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One of our close vote reasons has the following explanation:

Questions seeking recommendations for specific equipment are off-topic, because they are primarily opinion based. Instead, describe the required function and setting in which the equipment will be used, and ask what you should look for to achieve that.

For questions like "what's the best analogue synthesizer?", that wording seems to fit perfectly - recommendations in reply to that question are likely to be very opinion-based, and it's well-understood that there are other sites that are better-suited to that kind of thing.

However, now and again we get a question that is essentially saying "I want to do X", where not everyone would know what kind of device or piece of software would be needed to do that task. A recent example is Waveform stitch/synthesis tool. Quite often these questions do "describe the required function and setting in which the equipment will be used", and yet because what's being described is quite specific, some people seem to regard them as asking for "recommendations for specific equipment" - which in a sense they are, but not in the "what's the best analogue synthesizer?" sense of the word 'recommendation'.

Decision: Change policy for equipment questions pointed out some similar problems some years ago - there seems to be agreement there that the questions that need to be targeted are those that recommend e.g. brands in an opinion-based way, and that we need not target all questions that may reasonably involve an recommendation regarding equipment as part of the answer.

Edit: I agree with those who have pointed out that the example question I mentioned has issues with clarity - a couple more that I found with a quick scan are Types of tools to automate "tape-like" audio manipulation and Looking for an app that can record piano and visually represent what was played. Both of these are along similar lines - "I want to do this, but I don't know what I should be searching for". These questions may have their issues too, but for both of those I would question whether they seek "recommendations" in the sense that Decision: Change policy for equipment questions seemed to agree that "recommendations" is meant.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Richard Mod
    May 18 at 18:04
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As per the question, I agree we need to be clear that questions like "what's the best analogue synthesizer?" or "what's the best distortion pedal for metal?" aren't right for this site.

However, I don't think we should have a problem with

  • Questions that describe a specific problem and ask if a tool that could help with that problem exists
  • Questions where the answer might usefully mention a particular piece of equipment as an illustration of the kind of thing to look for

...and I don't think people asking those kind of question should need to worry unduly about wording their question perfectly so that it doesn't fall foul of some interpretation of the "recommendations for specific equipment" rule.

Along the same lines as Aaron's answer, I wonder if the relevant wording could be changed to something like this:

Questions seeking evaluations of specific brands/models of product are off-topic, because they are primarily opinion based. Instead, describe the required function and setting in which the equipment will be used, and ask what you should look for to achieve that.

...along with suitable updates to https://music.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic.


Edit: One of the issues with Waveform stitch/synthesis tool is that while it's phrased in terms of a search for a tool (based around the not-unreasonable assumption that there might be an audio equivalent to image-stitching tools), there may not actually be an obvious type of tool that can do this job as a single operation. In these cases, rephrasing to focus on the problem to be solved might be very helpful.

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I think this is more an issue of relaxing our close voting. The wording of the close reason helps set a clear boundary, and then voting can allow for grey-area questions.

That said, I really like the suggestion(s) in Decision: Change policy for equipment questions to add "brands/models" to the instructions. That really gets to the heart of the issue.

Questions seeking recommendations for specific equipment brands/models are off-topic, because they are primarily opinion based. Instead, describe the required function and setting in which the equipment will be used, and ask what you should look for to achieve that. [emphasis mine, just to show where the language could go]


UPDATE

Not only are we closing questions that could/should be left open, but we're embracing questions that clearly should be closed. Case in point,

Is there any plugin that provides a tracker-style UI in Logic Pro X?

Is an explicit request for software/resources and is answered with pointers to software/resources. This would seem cut and dried, either under the "recommendations" prohibition, or the "reference request" prohibition.

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  • I thought the same as you - that specifying brands and models in the close reason wording focuses it better. Because the word "recommendations" is quite broad, I might even try to avoid that too - something like Questions seeking evaluations of specific brands/models of equipment are off-topic...
    – topo morto
    May 4 at 8:51
  • I think this is then too narrow because users will almost never ask for model/brand in their original question thus it will lead to more confusion overall. The current close reason also has a little bit of leeway to allow for closure of software recs questions as equipment, but this will cut that out completely.
    – Dom Mod
    May 4 at 14:07
  • @Dom I don't think it would cut off closure of software recs any more so than the current wording. Software is rarely referred to as "equipment", yet it's clearly understood by the community that it's included in our definition; adding "brand/model" need not change that. "Model" can easily be interpreted to include the name of a piece of software, for example.
    – Aaron
    May 4 at 14:19
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    Instead of the word 'equipment', perhaps we could say 'product brands/models' to show that we want to apply the same logic to SW and HW products.
    – topo morto
    May 4 at 15:12
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    @topoReinstateMonica "Products" over "equipment" seems like an excellent improvement.
    – Aaron
    May 4 at 16:01
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I am not sure if the question Waveform stitch/synthesis tool is the best example, because it not only asks for a product recommendation rather for a solution of a problem, but also presents an interesting but also a bit weird problem, and the motivation of OP is unclear.

I have impression that new contributors often ask for specific product recommendations, because that's the most natural way to ask a question, while they could be satisfied with a general product recommendation (class of products), that would satisfy SE guidelines.

Maybe a solution is, if possible, to edit the questions more actively to make them fit SE guidelines? E.g. What is the best product for X? can be changed to What type of product solves allows to achieve Y? or What are presently available ways to achieve Y?

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  • I agree It's not the best example, just the most recent. I haven't so far voted to reopen it myself because it could do with some more details around what exactly the use case is. I agree that contributors often ask for specific product recommendations, because that's the most natural way to ask a question - and also that we could often massage these questions into our guidelines - but perhaps that also raises the question as why a website that is here to help people would want to force its users to ask questions in an unnatural way..?
    – topo morto
    May 4 at 22:54
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    @topoReinstateMonica Because it's natural to want to know if you should get Seymour Duncans or DiMarzios, but the answer would be extremely opinion based. What SE could perhaps improve is to better help new users to ask good questions. I don't see much discussion about it, I don't even know who might be in charge of this. May 4 at 23:47
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    Yes - when I open a new private tab and go to music.stackexchange.com/questions/ask, The main advice that comes up is 1. Summarize the problem 2. Provide details and any research 3. When appropriate, describe what you’ve tried. - which is all well and good, but doesn't really explain the details of our 'on-topic'.
    – topo morto
    May 5 at 20:23
  • BTW I've added a couple more examples.
    – topo morto
    May 10 at 21:56
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I suggest we could be less concerned with 'the letter of the law'. If a slight re-wording would make a question acceptable - while still eliciting the same responses - why not just let it go?

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  • Agree fully with this. If a question can be interpreted in a way that allows good answers, interpret it that way and give those good answers!
    – topo morto
    May 14 at 12:11

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