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The Absolute Sound

From The Editor...
October / November 2004
By Robert Harley


The Industry That Shoot Itself In The Foot

  Few things about high-end audio distress me more than receiving a letter such as the one from Tom D'Amico, reprinted on page eight of this issue. Mr. D'Amico made the decision that high-performance music reproduction in his home was a worthwhile investment of time, money, and energy, and allocated $6500 to spend on a system. Sixty-five hundred dollars is a significant amount by any standard, and the figure probably represents the top one-tenth of one percent of what the general public spends on a two-channel music system. Yet when Mr. D'Amico went into his local high-end dealer, he was told that a $6500 budget was inadequate for a high quality stereo. Moreover, the salesperson suggested that a system of components TAS had assembled, auditioned as a whole, and reviewed favorably would not work well together.

It's natural for dealers to try to sell the brands they carry. But it's simply inexcusable for them to tell someone new to high-end audio that any reasonable budget for a stereo system is not enough. And $6500 is far more than reasonable. In fact, I'd argue that it's possible to assemble a musically communicative system for $1500 that would outperform any mass-market system costing twice as much. (For instance, how about the NAD C 320BBE integrated amp, Epos ELS3 loudspeakers, and a NAD C 541i CD player, wired with Kimber PBJ interconnects and 4TC cables, for under $1400?) Rather than make a new customer feel inadequate, the dealer should have congratulated Mr. D'Amico for recognizing that high-end equipment is fundamentally different than mass-market gear, and reinforced his view that music and the quality of its reproduction matter. From there, the dealer could have put together a nice system for Mr. D'Amico's $6500. Of course, the dealer could have also taken the opportunity to demonstrate the virtues of a $10,000 system, and given Mr. D'Amico the choice of sticking to his budget or deciding whether the additional money was a worthwhile investment.

I can relate to Mr. D'Amico's experience. Before I was in the industry, I bought a used AR turntable at a high-end dealership. While at the counter, the store's owner walked by and asked me what cartridge I owned. When I told him, he looked down his nose at me and said: "When you're ready for a good cartridge, come back and see us." What do you think that did to my excitement over the new turntable? Not surprisingly, I never set foot in that store again.

No matter what system Mr. D'Amico bought, there's little doubt that once he got it home and began enjoying his favorite music wonderfully reproduced night after night, he'd be back in the dealer's showroom asking about power conditioners, better cables, accessories, and product upgrades. As we all know too well, once you're bitten by the audio bug, there's no turning back. Everyone wins in this scenario: The dealer gets the sale, the industry adds another convert, manufacturers are kept in business, and most importantly, Mr. D'Amico makes the connection with his music that the high end is uniquely capable of providing.

But instead, Mr. D'Amico was sent away confused and disappointed, his enthusiasm sapped by greed, arrogance, and elitism. The high-end audio industry's great challenge is expanding its appeal beyond the already-committed to those who enjoy music and have the means to buy quality equipment -- people just like Mr. D'Amico. Alienating a budding audiophile because he had "only" $6500 to spend is a sure-fire way of preventing our industry from reaching the next generation of music lovers.




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