It’s the time of year for saving money!
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…
This discussion should be as volatile as a cable discussion 🤓
This presentation or personal manifesto rather started out well but honestly seems to fallen into the hubris it tries to criticize. No mention of the role and value of measurement, of the value of listing components used, of describing the room set up and treatments in place and much more. I’m sorry but this review isn’t a review, it’s an opinion piece. I’m not buying it. It could have been so much more.
I love opinion pieces by the way. And use them selectively to help make buying decisions. Now there’s a complexity for you… that simply isn’t even raised here. This could have been so much more.
No mention…”describing the room set up and treatments in place and much more.” ??? I did mention set-up and specifications being part of a good 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? “
For me seeing the reviewers room and set up tells me allot. Specs and measurements aide as well for possible synergy with existing system.
Without using the same front end or speakers of the reviewer most reviews are moot. A description of product, Manufacturer credibility, Repair process from Manf, Build quality all matter more than sonic descriptions as our systems are different.
Maybe a general statement about character of sound change when installed in reviewers system.
Anyway Steve your reviews are pretty darn thorough, just post a photo of your room with review.
For me, I don’t like reading reviews where an author goes into too much detail about a particular song. These reviews will normally have 3 songs with a paragraph for each. I’d rather have more of a summation on how well the equipments handles certain types of music (clarity, range, etc).
What detracts from a good review is too many adjectives. Sometimes, it seems like the point of the review was to see how elegant the author could describe something. Or that they were trying to impress their former English professors. Don’t get me wrong, when I’m reading a novel l love all of the nuances and details of a story; just not in a review.
I get a lot of usefulness from the Comparisons section of a review. I like to see how “DAC abc” compares to “DAC xyz.” Additionally, if a company has more than 1 item in their lineup, I’d like to know how it compares to it’s sibling products. i.e. P.S. Audio’s Directstream DAC vs its DS Junior.
Great article Steven. I’m now curious how you would rate my first professional equipment review. I think I captured some of your expectations and in other cases may have committed some of your sins.
Feel free to be honest. I want to improve.
Now can you write something like this on show coverage. The range in coverage on AXPONA this year is unreal. Some show pictures and prices with basic descriptions, others go into full on stories. I’ll admit liking a little human interest piece. This is entertainment after all.
Great summary of how a job should be done, not only in highend audio. What I personally dislike most in e.g. german audio magazines is the constant praise of all products , all get about 95 0f 100 possible points in “their category”, and the reviewers are shy of telling whats not so good about. That does not serve any reader.