By Steve Oppenheimer
The first reviewer loved the new signal processor, especially the preamp section. A later reviewer reported on the next-generation version of the same product and liked it except for the preamp, which he considered second-rate. It was the same preamp in both units. The manufacturer was furious because the second review was not as sweet as the first one. The editors stood behind both reviews. What’s a reader to think?
Indeed, think is the operative word. For starters, think about who the reviewer is. Most EM reviewers write for us regularly, and after you read our magazine for a while, you’ll learn about the sorts of products a particular reviewer likes, the sorts of projects he or she does, and the types of problems that drive him or her nuts.
I am convinced that the variety of opinions we publish is a strength, not a problem. We use dozens of reviewers, all of whom are in the trenches doing a wide variety of projects. That gives you a much better view of the big picture than if we just had a half-dozen editors write every review. All of our reviewers are knowledgeable and experienced and do serious work in personal studios. We try to make sure the right reviewer gets the assignment, based on our knowledge of the author and his world, and we want our reviews to reflect a realistic perspective.
Some reviewers work in environments where speed is paramount; others work slowly and meticulously on each track and mix. For those in the second category, the element of speed might be less important than having an unusual and creative feature. Still other reviewers emphasize audio quality first, second, and last.
Is the reviewer who demands top audio quality always the one to trust? Not necessarily; your favorite reviewer could be the one who praises low-priced products that sound good enough for most personal-studio projects and offer innovative features. On the other hand, if you go for top fidelity first and foremost, our critical audiophile might be your favorite.
Some reviewers are sympathetic regarding the financial and marketing reasons manufacturers make certain design decisions. Some reviewers are much harder to please; their contribution might be to cut through the hype and to accept no excuses. Each approach can be useful. Each reviewer has a different application and approach to using gear, and each application could require different production values and approaches. Veteran reviewers often state that a product seems better suited to one type of user than to another, and we encourage that approach.
But our reviewers aren’t you, and if one product were right for everyone, the other products wouldn’t survive. Reading a review should be like listening to a knowledgeable friend tell you about a piece of gear he or she has been using lately. You would consider not only your friend’s qualifications but his or her personality, approach, and prejudices. You’d talk with other friends, do some research to fill in the holes, and check out the product yourself, if possible. In short, you would think critically and make your own decisions.