28 June 2023    |    Hi-fi, Shop news

Matt’s June feature: The hi-fi review process

The hi-fi review process

What Hi-Fi magazine has just published an online feature on how its team reviews hi-fi products, and it’s got me thinking.

How do you make the decision to buy a particular product? Do you read a specialist magazine? Do you read online reviews? Do you ask a more knowledgeable friend? Do you press your nose up against a shop window to see what is in stock, or do you go in and ask for advice?

Anyway, back to the point of this piece: one of my primary job functions is to ensure that the manufacturers I represent receive excellent reviews in print and online hi-fi publications. And I’m desperately hoping that you do read these reviews, as they keep a roof over my head!

We’ll come back to that What Hi-Fi feature in a moment, but in the meantime here’s how the review process works for the wonderful high-end brands I work with:

  • The manufacturer spends years developing a new product that will meet a market demand and will be better than the competition.
  • The product is then tested for months to ensure that it really will perform.
  • We receive the new product to test.
  • We create a press release which details the product’s attributes (never too gushing though, journalists don’t like that).
  • The press release is then sent to a select list of industry reviewers. Most of the reviewers in this industry are professionals – we try to avoid the ones that like to take too long over a review, we know a few who will take almost a year to complete a review!
  • Then, if the reviewing journalist is interested in the product, they will ask for a sample to be sent to them. I’m pleased to be able to say ‘they’ in this context. Hi-Fi used to be an old boys club, but I’m glad to relate that this is changing, and fast.
  • Next, we ship the product, carefully, very carefully, to the reviewer.
  • When the review starts, we are asked multiple questions about the product’s technical specifications and performance.
  • And then we wait.
  • And nervously wait.
  • Often for a very long time.

Then the magazine featuring the review arrives and we flick through its pages looking for our product to see how it has fared. Fortunately, we are very lucky as we mostly receive great reviews.

Some magazines set their reviews by stars, some by percentages, some use their own specific nomenclature and others don’t have any grading at all and just say kind words (obviously, we like these the best!).

But does it really matter what star rating or percentage grading a product receives? Should one only buy products that receive five-star review?

Here are What Hi-Fi’s words on the subject:

Four star

A four-star rating is good, and we feel the need to emphasise that. We know many people are put off by this rating, but they shouldn’t be, as we only award four stars to products that deserve serious consideration. That product will be very capable and good value for money. It may not be among the best all-rounders – but in many cases that won’t matter. 

For example, we may stop short of awarding a product the full five-star set because it lacks a particular feature we believe to be important to many, but if that doesn’t apply to you then the omission won’t be an issue. Equally, the product could perform excellently but be priced a little too high against direct rivals that perform just as well or better. Whatever the reasoning for the lost star, it is worth taking a careful read of our review to see if the shortcoming(s) we highlight has any impact on you. 

Don’t routinely ignore four-star products; they could actually be perfect for your needs and, depending on your requirements, may even be a better choice for you than a five-star one.

Five star

A five-star product is a great all-rounder that is competitively priced and likely to work well in most price-compatible systems. We consider it to be one of the class leaders in its field at its price point. While five-star products will typically perform highly across the board, they won’t necessarily be perfect and will likely require careful system matching to work optimally.

Overall, we think of a five-star product as a safe recommendation; something that will likely please most people most of the time. 

Hello! Are you still with me? Would you buy a product with a four-star review? Does a product with a grading of lower than 80% make it on to your shopping list? Does an EISA award mean anything to you? Do you watch the What Hi-Fi awards live on twitter? Do you prefer print to digital? Which is your favourite magazine/website?

I really would love to know. It would help me to be even better at my job!

My email address is: matt@ammonitemedia.com

I hope to hear from you.

Matt Tasker (Ammonite Media), June 2023

Who is Matt?

Matt runs Ammonite Media, the PR, marketing and social media agency that we have used for many years. He has been working with the hi-fi industry for nearly two decades and has a unique, and sometimes irreverent, insight into the industry.

Each month, Matt will treat us to his views on what is making the world of speakers, cables, streamers and turntables tick.