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Portrait of the Artist as a Reviewer

An overview of reviews.

Judging from both the response to our most recent readership survey and the amount of feedback we receive on the subject in readers' letters, it would seem that it's E&MM's equipment reviews that are the most widely and attentively read part of the magazine. In a sense, it's nice to know that what we write about a certain product is going to be taken seriously by a great many musicians, but the other side of the coin is that the attention of our readers places a heavy burden on the shoulders of the magazine's regular equipment reviewers. If they make one tiny error of judgement, that error is magnified thousands of times over throughout the UK, and indeed the world.

So what should a review comprise?

I put the question a week or so ago to Technical Editor Paul White, and his reply was surprisingly straightforward. 'I write in a review exactly what I'd say if a friend of mine asked me my opinion of a product.'

Now while such an attitude is an honourable one, it does not mean that passing judgement on a particular piece of equipment is a simple matter. After all, a reviewer will make a subjective appraisal that may not entirely agree with that of another reviewer having different tastes.

An example of this could be a budget polysynth that cuts costs by using only one VCF: Reviewer A may condemn this out of hand while Reviewer B accepts the compromise as a reasonable way of keeping costs down.

It would be nice if some sort of inflexible yardstick could be applied to all products, but even with the best of intentions, personal preferences make this extremely difficult.

The most obvious candidate for being awarded yardstick status is value for money. Does Product X compare favourably with others in its price range? Or is it the victim of a price tag too heavy for it, and does its competitiveness suffer as a result? Those are questions every reviewer should take into consideration as soon as a piece of equipment's RRP is announced by its manufacturer, because musicians - even the wealthy ones - have only a finite amount of money and a similarly finite quantity of gear they can spend it on.

However, value for money is not an objective quality, because one person's perception of what is good value can be vastly different from another's.

What this boils down to is that a review should be used to assist your own judgement and should not be used as a complete substitute.

Some aspects of a review will of course be solid fact: how much it weighs, what it costs, whether it has a MIDI Thru socket, for instance. But there are other areas that are not so clear cut, such as the control layout, the facilities sacrificed in the name of economy, and of course the sound.

Even if a reviewer started out with the intention of writing an utterly comprehensive and completely unbiased report, the late arrival of the review sample, the lack of a user manual, or the unfinished 'prototype' state of the equipment may all conspire to make that task an impossible one.

One thing you can rely on is that our reviews are unbiased by commercial influences. After all, we are not trying to sell the instruments, nor do we have any reason to criticise a good product unduly. We simply assess how well the unit performs within its price range and point out any facts that we think you should know. We will also tell you whether we liked it or not!

Over the years, E&MM has succeeded in gaining a reputation for detailed and helpful reviews and we'd like to think that every report we publish strengthens that reputation.

Read the reviews, weigh up the facts. But remember that it's your needs, not the reviewer's that are of the greatest importance, so ultimately the decision must be yours.

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Electronics & Music Maker - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Electronics & Music Maker - Oct 1984

Donated & scanned by: Stewart Lawler

Editorial by Dan Goldstein

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