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Why many Audiophile HiFi firms treat you as simpletons

The expectation for people with money is that they will be given a bit of respect in a buying process because they have disposable cash to spend on the luxury, that is, Audiophile HiFi. The problem is this isn’t the case with most manufacturers. Here is why……

Fictitious Characters

A PR Agent called Tim ‘Nice but Dim’ has for some time known reviewers, John ‘Cullen but Sullen’ and Piers ‘Nothing between the ears’, so he will give them all the samples. They are industry buddies, they perhaps shared the same Slough HiFi magazine offices as fellow employees way back when, when paper faxes were the norm. But the thing is, times have changed and we aren’t in the 80’s anymore. Relationship pandering reciprocity is open to the forces of the internet where amateur pundit/enthusiast information sharing is a vigour that diminishes the value of the age old HiFi reviewers content. Where ‘Cullen but Sullen’ can no longer assert, with the same confidence and reader backing, that a product has no downsides, in an opposite way to consumers online can and do. Certainly it helps not a jot if he makes no comparison to any other product, but hails it best in class, or gives it an award, as we often see. Like a motor journalist would give a Ford Focus an award when no mention is made of a similar Vauxhall Astra or BMW 1 series? Really? It wouldn’t happen – You’d trust it and believe them?

Tim Nice but Dim is a ‘bloody nice bloke’.

And on and on and on….

But what then occurs is that the manufacturer takes that review and plasters it over their internet site. Places it about their reception. Really? It’s not particularly well written, it uses no wit or analogy to make the product about music or entertainment, which the HiFi serves. It might have the backing of a big audience to that writers website or status within the industry, but it’s written in what looks like half an hour or an hour, with little thought and passion. Staid as well. There is no forethought about what might make it better – Nice but Dim hasn’t chatted with Cullen but Sullen about what could boost it for the audience, or indeed make it more believable. They are buddies and they go their own way in what they do.

At the same time, an audience has no belief in products where no comparisons are made. Certainly when a reviewer asserts best in class and never mentions competitors to the ‘best in class‘. Like the website example I always give, where the reviewer/manager calls a product best in class but admits to me privately in a messenger chat, he has made no other comparisons and to say so, is, in his words “a means to an end” (of advertising income). This is what we, as Audiophile consumers, are up against. Yet with no compunction whatsoever, that manufacturer will still plaster that review on their website, not even questioning it’s veracity in the eyes of consumers, as I did, with no mention of other products.

What is often easy to gauge when you write reviews is how these reviewers cut corners, because you can see their little minds ticking away. How certain points come across. I urge you to be cautious and be aware too and think of the reasoning as to why they might be commenting as they do. Be inquisitive and doubting. In this example of the made up ‘best in class’ review, my thoughts as to what the reviewer was doing were vindicated. I suspect this is the tip of the iceberg considering many of the review people who work in it.

Do HIFI reviews lack credibility with no comparison?

Organizational failure?

I call this failure to see what the market wants by relationship pandering, where people each go on their merry ways, organizational failure. Where the willingness to please another doesn’t please the end user, but affects that user. Badly too. I’ve seen this time and time again in the Audiophile HiFi industry. I don’t like it… I don’t want it as a consumer. I reject it. I think it’s dishonest and in fact these matters cross the line into a failed market that is probably a trading standards issue because these types of examples mislead the consumer. It’s basically departing you of your cash in believing a product is good because someone else gets paid. Quite frankly appalling, unscrupulous and shocking when you find out it goes on…

But the manufacturer allows this and because it benefits them in sales, they have no scope to want to change. It would be something if I ran a HiFi company, that I would be shivering in my boots about, for worry of some kind of scandal that could seriously damage the organizations reputation. The manufacturer has little control over the PR agent – like the one who let the PR agent change the content of my review when I am independent. Again it’s protecting relationships. There are no service level agreements to how a review should be conducted, or any pre determined methodologies of ensuring they come across as honest and credible. Which means the review can help to sell the product for what it mainly does – its USP – and without being a one fits all product, which nobody believes (or should believe) when they read that crap.

And it works with the dealer too. Manufacturers are often unwilling to haul up a dealer who fails to return calls of an end customer because of organizational failure. Or indeed remonstrate with a shop who tells consumers brand X product has never gone wrong, only for Mr unsuspecting (me!), who was about to buy, seeing the same model/brand blowing up speakers on some chat forum the week prior with the same dealer involved. I informed the shop’s owner and was dutifully ignored, and the manufacturer were not interested to call it wrong too. At the same time the shop gets another manufacturers ‘dealer of the year’ award.

But if no-one cares?

And if no-one cares, don’t these people think this is damaging and that efforts to address some of these issues, must surely be a PR nightmare. Maybe not in a small market where the customer is not king and you are expected to ‘take what you get’.

I find this sad and groups like Clarity ought to address these things and inject honesty into the industry since this has to widen the scope of HiFi and please more people. As it stands the industry isn’t helping themselves if they don’t tackle these poor aspects.

Simpletons?

He who does something through another, does it himself. That’s the law of agency. So what all this means then is these manufacturers by using poor and unscrupulous reviewers and dealers in this way, are treating you, their prospective customers, as simpletons. They are abusing you too.

If anything, people who can afford this type of HiFi are not poorly educated people. They are doctors, lawyers, business owners, retirees on great pensions. Also intelligent hard working people that do everyday jobs, or those that save up. I suppose you have to be to understand the complexity of audio. But my point is, in an industry where the customer is intelligent, why treat them as a muppet to ;

  • A review not being comparison based to enable relative performance to be gauged, but being ‘best in class’. Just how can anyone go along with this?
  • A review implying a product is best or very good ALL OF THE TIME, without any semblance of criticism, when justified, in a fair way. Where a review means ‘critical appraisal’ but no criticism, again when justified, is EVER going on in many publications.
  • Words such as ‘this streamer is much better then the industry norm’ but what are those other norms and why and how? Don’t you think this comment is a flippant one, one construed as ‘a phantom, an apparitionsecond cousin to Harvey the rabbit’, pulled out of thin air and not substantiated. I do because when you ask these people they can’t substantiate the point. There is no intelligence to realise people will question it, if it’s not supported, given the low trust in HiFi reviewers.
  • Using words like ‘it neither adds or subtracts’ leads you into believing the writer feels the product ‘is average’?
  • Reviewers that always play to expense means better, when not always the case, because to say otherwise destroys the promotion for their client.
  • Vague descriptives on sound quality that you keep on seeing again and again.
  • I could go on and these are just but a few illustrations…

Surely it’s counter productive and intuitive and remember when many HiFi reviewers start doing this, you aren’t helping yourself Mr Manufacturer. Much better to have them sell the positives, weaknesses as positives, or if they think the product is poor, to say so. Swings and roundabouts on reviews. The reason? Because more people will believe you when the products ARE good. The more do that, the more you set the products apart and the more you sell. I just don’t understand the reticence to do this. It’s unbelievable and a kind of self protectionist approach to damage HiFi.

What also amuses me is that you can see patterns with the way the firm brings out a review. They will use reviewer A with one model, reviewer B with another. It might be speakers in a range, so they use the less well known reviewer for the smaller bookshelf speaker, then the floor-stander goes to the more established industry guy. But every time, you see absolutely no criticism at all in the product from these set reviewers – on price, value for money, features, specs, or whatever. There has to be something to be slightly critical of if the product overall is very good. Just a soupçon, and the fact there isn’t is a massive clue as to what is really going on. I wouldn’t so much mind if they didn’t criticize a product if they criticized one elsewhere, but they don’t at all.

On this basis, you’d expect regular readers to form opinions about the reliability of the review and magazine/site, so in whose interests does such rubbish support? It’s counter productive for you the consumer, and you the manufacturer. All it shows, is that Audiophile HiFi consumers are looked at as simpletons by most manufacturers, PR Agents and distributors. Assuming, if like me, you recognize, what is really going on.

As ever, my advice is never buy anything based on these magazines and online sites without trying yourself – preferably at home in your acoustic environment always, and always do a little bit of the comparative dog work yourself to gauge whether the opinions are BS or true. Be aware of sites that turn out press releases with no commentary, as clickbait, so will only be doing self promotion in reviews. You owe it to yourself, with the amount you are spending, to do the due diligence!

31 Comments

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  1. I like reading audio reviews but off course I never trust de conclusion blindly! There are so many variables on so many levels a review (and reviewer) is never completely trustworthy, I thought everybody knew that? Be critical!

    • I was being honest but it’s sad people don’t believe that. I was fighting a tide but it wasn’t my fight. Blame it on some of my ‘colleagues’. Did you see my Auralic Aries g1 review for example. Meze 99 Neo. Watch on YT. Brutal in my honesty. I don’t think too many variables. Commonality can be reached if comparison is made

  2. 1, Beware reviews when the manufacturer/distributor/designer(s) come, do setup, stay a while. Are you, the retail buyer, going to get the same level of careful coddling for your $$$? Perhaps that much adjustment indicates a product so sensitive that real people cannot apply it correctly?
    2. Many dealers treat retail customers with disdain and/or slough clients off even to this day. I live near 8th largest US city and have had great hassles on the simplest of purchases. Example: Bought from 3-mile-away dealer $4K equipment rack that would not be assembled for me when recovering from major operation and could not do anything physically. Must rely on MusicDirect for major purchases and even then gotten a visually bad loudspeaker which was (promptly) replaced.

      • Let me be positive. Good dealers in USA from personal experience that seem to be still in business. HiFi House, Delaware, and its higher-priced+quality competition: some good salespeople and some not. Deja Vu in suburban Washington DC. Alma and (if still there) Deja Vu in San Diego. Mail Order Ones: Music Direct, if not quite suitable then Audio Advisor, The Cable Company under its various names, now PS Audio which does direct only. Negative experiences would take several articles by themselves. Thanks for publishing this, keep up the good work.

  3. I recommend using Audio Science Review website. Also, your gripe about not being paid for your review in your other article is insane. You are not a reviewer, but an influencer with a self proclaimed moral compass. Unfortunately, both your moral compass and subjective reviewing process are flawed. Thus, it is no surprise that readers are not willing to sponsor you.

      • The effect is global, by which I mean affects other and perhaps most market sectors. I have experienced the effect advertising spend has on review performance of bicycles in magazine reviews for instance.
        A good reviewer will cite comparisons with similar gear on the market and also relate performance to price. They will give you enough information to judge for yourself even if you disagree with their conclusions. Good film reviewers, for instance, tell you enough about the film to decide if you want to see it even if it’s not their thing.
        The worst part of all this deception is that the ones hit hardest will be the ones starting out, who have least experience in what to expect for their money and how to listen. They lose by being sold under performing junk at inflated prices and may not come back to the market again, choosing instead to buy more accessible consumer electronics instead

        • I agree with your last point but I don’t think it’s like that in lots of sectors. Eg jeremy clarkson criticism with cars, late AA gill on food. Food writers are brutal. A film reviewer called Barry Norman could be ridiculously critical, so someone like Mark Kemode I think his name is. HiFi firms buy the reviewers and it’s insidious to the HiFi industry. A comment I got of someone who runs a HiFi website but did reviews on pc’s and consumer electronics in another job agreed with me, that’s it’s worst in HiFi. They are protecting stuff that doesn’t perform well at price when you a to b it. That’s why you need to do it. Whenever you have a niche market it can fail because the value of the consumer in it, is diminished by low niche numbers. No HiFi consumers organisations, dealers who are selling only, reviews that are obviously one sided . Less impetus to be about you. That means you are buying stuff that isn’t best in class. That’s my experience buying stuff I then found out is relatively rubbish when I reviewed, and pretty much all reviewers will tell you this if you get their honesty. I expect that pertains to pretty much all HiFi consumers of premium stuff.

    • Amen on the second part! He admitted to accepting gifts for positive reviews and is pissed at a manufacturer that wouldn’t pay him for supposedly selling SIX whole speaker pairs! 😂 He wants to be paid for his positive review and claims to be honest! 😂🤣😂🤣 He’s just a bloody git that’s pissed he couldn’t hack it. He’s complaining about all the “work” that he volunteered to do and is shocked he isn’t paid when it’s really a hobby.

  4. Hi Simon.
    What you write is really important for many. Do carry on in order to change the arrogant industry.
    Extremely good article. Don’t give up.
    Thanks

  5. Hi Simon,
    You obviously picked up one of the not so happy members of the Audio Science review!
    I personally find your reviews refreshingly open and honest which is a lot more than can be said for some of the motives that lie behind some of the reviewing and responses we watch and read.

    Keep up the very good work!

  6. I’m not sure I agree with the assumption that all reviews needed to be comparisons to another product. I’m doing this, every review comes down to a “best of” list, or simply discounts the product simply because it isn’t the best. I feel that products, even if they aren’t the best option, should still stand on their own and be reviewed as an individual. Pointing out which is better or best should be a different article, not the review in itself. It’s on to not want the best if a particular product fits your needs better, and constantly pushing readers to other products doesn’t do them the service they may be looking for. This obsession with comparison I don’t feel is a heathy one for a reviewer or reader to subscribe to, as these things are as subjective as they are objective.

    • You aren’t doing reviews then as review means critical appraisal. You are doing a “review” presumably to make it fit their needs, despite having no opinion as to its worth, so appeasing a manufacturer. When people buy they want to know how it fits into the scheme of things if the preference to sound is the same and features similar. That’s what you add having ears and eyes. To not do that is not to review.

    • Also they are not subjective. Coke to Pepsi is a comparative objective difference that most will agree : Pepsi is sweet and coke drier. The same for Cyrus (lean tonally) v Arcam (Warm tonality). So you can’t use the subjective chestnut to allow you to say to readers that products are a one fits all – to appease a brand. That’s basically being economical with the truth in my book and what my site was all against.

  7. While not specifically addressed in your article, but certainly associated with HiFi Audiophile guff are the outlandish claims for high end power cords, interconnects and speaker wires. I have yet to see any standard offered or established by professional audio engineers who have the knowledge and expertise to do so. Until the industry begins to police itself, and I have no faith it ever will, the audio snake oil sales folks will forever pander $3-6000+ power cords and the same insanely priced interconnects and speaker wires and claim they can hear a difference. One thing left out of the review was the human psycho response with the power of suggestion, which the audio world depends upon to separate guliable doctors, lawyers, bankers and stockbrokers from their cash.

  8. Yeesh, what kind of a loser do you have to be, to comment anonymously on a web article, and you can’t make your point without 12 paragraphs and 5-10 derogatory, degrading terms in each one..?

    Seems to me, eople who do this have so much anger they can’t even see apparently, that thier comments reflect more on themselves, than they do re:whatever point they’re trying to make.

    I read these and wonder about just how bad is your problem with this person’s right to speak (write,) that you conjure a small essay of mean, petty, spiteful words to try and discredit said person trying to make what seems a valid point.

    If your purpose was to reinforce the articles position by making a sideshow nuisance of yourself… Well congrats..! You’ve done it.

    As a side note, I also can not understand all these folks so full of piss about you earning a living off your work, as anyone has a right to. These people also seem prone to calling you a hack and a loser or imying you’re simply inept and spiteful.

    Again… I read this and I think it’s then describing themselves or of anger, jealousy, or even just outright disgust with themselves.

    Clearly I’m over a certain age, and I find great cowardice in a person who will write in a comment section what they don’t have the balls to say to someone’s face.

    But that’s just me.

    Personally I find a lot of value and integrity in this series and look forward to the rest.

    • That guy has been trolling me for days. Don’t get it. You can find out people’s postcode from an IP address. One guy was trolling me in a London office using different em addresses. Unlucky – he was using his work computer, so phoned them up.

  9. Audiophilia is like vinophilia, with weighty reviews from those supposedly — whether or not justifiably — with a more acute sense. However, unlike wine where it only takes a taste or perhaps a bottle to gain impression, hifi requires an amount of time actually using a component in one’s system. It should be used with all other components as reference and with reference music as well — a true scientific approach. But ultimately I believe that it just takes real use time to uncover the shortcomings of a piece of equipment. One person is not going to be capable of devoting the time required for this stress testing, particularly in our immediate gratification, internet seller society. Long story short, barring a shower of sparks, obvious piss poor sonics, or the ability to spend 10s of thousands, the average HiFi dullard, is going to find something to complain about with any component that was given a stellar review. That’s the nature of our current beast.

    • I think it’s always comparative but with comparisons and spending the time like I do, it makes it more an argument for being properly remunerated. I do the hard work so others don’t have to.

  10. Simon,

    If the consumer in this example only has room for the Cyrus, since it’s not a full 17″ wide like the Arcam, then it wouldn’t even MATTER if the Arcam is warmer tonally. The question THEN remains: dies the Cyrus sound pleasing enough in and of itself? Can the sound be tailored with power cords, interconnects, and speaker cables? Can you make the Cyrus with a richer sounding bookshelf speaker to “warm up” the tonality just a bit?

  11. I’m glad I got one of the best stereos in the world never been duplicated and every time I ask a manufacturer about there equipment all they want to know is what I want for mine!

  12. Did you remove all of the comments, that didn’t agree with you?

    Reviewers are not supposed to be paid by manufacturers, that is would make it biased, and no longer a review, but a paid promotion, which in many countries has to be specifically pointed out. Reviewers make money by crating content, which brings in readers, and in return create ad revenue. That’s it.

    • I think you mean the guy who trolls me. Yes. I’m sorry but with respect, that’s totally naive to how the industry works. Who do you think advertises on audio sites. Dog food companies?

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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!

Punching above: M2Tech Young MkIII DAC/preamplifier

Exceedingly Good Value; NORD NC500DM MkII Stereo Power Amplifier