reasonable sum of money to be paid for services rendered or work done when the amount due is not stipulated in a legally enforceable contract”. From my liability loss adjuster experience, this is certainly the case, and enshrines legislation like The Supply of Goods and Services Act (1982), as now modified by The Consumer Rights Act (2015) which entitles a reasonable charge for goods and/or services rendered, just like a painter and decorator is entitled to charge a reasonable fee for work. If they don’t agree a price ab-initio, they can still charge a reasonable fee for work done.

But Unjust Enrichment is a part of the law of obligations aside from tort law (negligence, nuisance etc) where one person is enriched at the expense of another in circumstances the law sees unjust. The tenets of Unjust Enrichment are that to succeed in a claim for same you have to show;

  1. The defendant has been enriched. This could be in terms of money, but can also be direct or indirect and includes benefits, saving from expense and discharging obligations.
  2. The enrichment was at the claimant’s expense. There must be a causal link between the claimant’s loss and the defendant’s gain.
  3. The enrichment was unjust. One or more of a number of reasons may be given, including mistake, duress or undue influence, failure to provide consideration for a conditional benefit, necessity or illegality.
  4. The possibility of any other legal remedies must have already been exhausted.
The HiFi reviewer has less weight to support!

So this firm, who never have any intention of benefiting your site financially to ensure its survival, are enriched to the extent of around many tens of thousands of pounds (these are pricey speakers) at your cost. This is £1000’s in web development, buying pricey cameras, camera sliders, lenses and web hosting, hotel bills for shows etc. In my book this is called freeloading off the goodwill of other people. Or being a vulture, scavenger etc. Looking at who they place reviews with – other small independents and YouTube channels (one of whom is a very fast grower at the moment) they are building sales off the goodwill of others. They will exploit this process, not to pay. Hazarding a guess many of these sites, like mine, will fail financially and it isn’t too hard to see why when these manufacturers don’t pay their dues. But it’s not just this manufacturer, many others are at it….

How many reviews can we do in a year? Encyclopedia’s!

I once visited a HiFi firm to see they have volumes of encyclopedia style review journals – all the reviews of their products. They were lined up like lawyers guides in chambers. Thick as the yellow pages or telephone directories with so many reviews each year. Flicking through, some of the sites either don’t exist anymore, or they are small scale affairs, like mine, which have all the odds against them and will more likely fail then succeed. Again we know why! But if you ran a business and you could try and get away with having someone review a product for free, would you? Personally I wouldn’t, even if I’m supporting them notionally. One UK distributor said to me once ‘I didn’t see much sales benefit from your review’, but this was an international product where others overseas would have benefited, and chances are, in an economic and ethical business sense, the review at least has the value of a fee on the sale of one product. Otherwise the manufacturer or agent wouldn’t be lending it to you – if they thought no sales would be generated.

Being skeptical, they wont add the *in-print* articles to websites for a reason, because normally the reviewer can make a case for charging with such an article shown on a third party website. That’s, I think, why they don’t add your review to their main website but only SM channels, because they will link the article to get away with not paying. The very well known mags and online site articles will be shown in-print however. It’s, I think, all cleverly worked out so they don’t have to pay much. You are just their cost, not the spreader of good fortune, enthusiasm, or any level of ‘get up and go‘. One distributor guy even said to me once that my worth is simply being able to get traffic off the marketing of manufacturers budgets. Really? Nothing of my ethos/approach/contribution. It showed the arrogance and complacency.

But here comes the real shocker… Brace yourself and get this!…. The PR agent tells me that once my review work is done, his intent is to invoice the speaker manufacturer for my review. All payment to him, not me! I suspect this is fairly standard and bolsters my view of these PR agents being reprehensible individuals, vultures to the reviewers efforts – remember over a week of my work. And why? ‘Earn Pounds…. you don’t even have to get out of bed…. call Pimp John on 012…..’ I came to him, all he did was send a few emails to request products. Meanwhile the, perhaps, naïve reviewer is taken advantage of by the industry to sell their wares.

This is an example of a broken industry that is eating itself in its own puked up juices, to my ameliorating efforts to make HiFi more inclusive, credible, and balanced and just…honest! It all goes to pot. It’s an example of an industry destroying itself. It’s an industry that is largely unethical and takes advantage of people for its own ends. A reader has just brought me to tears by posting this and I’m including it in full;

“Best of luck Simon, very sorry to see you go. I always appreciated your honesty in your reviews. It is frustrating that other reviewers do seem to have an agenda, or no clue. Sometimes relying on technical specs to boost their claims. 
There was a new pair of a well known brand 10k speakers that were highly reviewed, I read many of them, great specs and even won numerous awards. I went to demo them and they were the brightest, harsh, almost painful speakers I had ever heard. We tried different components, tubes, analog, but they were still horrible. I thought it must be me. Then the shop owner left and the kid who ran for lunches told me that the manufacturer had told them that they knew they were issues with them being super bright and harsh, but that after a few “great” reviews people will buy them like hotcakes, no matter how they sound. That day I learned a lot from the lowest paid guy in the audio shop. So when someone, like you, who is willing to give their own honest opinion leaves, the whole industry suffers. As well as guys like me, a working Joe with a family, who saves, sells or works extra OT for years to afford an upgrade/change to his system and looking for solid information on value for that hard earned dollar. 
Thanks for all your time and honesty, and please leave your site up as long as you can so others can stumble across it, as I once did, and learn.“

We saw the same poor practises in my article about UK based manufacturers and dealers charging restocking fees for distance sold returned stock, which in this country is illegal. It’s about Porsche’s parked on driveways, holidays in the Caribbean, not the Cotswold’s. It leads you to an overwhelming and overarching conclusion, that this industry desperately needs a bit more regulation by government and trading standards bodies to ensure people are paid what is due.

What should I do ?

Should I Challenge A Fee Legally?

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  1. I think you’re way off base here. If you receive any kind of compensation for sending business to a company, you as a reviewer will become compromised and have a high incentive not to ever give a negative review for any product coming from a company that pays you. You would neuter your reviews of any amount of harshness that would take sales away from a company, as that would jeopardize your income. I don’t care how honest you think you are, no industry is run purely by good-intentioned Angels. The audio company is doing their part in this business transaction. They send you a review copy, you are able to review the product, your review and your review alone should be generating your income. You shouldn’t be accepting kickbacks like doctors with pharmaceutical companies or game journalist’s from video game companies. The audio review industry is only honest because it does not have the infiltration of such ethically compromising benefit packages.

    • Defo don’t agree. Being a review site isn’t some messed up goofy conception to make money. I now that’s odd in the HiFi industry and how it’s viewed. But it’s a creative, Artistic, buzzing off helping people project being a reliable voice, but doing so independently. Learning how to use Adobe after effects on videos. It’s like an independent newspaper Who is clinging on to not being inter-feared with by a government, freedom of speech. People don’t get I wouldn’t be doing reviews if I didn’t do creative aspects because It would be boring and with respect, people like you, Probably don’t see that part of it and the effort that goes in to adding web pages and days doing vids. The moment I loose all that the moment I’m lieing to people and the moment it’s no longer creative. I don’t set out to get paid, I set out to be remunerated when I do rave products and I should. So long as that happens and I’m sustainable it would have worked. They are not kickbacks but you need to be paid and obviously you didn’t reckon there is no ad income atm. We are in the worst recession coming up for 300 years (in the U.K. at least) re covid.

      • I agree with you that there are issues in general with compensation and audio reviews, however I disagree with the comment above. For example, we also run a small review site but only review products that we like. We have had good experiences with some Brands who offer products for review and giveaways but never ask the Brand for compensation. This way we can remain independent. We do, however, sometimes link out to the products on Amazon and if a reader buys, then we are compensated a very small percentage of that sale by Amazon. This does not mean that our reviews are biased at all because we only review products that we already like.

        • With respect to you if you are reviewing products you like you aren’t reviewing what other people will like then you won’t be independent. If you are rating reviews off of what you like, but not someone else, then you are not steering people within the bounds of their tastes. Haven’t seen your site so can’t comment per see. But Lots of review sites operate like this, it’s not journalistic and easy to tell. So I can review a product as great, but it’s not what I would buy, because it suits someone else tastes and within that I’m getting people what they want. My example is always ps audio DirectStream dac. I think it’s great but I prefer the chord tt2

      • Sorry Simon. I don’t agree with your position at all. As a consumer if I were to find out you received anything, including the merchandise, from the company being reviewed i would consider your review tainted. Your financial independence from the manufacturer is crucial to the authenticity of your review.

        What you are pointing out is your inability to monetize the web traffic you create from your reviews. That is where you should focus your efforts.

      • Carl nailed it. The reviewer gets free access to products, free “loaners”, and industry pricing for the products they buy. They also generate revenue from ads or YouTube. You’re just upset because you were unable to make a career of it. Quit whining like a crybaby if you didn’t have what it takes to succeed and you didn’t know how the industry worked before you leapt in.

    • What might be interesting is if there was an industry standard for all reviewing. Everyone charged a review fee which included costs such as time, equipment, and publishing (website or other platforms).

      Yes, this can be hijacked and one might offer one fee for a favourable review and another for an honest review.

      But you raise a good point here. How do you earn a living while making good quality, objective and fair reviews of products from an industry while maintaining trust with the consumer to be?

      I guess to unionise reviewing into an organisation that has clearly outlined how they operate might be a way forward, however, it will take time to build trust in the brand of collective reviewers.

      The fundamental issue here is the very nature of a capitalist economy. A review is about minimising risk through an established trusy. And being a reviewer seems to be taking the majority of the risk away from the consumer and shifting a smaller amount of risk on to yourself.

      As mentioned somewhere here in the comments. Maybe building a fanbase with some form of remuneration model from them. In the end it’s about finding a win-win for you, the reviewer, and them, the consumer. While ensuring the product owner & PR machine is respectful of both.

  2. Only hifi world in house tests its review kit ! That’s how they get visual dcuments of actual tests carried out in their own test setup with a.range of high end/calibrated equipment.. THIS DATA IS PUBLISHED ALONGSIDE THE REVIEW

    • But they don’t compare and ever mention poor aspects of products. Not many comparisons often too. You need to a to b always to benchmark. You can’t review a Ford Focus without mentioning a 1 series, and concluding its good. I don’t get how people are not tuned to that. I chatted to the editor as to why he does that. Not particularly credible. What HiFi do much more critical appraisal. I don’t get how people are duped into measurements in HiFi reviews. A freq response curve maybe or other rudimentaries but written words can tell you as much as measurements if done well, as well as not alienating people because it assumes someone knows how to read the graph (including newbies) best not to , so as not to alienate all who may pick the mag up in the newsagent. Also all the measurements in the world will still not give a subjective comparison view as to which is best within preference. The idea you can use preference to cop out of giving an opinion on what is best within different classes of preference (like car types) is BS

  3. Simon – Personally, I would love to have seen you name the company that thinks they can benefit from the sweat from others without offering reasonable compensation. I hope this organization is a fluke and not the norm. As an avid audiophile, I rely on honest, informative reviews as part of my purchasing process. I hope you are successful with your legal endeavor to recover some of your sweat equity invested in reviewing their high-end products.

    • If he’s possibly going to pursue any legal action or is hoping they change their mind, it’s in his best interest to not name them.. Just my opinion.

      • I’m thinking about it for the benefit of the industry and others mainly. So on a point of principle. There are so many dodgy things about HiFi like my restocking fee article.

  4. Get yourself a fanbase by doing honest review’s,buy the stuff that you review and raffle it off if you need income., don’t be a shill.

  5. I don’t think I’d ever knowingly trust a reviewer who is getting paid by companies for doing ‘rave’ reviews of their products.

    Just saying.

  6. When you start a business, which is what you have done, you have a goal of creating revenue. If your business model can’t drive revenue because your customers aren’t interested in paying for it then you have a bad business model. Do something else. Spending money building the business is the risk you take and is YOUR business problem, not your customers.

    • That’s true and good advice, what you don’t expect is customers sitting down to their meal in the restaurant you’ve spent loads of cash, and they walk out and don’t pay for the meal. Which is what I feel has happened here. I should have spoken to more people perhaps.

      • No, it’s like US college athletics. They know the deal it’s you get a free education, board, books, and food for playing sports. The reviewer gets free access to products, free “loaners”, and industry pricing for the products they buy. You are getting compensated, plus more from YouTube revenue. You just failed to make a job out of it and now want to whine like a crybaby

  7. Sorry but getting paid for reviewing products undermines any objectivity and your readers confidence in you and your reviews. Of course you have built a community of readers and the suppliers benefit from your work if you like the product, but without suppliers building and sending you equipment you would have any reviews and no community. In the end it’s a win-win situation, only if you’re objective and not compromised and the products are worthy. The problem is of course how can you monetise your work?

  8. Simon,

    I voted ‘no’. Not because I don’t want you to get paid but more so because, in an ideal world, you wouldn’t need to be. Ideally you would create enough traffic to your site doing honest reviews so it’s worth paying for advertising by audio companies, regardless of whether their product is the subject of one of your reviews or not.

    I sincerely hope that’s a business model that works for you. If not, time to get a real job 😉

    • But your argument falls apart because being paid for the work or being paid for one brand in advertising is one and the same thing. Don’t you think a big firm that sponsors a site like darko requires him to review certain new products when they come out and in exchange for his 3-5k ad fee he won’t say anything bad. So even if you get a turkey product come out in that range, he will say it’s good. A model where you get paid on jobs has less of that. I’d rather be going ad hoc not committed.

  9. Let me see if I have this right – you reviewed a product and then complained that you didn’t get a kickback from the manufacturer in the form of a banner ad? And then you actually wrote about it??? And you want people to trust your reviews? I think you need to find something else to do. Maybe go to law school because you have no idea what you are talking about when it comes to unjust enrichment, tort law or law in general. Or read up on ethics. Seriously embarrassing.

  10. a 5.30am call from my mother told me that my father died getting ready for work. we arrived in USA in 1980, and he worked 10-12 hours 6 days a week. HARD LABOR. stop whinning about audiophilia and get a real job, respectfully.

  11. I’m sorry you’re having to do this expose on the way out. Might have been more effective if done while you were still in the review game. Sounds like sour grapes now.

  12. I’m seriously disappointed in the response that has amassed due to your very truthful article.

    I work(ed) in the industry and thought of reviewing myself. But the fact is it is a labour of love and currently not set for any real financial gain.

    That said, I don’t see any conflict in all companies having to pay an equal fee upfront for only the guarantee of a timely review. No favoritism or dishonesty. If that means some bad apples stop soliciting your services, then you just end up with less junk you have to review.

    High end audio is not like being a tech reviewer were clicks and sheer influence can generate revenue of it’s own. If that means the industry is in trouble – which it likely does – then it’s up to the manufacturers/firm to rectify. Not the consumer or enthusiasts to offer their free assessment.

    That’s my view anyway. It is an industry that needs to encourage more inclusiveness and honest feedback from customers as well as professionals.

    Thanks Simon and all the best!

    • Thank you Adrian. Can’t agree more. Made a point of answering all these posts. The big impression is an industry taking people for fools, and these people who run firms are blind to it.

  13. If you want to ger paid like a PR rep, go into PR work. But if you want to write honest reviews that people value for their credibility as well as their expertise, don’t whine about mot getting a cut of the action. Reviews must be credible to have any value, and to be credible they cannot be sponsored by a manufacturer. This is simple Journalism 101 stuff.

    • Idiotic as you don’t get paid. Go and do your work, you aren’t credible in decisions you make because you’ve got a boss and so you can’t be impartial and honest. So you must work for free. Stupid.

  14. I see and understand your point. There are multiple opinions about this topic. Upfront, my greatest trust for reviews is Consumer Reports and it’s like however, individuals and small groups struggle to make more than a hobby of reviews and even large groups / magazines, whatever are struggling to survive in the digital age. There really are two primary sources your income: the product manufactures and purveyors or content subscribers. You may be able to garner income from other sources and advertisement but the more relevant these are the more difficult they are too find meaning you spend far more time seeking income than doing the work you have chosen (reviewing). Yes, receiving product to review from the manufactures rather than buying it and receiving a fee or or advertising from the companies whose products are being reviewed increases the potential for conflicts of interest and this is something that I have long ago accepted and therefore suspend judgement while tending to give a degree of benefit of doubt for the reviewer. I have done my best to be broadly thoughtful, considerate, and fair in my comments.

    • Thank you Robert. I agree. Sadly manufacturers don’t want to pay when sales are found, and readers Maybe want it free. One model which I genuinely thought of , would be me buying the products from loans and selling on but their are big risks on expensive gear, so some form of risk sharing amongst the membership who pay a fee. But nobody would prob want that. Tricky to set up. Might work. I wanted to think of a way where I don’t have to deal with these mainly crap manufacturers , pr agents and distributors , to make it about the passionate consumer like me and you guys, because dealing with these mostly horrible HiFi firms is a massive part of why I gave up. The readers are brilliant. Obviously you get the idiots who you can tell from their posts are thick, and trolling, but 95/percent of people are decent. But I just don’t think you’d get enough support of the membership.

  15. Do you consider yourself a journalist or a an extension of the manufacturer’s marketing? Ethically you can’t be both. If the former, you should never seek compensation or other consideration from a source as it creates an obvious conflict of interest. If the latter, then you have an ethical duty to reveal that you are compensated very prominently with each review. This is taught the first day in journalism school.

    • A journalist but not an extension of marketing. I’m not in their marketing dept. But With respect your point is moot And ill considered because if I rate a product then I’m promoting it. So the review in that context has a dual purpose by implication. It always serves the reader though. I don’t think all mags reveal their sources but I’d not have an issue with that. In fact I slightly critiqued one product I’ve been supported and Roon who gave me a free account – is tremendous, but would I recommend the nucleus – no. It’s an NUC which is a fraction of the price and not vfm.

  16. You should definitely set up a patron page, depending on company’s source of income is not dependable or enough.

  17. Simon I do not read reviews anymore after i have purchased a 4k€ highly reviewed british speakers and realized i had smoked my money.
    The only reliable review is MEASUREMENTS. I am now only trusting audiosciencereview. Someone said you can’t fool all the people all the time, at some point people will start asking the specs of products and will start buy based on specs, as you would (or at least many would) buy a computer or a smartphone. That day is near. I hope you can join.

    • You can’t relate all measurements You take to a view that a number of people will have, on the performance of the product. That’s why measurements are problematic. It’s like trying to measure a restaurant food for acid or salt content and a whole range of such tests, then say X is better. It’s impossible, people decide on human factors, psycho acoustics. It’s a human interaction. Some measurements like frequency response curves can give you an idea but the issue with that site is they start giving you so much, they think they can use measurements as a means to the human side of audio. And they can’t. I don’t understand why people don’t get this or suss that out. It’s obvious to me.

      • This is so true. I’m so tired of this measurement BS, especially in DACS! DACS. A DAC. Really? I can’t for the life of me understand how someone could buy something based off a measurement because in the real world, audio. does. not. work. like. that. So I buy a dac based off of your graph which says it measures amazingly stupendously well, but I don’t like how it sounds at all. What does that mean? Does it mean my ears are bad or does it mean that measurements are worthless? I’m inclined to say the latter for a couple of reasons. A) I don’t give a d**m if you think my ears are bad. I liked the product based on what I heard, not on your ‘data’, or your opinion. B) If someone has to measure something first to find out if it’s good or not, well, I have nothing left to say to you.

        Measurements mean absolutely NOTHING when you’re listening to music, and should be the farthest thing from your mind. I can just picture someone at their desk, while music is playing: “Well, the measurements said this dac measured well, and I like it. So that must mean it’s good. But what if it’s actually bad and the measurements are lying? Oh fiddle sticks. I don’t know. Maybe I should return it for a better dac that measures even better than this one measures. I’ll be happy then. But what if that dac measures bad and I actually like it? Gosh I’m so confused. I know, I’ll buy more things. That should rectify the issue.”

        The whole “measurement movement” is only helping to ruin the hobby and what it means to actually listen to music. You know, that thing we did back in the day that actually used to be fun and sometimes life changing?

  18. Although I say take it to court, I’m not sure if you could win. All you have is your integrity. You have chosen to appraise a product and build a reputation based upon honest reviewing. You also have the ability to pick and choose who’s products you review. I’m a videographer. What I film is bespoke in that all my work is of dancers and performers usually in theatres. I get all my work by referral however 2 Christmases back, a client complained she didn’t like my work and cut off all contact. This amounts to a weeks work without pay. I have no idea what she didn’t like but last Christmas I received a call that appears to be from a parent who complained about spelling errors in the credits. I told her the video was never finished and that it sounds like she has a copy of the first draft I sent to the teacher. My point is I chose to ignore this job, wrote it off as a bad experience and never do work for this person again. My integrity is worth far more than being upset at one client or risk pursuing this at the expense of any further compromise to my integrity. It’s a hard pill to swallow but sometimes the best way forward. I believe I do a good job and all my clients have returned to me year on year. This article reads as if you have been duped by one manufacturer. If that is the case then they are the losers. I read this as an audiophile and agree that I will collect reams of reviews before going to the store to book a demo. The reviews are a critical part of the manufacturers success. They may achieve the best speaker and live off the product but eventually someone else will Match it and that’s when their integrity comes into play. I wish you well.

    • Thank you. You should get your money back Lee and entirely appropriate to pursue it. Email me and I’ll help. Tbh I think my frustration has been mounting for ages and it’s the general approach of the HiFi and the honesty side of it, and lack of communication is appalling because they don’t understand I talk to their customers very quickly.

  19. Mmm, interesting points here. So do you have to be in a dominant position like WhatHiFi to charge for advertising – or ?
    And I get the reader risk if you’re paid to review – being critical becomes difficult when you rely on the income.
    One thing I notice when reading trusted sites (eg The Guardian) is that the adverts are unrelated, I presume advertisers rely on volume of site visits.
    So perhaps your objective should be to be so good and honest that you attract high site visits and then you can attract advertising from others ?

    • You don’t rely on the income. You see whether the income you received makes it viable . A subtle difference. But if no income…..I did try your last point but I concluded people don’t want honesty – see post. What is interesting is that when you post a post to say you are going out of ‘business’ it gets many hits but when you post honest reviews of an Auralic or Meze product being poor, it gets very little attention. I personally think audiophiles are succoured into the advertising and everyone else liking it, such it makes them feel good. They’ve made their minds up on a desire created by marketing pull over years that I need to own naim, or whatever. There are also lots of gullible people out there.

  20. There is many different ways to make money for your hard work advertising on your website, links to the Amazon or other online shops that going to pay you some money,, seling gadgets and some quality products.,have a look on everyday astronaut.

      • Disagree here. It doesn’t taint your credibility as long as you remain honest and trustworthy. My thing is that people are going to buy whatever they want in the end. I can make a recommendation, but that doesn’t mean person A is going to purchase it. If he does, and I did my very best to outline everything about the product (good and bad), my conscience is completely clean. I have no reason to be shameful about what I do. I may or may not have just made a commission, but if that person doesn’t like the product, they return it and my commission is revoked. No issue with that. If they like it, I keep the commission and they’re likely to leave a nice testimonial or something and will continue to buy based on my reviews.

        I run a blog and channel and 99% of the comments I get are a long the lines of “Thank you for being honest and actually helping me.” If they make a comment on review x concerning product a, but there’s product b that may suit their needs better, I recommend that instead.

        There’s no reason why a person can’t retain their sense of integrity while making money. It’s called a value exchange, and is the basis for how a healthy capitalistic model SHOULD work. There are certain people in the audiophile hobby (who shall remain nameless) that are indeed shills and have been exposed as such. But that shouldn’t become the basis for sweeping generalizations about how others such as myself run a business.

        The honest truth is that most products actually DO sound good, but there are subtleties. Therein lies the issue. In no way did I think a Cobalt was worth $100 more than a DF Red, and I based my review around that very concept while others shilled the Cobalt as the next best thing. They both sounded almost identical. The other issue is that there are simply too many products now. Couple that with the thousands and thousands of opinions, and the average person goes “What in the actual f.” For instance, there are only subtle, marginal differences from dac to dac. Most of them sound very similar. I’ve always harped on this and re-iterate it constantly to people.

        As for the other ways to monetize..

        How exactly does a patreon page taint credibility? People *choose* to support the creators they love. I made a joke in one of my videos and a commenter said he wanted it on a T-Shirt. How exactly does that taint my credibility? That doesn’t really make sense. I’m a designer and an artist. It’s no different than me selling one of my paintings to someone that enjoys it, and chooses to purchase it.

        Does someone who makes commission in a brick and mortar lack credibility? It’s the same exact thing as selling something online. People have to make a living.

        • Don’t think that’s how it works. The review is a basis for shortlist, often they can’t get a refund after 30 days here in U.K due to regulations. People often don’t do the dog work to try themselves so if people tell them it’s good and it’s rubbish, so maybe being disingenuous. If you don’t know how reviewers are to an agenda of manufacturers…..
          I disagree on cobalt and red, did full test (on here) and was pretty obvious, but these aren’t massively expensive products anyone should have a gripe with to boot. Against mojo and Cyrus sound key too. There are subtle differences in DACs at similar prices but you get bigger audiophile changes when you spend more. Amps less so, and streamers much less so, so a drum to bang isn’t DACs because they are advancing fast to my mind, eg fpga etc, but little changes With design of streaming boards, or certainly in practise. Node 2i is as good as a Auralic Aries g1.
          People lack credibility in HiFi dealers. It’s not that I’m saying you wouldn’t expect a little bit, but HiFi suffers an awful lot, that’s why it needs calling out, not apologising for.

  21. Basically you should charge a standard fee for each review whether you pan the product or rave about it. Then your price would depend on your own credibility and also the manufacturer’s desire for an honest appraisal. Dream on …

  22. I read a lot of reviews, computer hardware, computer games, photography equipment, audio equipment etc. and the impression I get is that its really not normal for a reviewer to be directly paid, and in the circumstances where it does happen the reviewer presents it as a sponsorship deal, i.e. an acknowledgement that their review is essentially a paid advertisement.

    You talk about advertising being equivalent to direct payments, well it really shouldn’t be. Look at the whole Gamespot fiasco where Jeff Gerstmann was was let go because he gave an honest (negative) review of a game being heavily advertised on the site at the time. That blew up the whole industry.

    The ideal is that reviewers are unbiased and honest in all particulars, the bar may well be lower in the audio industry but I don’t think thats a good thing.

    So how do reviewers make money? well to start with you just dont (certainly if you’re self employed), and if thats not viable then you’re in the wrong game. You build up viewers and readers, when the numbers get large enough you’re getting revenue from generic advertising, and then you can supplement that with patreon perhaps… but yeah, basically reviewing and blogging/you-tubing in general is a ‘job’ that doesn’t pay until you’ve already ‘made it’ and become successful.

  23. Maybe check out ASR’s model. No advertising, no compensation from manufacturers and evidence based reviews using real science, not typical audiophool nonsense.
    Supported by member donations.

    Seems to me the folks who should be paying you, are the ones who followed your advice and bought the speaker. Not sure why you expect to be compensated as a salesman when that’s not what you agreed to up front.

    • It’s nonsense way of reviewing though on ASR, see my comments on other posts. People are sucked in without thinking about it. You need comparison based reviews as measurements can’t let on to human aspects and preferred. Psychoacoustics. What measures v what pleases may be different. It goes on…. it’s a headf—-k to measure audio to preference, like trying to do it in a restaurant.

  24. I was completely bemused by this article. A reviewer paid by the industry is nothing but a PR man, not a reviewer at all. Even in the old magazine days doing reviews was never contingent on receiving advertising revenue from a company and rightly so.
    There are ways to make money in audio reviewing but the models you suggest would entirely compromise the reviewers independence and there would always be the appearance of collusion, even if your integrity was absolute.
    You seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of a journalist and a significant disconnect with your audience judging by the responses above.
    However, I wish you well and every success in your next endeavor.

  25. The readers should be paying, just as I pay for my magazine subscriptions. The messed up aspect is that readers have come to assume that content is free. The people respnsible are those who provide free content. You have spoiled us. I dont know how to fix it. But I dont believe the manufacturers are respsonsible for doing so.

    • Even though it benefits me I’m not sure I’d agree, as how much content do I benefit from on YouTube etc that is free, that I’d probably not want to pay for. Just the way the internet took things. I think if you can make a case for readers paying to fund site and get over the honesty issue, and a real demand to suit a need, then why not. Like some newspapers do it, as people still want credible news not Wikipedia type articles / untruths.

  26. If a reviewer were paid by the manufacturer, I’d find another reviewer that is independent. See conflict of interest principles. Also see how wine reviewers such as Wine Advocate, Vinous, Jeb Dunnuck carry out their business. None are paid by the manufacturers.

  27. First off, I’d like to say well done for giving it a go and thanks for working so hard to bring us your honest opinions on hi fi…

    I’ve been working in the web industry for around 25 years and I know that it’s a continuous struggle for content-based sites to make a living. Many independent content creators I have known and worked with over the years do a lot of what they do essentially for free, for the love of it and in the vague hope that they will one day become popular enough that they can make some money out of it. As you point out, if one gives up, there is always another one willing to take their place, trying to get a start in the business.

    It sucks, it’s unfair and it’s outrageous when others take advantage of it to get rich. The example of the PR person you mention above galls me. I’ve worked with a lot of PR people over the years (never in the hifi industry) and usually the content publishers they engage with have some sort of revenue stream, so this just smacks of hypocrisy.

    That said, I’m not optimistic that you could win a legal challenge, if I understand correctly that this is what you are considering. Cases that challenge the status quo like this only seem to succeed when brought by powerful people with very deep pockets.

    I tend to agree with others that charging a few to review products or only reviewing products from companies that advertise with you will create a perceived conflict of interest. However, that might be a reasonable compromise if you feel you can make it work financially and editorially.

    I’ve seen other review sites that state that they receive the products to keep in exchange for an honest review. If you could make that work at least you’d get some nice gear and you could sell some of it down the line (better than the speculation of purchasing it yourself and raffling it off).

    Another option might be to look for advertisers other than Hi-Fi companies that want to capture the same audience that you are engaging. What are the other likely interests of audio enthusiasts? Wine? Craft beers? Bikes? Russian Brides? (Sorry, couldn’t resist that low blow).

    All the best. I hope you find a way to keep the site going.

    • Thanks very much. I did keep some of the products but it didn’t affect reviews because it wasn’t conditional. I think the way to show it, is perhaps to declare interests and report accordingly, but I didn’t want to ever rate something for money. It’s a principle thing.

  28. Let it go. Very naive argument. Do subscription on site/youtube. Monthly donations. Get stuff with own money and ship back for refund. Or from fellow audiophiles. But at least you remain independent. You cant make a living on this unless you are some big stereophile/absolute sound reviewer.

  29. Don’t agree at all, there is no such thing as a ‘professional reviever’ in audio. It’s all subjective and opinions have to be taken with a grain of salt.

    Just getting ‘review’ items is considered compensation. And really one should be doing treating it as a hobby. Getting paid by a company for reviews is a big no no as that can induce bias, and to get paid you’d have to sign some type of ND agreement. Then you are agreeing to look out for the companies interest and have to watch your Ps and Qs.

    Honesty be happy that you made out with free gear. Most of use buy our own gear when we do ‘reviews’ or give opinions or impressions.

    You sound like a crybaby honestly. probably one of the most cringe worthy pieces I’ve read concerning audio.

    • You sound pretty ignorant. I don’t get review items as you put it. Sometimes but mostly not so. You don’t sign agreements. You don’t do reviews. You review stuff you like and you don’t spend 4-5 days doing a video for the benefit of people like you, who if I had a way of doing it wouldn’t benefit. If I had to guess you are a numpty who works in audio. Touché.

  30. Simon, I’ve personally been using the Internet for reviews for various tech and audio products for over 20 years being in the IT industry and being a gamer and someone who appreciates quality audio products.

    That being said, after reading this article I’m incredibly surprised by the stance you’re taking expecting a quid pro quo from manufacturers and personally feel that I wouldn’t consider your product reviews to be unbiased and wouldn’t use them as a basis to purchase anything.

    Now I’m not questioning your personal integrity, but by saying you only review products you like and then take offense that the manufacturers aren’t offering you a financial incentive to review their products really does paint a poor picture.

    A good example of a reviewer I have full trust and faith in is Steve Burke from Gamers Nexus, he’s incredibly upfront about his site’s revenue and not taking money for reviews and doesn’t expect kickbacks. Therefore I see his reviews as trust worthy since he reviews products whether he likes them or not and gives honest opinions about the products are expensive testing.

    So you’re free to operate your site and YouTube channel as you see fit, but I personally won’t consider you a trusted source for audio reviews after reading this article.

  31. I hear you and am with you on this. There are too many reviews of what I consider junk that doesn’t sound right (having heard these multiple times at audio shows) that are getting rave reviews. One you naimed earlier and a speaker brand with a big M to me are very expensive junk that have been reviewed by shills of the Industry. Personally, I don’t read many reviews because I’ve seen and heard most of what’s out there. I presume that I’m not the demographic they’re looking for as I go for the old tech (SET flea-watt amps with high sensitivity speakers). Honesty today means very little because everyone sees high-functioning liars that have become the standard for success. Sorry to see you go!

  32. What taints credibility is reviewers expecting to be considered unbiased when they admit to demanding payment for positive reviews. Thank God I only just found this site through Google news and never used any of your “reviews” to make a purchasing decision. Sounds like we are all better off with fewer people like you in the business. Sorry.

    • Well that’s a problem with your trust in reviewers generally, not me – for which you’d have to converse with me to see how honest I am. And your loss for not trying or doing. In my book you get to know people before casting aspersions about them, and I’ve never talked to you before.

  33. I think your integrity is better off by NOT soliciting advertising – especially after a good review. It smells of quid pro quo even if it’s not. They (the manufacturer or marketing company) already provided you with the meat and potatoes for your dinner (the product), so all you have to do is cook it (the review). This is what draws viewers to your site. The more readers view your site, the more attractive your site is to advertise on – regardless of whether you have reviewed the advertiser’s product.

    If manufacturers don’t provide products for review, you have no website, so they are already providing you with the means for your existence.

    If I was a manufacturer, I would NOT advertise on your site just because you gave my product a favorable review – that would smack of pay for play. I would, however advertise on your website if it showed good metrics for my target audience – even if you gave me an unfavorable review or never reviewed my product at all.

    • That’s not true. We are going to go through the biggest recession for 300 years in the UK at least. So it doesn’t matter if I have good metrics, I should benefit from sales income like a dealer does, assuming I really rate the product. I think that is fair. The means to an existence is sustainability and that means being paid. I don’t give manufacturers a favorable review for payment – see the auralic aries g1 review – i thought it a poor product and said so. You cant expect people to get you sales and then say you cant have any benefit, even in a small way. That’s counter to business. Nobody so far, has been able to present an argument against this.

  34. Sorry I’m late to the party here, are you not the Simon who damaged his Chord electronics qutest and then complained to chord and after they agreed to swap the unit under warranty, then asked to be upgraded to a Hugo TT

    Your integrity is already damaged on headfi and now you expect to be paid for so call impartial reviews


  35. And you surely would then issue a negative review of somrthing… beacouse veryone would willinly compromise thier potential income. This industry is a joke.

  36. Simon, I’m sort of at a loss as to what the problem is here…

    I would agree with some of the other posts that lack of monetization from this website seems really the driver for ‘The End’, and candidly that’s not the fault of the vendors, reviewers or audiophiles that you call out. It’s a result of timing, saturation of similar content, lack of a ‘North Star’ in editorial or audiophile direction and latterly maybe even bitterness as a labor of love has not worked out.

    Whilst I can’t offer much with regard to the timing part – this pandemic is hurting many, many businesses, I think you could self-reflect on how 13th Note was not unique enough to provide a full time living wage – and either discover that USP, or realise that just maybe you need to think of something else to do? If this is truly your passion, then maybe to downscale 13th Note and keep doing something audio related alongside a more regular job or your next entrepreneurial wage earner could be a way forward.

    Personally, I read ‘review’ sites, magazines or watch channels that stimulate or inspire, or even downright entertain. Yes, I loved reading Dudley, Reichert makes me laugh, John DeVore’s recent stunningly candid monologues spike interest and give an insight into the person behind the story – and his ethos and brand. Same with Casey and the Zu Crew. Fremer makes me cringe at times, but he has a good set ears, of that I am sure. Full disclosure I even subscribe to AS to get a bigger view of the audiophile world, but I couldn’t name a single contributor, and their ‘review first, entertainment second’ ethos is very apparent. In my mind turning the enjoyment of what was once a hobby into paid work would be a beautiful thing if it was grounded in passionate writing about what you think and feel, thereby building a community that a brand can relate to (the editorial North Star) – and not just comparing and contrasting the equipment performance of one to another.

    Which neatly leads me to your standpoint on vendor advertising / or reviewer fees. Firstly, as other people above have commented, it is necessary for reviewers to remain impartial if they wish to be trusted as a source of facts without influence. You could almost say if not, you can only ever be a paid influencer not a reviewer…in other words, if you live by the review sword, you die by the review sword. Secondly, if I was a vendor of $10K speakers, frankly I also wouldn’t pay for a banner ad on a site that then reviews an Amazon Dot for example. Ads are part of a marketing strategy, and unless you can provide a platform that truly fits, it would do more harm than good to a brand. I’m pretty sure even for the high end vendors – every dollar is counting right now, and all of them would not risk dilution of their brand rather than reinforcing it.

    I don’t think anyone is asking you to work for free. In fact, no-one is asking you to do anything at all. If YOU want to do this, can figure out a UNIQUE way of presenting it and enough people read it and to drive revenue and traffic that would be one thing. It just didn’t work out – and I hope you don’t mind my perspective on why. Good Luck!

  37. Alright, I’ll be the bad guy: I’m not surprised at all, that a person with as poor a command of the english language, with as many typos, grammatical errors and horryfing style choices, wasnt able to make a living writing.

    Do something else.

    • Wouldn’t you be eroding your own argument by criticising someone for grammar matters but then writing wasn’t as ‘wasnt’ . A brilliant Freudian slip. But I have your IP address from Marseille. Maybe it’s a language thing. You want me to write for you, or there is another hidden selfish gripe going on.

  38. You should definitely not get paid depending on how good your review is and how much benefit it managed to generate for the company. That is called a conflict of interest, pure and simple. What you should do is charge a fee upfront for a review that covers your expenses and time and is payable whatever the outcome of the review. The fee can not be review-outcome dependent. Surely this concept is so simple that it is blood obvious to everyone as to how you should handle this? You are like a judge in a court of law. You get paid whatever the outcome and your payment is not dependent on whether the plaintiff is guilty (poor review) or innocent (good review). Of course if you don’t mind the conflict and are happy to be known as a mercenary for hire, then that up to you but any credibility you have will vanish immediately.

  39. The key wording here is “nothing is agreed beforehand. “. I would not have taken the speakers for review unless an agreement was made which stipulated some type of payment or support to the site. If No was their answer they can keep their speakers.

  40. – makes a point of never receiving any money or advertising from sports/fitness tech companies. Does the review with media loaner, then goes and buys, in retail, that exact product so he can go back and test/update/answer any questions. Makes an explicit point of sending that watch/trainer, whatever it is back.

    It started as a hobby, but he quit his job with microsoft a few years back to do it full time. Has a full on warehouse set up to do his reviews, still completely impartial. The immense amount of traffic and affiliate links he generates means he has been able to do that. It was all completely organic, and for many years he still worked two jobs. Now a dcr review will make or break products, he gets involved in beta testing, industry seminars, everything.

    But his timing was great (sports fitness tech has come a long long way since he started), he’s always remained impartial and the whole thing was organic.

    If this is the model you were aiming to get to, fair play, but Ray worked his site and a full time job – and his reviews are incredibly detailed – but it still took him many many years to get there. But he hung his hat on remaining impartial and only switched to it full time when it was far too big to ignore.

    I don’t see how you can start with an impartial site, then start complaining that manufacturers aren’t paying you – the very thing you are now railing against the entire industry for you were trying to do behind the scenes. Your business model was broken from the beginning. If it was a hobby that became your main income, then it could have worked – by 2030 maybe. It’s a hard slog, and hifi itself is seriously niche in the general scheme of things, and already crowded.

  41. This is an extremely flawed and frankly problematic argument and it’s not surprising that you are not having a great time reviewing audio gear.

    The problem is not the audio industry. It is your understanding of the basic value-exchange of how reviews work. You would face the exact same problem if you were reviewing running shoes or coffee plungers.

    You are basically arguing that you should be paid for the energy that you put into your hobby, that no-one asked you to do in the first place.

    If you want your hobby to become profitable, there are two ways:

    1. If you want to be a ‘reviewer’: create decent content, and establish a community that creates traffic that you can then monetise.

    2. If you want to be a PR outlet: clearly label yourself as an audio ‘showcase’ site that accepts payment for promoted content.

    There is no other way around it. Your sense of entitlement and grievances won’t change a thing, unfortunately.

    The fundamental quid pro quo of any product review is that the manufacturer gets exposure – either good or bad for what they’ve made; and the reviewer in turn is able to create content that their audience will appreciate, and do something they enjoy doing.

    Reviewing is not a payment-for-services job, and if you think otherwise than frankly you are in the wrong line of business.

    • There is a whiff of total lack of understanding in this. What the f have I been doing creating, what I think, is great content of a year and half. I’ve explained till I’m bored I don’t want money to promote products. I want to be paid for work and time if it helps when products are good. I think the market is so set into thinking people do this for money, when you haven’t realised I don’t want payment for saying a product is good. Which is your goofy commercialist And sceptical rubbish, of a world in Audio I don’t want to be part of, which is the very reason I started this, like you, an enthusiast. I don’t have any entitlement. On the one hand you want balanced audio reviews but you don’t pay for them. You are making points with zero background like an armchair observer. It’s bollocks.

      • Ok, let’s unpack this.

        “There is a whiff of total lack of understanding in this.” – correct. You have what is, let’s say, a ‘unique’ point of view on how you’d like the world to work, and I don’t understand it.

        “What the f have I been doing creating, what I think, is great content of a year and half.” – the salient point here being that *you* think it’s great content. Your audience will decide that, and traffic (and thus, advertising) should follow. Effort does not equal great content.

        “I want to be paid for work and time if it helps when products are good.” – I pick up rubbish from time to time outside my house, but I don’t invoice the council for cleaning fees. You cannot expect payment for non-commissioned work, retrospectively.

        “I don’t have any entitlement” – “I should benefit if I generate sales in such circumstances” (your quote) = entitlement.

        “On the one hand you want balanced audio reviews but you don’t pay for them.” – yes, and no. Yes: if the content is good enough, I’ll pay for it. For example: buying a HiFi magazine, or subscribing to a reviewer via Patreon. No: someone else pays for it – namely site advertisers or sponsors.

        “You are making points with zero background like an armchair observer.” – as an advertising, marketing and publishing professional (my paid job) I can promise you that I’m giving you some sound advice that is completely objective.

        “It’s bollocks.” – when I was twelve years old, I went busking all day near my local shops with my Clarinet, and I didn’t make any money at all. I can empathise with you completely.

  42. F*ck*d a*sh*l* Simon!
    You know that when you dont write good things for a crap unit you should not pay them for the lowered sales.. So Why not take their money (that is much lower than loses) and write bulshits..? This is your real job. You are lazy. You know that you offer nothing useful to humanity. You are harmful. You are rubbish.

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Written by Simon Price

I'm an audio lover who likes sharing experiences of faithfully reproduced audio in a CREDIBLE, BALANCED and ENGAGING way. I’m interested in products; their looks, functionality and features, and most importantly how they sound! My reviews keep technicalities easy, as I believe great audio is non exclusive and to be enjoyed by all! It's all about the music!

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