How To Write Manufacturers' Comments

"Equipment Reports," "Record Reviews," "Letters," "Industry Update," "Sam's Space," "As We See It," "The Final Word"---I read and enjoy them all. But the section of Stereophile I especially look forward to reading is "Manufacturers' Comments." How is the manufacturer going to respond to a review that's considerably less than 100% positive? Can they take criticism gracefully, or do they have an attitude? If I were a consumer considering purchase of one of their products, would their comments convince me that they'd be a good company to deal with? Are they uptight beyond reason, or do they have a sense of humor? Can they respond to a positive review without gloating?

Although I've never been or worked for an audio manufacturer, I have considerable sympathy for their position. The overwhelming majority of them are doing their utmost to produce the best products they can, and welcome feedback that allows them to improve their products. What they don't want is public criticism---such as in a review---that will result in loss of sales. When they submit a product for evaluation by Stereophile, their hope is to get a favorable review, one that will increase sales. From the manufacturer's point of view, commenting on a review presents an opportunity to neutralize the negative effect of an unfavorable review or maximize the impact of a positive one.

Years of reading "Manufacturers' Comments" has convinced me that manufacturers seldom use this forum as well as they might; therefore, out of the pure goodness of my heart and without expectation of a consultant's fee, (footnote 1) I offer the following guidelines, to be used by manufacturers in formulating responses to reviews that appear in Stereophile. Needless to say, these guidelines do not constitute Stereophile editorial policy, but you can be sure that I'll be clucking my tongue and shaking my head whenever I read a manufacturer's comments that don't conform to the guidelines.

• In replying to a highly negative review, don't cast aspersions on the status of the reviewer's ears, sanity, musical taste, honesty, youth, age, qualifications, or general competence. Avoid comments like "We should have known that an inexperienced has-been who listens mostly to rap performed on original instruments and probably thinks a cold-solder joint is for smoking could not possibly appreciate the sound of our XLN-T1a/improved." Even if your comments are true, they would come across as hopelessly defensive, and readers would wonder if they would be subjected to the same sort of hostile treatment if they were customers.

• A comment merely indicating astonishment that the review is not more positive is a good way of suggesting, without going into details, that the reviewer's ears, sanity, musical taste, etc. leave something to be desired. What's needed is something like this: "We find it difficult to believe that the reviewer found the Surreal Audio Model 2001 to sound 'like a good mid-priced dynamic speaker, no more, no less.' All our dealers and customers tell us that music reproduced through the Model 2001 makes music sound 'way better than real.' We invite readers to experience this at the nearest Surreal Audio dealer."

Do comment on the ways the reviewer's choice of associated components may not have allowed your product to shine. "Given the fact that the reviewer used the Discordance Acoustics Signature Reference interconnects, we're not surprised that he describes the sound of our D/A converter as 'veiled and lacking in dynamics.' This is exactly how the Discordance Signature Reference interconnects sound."

Do pick up on and emphasize the positive aspects of an otherwise fairly negative review. "We're pleased that the reviewer was impressed by the silky feel of the volume control. Our volume control potentiometer is sourced from Switzerland; furthermore, we carry out extensive modifications on it to make it the silkiest in the industry."

Footnote 1: Note to JA: I do expect to get paid for the article, though.

dbowker's picture

One of my favorite sections too, and mostly for the unintended humor you just outlined. Given that you are such an intellectual giant with truly impeccable tastes that are beyond reproach, I can only conclude the obvious explanation: great minds think alike.