Reviews of audio equipment are compromised because reviewers are compromised. They cannot be trusted.
Both print and online magazines are compromised because one never knows if they are writing positive reviews in response to advertising dollars, or trying to solicit new sources of advertising dollars. One thing is proven, that bad reviews chase away advertising dollars.
Online magazines are compromised further by the fact that reviews are ‘linked to’ by the manufacturers of the equipment that was positively reviewed, increasing the magazines popularity with search engines, which attracts more traffic, which allows them to raise their advertising rates.
Reviewers also are compromised by:
1) Having to conform to the stated policies of the magazine they work for
2) If they do not write positive reviews, manufacturers will not want to lend them equipment for the next review
Dealers who write reviews are also comprimised because no one ever knows if they are saying something in order to try generate more sales.
Individuals, which includes reviews at the above mentioned magazines and dealers, are firther compromised because:
1) One doesn’t know if they are an idiot or not
2) One doesn’t know if they are a shill or not [for those that don’t know, and apparaently some do not, a shill is someone who pretends to be an individual but really works for a dealer or manufacturer]
3) One doesn’t know if they are just conforming to the natural human tendancy to praise the equipment they currently own [and disparage that which they no longer own].
4) One doesn’t know if they are just trying to praise, or disparage, a piece equipment because they like, or do not like, its particular manufacturer.
The point is that all reviewers, and therefore all reviews, are compromised.
They can’t be trusted!
Or can they?
What we can trust is that some reviewers care about their reputation. How they see others see them, and want others to see them.
What we have is:
** REPUTATION-BASED TRUTH **
Both institutions (like magazines and dealers) and individuals (reviewers at those magazines) have reputations – good or bad, or just plain weird.
The argument here is that you CAN TRUST People, and Organizations to more or less behave and write reviews in accordance with their view of their reputation, based on how important that rep is to their personal views of themselves, to their personal self-worth.
Take, for another example, TV news reporters.
Edward R. Murrow – apparently [sorry, before my time] had a reputation based on his dedication to telling the Truth.
Some popular networks, and their reporters, have a reputation based on the consistant ridiculing of other’s political ideologies. They can be ‘trusted’ to report in a way that always conforms to this reputation they and their organzation have.
Some reporters whole reputation is built around their ability to get the next scoop, the next Big Story, not having anything to do with the truth, necessarily.
So, back to audio,
We have some magazines whose reputation is built on all the published reviews being positive (Positive Feedback [see this recent castigation of non-positive reviews], Inner Ear)
We have some whose reputation is closer to that of Murrow, but which is distorted by what they judge to be ‘truth, but in a responsible manner’ (Stereophile, 6moons). [Here we start entering the domain of serious reporting ethics, the necessity of having to report news without ever having ALL the facts – something too serious for this post, or this website].
[The Absolute Sound and HiFi+ seem to have a mix, there being so obvious, to me, reputation associated with the magazines as a whole, except that of this plurality of reviewers with different types of reputations].
Then you got the ‘Malcontents’, as Inner Ear called them this month [are we malcontents? I hope so :-)]. These peoples reputation vary, sometimes being just ways to publically express their need for anger management, or remedial logic 101, classes. Our rep, as I see it, is that we try to shed light on the very high end in a ruthlessly honest, but inclusive, manner – in a way that seeks ways to explain the what, how and why that the high-end is not just some morass of similar sounding components all rated ‘A+’.
You also got your netizens, who consistantly praise their own equipment as being the very, very best the world has ever seen, and disparage everyone else’s as either ‘been there done that’, or ‘being privy to a special network of only the best audiophiles [i.e. not you! :-)], I have heard that your gear sucks in comparision to my gear’. Their reputation, as they see it themselves, is built upon some variation of everyone thinking that they have the best equipment in the world.
The point is, they are all behaving in accordance to what they want their reputation to be.
Some people care about their own reputation. Some not so much. The ones that care the most seem to be the more consistant reviewers: Mike Fremer, J.A., Srajan for examples.
But it is not a given that their reviews are ‘better’, or worse, than that of other reviewers. It is just that some reviews can be trsuted to be written to be within the context of the individual reviewer’s, and their organization’s, reputation.
The final point, finally, is that everything DOES sound good and everything DOES sound bad.
Everything sounds good to reviewers who are not all that critical of each single aspect of the sound something produces, whose rep is based on welcoming nearly all components into the wonderful world of high-end audio.
Everything sounds bad to reviewers whose rep is based on being very critical of the sound a component produces, always comparing it to what it ‘could be’, if someone had just put a little more effort into its design and manufacturing.