I have been viewing some of Steve Guttenberg’s (The Audiophiliac) videos lately and in my opinion it is hard to tell where he is going sometimes. Sometimes he makes good sense and other times he sounds a bit confused to me. This is certainly not a dump on the guy. I am only pointing out a logical flaw in the episode I saw. The whole question and his follow up got me thinking about it.
Case in point: In one of his most recent videos he posits the question, “Consumer feedback to manufactures, is it a good idea”? His bottom line answer is “No”. He backs that by saying that every time a high-end audio manufacture listens to consumers who say something like “I really like your gear, but it is very expensive, and I wish you could make something more affordable so that the rest of us could possibly own it.” So he claims that some of these manufactures will do just that by perhaps putting it in a plain chassis or what have you and then nobody wants it, including the requester. He then cites some companies who make the very expensive gear claiming that by making less expensive gear it hurts their sales because nobody is interested so they say that their most expensive items are their best sellers. For example he says that Astell & Kern makers of personal audio players starting at around $2000 (that is a $2000 MP3 player folks) claim that they tried making a more affordable player once, but it would not sell because everyone wanted their top shelf player at around $3000. I don’t care what economy you live in, that is an absurd statement just on the face of it to begin with.
Most folks (including yours truly), can not afford high-end audio and much of the time it is just plain not needed for great sound and enjoyment of music in my opinion, but that is the part most reviewers don’t tell you, at least with any sincerity. Let us suppose for the sake of argument, that what Mr. Guttenberg posits is universal truth. How then does he explain manufactures that offer both very expensive and more affordable gear who do well either in both worlds or even better in the more affordable realm? For example, how does he explain Andrew Jones and Elac? How does he explain the huge buzz the Elac Debut series speakers created even among the expensive makes when they came out in 2015 for example? Other examples of success at affordable gear are Schiit Audio (who he claims to love), Pro-Ject, Acoustic Alchemy (now part of Elac), etc.
The point is that you do not hear those companies and more complaining because they have more customers. Some of those customers might upgrade later, some won’t, but there will always be additions to the customer base. Much of the very expensive high-end audio gear is at least 50% bling. In other words, fancy badges, jewelry, etc. all to give bragging rights to the owners of such gear, but inside, things are not much different. Most of the cost in such expensive gear is in cosmetics. The important thing is performance and no amount of jewelry or badge work is going to have any impact on that.
Mr. Guttenberg posits that when the consumers who ask the manufactures to make something more affordable, then when they get what they want, they do not like it because it is in a plain box or something and does not look like it came from said manufacture. This is not reality. The item will ALWAYS have the brand badge on it someplace because the maker wants folks to know who they are, that is marketing 101. Secondly, the majority of those consumers who asked for “the more affordable” version will be happy with it regardless of how it looks if they know they are asking for performance and not jewelry. Those who ask for something affordable that looks just like the most dazzling unit should not be asking in my opinion. It doesn’t work that way. The ones who would not be happy are audiophiles and those who place more value in dazzling looks than anything else, but the majority of them are also not the ones who ask in the first place.
Then there is the other side of the same coin, customer service and support. Good, heck, even just decent customer service is very rare in this day and age. The successful companies whether selling $30k amps or $1500 amps have good customer support. Sadly, this is not a guarantee commensurate with how much a product costs. In other words, the more you pay for a product does not guarantee you will get good support should you require it. Some return policies for example are not as good as others. Some manufactures do not keep parts on hand for previous units should repair be required and they certainly will not send out their newest unit as a straight replacement. The point is that good or even decent customer service should not cost extra. It is the backbone to success. I admit that perhaps some of the blame lies with the consumer, I mean how often do we hear about good customer service experiences compared to the perpetual axe grinding we hear about? Answer: not often. People only like to talk about the bad and not enough about the good. However, that is really only a side note. While the consumer really has no right to ask for hand-holding from the manufacture the whole time, it doesn’t need to be that way. Good service should be universal. (Granted, if you are paying say, $30,000 for an amp there better be white gloves, trumpets when it arrives, national holidays declared, etc. if you get my meaning).
The question should really be something like, “Would you pay $3000 for an MP3 player”? Or “Would you rather pay $35,000 for an amplifier with shiny jewels and big badges or $3000 to $5000 for the same thing with a smaller badge and without the bling”? It really boils down to this: Do you want something affordable that performs well for you needs or do you want something financially unattainable with the same good performance for needs? One can not have their cake and eat it too, but one can have what one needs and it can be their favorite flavor. That is how it is in engineering audio gear in the first place. Something has to trade out for something else to get the desired performance of what the product is meant to do. Like with speakers for example: In order for Andrew to get the astonishing bass performance out of the $230 book shelf Debuts and keep them reasonable ($230 is more than reasonable in my opinion), he had to not spend as much money on fancy paint jobs and exotic woods or shapes for the cabinets and instead focused the money on the drivers and crossover. He also had to sacrifice a tiny bit of efficiency, but not enough to be a problem in order to improve bass performance. The same thing happens in all audio gear design, you simply can’t have everything.
So yes, we have every right to ask manufactures to make things a bit more affordable if willing and if we know what we are asking. It is the manufactures job to listen to the customer. If you do not provide what the customer needs they will go someplace else.