Atma Sphere deserves praise


In the last 6 months Atma Sphere released a revision to their MK III designation to MK III.1. It amounted to a small part change and I think the resulting cost was less than $500. In my system, and in other's judging by recent posts, it was a very worthwhile improvement. Not only was an upgrade path available, but the cost was very reasonable.

Do you think other manufacturers that release "new" product updates every 12-18 months, or worse new products because there is no upgrade path are simply offering design breakthroughs? Or is this just running a successful business?

I think they hurt their current customers by devaluing their "old" equipment on the used market, and causing them to scurry like ants for the latest new stuff.
mmike84
My reaction is mixed. A "small part change" to a tube circuit would seem to be something that a lot of us could do ourselves for a lot less expense and trouble than shipping equipment back to the factory. A hundred dollars invested in a decent soldering station pays for itself many times over. Tubes and analog are really not suitable as passive consumer items unless you live next door to the factory.
causing them to scurry like ants for the latest new stuff

I know folks like this,not just with audio but everything from TVs to cars to boats,etc.It's kind of comical and sad at the same time.
I agree. Which is one reason I own Atma-sphere and Merlin, and Joule. There is something to be said for 15-20 year old designs that were so well executed the first time, that it is not necessary to reinvent the product every 3 years with no upgrade possible. I don't mean to be cynical, but those wholesale changes seem to be the result of bad design, or driven by marketing decisions about obsolesence.
I am lucky to live next door to Shelbyville in the 612. Ralph and his crew of workers are about as good as it gets with service, quality of manufacture, and overall good dudes. I have upgraded my system with M-60 amps and P2 preamp and that will be my refrence for years to come. With carefull timing, I am hoping to be out for a short period of time when I send the P2 in for upgrades due to my close proximty and ability to bribe with food.
You might take note, Mr SJ, that when you send the unit back to Atma-sphere for the upgrade, once completed, the original factory warranty is reinstated.
Thanks Acresverde! I forgot to mention that!!

Samujohn- Most of us can't or don't want to pull that off. Maybe you're best suited for DIY but I'm not. The value of having it done inexpensively at the factory, while resetting the warranty is really something special. For that they deserve praise.
I suppose part of my lack of enthusiasm for shipping Atmas-phere products stems from helping a friend pack up his top of the line OTL's. Three people (and considerable beer) were required to set those monsters in their wooden coffins. I resolved on the spot to never own another piece of equipment that I could not pick up.
By comparison with that experience, learning how to solder was a piece of cake.
Seriously, it amazes me how many people accept all the inconvenience, chance of shipping damage, and costs associated with returning equipment, and then do without their systems for weeks rather than learn to do simple procedures.
Just one old fools opinion.
Samujohn: If it were only that simple. In that case no one would own speakers weighing more than, say, 80 lbs.
Thank you Mmike84. I've been absolutely blown away by the newer updates. I tried to write a review but it never seems to express just how good these products really sound. The new pre-amp should be at the top of anyones list looking for the "Best of the best". I haven't heard the newer amps but everyone that has feels the same as I do about the pre-amp. Ralph and his crew have hit a home run with the updates this time. Samujohn I can appreciate your resolution to never have to pack something you can't lift but you may be missing out on audio nirvana. Besides having your buddies over for the farewell is always fun. Anything that has to be shipped back is a pain in the butt . When you get a piece back from Atma-Sphere you can rest assured that they have done their best work and you will have years and years of trouble free service. There are some manufacturers of old that you would want to put goggles on and pray before you hit the power butten. In all the years I've owned Atma-Sphere products I've never sent anything back for repair but to upgrade. They're as stable as a rock. Now watch my pre die tonight! Anyway thanks for starting the thread. Atma-Sphere never seems to get the respect I think it desrves. Maybe the looks? They are like the "Smuckers" jelly of audio. "With looks that bad it has to be good".
Everybody's makes choices based on personal preference. The above referenced Atmas-phere OTL's sounded great, but I liked the ARC VT-100, and a pair the very light, solid state Bel 1001's just as well. I have a pair of 65 pound subs and some 80 pound electrostatic panels. Am I restricting my choices- you bet.
I like the looks, especially the amps, they look like they are going to sound good:)
well...so does Angelina Jolie, but since I'm not going to have either of them, it's kind of academic.
Atma Sphere deserves praise indeed. Making affordable upgrades to existing products available to owners says volumes about how a company views its customers.

Contrast Transparent Audio's brilliant marketing plan. They introduce a new cable upgrade, say MM1 to MM2 but price it the same as the previous model. That's great for new buyers of MM2 cables but it significantly depresses the resale value of the MM1 version. So if you happen to own MM1 cables and want to upgrade or change them, you have to either sell them at their reduced value or participate in Transparent's very costly upgrade program. Not so subtle coercion.

I will only purchase equipment from companies that try to enhance or sustain their product's value and not actively manipulate it to coerce another sale.
Khrys-

I agree except you need to stress the fact the MM1 wasn't worth it in the first place so what's the point in switching to MM2? $20,000 cables what a bunch of silliness.

AR is another one that doesn't seem too concerned about it's existing customers, unless they're willing to chase the newest revision. I can't even keep track they have so many versions and mk's.
Mmike84, I dod see what you are saying about ARC, and it can be quite annoying to own a MKii when a MKiii comes out, but when they can, they have provided an upgrade option (not always possible), but in spite of that, they do make good sounding equipment and have provided support for there products about as well as anyone. But I can see some skepticism can creep when thinking about the number and frequency of updates, espcially with amps and preamps where good design has been well know for a long time now. Digital is another story.
Do you think other manufacturers that release "new" product updates every 12-18 months, or worse new products because there is no upgrade path are simply offering design breakthroughs? Or is this just running a successful business?

There is something to be said for point-to-point wiring and the absence of printed circuit boards for ease of upgrade. Hand built components may have more upfront costs, especially if the manufacturer treats his employees proper. Designs that cannot be upgraded may deliver their cost savings up-front. Different manufacturers take different approaches, something perhaps better considered when you make a purchase than afterward.

Fwiw, I respectfully disagree with the above comment about AR (if that means Audio Research Corp..) To support customers of both new and used gear, they maintain a substantial tube catalog that goes well back in time. That doesn't sound like planned obsolescence to me.

The wheel of progress grinds fine and over time the chaff falls out. I want successful audio companies to stay in business and prefer manufacturers who actively seek to improve their products, whether by leaps or evolution. Without new models and upgrades, the high end is a dead end.  
 
The .1 update to the amp circuit was Ralph discovering some new topology that went against traditional thinking on the subject. He made quite sure that what he discovered was in fact a step forward before unleashing it on the world. The cost are quite reasonable for the sonic upgrade. The preamp has some new ideas as well that make it more transparent. *dealer/fan hype alert*
While the cost of the gear was never cheap, I thought it always represented a good value. With these latest updates, with the level it performs at, the gear has become an absolute bargain.
04-24-10: Pubul57
Mmike84, I do see what you are saying about ARC, and it can be quite annoying to own a MKii when a MKiii comes out, but when they can, they have provided an upgrade option (not always possible), but in spite of that, they do make good sounding equipment and have provided support for there products about as well as anyone. But I can see some skepticism can creep when thinking about the number and frequency of updates, espcially with amps and preamps where good design has been well know for a long time now. Digital is another story.
Pubul57 (System | Threads | Answers)

I whole heartedly agree about digital.

I'm also not questioning the quality of AR products and I don't mean to pick on them. I run a company so am sympathetic with their right to make a profit (which they seem to be doing very well).I don't know what a typical MK II to MK III upgrade costs but I'm willing to wager it's more than $500.

The argument the lack of upgrade paths is usually the result of build compromises to save $ upfront has some merit, except comparable AR products are not cheaper than Atma Sphere so it would seem the product savings up front are going to the manufacturer not the consumer.
I agree with Jtimothya that point-to-point does allow for a much easier upgrade policy, just much easier to make "alterations" to a basic design. I also agree that ARC certainly takes care of the owner of a unit that choose to keep - the annoyance is that audionervosa tends to set in with a perfectly good v.2 is no v3 and you can't follow the progress without selling your devalued unit to by the newer, "better" unit, which isn't in fact always better, but the itch is there to find out. Is it purposeful strategy to move new product, or the legitimate and natural march of "progress"? Hard to tell, but it is nice to know that if you want to take the step with Atma-sphere gear it is usually possible and affordable to have Ralph's latest thinking, even when the topology of the chassis changes. That being said, if you has a ARC LS5 and sent to ARC to replace capacitors and maybe some other passive parts you would still one of the best preamps ever made and ARC would be committed to keep it working as intended as long as you own it. So I do respect ARCs products and support, but prefer owning Atma-sphere gear because it allows me to stay with the evolution of the product - in part because the basic design was so good to start with and it is easy to keep an older unit as it gets sorted out with incremental improvements.
I have owned an MP-1 MK III which I purchased new. I have also owned used M-60 MK 2.3 amps, and recently bought used M-60 MK 3.1 amps. Regardless of whether I purchased the component used or new, Ralph has always provided exceptional support by either taking time on the phone or answering emails thoroughly and promptly.

This is the kind of service and care for customers that's rare and makes ownership of Atma-Sphere gear such a special and unique experience.. There are less than a handful of similar company owners with whom I have dealt in the past (Modwright, Pass Labs, Exemplar Audio, George Wright...r.i.p.)

One concern I have with such a hands-on owner is the succession plan. What does the future hold when, or if, the company ceases to exist, or the owner retires, etc.

Please understand this is a what-if question. Ralph and Atma-Sphere are going strong as far as I know, and I hope will continue for many, many years.
One concern I have with such a hands-on owner is the succession plan. What does the future hold when, or if, the company ceases to exist, or the owner retires, etc.

True, and sometimes unfortunate, yet our hobby is better for the likes of Mike Sanders, Ralph Karsten, George Wright and Paul Marks.

Is it purposeful strategy to move new product, or the legitimate and natural march of "progress"?

Yes. It is both and each is "legitimate and natural". The successful manufacturer is one who improves his product *and* stays in business. I appreciate the discussion and let's not forget about music.
 
I love real value. 'Planned obsolescence' never cut it with me.
Equipment which gets total support from the manuf is golden.
Jtimothya makes a good point about the need to stay in business, we do want out great designers to stay in business. It does seem to me that there are some pretty good examples of "successful" companies with stable products, with evolutionary and incremental changes, forthe most part with an upgrade path for owners. Ralph would be one, but also true of folks like Ken Stevens of CAT, Bobby P at Merlin, and some Richard fella making time and phase coherent speakers out in California. Their products today don't look much different than their products 10, 15 years ago, and if you bought them then you (for the most part) could upgrade to their latest thinking. Great designs don't have to be reinvented every 2-3 years to remain relavant or have a loyal following.
Roger Modjeski has a section on his site that talks about where the next generation of audio engineers are going to come from. He makes a pretty good point and is willing to be part of the solution (be forewarned - he doesn't suffer audiophools well). I am not interested in becoming an audio designer, but the education I've received from Jack Elliano and his friends in the last few weeks is priceless.

As for Ralph, anyone who grooves on Porcupine Tree is okay by me.
"As for Ralph, anyone who grooves on Porcupine Tree is okay by me."

Interesting you mention this group as I just saw them in Orlando this past Friday with very little familiarity with their music, a friend had an extra ticket.
Agree with Magfan. The level of personal service outlined in the above posts is certainly important but equally important IMO are mfrs that offer upgrades to existing equipment for cost of the work plus a modest fee (the key word being modest. Some upgrades I have seen offered to bring existing equipment up to present models are exhorbitant).

Mfrs. that offer reasonable upgrade paths may be able to retain some clients for life.

I'm not a spokesperson for Ayre, but when they charge $200 (incredibly reasonable, IMO) to bring a CD player to current status it only brings good will at the very least and perhaps future loyalty from their previous customers. Ultimately, it makes good business sense.

I have to add my voice in praise of AtmaSphere service. I recently got the upgrade to 3.1, definitely worthwhile, didn't take too long. Since the AtmaSpheres don't have heavy output transformers, they are lightweight - lighter than many solid state amps, so no 3 man crew required to pack and ship.