Why I Hate Ratings And Don’t Like Putting Audio Equipment Into “Boxes”
We all do it. We research or read a review on a product and immediately look at its star rating or percentage score given by the reviewer. Sometimes though, it can be quite misleading and here's why I chose to never use it.
Like I said, we all do it. I myself quickly also use the "Five Star Rating System" or "Percentage Score" (normally put in bold and in a prominent place) to quickly judge how good or bad a piece of audio equipment or instrument is.
And we do it most of the time before knowing anything at all about the product or even started to read the actual review or article. There is a lot wrong with this approach, and I will go into detail as to why we do it in the first place and why I believe it can be so misleading.
Why We Value And Pay So Much Attention To Star Ratings & Percentages
So why do we do it in the first place? To be honest, we have to go back to our upbringing and education to start solving this problem.
From childhood as early as kindergarten, we got used to being reward with stars being placed on our drawings or foreheads, rewarding us for being good or well behaved. Depending on your preschool institution, 3 starts were always considered the ultimate reward. (Except for those juvenile delinquents among us who always despised the "goody two shoes" or "teachers pets" as they sometimes got labelled).
As a result we got conditioned to associating the stars and the amount given as being important and valuable. As a result we started seeing it as a measurement to judge how good something is, so it has been engraved in our minds from a very early age.
Schools, colleges and universities did not do much to help the situation. Even while using the symbol system like A+, B and C etc, we all know that it is based on the percentage you get. (60%-69%=C, 70%-79%=B , 80%-100%=A etc.)
This meant judging the value of something based on a percentage assigned to it, is already well part of our DNA by the time we leave school.
It should come as no surprise then that we pay so much attention to ratings and percentages and hold it in such high regard as adults. Big corporations and marketers are very well aware of this fact and make great use of it in their marketing campaigns to form our opinions.
And we also do it. Most authority site owners today, use one of these two systems to rate their products. (Sometimes based on expertise and thorough research, but also sometimes on nothing more than a highly subjective opinion. More on this later on.)
The point is, these are now well established and widely accepted ways of judging and determining the value of anything reviewed or tested. For good or bad.
The Potential Problems And Why It Can Completely Mislead You
Now that we know why ratings & percentages are so widely used, and trusted and relied upon by most people, it's time to have a look at how potentially dangerous and misleading it can be.
There are quite few reasons you should be wary of relying on just ratings and percentages to help you form an opinion and make decisions. Here are two of the main ones.
Integrity Of The Review/Test
I know I may be stepping on a few toes here, so just remember this a just a general observation.
Many sites specializing in sound recording and professional home studios have staff and writers with years of experience in the recording industry and with a wealth of knowledge.
Normally these sites provide thoroughly researched and carefully tested information on products published in unbiased articles and reviews. These are the sites you should seek out and trust when you do your research.
On the opposite side of the scale you find review articles where the writer just chose a Best Seller on Amazon or some other e-commerce site, and simply list all the highlight features they could find on advertisements and use this as a basis for their review. Normally these are websites who just are just interested in selling a product for a commission. (Some have never even had any personal experience with the product, or even know what functions they have or how they operate.)
Some articles are nothing but just blatant copies of an existing reviews or tests. The wording are changed slightly and maybe another image get used. (Sometimes even this is too much effort and everything is word-for-word the same).
As a result there can be an overwhelming amount of positive reviews on a certain piece of equipment. This can mean one of two things: Either one very well respected and popular review got "copied" by other blogs, or the product is actually really that good.
(I have found in the past after writing a review on a product, that it looked suspiciously similar to another post or two, even though I never saw them before. So yes, it can be difficult to sometimes not look like copycat when reviewing a very good product.)
I realize this doesn't help you much as a reader. It can be difficult to know who to trust and what to believe when you need to get accurate and helpful information when having to make an important decision.
I won't be too concerned about this. In time you develop a sense of which websites or blogs are aiming to provide you with accurate unbiased information and really inform you, and which ones are just constantly trying to promote and push you into a purchase.
In general, most websites that provides you with just as much useful articles that aims to inform and help you out, as they do reviews, tend to be the ones you can trust and advise you can take seriously.
Putting Everything Into Context
At this stage I won't blame you if you start to think I regard star ratings and percentages as the worst possible way to judge and evaluate any piece of equipment or software. This can't be further from the truth.
Used sparingly in a good comparison or review, they can be invaluable quick indicators of a product's value, quality and standing. That's to say if it is viewed within the context of the whole article or review. And that is the key, CONTEXT.
You can read a brilliant article, filled with a wealth of informative and detailed descriptions leading to accurate conclusions, accompanied by a start rating or percentage score to quickly point you in the right direction.
If you read through the whole article though (providing you with context), you would have realized very early on whether the product discussed were of any relevance to you or not applicable to your needs at all.
For example, the article may be discussing and focusing on the best quality audio interface delivering superior sound, while comparing audio interfaces below $250. In the meantime you were looking for the most budget friendly audio interface that doesn't have all the bells and whistles, while delivering a good enough sound quality that is more than acceptable for your requirements.
If you just focused on the final ratings without reading the whole article, you might have ended up spending $240 on an audio interface, when a $120 interface would have been all you required. You ended up wasting money that could have been better spend on something else you required for your recording setup.
(If you spend 2 minutes reading the actual review however, you would have seen the context in which the device was reviewed and very quickly realized that you were reading the wrong review for what you were actually looking for.)
The point is, without reading the content of any post and as a result be able to see the context within which products are reviewed, just relying on a few stars or percentages is rather naive and can be very misleading.
The problem however, is that people do not want to read anymore. (Why do you think Youtube is so popular?)
In this age of fast food, instant online purchases and next-day deliveries, the consumption of information has gone down the same road. We don't have the time or attention span to read a whole article to get the information we want anymore.
It is much easier to quickly Google a question, find the appropriate headline and look at a rating or score to quickly make a decision.
I can go on and on, but you get the point.
Like I just said, I can go on and show you countless examples of why relying on just ratings and percentages can be very misleading, but if you don't get the point I am trying to make, I am afraid I will not be able to convince you.
Anyway, as a result of all everything, you will not find any ratings or scores on any product or device I discuss or review. I will give you the important information I feel you should know, give you my honest opinion on the product in question, and leave you to decide for yourself what will be best for you. (I won't bother even mentioning a piece of equipment or component if I am not willing to recommend it in the first place. This will just be just a waste of my and you, the reader's time.)
So what is the point of this whole article then besides rambling on about a seemingly unimportant subject?
The whole goal of this article is to encourage you to actually take the time to READ an article or review when you want information a piece of equipment or component.
You worked hard for your money, and you deserve to get the best an most appropriate for your home recording studio. Taking literally just a few minutes to read enough information about something you will be investing in, can make a big difference in building the best recording setup for your budget and needs.
If you made it this far through this article, I am pretty sure you are the type of reader who will indeed make the effort to do just that. Good on you and keep at it!
As always, feel free to leave me any comments or suggestions you may have, and I will respond and try and get to them as soon as I can.
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Catch you in the next article and happy recording!