How to read a magazine review
As a very occasional reviewer of kit, and as a life long reader of reviews, there are three 'things' or
entities that have to be taken in to consideration.
1. The reviewer.
2. The magazine.
3. The product.
1. Let's start with the reviewer - a good way to get a handle on the person is to read up an old review
of some product that he-she has reviewed in the past that you know like the back of your hand. This way, you get a clear
insight into how they think about something that you are more familiar with than they were at the time. You are, in
effect, reviewing the reviewer!
Did they spot the fact that it is noisy or very quiet? Did they realise that the inputs are unbalanced?
Have they tried installing it into a Windows system, or did they just use the Mac version? Did they even realise that the
power supply fails regularly?
Also check out the guy or girl for depth of knowledge and possibly more important, depth of experience.
In other words, do they understand how that piece of kit will be used in the studio or on the road? Does this person
understand what it means to have to find a socket at the back of something in the dark, in the cold and on stage at an open
air? Do they know why mic-level outputs are important for stage gear?
Does this person have formal technical knowledge and did they test this new wonder-desk for the usual things?
Some things cannot be meaningfully tested, without doing a series of simple technical tests - but that means having scopes,
sig-gens, D-meters and multimeters and all the other bells and whistles of a small test-bench.
Also look at what type of equipment the reviewer has tested in the past. For example, Hugh Robjohns
in SOS only reviews professional equipment so his reviews are going to be different and set a different yardstick to those
of the other reviewers.
2. You must also ask yourself, what is the brief? What is the magazine there for - who are its
readers? Camcorder User readers think that a £3,000 camera is top of the range. FKT (German pro-video mag) readers
think that £100,000 is top of the range. So the words 'quality' or 'robust' mean completely different things for those
3. It helps to be realistic about the product. A plugin is just a plugin and not hardware.
A £100 microphone will never be able to perform like a £1,000 microphone. To complain that a £50 Behringer mixer is
poorly built and has a poor s/n ratio is to state the obvious. But if the reviewer states that other products in that
price range are better built and have a better s/n ratio is damning indeed.
Lastly, the old question, what happens when the reviewer is sent a pile of crap?
Well, EXACTLY this happened to me some time ago!
Normally I just write two or three reviews a year about things I have found that I like. Usually,
these are things I have actually spent money on first and have used for a month or more.
But a mic manufacturer got a PR person to send me a set of mic stands with mics for a surround array.
Everything was wrong with this product. It took for ever to put together, it was very incomplete, it causes ringing
in the mics and it cost a staggering £2k+. In short, it failed to fulfil any one of the functions of a set of
So, I sent it back, unreviewed, but with a series of comments, in the hope that they do something about
the product's shortcomings.
From a publishing point of view, it is, shall we say 'difficult' to do a real hatchet job on a product from
any company, not just those that buy advertising. From the reader's point of view, it is pointless to tell him or her
what they should not buy. To be honest, they should not buy most products as only a very few are genuinely really good
at what they do and also are good value for the money. That's one of the reasons one keeps seeing the same products
again and again in professional studios.
You could easily fill a magazine each and every month with reviews of cheap tat and over-priced BS products
that the punters should keep away from!
But most importantly, you are dealing with people's livelihoods here. Nearly all pro-audio companies
are very small companies and it would be too easy to just run off at the face, and in doing so, destroy the name of a perfectly
good company, making perfectly good products, just because they built one dud.