Ethics: To what degree?

I am in a difficult position. As a member of the Agon community I’ve read threads that have dealt with the problems other members have had with various manufacturers, distributors or dealers. From a safe distance it’s always been easier to empathize with any of the parties involved, until some new information tips the balance in one direction or another. Sometimes other Agon’ers side with different parties in the dispute, making for entertaining and enlightening dialogue.

As someone who has close friends in the high end business, and as someone who has a deep emotional investment in the hobby, I can say I understand very well the pitfalls faced by anyone who struggles to make a living by manufacturing, marketing or selling luxury devices that are, arguably, not intrinsic to daily life. And it’s important to separate the user side from the seller side, because expectations are rarely synchronous. Moreover, we’re all human beings with different sets of values, mores and ethics – what some deem as inexcusable, others might consider not only acceptable, but expectable.

So what’s my problem? That is whether to bring to this forum my recent experiences with a well-known high-end manufacturer, whose products are almost universally admired or loved. I won’t yet mention the name of the manufacturer because events are still playing out…and yet this is one of the points that I wish to address here with the hopes that the community will help me determine what I should do.

I have loved this product. It has been an integral part of my system – a system that is of extreme importance to me since I use it in my professional work. I purchased the product with some concern because the local dealer had just brought the product in and wasn’t really familiar with it. I was, to my knowledge, his first customer of this product. The unit was actually employed – with my permission – as an audition unit before I took possession. I received a 10% discount – the smallest discount I have ever received, which is interesting since I have received very favorable pricing accommodation from high-end dealers elsewhere around the country – which should indicate the level of my interest. Within weeks of my purchase the unit had to travel to the Midwest, to the factory authorized tech, for a repair under warranty. After its return the unit functioned without flaw until about seven weeks ago when it failed. The failure was mechanical and the warranty has expired. The US distributor and I are at an impasse over the use of replacement parts, not to mention costs of repair versus replacement. Since the company insists on replacement, at a very high cost, the money I would make from a subsequent sale will be considerably less. I will leave the story there, until I hear from other members who feel any definitive information should be included in this thread. I will note that two very high-profile members of the high-end community were shocked when I told them what was occurring and one, whose name you all know well (but who would like to remain above the fray for obvious reasons), just told me to cut my losses and move on. I tend to agree with him.

My quandary is this: the US distributor knows that I intend to sell this product so he is banking on my keeping quiet about my distress - at least until after I sell it. Ethically, I don’t believe I can keep quiet about this situation; as a member of the community I feel compelled to disclose my experience not just to a potential buyer of my component but also to anyone who might consider purchasing one of this company’s products. Frankly, the issue for me is the complete lack of empathy from the distributor and the complete unwillingness to find a compromise; and as one whose business stems completely from references, I find this behavior to be an anathema.

How, and where do other members stand on this situation? Is there value in detailing this interaction, even at the potential cost to my wallet?
It sounds more like a question of economics than ethics. If you sell a unit that has had repairs, you should be very forthright in describing that to any potential buyer. If a broken unit was replaced with new unit, and that new unit has not suffered any working issues, I wouldn't think you'd be obligated to detail any issues you had with a different unit of the same type.

I think there is always value in people relaying their experiences, good or bad, in dealing with manufacturers when things go wrong with their products. I would always wait until I believe the matter is closed, for better or worse, but a factual recount of what happened and your customer satisfaction level is yours to share. Is there going to be a hit to your wallet in doing so - maybe, dunno. Certainly if that is a worry to you, not relaying your story is the safer bet. I don't think you have any obligation to tell a potential buyer about your customer satisfaction level with a manufacturer, just the history and current status of the piece in question.
I agree with Kthomas and also feel the following:
I suspect many of us that have been into high-end for many years have both positive and negative stories of manufactures, distributors, and retailers that have either bent over backwards to assist us doing more than what is necessary. Others out there have might not be true of their word or only do what they feel they are legally responsible for.
My recommendation (without knowing the details) is after those that are involved have completed their service; fill us in on the details so that others don’t fall into the same scenario. Of course I also feel that the others involved should be made aware of this forum, so that they may also if they wish post their opinions in an open forum.
Very nice post, form-wise. What community? Why all this roundabout way of doing things? So you want to blow the whistle but you haven’t the guts. We all face situations were a product fails and we deal with it the best we can. Will a company be swayed by seeing its name on 'Agon in a post of the "shocked and appalled" type? I doubt it. Your emotional involvement is getting in the way of settling this. As long as you tell the truth, no one should be unduly upset.

It seems you think you have some kind of advantage over run-of-the-mill audiophiles because of your status.

What is that special status that you have or crave anyway?

First, I'd like to say that I appreciate the quality of your post and the manner in which you wrote it.

I don't know any more about the situation than you've given us here, but I'd make a suggestion to look at and understand the different perspectives one could take when looking at this dilemma.

On the one hand, there is a manufacturer who made a unit, brought it to market, covered it with a warranty for a certain time period, and would surely like to sell more of the units. You've presented a unit that had a mechanical failure, but the warranty has expired. The position of the manufacturer is understandable: coverage for free repair is over.

On the other hand, there is your perspective: you're upset about the failure, you've been in high-end for a long time, and you think that your level of involvement entitles you to special consideration beyond the warranty. That's understandable, too, up to a point, but at what point in time would these considerations expire?

In other words, perhaps you are both right. The trick is how to reconcile the two perspectives to the satisfaction of both parties.

The piece of information that may be missing is the answer to the question, "Why does the manufacturer insist on replacement instead of repair?" Is the mechanical failure so heinous that it simply can't be fixed at all? Could there be another reason that they insist on replacement instead of repair, a reason that we may not be aware of at the time?

From all you've said, I think that if the warranty has expired and a replacement is required, then take the hit. If I bought any piece of equipment, whether it be a stereo component or a washing machine, if it breaks and the warranty has expired, I would expect the manufacturer to charge for the repairs or replacement, regardless of any special privilege I feel for being on the playing field for a long time (I've been washing clothes for years and years! I don't expect special treatment from Maytag.)

Of course you're angry; this kind of situation is annoying and time-consuming in the extreme. You seem angry enough to want to do something about it. But for you to make this situation and your outrage public would likely be unfair to the manufacturer, from the little I know. Would going public with your anger make you feel better about it? It might be good to ensure that you have a "leg to stand on" with your perspective before you get up and shout about it.

My $0.0175 (adjusted for inflation.)

Just tell the truth without embellishment. Any manufacturer and/or distributor who can't stand up to the factual situation doesn't deserve loyalty or future business.
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Why all the hyperactivity about repairs ???
Electronics wear out and get old...

If your unit has not had any repairs, then it is a unit that has not broken yet.

Which used unit would you buy; one that's already been fixed, or one that will break after you buy it??
I have to assume that the unit you're going to be selling is either new (i.e., a replacement unit) or repaired. If it were the latter, I would disclose that fact, but if it were the former, I can see your quandry. I would definitely tell a buyer about the circumstances around the unit if they were to ask about it; whether I would so state in the ad would depend. If the replaced unit had functioned properly for a long time but then broke down from age, and my only complaint was that the manufacturer/distributor would only replace rather than repair the unit, I might not feel compelled to mention it in the ad. On the other hand, if it broke the day after its one year warranty was up and I had doubts about that model's reliability in general, I'd feel differently about not disclosing it in the ad, because the next buyer might have the same problem after a week or so with the new unit.

I had a similar situation many, many years ago back in the late 80s--a well regarded CD player I got was in for repairs within a month or two after I bought it with a skipping laser, and stayed in the repair shop for over 6 months. When it came back, I had replaced it with another manufacturer's player, so I sold it to a friend, and I did disclose the prior problem and the long repair time. Of course, after the sale it worked great for a month, but broke down again with the same problem, right after the warranty had expired so I took it back from my friend and gave him his money back. Ultimately, after I wrote to the manufacturer, the manufacturer was good enough to let me buy a new unit of the replacement model for dealer cost to make up for the bad experience, and after discussing the pros and cons with him I let my friend buy that replacement unit for that price with the undertanding that I'd buy it back from him if it had the same kind of problems within a reasonable peiod after he started using it--fortunately, the unit actually is still in use today.

I guess that the way I think you should look at it is what would you do if the person you were going to sell it to on the A-goN was your friend. Follow that way of dealing and your conscience will be clear and you'll have less problems if something goes wrong. Just my $0.015--inflation's getting worse by the hour.
spit it out...thata what forums are for. you probably aren't alone.
Thanks, lady and gentlemen. Great responses so far. The consensus seems to be that disclosure is the best path to take. I will conclude my dealings with the manufacturer and then detail the transaction.

In reply to Pbb, my status is the same as yours. I'm just someone who works hard for his money - as you probably do - and who doesn't want to be taken for granted or, simply put, screwed. I'd kinda like to think that everyone here on Agon was on the same page, but I know that's naive. I am NOT going to affect my dealings with the manufacturer with anything I write here, but I am hopeful that any disclosure I do make might end up aiding another fellow in Audiogon, the "community." As to cravings, geez, I sure would like to have my system back together so I can listen to music...right now that would be the special status I seek.
I can empatize with you about your sitituation. However, I do believe the manufacture is legally right and you are wrong in this situation, based on the information presented so far. But that does not mean I agree with the way they are choosing to handle you as a customer.

To me, Audiogon forums are a "hobbyist community". We need to stop censoring ourselves, STATE ALL YOUR FACTS AND LET ME DECIDE IF I WANT TO AVOID THAT BRAND. The brand is welcome to state its case as well.

I personally will take your brand specific mention with a
grain of salt. However, if 10 others chime in with the same
brand specific complaints, and treatment, then your brand mention and theirs has relevance to future buyers. Why should the truth be secerct?

This site needed a post like this. I personally think we hobbyists are far to lenient in regard to speaking about poor customer service and or issues with manufactures products.

You are not alone. I may at some point air my grievances, but I am still in the middle of the situation.
But I am glad this post now exists.


The notion that you are seeking some status above that of audiophile is your reference to "close friends in the high end business,". What does it have to do with the price of bacon?
Had similar problem with the original Gamut,Not Gamut USA-the new company formed.My CD-1 malfunctioned,was repaired/rebuilt and dies about 10 months later.I was informed by the repairer that the specified Sony parts used for the repair and supplied by the original company,weren't Sony parts after all.Thus the transport couldn't be repaired.Gamut USA (new) offered to take the unit back in and credit toward the current CD-3,which is better designed and built properly.
Your post seems to state that the manufacturer's warranty is measured in weeks, which if true, is quite unusual. The only product I can think of with such a short warranty are tubes. Exactly how long was the manufacturer's warranty?
Many wise responses thus far, and I'd agree that disclosure is part of what the forums are about. Just the facts, mam. A manufacturer should be willing to stand by their conduct, absolutely. I would like to know that if I purchase, say, an Audio Aero Capitole player, for instance (just picking a component from your listed system that happens to be the only one where mechanical failure is a possibility), that customer support may be lacking for such a significant purchase. It would certainly have a strong bearing on my choice in selecting a player in that price bracket, and I'd greatly appreciate that information being available in a forum like this if I were shopping for one. I would certainly want to know that a mechanical failure after warranty would necessitate a full replacement of the unit. In response to those who've cited the fact that components can and do fail, I'd say that it certainly would not be something I'd want to worry about in early years of ownership. As far as mechanical failures, in 25 years in this hobby, I've had one transport fail, and that transport was over ten years old! The manufacturer held the unit for over six months while they sought out a replacement Sony LPU which had gone out of production long ago. To their credit they were able to find an NOS unit in Japan and installed it at no charge with apologies for the length of time it took. They could have easily refused the repair at any time since the LPU was no longer manufactured, and the unit was built in 1995. That company is Muse, in case anyone cares. I would certainly buy their components again, as I very much appreciate the way they handled that repair, in spite of the time elapsed. Other than that, nothing else has ever failed on me, either electronic, nor mechanical (other than tubes and fuses). So I would not count imminent failure among even my most remote expectations of high-end components. That's just my experience though. YMMV.

in the restaurant biz, they say that if a customer has a bad experience they tell an average of 7 people about it, but if they have a good one it's like 1. understanding this, the manufacturer would be wise to bend over backwards to ensure that the situation is resolved to both sides' satisfaction - or end up 'penny-wise but pound foolish'. I vote for full disclosure.
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The "protection" alluded to aspects of this "community" has always interested me. In virtually any other venue, we see no reason not to announce that we had a "bad" meal or "bad" service at some restuarant or voice some complaint about something (often to complete strangers). Only here do we seem to care about how "we" or "some manufacturer" might look when situations aren't kosher. Why? The protection should be for those of us considering dealing with that person or place in the future (called consumer protection). We can take the info into account or dismiss it as we see fit.
Looks like I misread your question, I thought you were asking what you should tell a potential buyer. I think it is appropriate to disclose the situation to the community in these forums, but I would ask that you be even-handed and as objective as you can in setting out the facts if and when you do post. I don't like seeing threads like "XYZ Company is a Fraud", then reading the thread and finding out that the poster is as much or more to blame for the problem. That's borderline libel at best. There might be good reasons in your case why the manufacturer can't do a repair--lack of a specific part which was discontinued, etc. Make sure you're reasonably sure you have the facts before posting, and then try to make it as useful for the community as you can. We can then read the post and make up our own minds.
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If I understand what you posted.The dealer offered a 10% discount and was allowed to use the piece for auditions.I would press this dealer for support in this matter,unless they have also concluded business with said manufacture.
Again, thanks for all the thoughtful responses.

I have authorized the work to be done. And I will fully disclose what was done once I get the unit back and ready it for sale. Elizabeth's comment regarding items that have been "just repaired and now for sale" is a fair reaction. C'est la guerre...

I'm glad, however, that this thread has touched a nerve for some of you. There are, as noted above, always two sides to the story and I'll try to provide as accurate an accounting as possible when the dust settles.

To Pbb, the only reason I referenced those two gentlemen was to point out that I wanted the perspective of another manufacturer to insure that my reaction wasn't out of line. Sorry if it came off in any other fashion.

In response to Onhwy61, the warranty expired this past March so the manufacturer is in the clear...I'll address my position more clearly in the near future.

But please keep the comments coming. This is an interesting exchange of perspective.
Please tell us who, what, where. Thanks!
Islandear, as you illustrate here, it's tough to be a businessman in any industry, but especially in an industry where you participate in open forums such as this.

As I'm sure you also know, some to many professionals in this industry have little or no ethics. But the same can be said for enthusiasts too. It's a pretty universal behavioral thing actually.

Obviously you have concerns for compromising your character and integrity (as opposed to those who only care about their image) and those must remain number one. If you are having concerns about the distributor, contact the mfg'er directly and see what their take is.

The info you get from the mfg'er could be worth much now and later and may make your decision far easier.

I cannot understand from your post where the unit failed in both instances. Is it while it was used in the dealer's store during demo or after you took it home? If it was with the dealer then the possibility of many hands touching it contributed to the failure. If your dealer says this is the trade-off for the 10% discount, I would disagree. It's being used for demo, and all demo units come with full warranty. I would turn my attention to the dealer.

If this happened in your home, then what can anyone say? It's a contract issue (warranty) with the manufacturer.
First. I would want to know information about a manufactor who would not go the extra mile to keep a customer happy, especially if the product has been; a demo and also already repaired at least one time and possibly more. Second. I would ask the question what I would do if this situation happened to someone whom I sold the product. It is very interesting that any manufacture would be willing to allow negative word-of-mouth comments about their products, especially given the nature with regard to warrenty and customer service....IMHO

I don't understand the debate to be honest with you. The unit is out of warranty, and it broke down. You pay for repairs outside of warranty, you do with a car, etc.. why should the manufacturer or distributor repair it for free? The warranty expired in March, it's almost September dude. Holding the distributor/manufacturer hostage by threatening to sling mud at the product or their service is out of line (not implying you are planning on doing so, just a general comment).

And if you sell it, you ought to disclose the complete history of the unit, it's the right thing to do. Happy listening all, Jeff
All of that rambling, and I still don't know what you're talking about! Was it a repeat of the original failure? Your warranty is 5 months out...was the latest failure a repeat of the original failure? Was it a 1 year warranty or a much loner one? You say that you are knowledgeable about the high-end field, so you should know that a 10% discount is the dealer standard, and had you let the dealer use your unit as a demo 15-20% discount would have been in order.

I have a few friends in the business [3 manufacturers and 1 distributor], and many products that are viewed with "high regards" by the audiophile community are actually either shoddily built, use stolen technology, or have such shady business practices, that most insiders consider them pariahs! And if it's "made in China", don't expect any sympathy from me, bub!

I'm curious how an audiophile system is used for professionally? So until you give us the pertinent facts, stop your whining!
You said it!
Aren't most things made in China?
Fatparrot, everything in this hobby is ripping someone off at some point, there are hardly any breakthrough products just improvements of others earlier efforts. As for China I could care less, I love Walmart and hope the Unions are going to someday disapear.
To give a counter view. I hate Walmart. I hope unions make a comeback. We've sacrificed our childrens' futures be ceding our production capabilities to China.
Unions are largely responsible for the demise of US industries such as steel and automobiles.

Yes, it's true management is somewhat complicit in giving away the store with each contract. Unions served a useful purpose years ago in eliminating child labor, improving workplace conditions, and establishing a working wage. However in the latter half of the 20th century (and even today) their primary purpose was to protect incompetent workers.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to fire a union employee? They can be totally inept and basically it takes an act of God to remove them. Think about that next time you are at the post office, auto bureau, or school and are treated indignantly.

All of course IMO
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Viridian, you're right. I just couldn't help tweaking Chadnliz. This is not the forum and no one is going to convince anyone to agree with their thinking on this subject. Mea culpa. No more politics from me.
Good point Marty.

I was addressing Wendell's remarks.

Hey if we can debate imaginary bands, and the best scotch to listen too while looking at your best watch ever made trying to decide what the best bike ride is to take then surely we can talk about this. Narrod never tweak me again, I am ticklish :)
So come on, we all want to know. Who are they?
You are chasing your own tail by asking for opinions without being specific. If you encounter a problem with a product, I think everyone would benefit from knowing what this product is.
Regardless of the current status of your problem.
What you are doing here is completely useless so far.
This one of the longer posts I have seen that has no answer to the core issue....very odd.
I think Hack has it right - if the unit is 6 months out of warranty, what's the issue here?