Value at Any Cost


By Steve Oppenheimer

(January 2004)

For each of the past 12 years, we have presented Editors’ Choice Awards for approximately two dozen products (27 this year). We put a lot of time and thought into these awards, and we don’t play favorites. The winners get this prestigious award the old-fashioned way: they earn it.

One of our considerations in choosing Editors’ Choice winners — and also a major part of our review evaluations — is value. But value is a soft criterion. Some might call it “bang for the buck,” but it’s not just a matter of how many features you get for a given price. If features don’t work well, they aren’t particularly valuable. If a product’s features are difficult to access or its user interface is unintuitive, or, in the case of software, if it experiences constant crashes, you might not care to use the product at any price.

Some products are obviously overpriced, and are therefore unlikely to win an Editors’ Choice award. So when you see a product that you consider to be pricey win an award even though its competition is less expensive, it’s because we are looking for value, not just a lower price.

Furthermore, some products we see are costly because of the way they must be built. Analog products generally tend to be expensive, especially if they use discrete electronics rather than ICs. On the other hand, with some types of products (such as analog synths), discrete audio electronics generally sound better than IC-based circuits. Again we have a trade-off.

We try to consider all of these factors and to separate apples from oranges when discussing value. It isn’t easy, and you might not always agree with our assessment. But our process for determining value — considering not just how many features you get but which features, how well they are implemented, how accessible the user interface is, and so on — is the same process that you should go through when making your buying decisions.


If you noticed the volume number on this issue’s cover, table of contents, and masthead, you may have observed that this is volume 20, issue 1. Yet we aren’t celebrating our 20th anniversary. Confused? That’s understandable.

As longtime readers of EM will recall, the magazine evolved from a quarterly tabloid called Polyphony, which was first published in 1975. The magazine was redesigned and relaunched as Electronic Musician in 1985, but we published only June and September issues that year. That was volume 1. Following the magazine’s sale to Mix Publications, we began monthly publication in January 1986 (volume 2, number 1), so most people consider that to be the magazine’s birthday. As a result, we will celebrate our 20th birthday a year from now. But the fact is, EM has been around longer. In fact, if you include Polyphony (which, admittedly, is a big stretch), we’ve been around for 30 years!