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There are assumptions within this forum about what exactly goes on when companies court magazines to review their gear. A few of those assumptions are correct, while most of the scurrilous and sleazy accusations are not. First hand, I have never seen or heard of money changing hands; I have not seen a review tied to advertising; I have not seen drugs and hookers offered; I have not witnessed threats of physical violence; and I haven’t seen a manufacturer get a reviewer drunk and then write the rave review himself. I’m kidding, but I’m serious. I invite other manufacturers who have had their products reviewed to step up and tell us their experiences. Maybe they’re different than mine, but I doubt it.


The current issue of Home Theater lists eight subwoofers up for review by one of my favorite techno-propellerheads, Keith Yates. Eight subwoofers. Only one, Canton, is running an ad in that issue. One. Maybe the other seven companies have offered to mow Keith’s big lawn or detail his car…I don’t know…but the reviews are not tied to ads. Sometimes a company will run an ad coinciding with their review to make a strong marketing statement, but magazines have never called me and suggested “Try-an-ad†speakers. This was how it was when I was with Fosgate Audionics, JBL Synthesis, Harman/Kardon Citation, and Harman Video. The people selling ads and collecting the money are not the same as the editors and reviewers, and often they don’t speak to each other much. Don’t ask how I know this.


Here’s how the process develops. Sometimes a magazine will contact a manufacturer with interest in a unique product of theirs, because it might make for interesting reading. Sometimes the magazine will see something kewl at a trade show. Sometimes the manufacturer will call a magazine if they think their readers might like to read about a product. Sometimes a magazine does a comparison of a dozen products, and they solicit gear for review. Sometimes a new product release gets the magazine’s attention. The reviewer usually has little idea if the manufacturer is an advertiser, or, if he is, if he has paid for the ads. Sometimes products are reviewed after the magazine has turned the deadbeat manufacturer over to collection. Again, don’t ask how I know this.


Reviewers act differently once an agreement to proceed with the review has been made. Some will evaluate the gear and write the review without any contact with the company. These reviews are usually filled with the most errors, by the way. Sometimes the reviewer will make fifty phone calls to the manufacturer with questions, and I even had one excellent reviewer communicate by almost one hundred e-mails, with no phone calls. I finally met him last week at CEDIA. There is an unwritten rule that the manufacturer does not “lead†the reviewer, and the reviewer does an honest job, and then promptly sends the gear back to the factory. In some cases, they will buy the equipment, usually at the price a dealer salesperson would pay. Sometimes the equipment is loaned for use in the magazine's reference system, and returned later.


If you happen to see reviewers and manufacturers “buddying up†at trade shows, it’s because this is a small industry, and we all know each other. We are friends, but that doesn’t interfere. If I sold lousy speakers, I would expect one of my magazine pals to soil me in print, but there’s a reason that hasn’t happened.


This post is getting wordy, so I’ll wait for comments. Thanks for dropping by, and good listening, everyone.
 

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Good to know the industry isn't as sleazy as the common assumption would lead us to believe. Still, that doesn't prevent the majority of reviews from being utterly useless... but I suppose we ask for too much sometimes. :)
 

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Paul,

I believe and trust every word you say.


I similarly NEVER witnessed anyone doing drugs in my life.

Does it never happen?

Well, we all know the answer to that...


Personal experiences don't cover the whole of truth. I'm sure there are sleazy scumbags in the audio industry as there are sleazy scumbag lawyers, doctors, cops, psysicists, engineers, bricklayers, you name it.

I hope you get my drift.


Andreas



edited for idiotic spelling... :(
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Quote:
I'm sure there are sleazy scumbacks in the audio industry as there are sleazy scumback lawyers, doctors, cops, psysicists, engineers, bricklayers, you name it.
You left out politicians and television evangelists. ;)
 

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oops! What was I thinking...


I know what I was thinking, ALL of the pols and evangiTVs are sleazy scumbags! :)
 

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Paul,


This will probably incite a flamewar. :) While I believe what you say, I have virtually never seen a negative review. (virtually) Never.


The optimist could say that all the equipment out there is outstanding, but this is not something I believe. Amongst the hundreds or thousands of companies out there dealing in audio gear, there are certain to be some duds, either in a straight performance department or in a value department.


As for ads - though there may not be any ads by that company in that issue (say Velodyne in a magazine issue that reviews a velo product) what about future advertisements, or those in the past?


Submitting a negative review is not usually a Good Thing for the authors. If a company's product gets trashed repeatedly by a reviewer, why should that company spend the time and resources (such as shipping, writing off retail products for review etc) in having the equipment reviewed?


if the author criticizes a company's product and doesn't get their product in the future, what will they review in the future? What content will they have for future issues?


IMO the issue isn't so much "back room deals" and such (I'm not one for conspiracy theories) as much as there is a fundamental confict of interest. This is pretty much unavoidable.


One example - ***********.com and Klipsch. *********** had a product shipping issue and never got a review sample, sending outspoken emails along the way. Klipsch won't send new product and *********** IMO doesn't seem likely to review Klipsch products any time soon (short of buying it themselves).


Granted the situation may not have been handled very smoothly by the parties involved, but I think it at least peripherally supports my point.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Almost all A/V equipment available these days is, at the least, pretty good. Most of it is excellent, given the value equation. Most of the reviews reflect this. I read reviews every day where the reviewer is rather nonplussed with a product. Maybe he doesn't throw it under the bus, but you can easily spot an unenthusiastic review.


I do remember a review of a certain "squarish" power amp from the '80s where the reviewer refered to it as "an unmitigated horror show." That was extreme.


But funny.
 

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Quote:
if the author criticizes a company's product and doesn't get their product in the future, what will they review in the future? What content will they have for future issues?
This is part of the crux of the drama. You simply could not slam a product for fear of upsetting the manufacturer, who may never help, tell or send you anything for review in the future. Magazine reviews have in real terms just become an extension of manufacturers advertising and marketing spiel. Its better to gloss over or just miss out the bad parts as reviewers know all to well that it is silly to bite the hand that feeds them. (good reviews certainly sells product)
Quote:
IMO the issue isn't so much "back room deals" and such (I'm not one for conspiracy theories) as much as there is a fundamental conflict of interest. This is pretty much unavoidable.
This is dead right. It is not planned or premeditated, it is however just "expected" as an unmentioned behavioral trait of being a pro-reviewer. No one actually sits down in a back room with the lights down low and plans what to write. It is just expected that if you are part of "the industry" you will play the game.


Now talking about industry anomalies. Speaking with one of the most well known speaker company's, I remember how a certain high up officer once mentioned to me at a trade show how a certain magazine has an unwritten rule was that if they liked the gear they simply kept it in their reference system for free. In this instance it was some $10,000 worth of speakers. It was just a known industry fact that this is how the system works. Nothing is written because the industry knows it is helping itself survive. Mention it in public and a state of denial soon appears.


A bad review doesn't help either the reviewer, manufacturer or the industry as a whole, so that is why its just accepted without any form of disclosure. Trusting a reviewer to reveal all about a product is like asking Clinton to be truthful. Best bet is to make up your own mind, and pay very little to no attention to those with a vested interest especially those who are obviously biased and doing it for job self preservation/protection. I myself prefer to test drive item the item at my home for a decent period of time. This is so I can judge what's good and what's not. My biased review methods are all in favor of me, which is exactly how my ears and I like it.


Ddavidson
 

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A very interesting perspective, Paul. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Quote:
Originally posted by Paul Scarpelli


I do remember a review of a certain "squarish" power amp from the '80s where the reviewer refered to it as "an unmitigated horror show." That was extreme.


But funny.
Yeah, that was a beating. :)


Bob Carver has always been the Rodney Dangerfield of audio, but I don't know if it's been wholly deserved. There's been some pretty good stuff since then, yet it doesn't seem that Carver/Sunfire has ever bounced back from the pounding the Cube amp took. I can't say whether or not it was really that bad, but it seems like it's been hip to trash his ideas and products since then.


Other designers and other companies who make capable stuff have taken more than their share of licks as well, like Bill Duddleson (Legacy), Kharma (SO hated by Stereophile), Richard Gray (how can a simple power conditioner sound that bad...or good for that matter?), etc.


At the same time more controversial and less measurable enhancements have received rave reviews in the audio press. Auric Illuminator, Mpingo and other Shun Mook devices, roller blocks and cones to be placed under digital source components, etc. etc.


What do you suppose these hardworking and knowledgeable folks did wrong, and what did those who are selling dubious enhancement devices at a premium do right? These are small examples in a huge field, but I've never quite figured out how Jonathan Scull trashed Richard Gray http://www.stereophile.com/showarchives.cgi?255 yet gets excited about another manufacturer's power cord.


"Sound & Vision", an evolvement from the measurment-driven "Stereo Review" gives great reviews to Bose products time after time. Weird.


Mainly rhetorical questions, but I don't think it's hard to underrate "shmooze factor". Surely it doesn't color every review, but I do suspect it's colored a lot of reviews and the reputations that have resulted. Not that you said otherwise, and it's good to hear that most of what you're seeing in the trenches is above board.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by bigwally
A very interesting perspective, Paul. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.




Yeah, that was a beating. :)


Bob Carver has always been the Rodney Dangerfield of audio, but I don't know if it's been wholly deserved. There's been some pretty good stuff since then, yet it doesn't seem that Carver/Sunfire has ever bounced back from the pounding that "magnetic field" amp took. I can't say whether or not it was really that bad, but it certainly has become hip to trash everything he's done since then.

I remember reading more positive reviews of the Carver "magnetic field" amps back then, then I do negative ones. In fact I think the only negative ones I seen, was one for the "Cube" amp, which might have been the one Paul was referring to. And another one that discredited his "Transfer Mod" designs in his later amps as being worthless. But I did read other reviews that stated the "Transfer mod" did indeed work as claimed. In fact I even bought a Carver M1.5t amp and C-4000 pre-amp back then. And still do own both of them, and that amp put out a lot of power compared to others that was sold back then, and even still does, for what is sold now even. One thing for sure, it was a lot of power, for what was very little money back then for amps that put out the power that his did. And I think that "upset" more than just a few others, that were selling amps in those power ranges, for quite a bit more money than Carver was selling his for.

Also I still think his Amazing III's, were some of the nicest sounding speakers I have heard.
 

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Isn't it interesting that we remember the individual "bad" reviews so vividly because there are so few of them? The best you can do is read between the lines on some of the reviews. It's a completely different industry, but I appreciate the "Official Playstation Magazine" for that very reason. They blast as many games and accessories as they praise (sometimes so mercilessly that it is humorous). Even though it is "officially sanctioned", they are just as brutal to the bad Sony-produced games when it is deserved. Somehow the advertisers keep coming back anyway. If you are going to use a 5 star system or 100 percentile scale, you shouldn't have your "bad" reviews be 89% like the audio mags often do. Just once, I'd like to see a 10%!


Chris
 

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I find it funny that people tend to like reviewers opinions that coincide with their own. If they agree with your findings, they are a good reviewer.....if they don't then they either suck, or had a faulty setup.


I always say, "the only reviewers opinion that counts, is mine". Are all pro reviewers more knowledgable than me? sure. Bue they don't sit in my rec room. They can give 5 stars all they want, but if I don't like it, their review won't hold much water.


I use reviews to get an idea of obvious flaws, or certain features, etc....mainly things to look for, good or bad. I then try to exploit these good or bad qualities. In short, I use them to back up my opinion, but nothing more.


While they may not "rip" many/any products, it's easy to see their preferences....especially when they have their backs against the wall in "head ot head" competition.


-Craig
 

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Paul,


I think you're spot-on. We don't advertise in Home Theater, and have no intention to do so, either. Good, bad, indifferent, it wouldn't affect us at all. I was frankly shocked to even be included in the review, since we are so small (thanks to the individual who recommended us to Keith - you know who you are...;)).


In my experience (which is admittedly small, only 9 print reviews so far), it's usually a staff writer finds your product intriguing and brings it up as a review candidate the next time an article about subs/speakers/amps/etc is called for.


Lord knows it's not the free beef jerky we gave out at last year's CES...:D


Dan Wiggins

Adire Audio
 

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Here's perhaps a slightly different angle. Reviewers are somewhere between enthusiasts and fanatics themselves as well. All else being equal, they would much rather review a good product than a crappy one. Would you rather test drive a Porshe or a Yugo?


So it's not a surprise that the products that peak their interest are, well, interesting. I agree with Paul that the majority of mid-fi and hi-fi out there is pretty darn good. So one reason they may not trash products is that they don't deserve to be trashed.


On the other hand, not everything that reviewers review deserves the golden words they often (over)use. Reading reviews is definitely an exercise in reading between the lines. :) What drives me nuts is various mags' star or percent rating. Seems like nothing is ever below 85%, even if the cost differs by a factor of 10 or more. Then they go on to claim that numbers should not be used to compare between products, that they're not absolute but relative. Relative to *what*?! Never clear... Oh well -- it's just a hobby (to me, at least)........


Max
 

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I remember a few years back when Stereophile published a negative review of a little box called an X-10D, I believe from Musical Fidelity. This was a tube-based line-level buffer. It had received glowing reviews from the now defunct "Fi."


This particular Stereophile review was excellent. I had evaluated the box and couldn't believe that it had received such a positive review. I hated it. The Stereophile reviewer nailed it, pointing out the deficiencies that I had heard.


A couple of months later, the same reviewer (I believe his first name was Myles) wrote a luke-warm review of another piece of gear. Again, I thought it was excellent and thought that "Myles" was a breath of fresh air in the audiophile publishing world.


Alas, just a few months later, Stereophile stated that "Myles" had moved on. I still believe that he wasn't made to feel very welcome by the other Stereophile reviewers or the manufacturers.


I know one reason why one reads pretty much only positive reviews is that the negative reviews are squashed by some publications. After all, when your publication only exist because of the advertising dollars collected from manufacturers, it doesn't make much economic sense to slam products. So while this is higher ethical ground than editing negative reviews into positive reviews, it is still a disservice to consumers - IMHO.


The reader also has to learn how to read between the lines of a review. For example, in those magazines that rate products from 0 to 100. A rating of 87 isn't a positive statement. Think of the ratings as running from 80 to 100, not 0 to 100. An 87 out of 100 doesn't look that critical to a would-be advertiser, and even to the casual reader. But if you subtract 80 from the score and the max, then this rating is really a 7 on a 0 to 20 scale.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by Bhagi Katbamna
For a good analysis at how reviewers review audio equipment take a look at this site:
http://www.high-endaudio.com/reviewers.html
I could spend hours pointing out the holes in those articles. There are a few very good points, but a lot of it is absolute hogwash. Especially his views about John Atkinson's changes to the magazine, and Stereophile-reviewed products being a statistical representation of all products available.


Oh, and his complaint that roughly 2% of all available products are rated Stereophile Class A. I, for one, do not consider that to be too far off.


The author of that website needs to put his articles up for peer review. After that he could produce a product that not only would be publishable in major journals, but would present a much stronger, clear, and well-written argument.


One important thing to remember is that reviewers are not allowed to have any contact with the company with the exception of malfunctioning gear.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by TheMadMilkman
One important thing to remember is that reviewers are not allowed to have any contact with the company with the exception of malfunctioning gear.
Which reviewers are limited to this?


I have numerous reviews in Stereophile where the owner or head engineer of a company has been in the reviewers' home to set up the equipment and spend a few hours pitching the fine points of their design. I believe there was a review of Martin-Logan speakers there a few years back where the company sent a guy to custom install the speakers and tune the room, in the end using something like 15-20 tube traps to get the room acoustically perfect for the Martin-Logans before the review period began. I've seen the same in other publications too.


And, as noted by Paul earlier, the company owners & engineers are frequently seen pal'ing around with the reviewers at the big shows. They go to lunch & dinner together, go out for beers and to nightclubs together. This is common practice.
 

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Thanks for the insight Paul.


I always read reviews as simply another opinion. And always remember that reviewers do this as a job, which can sometimes take the fun out of it from tedium or overwork causing the reviewer to make snap judgements or take shortcuts.


A recent example, although not speaker related, was the Ebert/Roeper review of the movie "Freaky Friday". Ebert liked it, Roeper did not. And Roeper made specific statements about the things he didn't like. My daughter wanted to see the movies so I went. And all I can say is that Roeper obviously didn't see the movie. What he said made no sense. I suspect they may watch a lot of these movies on pre-release DVDs or tapes and scan through them very quickly unless it's an Oscar nominee or something they're interested in. And it's the same with any reviewer.
 

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There are some things that I find fishy that need to be explained to me.


In the current edition of WSR there is a review for a very expensive 7 ch amplifier on pg 40. The review ends on pg 53. On page 63 there is an ad for this amplifier with a very positive verbatim quote from the review summary found on pg 53 (just 10 pages prior!). The only way this quote could have made its way to the ad is if the manufacturer had a copy of the review before the ad was placed (not the best journalism IMHO). Obviously in the small likelyhood that the review was negative, I doubt there would be any quotes or even an ad for that matter. I have seen this practice (including quotes from a review that is in the same issue as the ad) from many other publications and manufacturers.
 
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