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Honest Reviews vs. The Reality of Advertiser Revenue and the Shill Game

Profile picture for user paulears

If any US folk want a bit of UK perspective - is worth a look. A well respected magazine that has been going for years and most people over here trust their reviews - especially the ones carried out by Hugh Robjohns. I've been reading through all the MXL mics they've reviewed since around 2000, and they're pretty positive.

Has anyone tried the Neumann BCM705 dynamic - it's around £500 here, but I've not heard one. I assume it's their pickup on the SM7 style mic?



pcrecord Wed, 03/19/2014 - 03:24

Soundonsound is a good site where I found many reviews of gear I bought or didn't. Thing is, I can't remember any of their review where they did that said that a product was not good... For that matter, no website will tell you 'this is exactly the sound you're looking for' without hitting wrong on a few of us.
We need to figure out by ourself what kind of sound we want and the best way to find the right tools to achive it will always be trial and error.
I wish music store would expect us to try gear before we buy, as car dealers do.

DonnyAir Wed, 03/19/2014 - 10:18

I have to agree. I can't recall ever reading a review from SOS, MIX or any of the other pro trade mags that wasn't at least "kind".
Maybe not an over-the-top "Hey! You have GOT to buy this model !", but at least kind enough to write something like "...not bad for the money".

Just once I'd like to see a reviewer write "This thing sucks. What were they thinking when they designed this?" If the product really is bad.

And we all know that, from time to time in our business, there are certain pieces of gear released that do indeed truly blow.

For example, the Alesis Mattica Power Amp, circa 1995.

Man, what a joke that thing was. I had an "in" at a local music store in those days, and they knew me well enough to allow me to take several models home to A/B them for a few days, so I took several amps home with me, and one of those was the Mattica. (FWIW, I ended up buying a Hafler Transnova, and I still have it, use it and absolutely love it).

The slew rate on the Mattica was sooo slow, that I could play audio through it, stop the audio, go out for a pizza, walk my dog, do my taxes, go back to the studio.... and it was still "slewing". LOL

I'd surely appreciate it if someone could be kind enough to point me in the direction of a pro-trade review where the article is honest...
And, LOL, I'm not talking about the descriptions used by music stores, where everything is "pristine", "stellar", "warm", and my personal favorite:
"Only $99! This model is reminiscent of the classic twenty thousand Dollar XYZ Model used in every professional studio, and made famous on albums like...". Uh Huh. LOL

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Kurt Foster Wed, 03/19/2014 - 12:09

ditto to what Donny says. reviews and reviewers rely on product to be supplied by manufacturers. you don't bite the hand that feeds you. if you do you won't be getting product to "review" for very long.

i have to ask why you continue to whip this horse, no matter how dead it is ???

the question was asked. you got several answers / replies. none of them said what you wanted to hear. continuing to go on about it will not convince anyone chineese mics sound good. if you like them fine. use them. like i said, it only gives me an edge.

bigtree Thu, 03/20/2014 - 19:02

Yup, found that out recently with mix er man and his shilling over at GS over a particular clock that started looking like an advertisement. He was raving about it while I was questioning why believers thought is was so amazing, it did little to nothing for me.
I thought the crowd would be interested to learn why a super clock was good for some and not so good for others but that didn't sit well with his over inflated ego and admin. This is a $6500 clock btw.
We both have the same clock. Well not all true, I've since passed mine to some believer in snake oil, or, I'll put it another way, to someone with clocking problems that needed it more than I. :)

My informative posts however, were deleted and I was attacked with no moderation. The thread ended up looking like manufacturer are paying for space while their shills pay their dues for the free gear they get from them as long as they said something good about it.
We wouldn't want to loose the advertisers .

Well, no money is enough to get me to shill about something I don't believe in so I'm pretty sure they won't be renewing their ads here. :)
Low and behold, 2 weeks later MM was shilling that for the company at NAMM. I posted that video somewhere here a month back, the writing is on the wall .

What a bunch of ass kissing in this industry. I'll use the product but I lost what little respect I had for him and that product . We had that same crowd shilling here years ago and I booted them out. It exists wherever there is traffic and profit.

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paulears Fri, 03/21/2014 - 00:51

I've found a couple of definitions for 'shill' and 'shilling' that sort of fit, but I've never heard the world before.

Sound on sound said quite a few years ago that they don't bash products for the obvious business reasons but not all the products they review get printed. They insist that what you read is accurate. What you don't read are negative reviews, just no review. This is acceptable to me, and all the purchases made blind on products recommended have worked for me. I have not disagreed with anything in 30 years.

DonnyAir Fri, 03/21/2014 - 06:02

"...Sound on sound said quite a few years ago that they don't bash products for the obvious business reasons but not all the products they review get printed. They insist that what you read is accurate. What you don't read are negative reviews, just no review. This is acceptable to me..."

I accept that this is the way it is, Paul, but.... that doesn't make it acceptable. I understand a trade mag not wanting to piss off advertisers, but if you are a gear reviewer, then I think you should be brave enough to do negative reviews too, if it's warranted.

And, maybe doing so would make the manufacturer step up to improving the product, or addressing the issues that the reviewer mentioned. One thing for sure, they won't do a thing if they aren't forced to, either by word of mouth or by a negative review.

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drumrob Fri, 03/21/2014 - 09:00

I agree on wanting more info in reviews. I remember reading a response a number of years ago in one of the mags, I think it was "Recording", that explained part of why the reviews are generally positive. They get HUNDREDS of manufacturers trying to get them to review stuff. They have a limited space for reviews in the magazine. So they look at products they think might be most useful to their audience and review those. Most of them are at least good or the reviewer would not want to spend time with it. I have occasionally seen a "meh" review, but it doesn't happen often. I know they've got to be careful to not tick off any of their advertisers, or potential advertisers, but I would like to see more head-on-head comparisons. I agree that when all reviews end with "so this is definitely a product you should consider", that they don't help that much.

DonnyAir Fri, 03/21/2014 - 10:01

drumrob, post: 411212, member: 18501 wrote: Most of them are at least good or the reviewer would not want to spend time with it...

Except being a true reviewer doesn't mean that you review only the gear that you like, Rob. Or, at least it shouldn't be that way.
If they do come across something that isn't good, then they should say so, and perhaps help those consumers who may be on the fence about it.

I'd like to see one of these reviewers try out any of the various "classic" emulators. We've all seen them, in both hardware and software emulation form.

If one of these guys did come across a particular model that they didn't care for, or, downright dislike, just once I'd like them to come right out and say so.
"This tape emulator doesn't sound anything like tape" or "This LA2A clone bears no sonic resemblance to a real LA2A whatsoever", (or whatever model you can think of, you can insert your own choice).

We've all seen the good reviews. Hell, I've even seen positive reviews on gear that I knew from personal experience to be substandard.

Not too long ago, I came across an SOS review on the Audio Technica 2020 condenser mic:

"Despite its low cost, this mic actually delivers a very mature, believable sound both on vocals and on instruments. As a vocal mic, it displays the kind of lower mid-range warmth that flatters most singers, and combines this with a very subtle presence peak that adds 'air' and clarity without erring on the side of sibilance or harshness." SOS, February, 2006

Well, I've had the opportunity to use the 2020 on several different occasions while working at client's home studios.. and I can tell you that this mic is... well, it's awful.
Its sonic characteristics are anything but "believable", and its hi-mids are harsh enough to drill a hole in your forehead. And, it seems as though the more you try to EQ it, the worse it sounds.
Yes, it's only $99. Yes, one should expect only so much for that money. But... that $99 would have been far better spent on an SM58 than it would on that AT2020 paperweight, and I would have liked the reviewer to have said so. My suspicion is that SOS probably had a major advertising account with AT, and didn't want to rock the boat.

So, in a sense, an advertiser is pretty much assured of positive reviews, whether the model deserves it or not, by simply sustaining a healthy advertising account with the trade rag. And, you can do the math however you want to, but in the end it's essentially equal to the manufacturer "buying" a good review.

Actually, it's worse than that... it's almost a sort of extortion: "Give us a good review on model ABC and we will renew our half-million dollar advertising account with your magazine."

Process of elimination...or leaving out reviews on poor equipment and then picking gear you already know you will like just so that you can write a positive review about it and not piss anyone off, isn't offering a true critical review section.
If that's the case, I'd rather they didn't review any gear at all.

IMHO of course.

bigtree Fri, 03/21/2014 - 12:17

My take ,
Successful Reviewers are similar to lawyers working for a firm. Reviewers get around (justify) "honest to goodness" like a lawyer justifies the rights for the client (need to know basis). Everything is good for something and therefore, if I was running a magazine that depended on profit, I would pass reviews off to the people it suited best (win win).
SOS is well produced. It has excellent quantization where needed and smart people running it. I like SOS most of all.

Being said,
You wouldn't dare give me a product to review that had anything to do with emulation because no plug-in will ever emulate the real reason why I choose analog in a chain.
The sole reason I use voltage is to be different than digital and that happens and works for me because I use a specific method that eliminates 90% of all the BS I used in the past. I don't think that would go over well either.

The value in analog is voltage and capture. I choose digital to capture analog a different way as well. I love how we can move code from place to place after the fact.
I don't base my opinions from a lack of funds and experience or fear I will upset share holders or clients. Life is too short to BS myself.

If I was to do a review, I would have to tell every person, every time about the importance I've now discovered about "difference" and that would completely drop the bomb on the review and take the focus off of the product and put more on the process every time..

I only need a handful of plugs and no more so I choose a DAW that works on a PC (not a Mac) and doesn't need the third party shopping list like the Avid /Pro Tools supermarket. So, I just pissed off all the pro studios on the planet who read this now.

If you need digital emulation, Ableton live is the bomb for spinning everything past tradition recording today. No one with Pro Tools wants to believe that. No one wants to believe they have to spend $2800.00 on an LA2A when they can get the same thing in a plug-in.

The whole industry is making money off affordable recording products. Reviews and trade mags are about profit and saying it just right.

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Kurt Foster Fri, 03/21/2014 - 12:34

what you fail to consider Donny is that many manufacturers have very cozy relationships with many distributors and retail outlets so when you piss one of them off you actually will be pissing off several different very powerful entities. it's a huge web they weave and the tentacles of these spiders are far reaching. these dealers and manufactures can not only cut off product but they can wage a war against an individual and destroy their credibility.

for example if a reviewer were to diss a product from a powerful company like PreSonus, Sweetwater, GC/MF and many other gear pimp outlets would jump on the bandwagon at the same time. the problem is exacerbated by the fact that it is more likely that a product from a larger manufacturer with wider distribution would market a dog that would be subject to criticism than a product from a boutique builder that wields less influence over the industry but even then sometimes a boutiqe manufacturer will have friends in the industry that will flock to their defence.

it's just an unspoken rule that "reviewers shall not diss the manufacturer or their products."

bigtree Fri, 03/21/2014 - 13:07

Indeed Kurt. Everything you've taught me (that I've picked up) about this business from you has been spot on.
I crossed the line with MM last month on GS, knowing damn well what the outcome will be challenging him in public. I'm at a point in my life where I don't care if I am blacklisted, loose advertising or readers. I already know its happening, again, because I called a spade a spade regardless of loosing a shilling.
But this time I can afford to keep the doors open. :)

Its a good feeling to know I don't have to pretend or BS to keep this place.

DonnyAir Fri, 03/21/2014 - 13:37

I've had my share of crap analog gear as well as digital. It wasn't my intention to focus only on digital, which is why I gave the example that I did in my previous post about the AT mic.

I understand that business is business, and that you don't crap where you have to eat. What might be a refreshing change of pace, would be for each trade rag to come right out and divulge, without focusing on any manufacturer or model in particular, that they will never talk snot about any company or product, whether they advertise with them or not, and that all reviews will be of a positive least then the reader would know where the rag stood in relation to product reviews vs revenue...
but then pigs might also fly out of my butt and monkeys might drive me to Jillian Anderson's house where she's waiting for me with wanton lust... it just ain't gonna happen.

SOS, MIX, Recording, Keyboard and EQ Magazines.... Allll positive reviews alllll the time!

bigtree Fri, 03/21/2014 - 14:28

Exactly Donny. It will never happen.

I have an [[url=http://[/URL]="…"]MXL 2001[/]="…"]MXL 2001[/] that I was going to give away ( because i was certain it sounded like crap) but maybe I should try it again just to be certain. Its been about 15 years since I used it. I have a RODE NT1 and many other RODE mics. I'll do a test between it and re read this review for fun.

You've got to read that review. Its priceless :)

I may or may not report my findings.

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paulears Fri, 03/21/2014 - 14:30

I found a few with some negative comments but gave up looking for a real rubbishing!

I was excited to get my hands on the CP1, and I tried hard to like it. It certainly looks the part, and it must be said that it can feel and sound it too. Ultimately, though, I came away less impressed than I thought I’d be.

I belong to neither camp, and I'm not afraid to stand up and say that the 200e is not the right instrument for me. I accept that even given the months I've been using it, I've had it for too limited a period to get to grips with it fully, and I know that it's still unfinished in one or two areas, but I find nevertheless that it stands between me and my musical ideas instead of enhancing my creativity.

This one brought a complaint from Don Buchla, the designer.

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Kurt Foster Fri, 03/21/2014 - 18:07

DonnyThompson, post: 411226, member: 46114 wrote:
What might be a refreshing change of pace, would be for each trade rag to come right out and divulge, without focusing on any manufacturer or model in particular, that they will never talk snot about any company or product, whether they advertise with them or not, and that all reviews will be of a positive nature...

i said that repeatedly when i was reviewing but for the largest part it went unnoticed. people should understand the nature of the process. review samples are for the most part provided by the manufacturer and in lesser part by retailers. for instance i got pieces from Millennia, Great River, JLM, Sebatron, PreSonus just to name a few. i also got one piece from Mercenary due to a long debate and the manufacturers unwillingness to supply a particular product to me. of all these products i never published a negative review even though i did run across some dogs. i did make comments in bulletin boards but i never actually "published" a bad are really more of a "product release" article than a true review of the product. you can rest assured that if the reviewers impression is negative, the review is not published.