Google is my number one go to for research. I’m not shy about reviews from people or sites I’ve never heard of. I’ll read every single article and post I can find on a piece of equipment I’m interested in.
I look for commonality in reviews rather than if it is good review or bad review. I focus on the common threads from reviewer to reviewer rather than a rave review. I also like to read the forums & message boards in search of information. The average Joe Audiophile can provide lots of help in their descriptions, either backing up comments from others or challenging other people’s view.
Hopefully you know what attribute you’re missing and trying to improve. You can search for that by reading many reviews, posts, etc to find the piece of equipment that is highlighted in that area by more than a couple of people.
Because this hobby is expensive I’ll also do my homework on the manufacturers. Here you’ll get more varied opinions and lots of personal experiences with a company. I aim for companies that are willing to make their people visible and available to the consumer. I’d always lean towards an audio company that are staffed by passionate people who are out there backing their products rather than a company of anonymous people. It’s also very important to me that people have good experiences with the service department. It’s especially good when you find quotes regarding dealing with specific names in a company’s service department (e.g. “I got John on the phone and he walked me through…”) and those people despite their problems still had positive experiences.
Going back to my earlier posts about missing hanging out in the audio boutique shops, one thing that is far better today than those days is the available information. As much as I miss sitting for hours with my favorite shop owners, they did have nothing but high praise for their stuff and would give you reasons why it was better than the equipment they didn’t sell. Today you can get a far broader set of opinions and more information than you did back then. So there are pluses today that we didn’t have back then.