- Written by Jason Victor Serinus
- Published on 30 October 2008
I am very aware of the effect that negative reviews can have on the success of a product. Thus, I devote substantial time and effort to giving equipment a fair shake. Before I even accept a product for review, I send the manufacturer a description of my reference system and room, complete with photos. If they feel confident that my set-up is a good match for their product, I invite them to either ship the unit to me or, if possible, bring the product to my home, observe and help with installation, and join me for an initial listen.
I also have developed strict guidelines for how to conduct a review. These guidelines in part result from a recent, very negative experience I had while attempting to review for Secrets a set of floor-standing speakers that had initially impressed me when I heard them at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF).
Despite repeated requests to the speaker manufacturer to personally deliver the speakers and set them up to his satisfaction, he chose to stay at home. I thus found unpacking and installation left up to me. When my initial audition left me profoundly dissatisfied – the quality of the treble was irritating, cheap, and decidedly unmusical –I moved the speakers around a lot in hopes that a radically different position would alter my assessment. While moving much farther toward the rear wall helped somewhat, I still found the sound unsatisfactory.
I then engaged in multiple, time-consuming calls and email exchanges with the manufacturer. After he told me that he had made some modifications to the speakers before sending them to me, I suggested that perhaps he had done something wrong. This he refused to accept. I then spent a lot of time urging him to visit and hear for himself.
After informing me that he had recently made another modification to the internal wire, he said he would come down to make the changes here. Then he changed his mind. Even though he thus was asking me to review a pair of speakers that by his own admission sounded different than those he was marketing, he insisted that nothing could possibly be wrong with the demo pair. After all, another reviewer has recently declared them a “perfect speaker.”
It went on and on. I moved the speakers around some more, tried various tweaks, and continued attempts at dialogue. Numerous emails and phone calls consumed a huge amount of my time and energy. Finally, I threw in the towel and sent the speakers back without writing a review.
At that moment, I resolved to never again engage in such foolery. I simply cannot afford to bend over backwards for manufacturers who do not value the time and effort I devote to reviews. As a freelance critic who writes for 16 publications, volunteers a huge amount of time to public safety concerns in crime-ridden Oakland, CA, and is devoted to his spouse, time is at a premium. Ten hours expended on a review that goes nowhere means ten hours of unpaid labor that could have instead been devoted to a paying piece for Secrets, Stereophile, Carnegie Hall, Muso, Opera Now, Opera News, American Record Guide, or San Francisco Magazine (to name some of my outlets). The bottom line: I can’t afford it.
Thus, I adhere to the same professional protocol followed by reviewers for major print publications. Once a broken-in unit has been delivered and properly installed, I only re-contact manufacturers in order to conduct interviews, clarify technical concerns, and supply progress updates. I do not let manufacturers and reps know how I feel about their products in advance of the review. Nor do I censor my commentary for the manufacturer’s sake. I do not believe that readers are assisted by reviewers who soft pedal their concerns.
A Word to the Wise
The wise manufacturer who lives at a reasonable distance from a reviewer will make every effort to install their product themselves. In doing so, they can hear for themselves if the product is a good match for the reference system. In the case of a just-introduced product, they also have the opportunity to hear it in a very different reference system than their own, and make sure that it delivers as intended.
The most recent speaker manufacturer who brought his speakers here for their very first review was immediately dissatisfied with their sound. (We both were, but I intentionally withheld comment until after he voiced his concerns. At that point, there was no reason to hide my feelings, because we both were hearing the same thing). The manufacturer provided several possible explanations for the problem, and suggested he go back to the drawing board before I proceeded with the review. I of course acceded to his request.
He has since discovered where he erred in his design.