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Since this website’s title is Audiophile Review I thought it was about time to look at a subject near and dear to my heart – What is the difference between a “good” audio review and a competent one? While I see many reviews touted as “good” by manufacturers and the fans of a particular manufacturer, what I’m seeing less and less of, is complete fully encompassing reviews that actually supply enough information so that a careful reader can come to a decision as to whether a particular component would be worth investigating further.
So, what does a competent review need to include? First off it should have basic specifications and contact information including the manufacturer’s website. At this point if an audio firm lacks a web site, they aren’t really in business. Along with basic specifications a review should have an introduction to either the manufacturer or the nature of the product – what is it? And what is it supposed to do? And why was it created in the first place?
After an introduction the next thing a competent review needs is a technical overview of what the product is and does in detail. If it’s a DAC, readers need to know what DAC chip is being used and how the DAC handles high resolution files. Does it upsample? Does it support DSD and MQA? If it’s a preamplifier, the review needs to include how it works – passive or active, stepped resistors or a potentiometer? Turntable reviews need an especially detailed set-up section because their proper set-up is so critical for optimum performance. If this info isn’t there, no matter how much a reviewer “likes” a product, it can’t be considered a complete review.
After technical details a competent review needs some information about the set-up procedure. Were there any problems or issues that prospective owners should be aware of? The ergonomics of a component are also important and should be included somewhere in a review. Usually I put this after the set-up. If it’s a preamplifier, does the volume control have visible (and easily repeatable) setting levels? If it’s a DAC is it easy to find out what the sample and bit rate being received? And if the DAC upsamples digital sources, what level of control do you have over it? If a headphone is the review subject, a certain amount of space should be designated for how well the headphone fits. Is it tight, loose, or, just right? And what was the reviewer’s head size?
I often come across reviews that substitute personal or ideological minutiae instead of details about the product. I’m far less concerned with what a reviewer thinks of Niki Minaj (unless it’s a review of Niki Minaj) than what a reviewer hears, sees, and finds out about the product under review by using her tunes. Also, I’m really not interested in how enthusiastic a reviewer is in their praise of a component. Just because a particular piece of gear is a reviewer’s “grail” product doesn’t mean it will suit everyone. It’s far more useful if a reviewer explains the why’s of their favoritism.
During my years as a reviewer I’ve had to write reviews that were as brief as 150 words (usually these are cliff notes versions of longer ones written earlier) and the shorter a review, the harder it is to write, if the writer’s intention is to create something that has value for their readers. The shortest reviews, such as “I bought it, I love it!” doesn’t supply much besides a feel-good affirmation for those who’ve already made a buying decision.
And what, in my humble opinion, is the least useful part of an audio review? Whether a reviewer “likes” or loves a product…during my tenure as a reviewer I’ve hosted many products that I would not, if given the option (which I usually do have) of purchasing, I would (and I do) pass on purchase. In most cases, these were products that would, and do appeal to many audiophiles, but not to me. Does that warrant a bad review because it’s not a personal crush? Nope.
My job, simply stated, is not to like or love a component in a review, but to describe its salient features as completely as space allows so that my readers can decide for themselves whether they like a product or not – that in my humble opinion IS a good review…