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Opinion : Reviews – a balancing act of credibility!

I started this review site 5 months ago with the wish of helping Consumers at the same time as Manufacturers. And I mention consumers first, not because they take precedence but because C comes before M in the alphabet. Simple as.

I was fed up with how many reviews don’t tread the line arrow straight down the middle in helping both parties. It’s all gone wrong, like your arrow at the fair which has been rigged. A journalistic pursuit with an aim of creative writing. A journalist – more than anyone, who is someone who is (or should be) independent. Wanting to extol enthusiasm for HiFi and in reviews and make them more appealing and be written in a more entertaining and engaging way. To be enthusiastic, but not cross the line into marketing that is slopped onto the proverbial plate hard like the school dinner lady.

My attitude is this, if a HiFi reviewer comes across as more credible, then it is more reason to believe them over someone who is not. That translates into sales. Consumers like me are not idiots and if you treat them like they are, what do you expect of their attitude to belief in products. What about Mel Smith and Griff Rhys-Jones’ archetypical sketch from Not the Nine O’cklock News. Are we still in similar territory in this manner?

Do you believe and buy from Arthur Daley or Richard Branson? Perhaps Michael O’Leary who is honest by saying you won’t get thrills when traveling, but price is good. Would you buy more if there were more Branson’s around? So this approach helps both the manufacturers and consumers to show integrity and honesty which people appreciate in the buying process.

What I’m talking about is reviewers who don’t mention any of the negatives in products in a fair way, or make comparisons. Of course nobody wants to slander manufacturers, but reviewing in a fair way is quite aside to that and a million miles away. A review too that lets consumers know how that product could fit into their system. Let’s be honest most products don’t have many negatives, consumer audio is extremely competitive anyway. But it’s still quite right Mr Smith shouldn’t be lied too!

And isn’t this way of differentiating products actually of benefit to manufacturers and consumers alike – if you say a product might not be prevalent in treble but is very relaxed and smooth, then please reviewer don’t think of that as being a negative that someone who likes treble won’t like it, to hedge your bets, and then come up with some vague descriptive. Think of it as differentiating a product. Think of it as being confident in your view you are on the same page of the manufacturer and are a reviewer who knows what your clients product does and their USP!

You buy Chord electronics DACs if you want a non-smearing, intonated, very detailed and dynamic sound. Undeniable and Tremendous! You buy a PS Audio DAC if you want huge soundstage, more refined tone, and a vinyl like sound. Also tremendous and undeniable! Which is better, well neither. But that’s not the point… The point is the review needs to set them apart to give them a USP in a sea of non-comparison based reviews.

The Chord Sound is very different to PS Audio

One online reviewer of a well-known big website said to me that X component was the best he had heard within a class of product, but when I asked him privately what else he had heard, he admitted he hadn’t tested or heard any others. What pricked up my interest was the review did not make any comparisons. He was appearing to side with me that my approach is correct but at the same time what could he do. This is how it works after all, he was intimating. But isn’t it sad that someone will believe him and go out and buy and his review might not have any purpose?  

It was no doubt self-interest in trying to secure more from that big named brand and his response was, I quote, “it’s just a means to an end”. Well I feel that’s not right. I’m not going to lie to people.  How many reviews do you read where no comparisons are made? A huge number.

And what is the purpose of a review, well to engage a regular readership and to provide information as a buying decision or shortlist about a product. And let’s be frank, lots of people buy on the basis of a review. There is a need for honesty in other words. If a respected HiFi journalist says that one product is the best he has heard, but makes no comparisons, or that it will/could suit a taste or system, then call me cynical but how can I know or believe him? I wouldn’t.

The majority of HiFi companies I’ve dealt with have told me they want honesty in reviews but there are still a subsect of manufacturers who don’t like it. I had a recent conversation with a PR agent who represents a number of brands. I explained my approach to comparison based reviews which he took objection too and that it’s fine that a well-known HiFi reviewer friend of his does not make comparisons because, as he explained, products between brands don’t have USP’s. So this is an agent who represents about 7 brands from amplifiers to other products, who does not think the brands are capable of differentiation and having a USP. That all HiFi is the same. What? Really! The Chord DAC cannot be differentiated from the PS Audio? And is this not worrying when he doesn’t know what they do, nor will the reviewer, and you get some bland asinine and rather vacuous mish-mash of information.

And how does this effect consumers and why is it of concern to manufacturers. Well it seems to me pretty obvious that if the PR agent and reviewer won’t differentiate the products and present what they do and who they are for, what systems they fit into, then you are going to buy it and it won’t then suit your needs. You then won’t buy any further. I’m sure you could be dispondent about HiFi. What if a reviewer recommends a Chord DAC as the best they have heard at the price, but they don’t account sonic character and what sonic signature and taste it fits too. And so what if it’s the best he has heard, what about what you might think. I hear products I rate very much, but they are not to personal taste.

It’s sad too that a number of more reputed manufacturers decide to use only well-known publications whose reviewers are more likely to not make comparisons and differentiate products for fear of drawing any negatives. An all things to all men type approach. I really hope Manufacturers take note. I get a feel that consumers just don’t want it, and don’t like it and it’s alienating and restricting the growth of HiFi.

I really hope things change. It needs to change for there to be more credibility in audio which can only help people buy audio gear. What do you think?

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Written by Simon Price

I'm an AUDIO-LOVER who likes sharing experiences of faithfully reproduced audio in a CREDIBLE way. I am primarily interested in products; their looks, functionality and features, and most importantly how they sound! My reviews are not overly technical and I don't use pretentious language, as I believe great audio is non exclusive and is to be enjoyed by all! It's all about the music!

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