What Makes a Five Star Product?

Working through the pleasant task of reviewing yet more technology gear and trying to figure out the rating of each review unit, I started pondering what makes a product worthy of a five star rating?

The Witchdoctor ratings system states that a five star product is “As great as it ever gets! A massively competent and complete performance. Happiness embodied etc.” Based on that, you won’t see too many five star ratings on this site and you shouldn’t because five stars should be a tough rating to achieve.

In my younger years, I briefly entertained the notion that five stars translated into flawless but that idea didn’t last long because there are no perfect products out there, especially in the world of hi-fi. Some of the best audio products have quirks, eccentricities, less than ideal build quality or even genuinely silly design touches but they transcend any limitations by sounding brilliant. The same goes for cameras, TVs, gadgets etc. – some will perform at a level far beyond the competition, others simply won’t and that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Price obviously comes into the equation as well. A $1,000 all-in-one music centre will be judged on very different criteria to a $10,000 integrated amplifier and while the former may rate five stars in its class, the latter may get a caning from its competition and only be awarded three stars. Does the all-in-one sound better? One would hope not! Some products are outrageously expensive and they’ll still rate five stars but they had better rock the world to earn that rating.

The final definition of what makes a product worthy of five stars is that it’s a product that I would like to own. One that I could happily slot into regular use and not get too bothered by any limitations while reveling in the overall performance, the experience and the pride of ownership.

Some examples – my Viganoni and Viganoni Sachem monoblock power amps. The three box/three power cable layout is a bit of a pain to deal with despite the compact cases. The Neutrik connectors limit the cables I can use with the amps and the unbalanced RCA inputs mean that I can’t take advantage of balanced preamplifiers. Eccentric? Absolutely but the sound from the amps makes me forget all the limitations every time I hear them. Five stars for sure.

The Ultimate Ears 10Pro in-ear custom monitors are another excellent example – horribly expensive, not easy to insert in the ears but extravagantly good to listen to. Five stars regardless of any issues.

Canon’s G11 compact camera is too big to be pocketed and suffers from a smidgen of barrel distortion at the wide end but it’s the best compact camera I’ve ever used by a substantial margin. Five stars? You bet.

I’m working on a five star review at the moment. The products are quirky but there’s no doubt about that rating….watch this space.

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