Hype is not itself a negative. I can think of a number of great indie films and niche products that would have never have reached any 'mainstream' consumer if not for the hype generated among enthusiasts.
But the headphone related high-end market is just churning out so much gear these days. There are so many flagship amps/DACs/headphones being released, its like playing a game of Stratego with a bunch of bombs wearing general hats. Furthermore, the headphone market's high-end advances are often in the luxury direction more than objective performance gains. This is a trend that is much more pronounced in the speaker world but the headphone world is not too far behind.
Many people have been on this roller coaster so many times they are perpetually dizzy. The roller coaster takes a picture of them at the fastest point of the ride and its just a faceful of 'meh.' Add to this that people are more likely to trust negative reviews than positive ones and you have an issue: any positive review, however tempered, is more likely to be subjected to scrutiny (both the review itself and the motives of the reviewer.) The flipside is of course that once product X reaches a critical mass of fans, any criticism is deemed hate, at least until X V2 comes along when suddenly X did have some problems that were of course solved in V2.
So, how to separate manufactured 'hype' from enthusiast's enthusiasm, and mere enthusiasm from thoughtful critique?
1) Look at the poster's track record.
- Is everything they try the best thing since sliced bread?
- Do they only post positive reviews or negative as well?
- Are their 'negatives' along the lines of 'both X and Y are amazing, I will have to ask X and Y manufacturers for another product loan to settle the debate'? Or "it is so good at its job that it may be too (insert good thing)" - this is akin to going to a job interview and being that guy who says his only weakness is being too amazing.
- Does the poster participate in the general community (if reviews on forums) or do they use forums as a form of exposure for their reviews? (This helps me decide if they are a "climber" trying to get picked up by a review website or free items from manufacturers, they will pull all punches to get future gear.)
- Are they brand loyalists to a fault or are they willing to admit deficiency with at least some products in a companies line or some aspect of a given product, especially accounting for tastes that aren't their own
- Are they willing to take valid criticism of their work, methodology, writing style, or anything involving the review itself in good humor? Or is anyone questioning a review seen as an assailant of their person?
- What do they appeal to? Emotion (eg 'I felt stirrings inside myself that had long lain dormant while listening to Aqua's "Barbie Girl" with the X product.") Authority ("X authority, Y authority and myself can't be wrong.") Experience ("In my 47.3 years in the high end market, never have I heard a product such as this. Did I mention my 47.3 years in the market?" "I have had literally everything in my possession and this is the best. Did I mention I own all the things?" "In my years of experience touring with Jethro Tull as a sanitation engineer, I got a first hand look at music production and reproduction and X product is not faithful to the mix." "I am jaded about hifi so when I say something good you can't be jaded about what I say." etc) Community ("Me and the dudes are totally chill down to earth bros doing roundtable reviews and we organize meets and you should come to them and now I'm reviewing something that will be there and so maybe because we'll meet in person and you'll be part of this cutting edge gear commune you should agree with us.") FOMO ("If you haven't heard X with its new nano pico Y technology the gear you've enjoyed for the last 5 years is worthless and you might as well go back to the stone age with your dial up telegram gramaphones.") Nostalgia (" I remember being a dead-head and at floyd's Pink Moon tour and the sheer craziness of 70's vinyl and early high end companies and since you do too you should agree with me about X's new product. It encapsulates our youth when the music we listened to was still on the "new releases" shelves and popular culture was targeted towards our generation.") Science ("X product totally sciences in the most science-y way. Here are some charts and graphs and words you'd assume I'd made up if the internet didn't exist but now that it does you scan the wiki and argue with me about it as if you have a degree in it.") or a review untinged with any hook of any kind (no examples. People who write reviews want others to try this stuff too, so they are always appealing to something. Identify what it is, and whether you can filter it from the rest of the information being provided.)
- Have you tried products they have already reviewed? Were your experiences similar or were their treasures your trash? If you seem at loggerheads with them over other gear, maybe don't buy the newest stuff they are trumpeting without verification from others you trust/yourself first.
- Touched upon tangentially, but are their approbations unreserved or do they come with real caveats?
2) Look at the track record of the company
- Do they release something they tout as the best thing since sliced bread every year?
- Are their products generally liked by the public, reviewers, or both? (Think rottontomatoes vs imdb)
- Do they have a history of bullying tactics used against those who are less than complimentary about their products or are they graceful about dissent?
- Do they engage the public through social channels or do they take the monolithic approach? Are they reachable and do they respond to helpful critique? Do they make things they think you'll like or do they think you'll have to like it because they made it? Are they so PC in their responses you wonder why they call themselves "Apple"?
- Do they push technology forward (often in-house) or are they just slapping a brand name on a half-hearted approach into a market they don't have any particular specialty in?
- How many terms that they use are trademarked for marketing purposes? How many because they genuinely do something new and different?
- Do they plan for obsolescence or can you avoid FOMO with them for at least a few months?
- How is their QC and CS? A company often needs at least one of these two things to be very good to make up for the other.
- Do they appeal to performance ("THD so low it could headbutt an oompa loompa in its nether regions") luxury/exclusivity ("We bred an Ibex with a lemur and a silkworm and then exported them to the most exotic location possible so you could boast about your products' pads being composed of their byproduct to your friends at their secret hideout carved out of rock in a Mount Rushmore homage with their own faces in the place of the presidents") Discernment ("You don't always listen to headphones, but when you do they have to be adjusted for 10 minutes to fit your head. You're smarter than other mindless buyers, guy.") Convenience/Ease of Use ("For an on-the-go working mom who is on-the-go with kids and a career and also on-the-go, you need these headphones. Aren't tangled wires the worst?") Price/Performance ("These headphones beat out cantaloupes 10 times the price in linearity measurements and subjective listening pleasure. Don't overspend on fruit thinking they have the same functionality as our headphones again!") Xenophobia ("Don't buy Chinese and save money. All our products are made in the USA, much like drones and nuclear bombs. Don't you want to be able to precision bomb a hospital? And don't even get us started on France. We have so many jokes about their surrender in WWII that you will regret having engaged us in conversation.") And of course, consumerism as the cure for all diseases ("Do you suffer from crippling depression? Have you been diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, possibly by another of your personalities manifesting as a psychiatrist? Do you suffer from chronic insomnia to the point where you're not convinced if this commercial is a dream or real or real in a dream because dreams have taken on the same import as reality in your fragile, fractured mind? Do you stare wistfully outside, thinking how much better the world is out there only to realize you are staring in a mirror and you're blind and that it was a dream of one of your other depressed personalities because now we're coming full circle and just mashing all your problems together? Well, now you'll be happy if you buy this thing. No more messy pouring!") etc - again, every company appeals to something so figure out their angle and separate it from the product itself.
- Do they push the story too much? Or do they let the product and its performance speak for itself?
- When there are problems with products that get discussed publicly, do they act to rectify situations quickly and completely, and are they willing to admit fault?
3) Look at the medium of publication, whether print magazines or online. Are they willing to allow real criticism in reviews? Do they always seem to have good reviews for items with a full page ad that month? How much do they care about vendor relationships at the possibility of alienating subscribers with favoritism?
4) Look user base who likes a given product. Are they all kind of jerks? Because I don't want it to be me and a bunch of jerks liking something, no matter how good the product is.