Home Theater

How Bad Home Theater Products Get Good Reviews

You did your research. You searched out as many reviews as you could find. But when you got your new device home, you realized that you’d be duped. This wasn’t the promised transformative product and experience you’d been looking for! How did this bad home theater product get such good reviews? We’ve got some theories.

Marketing Firms Don’t Send Out Bad Products (In General)

I’ve been reviewing home theater products for a long time. Generally speaking, if I am sent a product from an ad or marketing firm, that product generally is pretty good. Marketing people know that most reviewers will point out a product’s flaws. If the product has a lot of flaws, they won’t send it out for review to professional reviewers.

This next part is conjecture. I believe that if they know a product isn’t great, they’ll do ad campaigns or send them out to normal people in exchange for Amazon or other online reviews. We’ll get into the reasons why they’d pick these types of reviewers in a moment. Marketing people aren’t stupid. They use the product and can quickly figure out how a professional review will go. Rather than risk a bad (or even mediocre) review, they’ll find other ways to promote the home theater (or other) product in a positive light.

Product manufacturers, on the other hand, have a zealot’s belief that their product is great. If I am contacted by them, I’m much more likely to get a product that has issues. Once I point these out in a review, I’m consistently told, “That’s never happened before.” Well, it did with me and it is going in the review.

Why a “Pro” Reviewer Might Give a Bad Home Theater Product a Good Review

If you spend any time on forums or Reddit, you’re likely to read someone casually claiming that reviewers are “paid” for good reviews. While I’m sure that has happened (and maybe still happens) from time to time, the reality is that it is mostly not the case. Do reviewers feel pressure to say something nice about a product even if they don’t really like it all that much? Sure. But so do you when someone shows you a picture of their newborn child and asks you if it is the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. No, it isn’t. It’s been sitting in a bag of water for the last nine months and was just pushed out of a human body. But you’ll tell them it is cute.

Of course, reviewers are people too. They have different levels of experience. A pro reviewer may be experiencing that particular type of product for the first time. Most likely, however, professional reviewers use what I like to call the “invisible asterisk.” They’ll say things like, “This product outperforms others many times its price point.” Sure, that’s true if you pick the absolutely worst product at that higher price point. I’ve personally been in demo rooms of $10k+ speakers (let alone the amps and cables) that sounded like straight garbage. I’ve heard soundbars that outperform those systems. Does that mean the soundbar is better than ALL $10k speakers? No. But I could say that it is better than some (or, in this case, one).

Speaking of price, reviewers are human. They have biases. There is a reason I don’t look up prices before I start a review. If you know the price of a product, it can affect how you think of its performance. Reviewers can also have preferences for specific brands, looks, types, and more. Those marketing people mentioned above? They figure that stuff out really quickly. If they know a reviewer likes bass-heavy headphones, you better believe they’ll send any of their products their way that have that sound profile.

Why Amateur Reviews Are Often Overly Positive

Finding glowing reviews on Amazon or other online sources isn’t hard. Nearly every product, even ones you know to be absolute garbage, has at least a couple of satisfied customers. The explanation is simple: When going from nothing to something, the something nearly always seems better. When you’ve been using your TV speakers, any soundbar or speaker solution, no matter how bad, will seem better in comparison.

This is why we wrote a whole article on how to read online reviews. Bad home theater products often get good reviews simply because people don’t have a frame of reference. Once they start upgrading, you’ll see that their tastes get more sophisticated and their opinions suddenly have more weight. This is why those online commenters often list their extensive gear in their signature lines. It gives their opinions more weight.

Of course, there is a psychological aspect to buying a product. By spending money on a product, you’ve invested part of yourself into that purchase. You are saying that you have determined that this product is worth the amount of work it took you to get that money. When you get that product, you are already inclined to like it. If you find that you don’t, you have to admit that you wasted your money and, more importantly, that you were wrong.

No one likes to admit they were wrong.

Take Away

Of course, my bias is for professional reviews over amateurs. Professionals generally have enough experience to break down the pros and cons more objectively than amateurs. Not every product out there has a body of professional reviews available. For those products, you need to be able to pick out the pieces of truth in those online amateur reviews. Yes, some bad home theater products get good reviews. But even in those “good” reviews, you can isolate the problems with those products.

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