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Balanced Output

Paul White's Leader

At Sound On Sound we always strive to bring you the most accurate and informative product reviews that we can. One question that comes up every now and again in the forums and in our email, however, asks why SOS "never seems to give anything a negative review?". The short answer is simply to point out that, where necessary, Sound On Sound most certainly does deliver highly critical reviews (just take a look through our on-line archives); we've been responsible for more than one product being withdrawn from the market altogether. The rather longer answer involves the fact that we always review products in the context for which they were designed. Rather than simply rating things as 'good' or 'poor', our strategy has always been to deliver a meaningful verdict that takes into account the selling price and any similarly priced competition the product might have. If a product reaches an appropriate standard of performance for its price-point, it is hardly relevant to criticise it for failing to stand comparison with something 10 times the price. On many occasions we've concluded that 'product A' performs very well and offers good value, but that 'product B' offers even more features and/or quality for the same money.

One potential problem when trying to separate the good from the not-so-good is that features that might be absolutely essential to some users may be completely irrelevant to others, so what is a perfectly usable piece of kit for one application might be a useless pile of junk for another. The fairest thing a reviewer can do is draw attention to what a product does well, while pointing out its omissions and flaws, thereby allowing the reader to make up their own mind as to its suitability for their purposes. For example, if we look at a powerful, attractively priced computer that has a noisy fan and hard drive, the noise issue could be a big one for anyone who records in a single room; but for those studios that have a separate machine room, it may be quite irrelevant. In this case, we'd be sure to point out that it is noisy, without concluding that this makes it a poor product, enabling you to decide whether that is a deal-breaker or not.

Aside from ergonomic and functionality issues, assessment of sound quality ultimately has to be subjective. Nowhere is this more apparent than when reviewing monitor speakers, because the technical spec can never tell the whole story. Some minor technical shortcomings can be hugely audible, while other imperfections may be orders of magnitude worse and yet still remain audibly insignificant. Take distortion, where 10 percent of one type can still sound subjectively clean and musical because it is harmonically related to the original signal, yet another, non-harmonically related distortion component can sound disgusting when its level is less than a tenth of one percent. Add to that the fact that speakers can sound completely different if you change the listening environment, and it's no wonder that there are such heated arguments about which monitors sound 'best'.

As product reviewers, we live or die by our integrity; if we mislead you just once, you have little reason to trust us next time. But the fact is that very little of today's kit actually deserves a wholly negative review — just because it doesn't suit your application doesn't mean it's a bad product. Our aim is always to equip you with the facts, opinions and context to allow you to make the correct buying decision for youself.

Paul White Editor In Chief

Published March 2007