REVIEWS: Why is it UK mags that the big brands never publish poor ones?

Howard Popeck writes:

In the course of dumping the majority of my audio magazine collection, while retaining the occasional review of something I might buy in the future I noticed something odd. Or rather I was reminded of something I'd known for years and forgotten, namely that unlike their US counterparts, UK magazines do not print reviews of bad products!

Is this because unilaterally, all makers supply units of impeccable performance to (and only to) UK magazines? I think not. Is it that US writers and editors have a more robust approach to reviewing technique? Possibly.

It’s true to say – and I’m talking about all the UK audio mags rather than focusing on any particular one, there are what we in the trade call 'good . . . but' reviews where the product is damned with faint praise, or just a wee bit of condescension, or both – thereby diluting the chances of reasonable sales – but nothing outright condemning. And then, through the 91 mags (minus a few clippings) that went into the skip, I noticed a few curious patterns.

Never, not ever, did a product from the established audiophile brand get anything other than a very positive review. At first I thought this might be because these brands were big advertisers. I concluded this was more of coincidence rather than a concrete relationship. it’s a tempting but, I feel, tenuous ‘relationship’ that one. I think what I was experiencing was the contrast effect. Let me explain.

What was apparent was that the less established makes were likely to get the lukewarm reviews. There are exceptions of course and Music First springs to mind. But it does seem at face value that those makers with the lowest profile are – per se – likely to receive a more critically robust review.

Has anyone else noticed this?

I have two theories why this might be. What I will say here and now though is that I firmly believe that in the majority (not all, mind you) of instances, small emergent audiophile companies (especially those that have far more to lose) apply levels of innovation that the larger incumbent and dare I say downright smug and complacent ones will not condone. It’s a generalisation I know, but I state it to make the point: that large incumbent companies (a) play safe and (b) see their customer bases as walking wallets – whereas the emergent companies have (a) nothing to lose because (b) they had nothing in the way of a customer base to start with!

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