Reviews, by default, are heavily influenced by personal preference. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, and so on. However, the two core values that every review must share are accuracy and honesty.
Let’s briefly expand on what we said above; personal preference has to play a part in any review.
For example, some musicians will tell you that a bass guitar should never have more than four strings. If someone with that opinion was tasked to write a review featuring the best 5-string bass guitars, they couldn’t let their preference downgrade the score of every instrument.
So, personal preference is fine, even helpful at times (if you find a reviewer with similar taste to yours), but it must never lose context.
Are Longer Reviews Always Better?
There are a few common misconceptions that people have when it comes to written reviews. One is that longer reviews automatically represent greater knowledge/understanding and authority. Another is that skipping to the end of a lengthy review to check the verdict is a good idea.
A review of around 4000 words could be incredibly insightful, but it could also be more filler than substance. There’s no sure way to tell until you start reading and make your own assessment.
However, the product in review is the first indicator. If it’s a complex synthesizer like the Waldorf Quantum, it could easily take thousands of words to do it justice. If it’s a clap-on lamp, and you see pages of text, don’t waste your time. That’s a fairly extreme example, but you get the idea.
If you do assume that a review is so long that it must have authority and skip to the verdict, you could be making a purchase based on pages of nonsense.
When it comes to long-form reviews, it’s best to find sources you trust and stick to them. Sound On Sound produces some fantastic, long-form, technical reviews like this one on the Moog Matriarch.
The benefit of a longer review is that it can discuss features/functions in great depth. While that’s perfect for people in the know, readers should keep in mind that sometimes so much detail doesn’t help a novice if they don’t understand it.
With that in mind, shorter reviews can accurately review complex products, providing the structure is good. More concise reviews are often the better option if you are new to the product type.
The format of any review is almost as important as the content. Without a clear structure, even the most valuable information will go unread. A review should highlight the most important features of a product and discuss the use of those features in the most likely situations. For example, a keyboard piano has value in the home and on stage, and any review should consider the pros and cons in both domains.
If a review spends more time discusses how many colors a product comes in than it does the core specifications, you shouldn’t put too much stock in its opinion.
As a short guide, a review should break down the product’s main features, how it is in use, how well it’s made, and a final verdict. The time spent on each section will depend on the overall length of the review. Some reviews go further and split sections into subsections to avoid longer (harder to read) paragraphs.
A great example of a site that provides long technical reviews in lots of bite-sized chunks is RTINGS.com.
Seeing The Positives Or Sales Talk?
Unless a product is genuinely terrible, it likely has something to offer someone.
In many cases, you’ll find that websites don’t spend the same time writing about something if there is nothing good to say about it.
However, there are websites that write nothing give nothing but good reviews, and we think of this as sales talk. It’s like going into a car showroom and enquiring about the worst car you can find.
Ultimately, the dealership wants to sell the car, and the salesman wants their commission, so the temptation is to sidestep any problems with superficial gimmicks.
For example, the gearbox could be about to drop, but as long as it gets you out of the dealership, they might tell you their brother drives the same car and loves it. Or, tell you that they’ve had high interest, and if you don’t buy today, someone else will.
Of course, not all salespeople do this, but it’s a dishonest approach.
Websites that use similar avoidance tricks are motivated by affiliate link/sales commission.
Genuine reviews that also benefit from affiliate links are more interested in an honest approach that leads to long-term readers and long-term commission potential.
If something isn’t good enough, a genuine review should say so. But it will also take into account that good enough is different for everyone.
For example, a 61-key portable keyboard isn’t good enough for a concert pianist, but it’s perfect for a young beginner.
It’s important to spot the difference between seeing the positives and sales talk.
Don’t Forget About The Price
Following on from the positive/sales talk example above, it’s also essential that reviewers keep everything in context with the price.
It might be confusing to see a $100 product with a higher rating than a $3000 product, but it’s perfectly normal (and honest).
It happens a lot because the cheaper product has lower expectations. In that sense, it’s easier for a cheap product to over-deliver and an expensive product to under-deliver.
For example, a Nord Piano 5 is clearly a better instrument than a Casio CT-S1. But they have different target consumers — professional at $3,500 vs. beginner at $200 — and the score should reflect value for money and how well it serves the target user.
Image from Nord’s website
Honest reviews should not be scared to score a budget product higher than an expensive one, but they should explain why. If a review doesn’t judge products in this way, then consumers could be missing out on potentially great buys.
In summary, reviews should be honest, cover the substantial features more than the superficial ones, and keep everything in context. Hopefully, this helps you find reviews that you can trust and avoid the ones you can’t.
This guest post is by James Nugent who is a writer, multi-instrumentalist, and synth enthusiast passionate about music from Bebop to Hip-Hop. As a musician, he has read countless gear reviews, both good and bad. As a writer, he aims to use that experience to deliver helpful and honest review content.