"The prices of various parts can add up fast, but that's true of any custom setup."
I must be severely misreading the price list.
Because the list I'm reading says Corsair charges $275 for EIGHT case fans, and $175 on 14 ordinary pipe fittings.
Each 3x pack of ML120 Pro fans is listed as a retail price of $99.99, and we needed to use two boxes to complete the dual radiator setup. This also included using the Commander Pro RGB and fan controller. So yes, that price is correct for what is shown.
If you have watercooled in your PC building lifetime, spending over $10 per fitting should come as no surprise to you. This has been common for many, many years. In fact, some fittings are closer to $15-$20 a piece, depending on specialty.
I must be misreading it, because there's no way something so severely overpriced should be getting any kind of official recommendation, least of all Editor's Choice.
The recommendation isn't due to 'price or value', it is due to the quality of components, the usefulness of the website to provide build information and the overall user-friendliness of the gear being reviewed. Also, this is the price premium of custom watercooling builds - I would expect the same price would exist if you chose EKWB, Alphacool, Swiftech and others to complete a similar build. My understanding is that you, yourself, are not one to build custom watercooling, but your outrage seems unwarranted.
I think far too often people only see components through one lens: "what is cheap, and what is the best for being cheap?" This doesn't apply to all PC hardware, especially when it comes to enthusiast products. If your budget doesn't afford a $1200 RTX 2080Ti or a $1700 32-core Threadripper CPU, you will likely then be looking at at 2060 or even a 1660Ti. The reality is, not everyone approaches hardware with these same views, so it would seem prudent to compare and evaluate them all as such - there is a very large market for people seeking information on these kinds of parts.
Or does just every high-margin product that sends Tom's free gear and an affiliate link get an editor's choice badge now?
Take a look at several of my previous cooling reviews involving 'big names' and 'high margin products', and you'll see that I rarely offer a 'Recommended' stamp on components that I cover. There is no benefit to me for rating a product higher than another, so I am curious what your basis is for the prior statement?