The Power of
by James Leahy
Thou Shall Not Be Told What Sounds Good... Proverbs 101
The economic world of the audio industry is
like the rest of the corporate hierarchy with each company having
their own dedicated advertising campaigns designed to sway the buyer
towards their latest and greatest offerings. But have you noticed
the audio companies that spend the most on their advertising
campaigns are usually the ones with the worst performing products?
One only has to look at some of the
most high profile audio companies such as Bose and Bang & Olufsen to
understand how through clever marketing and well orchestrated smoke
& mirror publicity campaigns the majority of the general public can
be fooled into believing the hype. This has led to these companies
becoming household names in every corner of the world. But not for
the reasons you might expect. Their products are designed and
manufactured to fit a niche market that puts aesthetics and elegance
above all else and where sonic performance can sadly take a back
seat. Let the buyer make no mistake and have no misconception as to
what they are buying into.
I get customers every week look
shocked like stunned mullets, and their jaws drop when I tell them
that the only people that buy these brands and many others like them
are doctor's, lawyer's and architect's that are trying to impress
people they don't even like and who know no better themselves. When
I ask these people why they think they are so great all of them say
because so and so has one or I just always thought they were. Never
are their arguments based on any form of sonic performance criteria.
Yes, we are talking about stereo equipment here not adornments or
works of art to be hung on one's walls but you wouldn't think so
are mealy status symbols rather then Hi Fidelity components in my
opinion and should be looked upon as such and little more. Yes they
might be expensive but this I assure you is to cover their much
bloated and over inflated advertising budgets which 'you' the consumer
ultimately end up paying for at the cash register.
If you were to go into most hi end audio
dealer's showrooms in any capital city of Australia and drop these
names you would be looked upon with sympathy at first then probably
humour. Some of the better hi-end companies such as VTL, Conrad-Johnson, VAC, Quicksilver,
ARC, McIntosh and Cary Audio
barely raise an eyebrow from people that only buy what they see
advertised in the local newspaper, on television in prime time or in
their local bulk store.
This is approximately 99% of the stereo buying population. These smaller but reputable companies prefer to let the quality of their products do the
talking instead of corporate spin doctors that distort the truth
more then is imaginable. Also their profits are more directly
channelled into R&D that result in better sounding products that
benefit their loyal customers.
Ironically, the brands I just mentioned inevitable
spend the least amount of their revenue on advertising and it should
come as no real surprise they consequently produce some of the best
sounding products compared to the others that spend the most on
advertising. Funny isn't it.... Their popularity among those in the know comes from the
best advertising of all, which is 'the word of mouth' but at the
same time this is only beneficial to the consumer if they know who to
listen to. That's the problem with free advise. It is worth exactly
what you paid for it. At the end of the day there should really only be one
person in the world who's opinion means anything and that is yours.
It is also wise to be wary of Forums, Web
Logs, Blogs and Chat Rooms. Unless you personally know the poster
it's best to ignore what you read. These are what I like to call the
trailer parks of the internet and are best ignored if you want to
learn about Hi-Fi. It's much better to get a book out of the
library. The only good reason to poke around these places is to look
for a fix to some immediate and specific problem that wouldn't be in
Not to sound too hoity-toity, but honestly the reason these are the
best source of bad information is because you can't know the quality
of the source of information. The worlds biggest idiot may have the
clearest and most pervasive writing style, and likewise people who
really know about Hi-Fi are probably spending their creative time
listening to it instead of chatting about it. Almost all of the
people who spend time contributing to these things are men, not
women, who are measurebators. They find pleasure in piddling with
equipment for its own sake, not in developing a better sounding
system. They prefer talking shop to actually listening. These folks
have what I call 'analysis paralysis' and never accomplish anything. It's their
hobby to spend time reading and talking about it, and their little
culture funnels them all into thinking alike. Sometimes their common
thoughts are correct, but since they operate in a vacuum they are
often completely off base.
These men often just have mud-slinging contests to show how much
smarter they are by calling the other guys idiots. They are
interested solely in equipment for its own sake. They will talk your
ear off for hours if you let them. You should ignore them unless you
really need to find an answer to some very narrow equipment issue.
Does hovering over an oscilloscope analysing test data have anything
to do with developing a fantastic sounding system? Of course not.
Even worse, time wasted concentrating on tests is time not spent
learning useful aspects about audio and certainly time that could
have been better spent actually listening.
I have said it before and I will say it again and again.... There is no short cut to doing the hard yards and getting clewed up
by listening to a lot of different systems rather then listening to
the loudest, flashest commercial that promises the world and in the
end delivers very little if you want to maximize your audio budget.
I hypothesize it is just easier and more socially
acceptable for the uneducated consumer that wants a better then
average sounding system to go for what is the most popular and well
recognized to which their friends will commend them on their
perceived 'good taste' rather then them try to have to explain and
justify a seemingly 'odd ball' purchase to any doubting Thomas.
Strange; but this is what many people are like.