oha, tricky topic this one.
not so much read between the lines but read a good number of reviews of said reviewer to understand their biases, listening habits, expectations, phrasing etc.. Only then one can derive any meaningful pointers for ones own system/listening.
And now comes the big BUT. This holds only true for reviewers who deliver sound and meaningful reviews. And imo these are in the vast minority. It requires appropriate experience with the product category on hand, understanding of any system context, suitable review system (for said component) and so much more. To put it in the context of your question, most reviewers don’t have anything meaningful to say. Yes, maybe harsh but the way i read it.
I agree with you, Antelion 100%. In fact, I think it’s the only meaningful way is to read reviews as you describe.
Without reference points, hifi reviews are just dadaist poetry.
Heck, I admit that I read between the lines and between the bylines.
As said above, context is king.
Same is true when I read wine reviews: knowing the reviewer over time gives a better notion of someone’s ear/palate and how it relates to your own.
For may reviewers, I know when their name appears at the top of a review what gear they have liked, or not, in the past and I can approach and enjoy the review based on past experience.
For a new reviewer, in an effort to establish a ‘relationship’ to that person’s ear, I will more closely follow the recordings he or she mentions and describes to see how my experience of something familiar.
Regarding reviewers saying what they mean, it can be tough. I recall a relatively recent review or column about Klipsch Heresy speakers and one paragraph would laud the sound and the next would temper the accolades with rather grim adjectives…I wasn’t sure what the reviewer’s true opinion was…which is OK, perhaps “ambivalent” was saying what he meant! I never thought the review had any specific hidden context, if that’s what you meant by asking if they “mean what they say.”
Yes I often have to read between the lines to figure out if I would like a component. I don’t know if the reviewers have mixed feelings, or if they are trying to let the reader decide without undo influence of the reviewer opinion or they don’t want to upset the manufacturer.
I looked up a bunch of Heresy III reviews based on Anton’s comments above.
Art Dudley comes right out and says that he had mixed results with upper-frequency harshness a deal breaker.
Ideally, you have to read a reviewer’s work over time, see what they pick as “reference” gear, and also hear some of the equipment yourself, until you have a sense of how their tastes intersect with yours.
And I also tend to read for the superlative products, the ones that reviewers agree punch above their class in one way or another (KEF LS50, Chord Hugo2, Quad electrostatics, Benchmark DACs, AQ Dragonfly, etc). Reviewers may like a lot of things, but they tend to fall in love with a relative few.
Most readers will get a sense of the reviewer and get their taste likes and dislikes. I think then the reader will either follow that reviewer or not…. Well then you have the troll who would just rather disagree with everything the reviewer says just because.
If the reader follows a reviewer and reads a review those tastes will follow and be part of what the review is.
Do reviewers say what they mean? For the most part I think the good ones do. I don’t need to try and “read between the lines” of reviewers that I’m familiar with. I’ve read enough of their reviews to know what their likes and dislikes are. What I have to do is decide if what they have to say (positive or negative) about a product is something that I should consider seriously. As an example, I am currently looking at inexpensive bookshelf speakers and one of the contenders is Cambridge Audio’s Aeromax 2. I understand this is a polarizing speaker because of the BMR used in place of a conventional tweeter. However, I am one of those people that absolutely hates any high frequency harshness or sibilance. Reading reviews of this speaker, I take in account the reviewers likes/dislikes and their overall experience with reviewing loudspeakers. So when I read a glowing review from the likes of Doug Schneider of the Aeromax 2’s predecessor, and he states – “The Aero 2’s highs were decidedly different from anything else I’ve heard from lower-priced speakers: well extended and very clean, but ultimately a little soft” and “If you like spirited highs that are more in your face, a speaker like one of those three (KEF LS50, Focal Chorus 807, Paradigm Atom) will be your ticket; if you like a more relaxed sound, the Aero 2 will be the choice.” – I can easily decide from what he has to say, that these sound like speakers I may really like.
“Do you think you have to “Read between the lines” when reading a review? Or do you find that reviewers say what they mean?”
I think you have to especially if you’re unfamiliar with the reviewer. Most of the professional reviewers are wordsmiths often saying what they mean and direct. Others on the other hand you really need to read between the lines.
Example: I am trying like Hell to do that right now with a Stereophile review of the Nordost grounding gear, but for the life of me can’t put my finger on how the reviewer is actually using the gear and what he’s comparing it to.
If there are any people here who read that review: could you tell me what grounding system/method/approach he was using and is now comparing the new gear to? Is he comparing the Nordost grounds to no grounds and declaring victory for Nordost? Or is the Nordost better than his other grounding system?
If they post the review, I will ask them, as well.
Maybe that’s not so much reading between the lines as it it trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
@Anton after reading the review my take is that JVS was not using any grounding products prior to the QKore products.
It’s not so much that I find myself trying to read between the lines, but more that I’ve found there are certain publications or reviewers who either don’t provide the context needed to determine the validity of their claims or how well their preferences might align with your own, or who use flowery language that’s overly subjective or vague. With reviews like these I don’t bother to try and read between the lines, I simply ignore the review and try to find one that’s more thoughtfully written.