The Custom Installer: And the Winner Is ...

Given that this issue features S&V's awards for the finest gear reviewed in 2006, I thought it would be a good time to talk about how reviews are handled and products are selected for awards. I'm sure you think a reviewer's life is all sunshine and rainbows. You probably suppose we sit around waiting for the delivery truck to pull up with some fabulous new toys to play with and that we then spend hours watching movies and listening to music - while swilling top-shelf booze, of course - as we wait for something newer and fresher to arrive. Well ... it is kind of like that, but lest you think it's all play and no work, allow me to walk you through my evaluation process from start to finish.

1. Trade Shows The process begins at trade shows - primarily the Consumer Electronics Show in January and the CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association) Expo in September. These shows provide great opportunities to see what cool gear is coming down the pike and to monitor a product as it evolves before launch. They also let me meet key personnel - perfect for knowing who to contact when that super-technical question arises.

I also poll other attendees with my favorite trade-show question: "What's the coolest thing you've seen so far?" Often they've come across something I've missed, or their comments help confirm my feelings about something I've already seen.

When I've located the must-review pieces, I let the manufacturer know I'm interested in taking a look. (Of course, having Sound & Vision on your business card is like a universal "Open, Sesame!")

2. What the Company Says After the show, I follow up with the manufacturer to find out when the product will be available - not only to see how it fits into S&V's timeline, but also to make sure it's actually going into production. (So far, I've been thwarted by two pieces of vaporware - spending hours chasing phantom gear is no fun.)