Advice Articles

How to Use Product Reviews, Part I.

When you shop for audio video equipment, do you read product reviews? Online or in magazines, reviews by credible sources are but one data point among many in making a product choice. But how useful are professional product reviews, and what’s the best way for you to use them when you’re making your buying decisions? The answer depends upon several factors.

Bias

In an ideal world, products would be evaluated with all logos removed. You should remember that reviews are written by human beings who bring their own preferences and prejudices to the review process. No matter how hard you try to keep them out, preconceptions creep in to every product evaluation. I’m guilty of this, too, so this is no knock on reviewers. It’s simply an observation of human behavior. Professional reviewers with experience are generally better at listening past their prejudices than less experienced reviewers. How do you tell when a reviewer brings undue bias to a review? Sometimes, they’ll tell you straight out: "I’ve never been a fan of dome tweeters," etc. Other times, the clues may be subtler. I recently read a product review that began with a discussion of the brand’s dealer network. It was written in a way that made it clear that the writer did not approve of the brand’s strategy. The product review that followed was not terribly complimentary; but because of the tenor of the reviewer’s opening statements, I knew to take the reviewer’s opinion with a grain of salt. Consider your source. Well established magazines and web sites tend to use qualified and experienced writers. Be especially wary of online review sites. The beauty of the internet is also its curse. It gives a voice to just about anyone with a few bucks to rent some server space, and there are a plethora of review sites staffed by people who have minimal experience and fewer qualifications. Search the site for reviewer bios and read their past reviews. Look for poor grammar and amateurish writing, it’s a sure sign of an unqualified source.

Getting to Know You

Get to know the reviewers. Read their past reviews whether or not they are about products you’re interested in. After a while, you’ll start to get a feel for their styles and points of view. Some writers are laconic and dry. Others will gush over just about anything that comes their way. A "this speaker is a competent performer" comment from writer "A" might be equivalent to an "oh my god this speaker is unbelievable" comment from writer "B."

United We Stand

Read many reviews. Look for unanimity of opinion on a given item. If several writers have reviewed the same product and come to similar conclusions, you’re safe in giving those opinions greater weight in your buying decision. For example, Polk LSi Series speakers received excellent reviews from just about every major audio magazine and web site. What smart reviewers! You should drop everything and go buy some LSi right now! What if you can’t find any reviews about an item you’re considering? I wouldn’t read too much into it. Given the limited number of credible audio publications and the hundreds of thousands of speaker models available worldwide, there’s just not enough room (or enough reviewers) to review every single product. Plus, the review process can take months from the date a product is submitted to the date of publication. Reviews of similar products from the same brand may be helpful.

So, to Review

Reviews can be helpful. They can expose you to new products and clue you in to what to look for, or look out for, in a product’s performance and functionality. They are most useful in validating your own experiences with a given product. Ultimately it is you who must be satisfied with the performance, cosmetics, and practicality of the product; you are the ultimate reviewer. Rely most heavily on your own listening and use experiences when making audio equipment choices. You have to go out into the real world and touch, see, and most of all listen to the AV products you are considering. Trust your own judgement most of all.

This article was last modified Apr 23, 2014

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