A Question Of Time
A recent spate of readers' letters have brought to my attention a disconcerting loophole in this magazine's otherwise stringent product reviewing procedures. Namely, the question of longterm reliability of equipment. Whenever possible, this magazine's handpicked team of reviewers go to great lengths to test and use every feature on a new product in order to prepare an honest and complete account of the quality, usability, and suitability of that product for its intended purpose. It is therefore only natural that I become concerned when products that have earlier received a favourable review in this publication are found to have reliability problems by our readers several months down the line.
In the majority of cases it is impossible for us to test for product reliability, since we simply don't have the product in our hands long enough to do so. Contrary to popular belief, equipment manufacturers do not make a habit of giving their new machine to a magazine free, gratis - equipment is loaned to us for a fixed period of time, usually a month or so, then returned (or bought by the reviewer if they really like it!). Some manufacturers are wiser than others when it comes to loan stock - they realise that the longer we have to review their equipment, the greater the final coverage in the magazine. After all, if someone has a good product then why not give reviewers sufficient time for them to use it and learn to appreciate its features, just like an end-user would? We all know how complex equipment has become of late, and how very similar competing products can look on the surface. That old adage 'don't judge a book by its cover' is never more true than when applied to consumer goods, and that includes hi-tech music and recording gear. Have you tried choosing a new hi-fi or camera recently? They all look the same and appear to have the same features, but they're all different prices. Why?
Well, part of it is to do with whose name is on the front panel (a pedigree can cost money - but not always), the rest is mostly to do with that elusive element: 'quality'. Quality of construction, quality of finish, quality of components, and quality of design. These days, all manufacturers seem to have mastered the art of making their products look good, regardless of whether the goods cost £200 or £2000. First impressions count, of course, but you shouldn't let them prevent you from seeing behind the mask. It's not always easy, and this is where magazine reviews can help - provided they are honest and complete, of course. Publishing reviews based on a half-hour demo given to an author at a trade show are just not on in my book, but it does happen. They don't do the manufacturer, the magazine, or the reader any good in the end. You can rest assured that SOS do not sink to such murky depths. If we can't have the product long enough to do it justice, then we don't review it. Simple as that.
Reviewers have their work cut out just covering the major features of a new gadget in the time available. This is particularly true of all-singing, all-dancing music software programs - hence the growing need for longer, more in-depth reviews, like our two-part report on the Finale scorewriting program for the Macintosh in this issue. A little birdy tells me that you'll be seeing more of this type of review in future, and we'll try and come up with better ways to address the question of longterm reliability. Any suggestions? Meanwhile, enjoy the issue.