“Oh, you know what Bill’s doing, he’s going for that anti-marketing dollar. That’s a good market, he’s very smart.” – Bill Hicks.
Don’t trust hifi reviewers. Correction: don’t trust hifi reviewers in isolation. Yup, I just wrote that.
Every hifi reviewer has his own personal preferences as to what sounds good (to him). This subjectivity can manifest itself in – for example – a penchant for tube amplifiers or a leaning toward NOS DACs. Reviewers – as much they might protest otherwise – are not immune to their own subjectivity.
I’m just one guy. One guy with an opinion. Correction: one guy with many opinions. It’s my experience in hearing an array of different audio products in a short (and intense!) period of time that hopefully lends weight to what I say. I’ve lived with units for months on end AND I’ve done quick-fire A/B comparisons. Weight of opinion certainly doesn’t stem from my underlying (dearth of) technical knowledge.
As a consumer, play the field (of reviewers). There are plenty to be found out in the wild: some with engaging online personas (hello Srajan Ebaen, Art Dudley), some hiding behind the anonymity of numerous pieces of shorter prose (hello What Hifi people) and some with such unbridled enthusiasm, it’s hard to swallow what they’re saying. Play the field. Try to form an aggregated opinion; much as metacritic.com does for music reviews.
A good review should tease out the sonic qualities of the unit under scrutiny – describe it flavours – as much as it should pass judgement. Beware of reviews that lead with an (over) abundance of company background, specifications and general pre-amble…and then jump straight to judgemental conclusion – the journalistic equivalent of a mid-range dip. At the end of the review ask yourself: am I any the wiser as to how this product actually sounds?
If you find only a singular positive review of a product, proceed with caution. Only a very brave hifi consumer makes a purchase on the basis of a lone positive review. The DAC/amplifier/loudspeaker at hand might have played precisely to the reviewer’s personal preferences. Unless you know those predilections, you could be in danger of making a costly – and erroneous – purchase.
Search out user opinions on forums: Head-fi, Audio Karma, What Hifi, StereoNet etc. Such user opinions are just as valid as yours or mine. Hope to find someone who can neatly articulate what they hear – there are fewer forum trolls than you’d presuppose – but beware the evangelists for any one camp (hello Flat Earthers) and give a wide berth to the positive spin of retailers (no matter how subtle or how much you think you ‘trust’ them).
Google and time are your friends. Friends that can guide you in making up your own mind.
Bill Hicks said it best.