"But I Thought You Were My Friend!" Page 2

But will this company's actions affect the tone of any future reviews of their products? Not a chance. If this company has a new product that is superb, the praise will be just as glowing. If the product is poor, the criticism will be no more severe than if this incident never happened. It is just as great a sin to overly praise a product from a friendly manufacturer as to overly damn a product from an unfriendly one. The cardinal rule operating here is that the readers' interests come first---before anything else. The reviewer also has a duty to the more abstract concepts of serving audio truth and maintaining a level of professionalism that elevates the entire field of subjective reviewing.

Friendships between manufacturers and reviewers are fine, as long as the manufacturer realizes that the reviewer, the editor, and the publisher will always put their readers' interests ahead of the manufacturer's (footnote 2). A review is an honest expression of the reviewer's opinion, not a manufacturer's marketing tool.

When negative reviews are published, manufacturers will often choose to believe any reason for it---except that their product isn't up to the standards required for a recommendation. The manufacturer will sometimes privately question the reviewer's competence, attempt to publicly impugn his reputation, or ascribe political motives to the negative review. This is an unfortunate reaction because it prevents the manufacturer from realizing the product's shortcomings and weak competitive position in the marketplace. Without such a realization, the product will never improve, with perhaps disastrous effects for its manufacturer. Moreover, it's just as great a mistake for a manufacturer to believe a negative review was the result of personal animosity or political motivation as to think a positive review was somehow affected by his friendly relationship with the reviewer.

The only thing that determines the tone or content of a review is how the product performs in the listening room (and, to a much lesser extent, the test lab). Any preconceptions about the product, if the reviewer likes or doesn't like the manufacturer, and any other factors not related to the product's ability to reproduce music---all vanish in the listening room.

No reviewer likes to write a negative review, just as no editor or publisher should enjoy publishing that review, but there is no choice when a product just doesn't measure up. The reader should never be led to buy a product on which the reviewer wouldn't spend his own money. The moment of truth comes when the reviewer sits down in front of the word processor. He converts his impressions of the product into words---words that will create similar impressions of that product in the readers' minds. The review's tone must be a mirror image of how he really felt about the product, not how he would like to have felt. Any less would be a breach of the readers' trust---a trust reaffirmed with every subscription renewal and newsstand sale.

On the last day of that same CES, I ran into a well-respected high-end veteran in an elevator whom I hadn't met before, but whose product I had recently reviewed. The review had been quite positive, but contained some criticisms. He saw my nametag, introduced himself, and said, "It's nice to meet you. Thank you for---"

Oh, no, not again, I thought.

"---your thoroughness and objectivity," he said.

"Thoroughness?" "Objectivity?"

His comments were unique in that they reflected a real understanding of what reviewing audio components is all about. If a reviewer is to be thanked at all by a manufacturer, it is only for those aspects of a review. Indeed, thoroughness and objectivity are the highest ideals to which a reviewer can aspire.

Thoroughness and objectivity---a manufacturer deserves no less from a reviewer. But can he expect any more than that---even from a reviewer he considers his "friend"?

Not in my book.

Footnote 2: Some years ago, a manufacturer told LA that if he wanted their friendship to continue, LA would have to "kill" a somewhat negative review of his product that I had commissioned. The review appeared, of course.---JA