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On Negative Reviews

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I envy high-end retailers. They have a houseful of equipment in a wide range of price and performance category, and they are in the business to furnish their sound rooms with the best acoustic arrangements. Is it any wonder equipment often sound less spectacular when they are moved from the dealer’s showroom to our miserable rooms? Suppose a retailer is willing to consider a contract with me in which I get to review equipment in their rooms at night … There have been more instances than I can recall when specific equipment that I was reviewing sounded sub-par in performance and/or marginally acceptable, and yet sounding exceedingly in dealers’ systems.

Dagogo publishes reviews of products that we can recommend, and no Dagogoan is obligated to embark upon the review of an equipment the sound of which is not to his preference. I have read opinions in forums about the assumed credibility and trustworthiness of particular reviewers for writing negative reviews, and I have even been told more than once that Dagogo would lose readers’ trust if we only publish reviews on equipment that work in our system to our delight.

The ideal readership is the one that auditions negatively reviewed equipment proactively to judge the validity of the reviewer’s opinion. In a world with such readers, negative reviews will be even more constructive, invaluable and sought after than their positive counterparts. But in reality, there are not enough readers like that out there who have the time, the money and the commitment to endeavor such feat, and anything that receives a negative review stands the risk of becoming an object of “off limit” automatically and permanently.

Aside from the reviewers writing with an agenda, the most blatant examples of which is to provide support to one advertising manufacturer with positive reviews while helping him eliminate competition by writing negative reviews on competing products, many that produce negative reviews write undoubtedly with the highest regard to our professional integrity. I have learned that some of us take our role so very seriously that they believe it is our sacred duty to expose superior and inferior designs. Speaking for myself, I take my reviewing career seriously enough to be as diligent as I can in the reviewing process, while at the same time be as mindful as I can of the purpose of what I do: spreading the fun.

Therefore, I strongly urge all readers and reviewers considering writing negative reviews to contemplate the following questions:
Does any negatively reviewed product have the chance of sounding differently enough from the reviewer’s opinion of it in one of our systems so as even to become an audiophile’s reference piece? [A. Of course; B. No way.]

Even if the reviewer elaborates on the circumstances leading to his negative opinion of an equipment, does it ever effectively “balanced out” the effects created by his negative review, so that the readers will not single it out and formulate a negative preconception of the equipment? [A Not likely; B. Very likely.]

Suppose that out of 100 readers of an amplifier review, 5 actually auditioned it and are planning to purchase it for their own enjoyment. Do you think all 5 of the readers will continue to proceed in buying it once they see a published negative review on this amplifier? [A. Probably not; B. Sales will not be affected.]

From the scenario above, what is the likely effect on the state-of-mind of audiophiles who have gone through blood and sweat to acquire that amplifier, and then read about this negative review? [A. Discouraged & self-doubting; B. Just as happy.]

If the CD player being reviewed sounded less ideal-sounding to a reviewer’s ears, wouldn’t he be able to arrive at a drastically different opinion of it, even a favorable one, if he had a variety of preamplifiers, power amplifiers, speakers and cables to try with the CD player? [A. Of course; B. No way.]

If you choose answer [B] consistently, then you probably won’t benefit much from this article.

The most immediate point is, given the endless system make-up possibilities in our current audio hobby, someone somewhere will appreciate any given equipment, as long as he is not already tainted by the opinion of the reviewer whose words he trusts . The less immediate point, then, is the market survivability of an equipment once it is labeled negatively by a reviewer. Without this negative review, maybe 5 out of 100 readers will become owners, and the sales from this group of owners may be sufficient for the company to continue operation, producing less expensive and nonetheless highly-satisfying designs down the road for more to enjoy.

We reviewers wield such influence in the audiophile community, we ought to consider the ramifications a negative review can have on everyone seeing it, from the readers to the manufacturer. Knowing that an equipment that doesn’t float our boat may accomplish success for others, I have returned review samples that didn’t sound good in my system to manufacturers without review, and I have encouraged my fellow Dagogoans to do the same for their auditioning, so that the concerned product will not become a condemned one in readers’ eyes, and that those 5 interested readers out of 100 may not be discouraged from at least auditioning it themselves, or be even ridiculed and put down ultimately by his audiophile friends for buying it.

Each of us has a sonic preference, despite our ongoing, conscious efforts to recreate a sound as lifelike as possible. What is too forward or lay-back for one audiophile may sound opposite to the other, a result of differing level of synergies at work to different ears. On other hand, none of us can ever garner such breadth of knowledge in specific system combinations that he is qualified to deliver a damning verdict of a design ever so conclusively.

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