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gyraf

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This an all-too-long comment I posted over at /preamplifiers - https://groupdiy.com/index.php?topic=76490 as reply to a thread that went in the hifi direction. I have been thinking of asking you guys the question here, but that context made be write it, so I copy it here where more of you will probably see it

Asking here because as a group, you people are probably the only ones who's opinion I'd tend to trust on an extremely complex topic like this

gyraf said:
Yes hifi is different.

But hifi is not different from pro audio in the nature of it's technology.

The really important difference is how it is marketed - hifi is based on being "talked up", i.e. generating pre-disposed concepts about what you should perceive when you listen.

This, combined with the human auditory system being very sensitive to suggestion, creates the wide variety of impossibly priced yet technologically pathetic units in the hifi market. Impressive pricing being among the best motivators for wanting to hear certain suggested details, it goes without saying that you'll soon have an inverse way of setting prices.

The thing that makes this so complicated to discuss is that the effect is not a vague "wanna-believe" placebo - but originating in the so sensitive auditory system it is often taking the form of near-hallucinations. The mechanics depends on the elaborate "fill out missing information" in auditory system. Think of the intrinsic auditory suggestibility as closer related to hypnosis than to persuasion - and the guy claiming to be able to easily hear the difference between standard and expensive speaker cables does not lie to you - or even to himself (!) - and the discussion naturally gets emotional and heated if it involves someone questioning the validity of your perception. There has been fMRi studies that show traces of "real" perception at brain neuronal level correlating with believed stimuli (I think it was "direction" of cables), but, alas, not correlating with reality.

This is also the mechanism you experience when you do that complex mix with the whole band sitting there suggesting and stressing you - once in a while you grab the EQ and turn it until it does what you want, then move on with the mix. Only later to discover that the "in"-button wasn't pressed... you'd have sworn that it reacted like it should..  This is, in essence, the stuff that hifi is built of.

And then there's the whole taxonomy of the hifi community - that (when you look closely) does not seem to be about classifying and conveying information, but rather about building consensus to support suggested perceptions. Not too dissimilar from astrology actually

All this brings me to a question I've been meaning to ask in this group for a while:

"How do you perceive the ethics of selling hifi-type gear? Can it be done right? How?"

Looking at the market, I see that there is probably consumer room for e.g. my linear tilting way of doing tone controls - but at the same time I fear being sucked into dishonesty when describing such a unit in terms that resonate with the right audience.

A friend of mine (who shall remain unnamed) that runs both a pro-audio and a hifi brand tells me about how he always worries about doing exhibitions on the hifi shows - because there will be people coming up constantly, almost literally, begging him to come up with complex lies about his (very decent) products, never, ever, being satisfied with the simple truth. Says it's a relief to be attending pro audio shows in contrast. Unfortunately, he says, the hifi brings in so much more money than the pro audio that he literally feels caught in there, and end up supporting the paradigme..

Let's not make a flame war out of this but:

Your thoughts?

/Jakob E.
 

Tubetec

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I worked selling Hifi for a few years back in the early 2000's , the company involved in running the Irish franchise folded its operation but the parent company is still a big player in the UK today. No coincidence the products with the best mark up paid the best commissions and were also manufactured by a subsidiary of the retail company. Thats not to say the stuff was all bad but generally the more you paid the worse value you got , the more bullsh!t and lies the sales person was telling you and the higher the % comission they got . The long and short of it was the biggest bullsh!t artist won top prize of the Cadliac Eldorado , second place got a set of steak knives , third place your fired!  :D

I guess in the end I had maybe more technical knowledge than I needed in that job and too much integrity to to be swayed by the lure of a few extra pieces of silver to mislead the customer. Funny thing is lately the MD of that particular company in the UK did a bit of a Bill Gates style 'give it all away' type thing , and gave his staff a £1000stg  bonus per year of service , not sure if it applies to ex staff members maybe I should check into that  :)



 

evil grill

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Used to work with video and audio but never HiFi. Most customers had focus on the visual experience and it was a all work to pay bills for me.
So I one time installed these very heavy B&W speakers in an apartement. The customer was not at home but his wife was so I asked her if I could pick a CD to check function and she said yes. I picked School Days with Stanley Clarke since I know that album and thought it would be nice. I have never before enjoyed listening to that album in that way. All my listening experiences so far had been studio monitors or my own budget consumer grade "HiFi". I had no idea about the price or quality when I was installing the speakers so my expectations were neutral. My mind was blown by the sound.
After that I checked what they cost and it was not for my wallet. This changed my view on HiFi and I have since then invested in some old but very nice Focal speakers that I found for a decent price but I would'nt mind B&W if I could afford them.

Expensive equipment can be good equipment. 

But on the other hand I have also installed "pre charged" or "polarized" speaker cable (a battery was connected to it!!!). I did not sell the stuff, was just hired to do the job. Luckily no one asked for my opinion on those cables. 
 

Tubetec

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My experience of speaker cables is the bigger the cross section of the copper the better, Ive used cooker gauge wire on a few ocassions , I found I could twist the strands at either end so it fitted snugly into 4mm sockets ,saves on banana plugs too.

The placebo effect Jakob mentions I think isnt just confined to hifi , I remember heading off on a hill walk in a very scenic area, it was winter so I brought a hip flash of what was a very ordinary Irish whiskey , the fresh mountain air , the effort it took to get up there and the spectacular view definately changed my perception of the quality of the product. I think there are ways we can improve the customer experience without nessesairily being dishonest or making up fairy stories. I think you already have a lot of that 'feel good' factor built into your products Jakob. 
 

Dualflip

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The main difference between hi-fi and pro audio is the amount of BS. Whilst there is a lot of BS in the proaudio world, its nothing compared to the hi-fi world.

The battle is between the objectivists VS the subjectivists, on one hand you have those that claim that you can assess the quality of a hi-fi amp by a series of measurements, and on the other you have those that claim that it doesn't matter how it measures, what's important is how it sounds, these people are the ones who say the can hear a difference between directional and conventional cables.

That is the problem with subjectivity, you really can't prove it wrong, if a person says he likes it, how can you prove otherwise? That is why you have people like the famous Nelson Pass who can make a 1 transistor amplifier that measures terribly but sounds great acording to him, or you can have someone like Douglas Self who preaches upon measurements above all and strives towards getting the lowest distortion possible.

Which is why you can market a crappy amplifier as "Great Sounding", "Resolving", "Forward Sounding" and a bunch of other meaningless terms.

To me, the only convincing way to treat hi-fi selling is by backing it up with cold hard measurements, if you are going to go the objective way, make sure you add measurements of THD, IMD and so on, and if you are going to go the subjective way, explain the testing conditions, show the public that the subjective opinions were based on a double blind test, and not just on marketing hype that most of the time you don't know if its even true or not.
 

JohnRoberts

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This is a pretty old subject, I have been writing about it since the 80s.

The two schools of thought were (are?) called "Meter readers" (objective), and "Golden ears" (subjective).

I started out making Hifi audio kits but automation and offshore manufacturing (Japan back then) squashed that business model. By the mid-80s I escaped from the consumer hifi market because it was decidedly non-linear. I found little or no correlation between objective audio path performance and sales success.

I escaped to the live sound market (performance and sound reinforcement). I joked that you can hypnotize a hand full of true believers in a small listening room with a good sales spiel, but you can't BS an auditorium full of concert goers that the sound system doesn't suck.  8) 

FWIW Peavey had about the least respected badge, until Behringer came along to take that honor. I found designing value products for the live market as a far more objective exercise than esoteric hifi ever was, while there was still lots of perceptual bias to overcome.

It is tempting to blame the snake oil merchants for their dishonorable activity, but they would not enjoy success without  customers that all but demand magical thinking. Sadly this human willingness to embrace magical thinking extends into far more areas than just hifi.

Even back in the 80s I was not above using gold plated RCA jacks on my last phono preamp kit. Not because I expected any path performance improvement, but because customers would.  8)

JR
 

Ricardus

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Interesting question. Can you be considered an ethical person if you sell snake oil. Of course this could be applied to so many areas (used cars, the stock market), etc...

I pay very little attention to "audiophile" channels on youtube. I mostly follow the really good tech guys like Mr. Carlson, but I do enjoy one home hifi channel called Audioholics, because the founder is an electrical engineer who calls BS when he sees it.
 

JohnRoberts

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Ricardus said:
Interesting question. Can you be considered an ethical person if you sell snake oil. Of course this could be applied to so many areas (used cars, the stock market), etc...
IMO no... but it is a personal decision. There is a large difference between illegal and unethical.

A more subtle question applies to marketing professionals. As I suggested customers all but demand FAB (features, advantages, and benefits) to assist them when making purchase decisions. When merchandising otherwise very similar skus there is a huge temptation to deal in hyperbole to create a perceived difference when the actual difference is minimal.

When I was writing ad copy last century I would sometimes blind them with science declaring a preamp was within a couple dB of perfectly noiseless. This could be literally true but not well understood by the non technical customers. Another time when I was marketing old technology power amplifiers with heavy transformers and heat sinks, I advertised that "heaviness" as a feature....  8)
I pay very little attention to "audiophile" channels on youtube. I mostly follow the really good tech guys like Mr. Carlson, but I do enjoy one home hifi channel called Audioholics, because the founder is an electrical engineer who calls BS when he sees it.
Easy to do, there is so much... but who calls BS on him? This is classic marketing to declare that everybody else is lying to you. I have one old friend working for a speaker company that sings that song so often I tease him by calling him the only honest man in the speaker industry (he isn't, but doth protest too much).

JR
 

bluebird

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The marketing and crafting of a product go hand and hand as an art form. Selling HiFi doesn't have to be unethical at all. If your making a good product your proud of, it doesn't really matter how you market it. Creative marketing is part of it. You want to be more poetic when describing the product, and you should have fun crafting such a description. And in your case, you don't have to describe "snake oil". Just describe what is there, with a little more color.

Your an honest dude at heart, and that's all that matters. You will have confidence in what you are making so there will be no "snake oil" to sell!


I think intent is the most important factor here. If your intent is to provide a great product, that you think sounds great and is made with high quality parts, it doesn't matter how you describe it or how much you sell it for. The market will take care of all that.

If your intent is to try to make as much money as possible selling a crappy piece of gear dressed up to look fancy... and sold for way more than its worth, then ethically I would have a problem with that. But that's not what your going to do.

And plus, its just audio, your not selling cars or houses. People will survive hifi snake oil salesmen. And they will definitely survive a great product from you, even if the price is a little higher than the pro audio stuff. Its ok.

IMHO of course!
 

pucho812

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I’ve always divided the hi-fi market into two main groups. Those that measure and can prove it, those that don’t and push it based feelings, like better. The second of the two may throw in some big buzz words or use some theoretical science of how the atoms move and what it does.

In the first group of the two, I would put companies like b&w speakers, audio research, and McIntosh. They measure and can show you. Their stuff can actually improve the listening experience.

In the second of the two groups I would put companies like machina dynamica, companies selling diamond plate wall outlet covers, and cable lifts.  They can’t prove their stuff works but they sell folks on it based on subjective stuff that you get convinced into buying.

Hifi can be a dirty word in some circles but often times it’s the second group that gives a bad rap for the first group combined with cost?
 

john12ax7

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What pucho is saying makes a lot of sense to me.  There are legit companies and there are snake oil.  I'm not familiar enough with the hifi market to say what percentage is which. But I have been rather impressed whenever hearing B&W.

Overall I don't think taking an extreme stance on objective vs subjective makes sense.  As there is not a universal metric for good sound,  some prefer clean,  some prefer a little low order distortion.  So is lower THD necessarily better? Plus something like raw THD numbers say nothing of the distribution of the distortion,  which can have a drastic effect on audible perception.

I see plenty of abuses in pro audio  as well from companies purporting to be on the objective side of things. Manipulated numbers,  flawed "blind" tests designed to achieve a certain result.  I suppose the one correlation across industries is the greater the margins the greater the probability of snake oil.
 

Ricardus

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JohnRoberts said:
Easy to do, there is so much... but who calls BS on him? This is classic marketing to declare that everybody else is lying to you. I have one old friend working for a speaker company that sings that song so often I tease him by calling him the only honest man in the speaker industry (he isn't, but doth protest too much).

He's a measurement guy, so anyone who wants to can call BS on him, and people do, including me.

He listens.
 

pucho812

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john12ax7 said:
I see plenty of abuses in pro audio  as well from companies purporting to be on the objective side of things. Manipulated numbers,  flawed "blind" tests designed to achieve a certain result.  I suppose the one correlation across industries is the greater the margins the greater the probability of snake oil.

“What if I told you” ( in my best slate voice).

Having worked as the head of technical service  for two audio manufacturing companies in the past.  You are not kidding. At one place we would buy stuff just to measure the competition. Some of the claims made are too good to be true. But then again who really reads data sheets or tech specs anymore when it has more buttons.
 

ruffrecords

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pucho812 said:
“What if I told you” ( in my best slate voice).

Having worked as the head of technical service  for two audio manufacturing companies in the past.  You are not kidding. At one place we would buy stuff just to measure the competition. Some of the claims made are too good to be true. But then again who really reads data sheets or tech specs anymore when it has more buttons.

I believe you. Look at the analogue specs for almost any 'interface' - virtually non existent.

Cheers

Ian
 

emrr

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Off the top of my head, McIntosh would seem to be a 'quality' hifi operation.  I don't hear audiophiles assign magical terms nearly so much there. 

Then there's Manley, who do both. 
 

JohnRoberts

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For a while at Peavey I managed all the other product managers, the one product catagory that was most rife with bending the truth was loudspeaker power handling.

Of course we measured the competition's products and knew when they were lying, my speaker guy begged me to let him specify our drivers and speakers the same way the competition did.... I never let him cheat even though his competitors did.
===
One time we had a a competitor go so far as to run a magazine ad comparing their rack mount EQ to several other brands including one of ours. Their ad was not accurate (ours was not nosier than theirs like they claimed) and our lawyer let them know that was not acceptable.  :mad:

The ad was never placed again, but I am sure that the hundreds of thousands who saw that ad saying that their performance was better than Peavey's, believed it.  ::)

JR

PS: Another anecdote about product specs, at the height of Uli's product design borrowing phase, he knocked off one of my novel small mixers. He didn't even have a prototype in time to bench test his own version for his new product trade show literature so he literally copied my published product specs word for word.  ::) I know because they were exactly the same, every single digit, and that wouldn't happen otherwise. If I was going to copy somebody else's spec sheet I'd at least try to mix it up a little.

When I write product specs I would add a little extra safety margin here and there so my production units if tested would always meet spec, I rounded up some numbers, some down. The odds against him getting the exact same numbers from bench testing his actual unit are astronomical. I probably wouldn't get the exact same numbers myself specifying my own unit twice because of how I added some modest safety margins to the actual bench measurements. If anything I fudged my numbers worse, so I could always meet spec.  :eek:
 

abbey road d enfer

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I started my professional life in '73, with a HiFi manufacturer. We met our competitors at trade shows. Most of the manufacturers then were honest, decent and friendly. Most had no real mktg department. The boss himself was the rep.
We talked to the shop owners and their sales guys. They were all fat bastards with not a pinch of technical knowledge, so they were the ones asking for beautiful lies from the horse's mouth. It is them that I point the finger at as responsible for this deplorable situation.
Of course, manufacturers have taken this into account and now their own mktg department and sales guys have become BS experts.
I reckon analog HiFi reached a high in the late 80's-early 90's; the receipes are proven and there's not much room for improvement, so newcomers have to invent magic, either with odd technologies (PIO, p-to-p, no NFB, minimalism, pure gold chassis) or plain lies (directional cables, space conditioners).
 

Dualflip

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abbey road d enfer said:
... so newcomers have to invent magic, either with odd technologies (PIO, p-to-p, no NFB, minimalism, pure gold chassis) or plain lies (directional cables, space conditioners).

Ohh man you touched such a sensitive topic, no NFB is so controversial amongst the hi-fi circles, some people are proud of their amp lacking NFB. First of all, they claim there is no NFB in their amp when in fact they should be claiming there is no GLOBAL NFB, just add a resistor to the emiter of a transistor or the cathode of a tube and there you have NFB. So if they are already using NFB (perhaps without them knowing) why should global NFB be a bad thing? There are a lot of theories, none of them convince me. Every time I hear the claim "No NFB" I see a red flag, the same amps with no NFB are the ones who measure less than stellar but somehow the manufacturers claim they sound great.

Not sure what the acronym PIO is, p-to-p is point to point construction?
 

rob_gould

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This is an interesting thread. It's a great example of one of the reasons I live this place.

I haven't heard loads of really high end hifi - I've certainly never had the funds for it myself.

However, in a previous job I had a colleague who went for the real audiophile stuff - components costing 10-20k, directional cables, 800€ USB cables etc etc. He actually writes reviews of this stuff on what I believe is a well regarded blog, in those circles.

Anyway, I went to his house to listen to his set up, and it's without any doubt the best sounding hifi I've ever heard. Huge electrostatic speakers, massive monobloc amps etc etc. I was absolutely floored by the sound.

As I say, I don't have a particularly high bar for comparison, but I came away much more impressed than I expected.

So, if the question is whether the high end stuff is worth the money, well no - of course not. But I feel sometimes like these conversations suggest that the high end stuff doesn't actually sound that good. My (limited) experience tells me that this isn't the case either - it sounded great.
 
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