High end audio is a creature of technology and fashion. Computers have made the "straight wire with gain" and the "what the engineer intended" schools obsolete. Phonograph records, for example, can be scanned,digitized,equalized, the missing data "restored" and the noise removed. For those with an eye on historical parallels I suggest looking at the Ammeter Radio hobby. A few old nostalgic guys are all that remain.
High End is not dead, it just smells funny
What I'd like to discover is some high-end dealer who is independently wealthy - someone who isn't worried about making his mortgage and has the financial resources to carry a few of the esoteric marques (yeah, maybe even Esoteric, too) as well as some of the better known brands. A person who would LOOK FORWARD to spending time with visitors simply because they share the same passion for music and music-toys, and not because they are potential customers.
Yeah, I'm whistlin' in the wind, aren't I? Maybe a forum like RMAF will come to serve that purpose, though most exhibitors there still want to pitch as many folks as they can. I still know a couple of dealers who will take the time to demo equipment for me, but even after having spent thousands in their shop they watch the clock while I'm in their place of business.
I love browsing around in a high end audio store. People open these boutiques because of their love of music and of this obsession of ours. You cannot obtain the service and experience that a good reputable high end audio outlet offers online.
I would agree with most of your post. Though I still enjoy going to a brick and mortar store to look and listen to audio equipment. Tough to do over the Internet.
I would venture to bet if a poll were taken here on agon most high-end audiophiles are baby boomers. I be one...
I think there is no substitute for a good brick and mortar dealer. It is too bad they are disappearing in the USA. At least they are becoming more popular in Europe! Everytime I travel in Europe, I get to discover tons of gear that I would never get to experience here - short of buying them all on Audiogon...
I happen to live near a lot of high end stores.
To me, it is sort of a chore to go there. I can best compare it as going into a Ferarri dealer. At Ferarri dealers, they have more customers than cars, so sales people don't do much and have no incentive to reach out to all of their customers. They make their bread and butter with just a few customers, and of course, the cars are ultra-expensive.
At my local dealer, I walk in, get the once over, and there is always that assesment when the salesperson makes his assumpution that I am not loaded. I feel like an unwelcome visitor at this point. Plus, even if they sell used pieces they are being sold at prices which are ultra-expensive, comapared to what you can get it here at Agon for.
So, I agree with Taters, I can get what I need with a few clicks of my keyboard and the item shows up on my doorstep.
"Video Killed the Radio Star"
"Digitized Formats Killed the Hi-end Store"
Bottom line- money - cheaper to buy used or new gear online. Dealers & buyers know that- We all know that. If only brick/ mortar shops could offer items at lower prices , no one would buy online anymore. At least I wouldn't. I like hearing & seeing things before I buy....
Isn't the real change in high end stores the decline in purchasing power by the middle class. As midlevel sales jobs are replaced by retail sales jobs can people continue to purchase new high end products, no way. We now have moved to the .com to purchase used products I can't afford new. Years ago I would of been insulted if my brick and morter store would of suggested I purchase someones used junk. So do I care if these stores close, no because it is THEIR fault I can't afford to purchase new products in their stores, not mine.
As I have written a while ago stores have turned us all off with their beliefs that doctors and lawyers are their bread and butter. I have seen many of these sales people working for Best Buy and Tweeter, I think they also purchase on line today. Again middle class with lower purchasing power?
Where was your first exposure to high-end audio? Where was the place when you first heard a hi-fi system that gave you goose bumps and made the hair on the back of your neck stand up? I am sure for many it was this place that started their passion for hi-fi and enriched their lives with music. For me, it was at a brick-n-mortar store that I heard a pair of Sonus Faber Extremas powered by vacuum tube Audio Research electronics 15 years ago. I still think about that store today and will always be greatful to them. For me, there is tremendous value in supporting my local dealer.
As with most things, Americans vote with their wallets. I nostalgically remember my early visits to audio shops, listening to the NAD system I eventially purchased, and also to the McIntosh room when the salesman let me hear just a bit of sonic nirvana, which I was sure I would never be able to afford. However, times change and I think there are now two broad generalizations of buyers, neither right or wrong;
.Com Buyer: An internet and magazine researcher, sometimes diy'er, willing to take reasonable risk on used and/or unheard equipment to maximize the sonic benefit achieved for the associated cost, and
Brick and Mortar Buyer: Would rather hear what they are buying, appreciate the sales help to synergize components and to set up the system, want a warranty on equipment, don't want to spend the time buying/selling and auditioning a lot of equipment, either because they don't have the time or because they have the money not to.
There are also combination buyers who do both, which is really only a problem when they audition at the B&M shops so they can then go purchase used on the internet. I think both styles are here to stay for the forseeable future, but unfortunately for many of the B&M stores the pie is not as large as it once was. I suspect the most profitable B&M stores are going to be located in major metropolitan areas where there are more buyers and the typical buyer has more money than time. My guess is we will see a continued trend toward "audio consultants" with by-appointment showrooms who are able to broker a variety of equipment, help clients synergize components to a given price point, then help with set up and future upgrades. For most everyone else there is either internet sales (new and used) and Best Buy/Circuit City.
A harder question but on the same topic: What would you think manufacturers have done to contribute to this down turn of closing HE stores? Or are they helping to reverse that trend?
Most HE manufacturers go with the flow by creating more gear to cater not only 2-channel HE but also multi-channel crowd as the market trend dictates. Certainly some reputable HE manufacturers do not want to see their stuff sold on the internet but some would be careless.
the most effective way of minimizing dissatisfaction from an audio purchase is a home audition.
many "high end" stores do not allow this. visiting such stores and listening there still leaves a bisk risk that buying without a home audition will be a mistake.
when stores of this type close, there is not much loss.
when stores who permit home audition close, it is a loss.
The stores in my area are 1) open to home auditions but don't carry the gear I want to hear, 2) closed to home auditions but have the gear I want, or 3) have more of the gear I want but want an appointment to survey my interests. I bought an amp that I could have gotten from dealers 2 and 3 over the internet for half the retail price and only a couple of months old, but overall, I regret not buying from dealer 1, so what am I all about?
I'll admit I'm not in marketing, but it's always struck me that the manufacturers are as much to blame as anybody for the plight of the B&M stores. If you don't live in a major metropolitan area, you can't possibly see and hear all the gear you might want to consider, and the manufacturer's enforce this tight, and ultimately small, dealer network.
I have no idea what the demographics of high-end audio buyers is - it makes sense that it's boomers, but boomers are also the ones who are currently at the age where one has discretionary money, so maybe when current 20-somethings are middle-aged, they will spend bigger $$ on audio. Even if they do, though, I don't think it will be in the model of high-markup, personalized attention B&M.
The model has to support a customer who has done their own research, doesn't want to pay all the overhead of a B&M store, but is willing to pay for "optional" things like the equipment being brand new, a warranty, a home audition, etc. If you're just going to sit in your B&M storefront and charge me full retail, I'm just not interested.
Hi-fi is only one of many industries going through this issue. Clothing, furniture, sporting goods, and many others are experiencing the need to change the way they do business due to on-line sales. Things change, and new generations have different "first" thrills compared to the ones we had. I understand Brucephan's remorse over the loss of brick and mortar stores. My first visit was 34 years ago, and I will always remember the "experienced audiophile" salesperson who helped me pick out drivers for my first DIY speakers that got me through college and beyond (they still work). However, technology changes and the information available at the touch of a keyboard is astounding compared to even 10 years ago. Because of the collective information and reviews available electronically, you can learn much more about a potential purchase than you could have from a single sales person 20 or 30 years ago. I can foresee a time when manufacturers may offer "video auditions" to allow potential buyers a narrated demonstration/review of their products and features. Buyers today largely want quality goods at competitive prices, and the group willing to pay for sales/service is getting smaller.
My local high end shop closed in the Fall of '04. To be honest, I don't really miss it, as I never felt comfortable in there anyway. I bought a few items in there over the years, but not enough for the salesmen to treat me like a human being. Sure, they fawned over the guys who threw mega bucks in their direction, I guess that's just human nature. I do miss being able to see/hear the latest toys, though the hear part is a stretch, as I much prefer listening to gear in my system than in any dealer's showroom. I' do not miss the snobbery though.
I do agree with Jab that the death of B&M stores ties in with the squeezing of the middle class. You can see it everywhere in society today from the Wal-Marts to all of the new sport stadiums with their abundance of luxury boxes. Compared to 20-30 years ago, there are many more rich and many more poor, while the middle class has shrunk.
Many need two incomes these days to make ends meet, unlike 30 years ago. Time marches on, it is called progress, isn't it???
I 1st got into the equipment with the advent of CD's during the 80's. My parents were killed in a hotel fire in Puerto Rico in 1986. I spent a month down there finalizing their affairs and I wound up spending a lot of time at a audio salon. It was a national tragedy and the guys at the shop understood I was hurting. I'll NEVER forget the kindness extended to me AND the education I got as they spent time with me in their budget room and worked me up to their highest end offerings (over the course of repeated visits). All I bought was a few CD's and a green pen for the CD's (remember those?). I've moved from NY to PA to FL to finally here in Atlanta. Wherever I lived I always made it a point to seek out and befriend my local audio salons. Unfortunately, here in Atlanta, I just wasn't able to break the ice. I tried to invite them out but they weren't interested, and even though I'd visit often, since I wasn't buying anything more than accessories, I always felt like they had my number and didn't want to waste time. Fine by me, I haven't step foot in there for over 2 years. But I gotta admit I miss it.
I had a retail audio store that was operated out of my house to keep overhead down. I went through hundreds of thousands of dollars trying wire and all levels of solid state and tube electronics. I bought many products just to try and use as a reference for listening to other items. I feel that the typical store environment does no justice to customers wanting to upgrade and improve their systems, rarely do they have a handle on correctly addressing the wires used in any given system. $3000 speakers will be demonstrated with the same wire and components that a $25,000 set next to them are run with which makes them sound like you will never again hear them.
I find it easier to be able to act as a free agent not bound with a lot of useless lines that are not my favorite products anyway. I can talk to any person, find out what he has in his system and what he's looking to do in the future and start an upgrade path that totally changes his reality as far as putting things on the right track and making bigger improvements that he's ever heard. And do that in such a way that they are not committed to something they don't like in their system, it's more like try this and see what you think.
I'm writing a book that goes a long way toward educating audiophiles in a way that they will be able to better use a store demo environment.
Financially[SP] I dont care,emotionally I do.Met some fine people and the window-shopping was fun.Between the net and the absurd prices I guess it was preordained.I do wish they can make a comeback though.....
Brick and mortar stores are a relic of the past, meaning that they can no longer hold the customer hostage with ridiculous and meaningless techno-chatter only intended to confuse the buyer into buying whatever the salesguy recommends, while treating his competition like dirt.
I know this is a stiff comment, but I honestly think that only a very few shops will survive, those that can really connect and provide some added value to their services.
Trouble is, the average Audiogoner probably knows as much if not more about hi-end than the typical hi-fi shop know-it-all.
Factor in the snobby attitude and the incredible mark-up profit margin these guys make, and you can wonder what really is their reason for still being around.
They have been scaring away the first-timers (instead of weloming them into the hobby) and shying away from selling ''introductory'' sytems in favor of higher single-order sales....and re-directing curious potential high-enders to the local Circuit City store.
No wonder great web communities like Audiogon and internet web-dealer-direct sales flourish.
What can I say, they asked for it.
This thread brings up some points that are central to what customer service and satisfaction are all about. Do you buy a car without a test drive? What about a business suit? Why should high performance audio be any different?
I recognize some items that you can't try before you buy, say a phono cartridge. But are you well versed in setting one up and have the requisite tools for doing it accurately for maximizing performance? I don't know about other dealers, but for example someone here in the Chicago area who buys a cartridge from me gets the full setup at his or her home included in a fair price.
Some mention that they find in home auditions difficult if not impossible to get. Wow, I can't imagine putting up with that. Someone who wants to try a preamp or CD player or even a pair of speaker cables has that opportunity, because I don't believe in forcing people to make snap purchasing decisions - been there, done that, regretted it later.
Some storefronts are going away, it's inevitable with the mail order and direct sales models and for dealers not pulling their weight, but not for the high end where careful selection and system matching are valued. My advice is, find a dealer in your area who goes out of his way to help you optimize system performance, and reward his efforts with your business and referrals. A 30 day money back offer is no substitute for an in home audition before the sale and support long after the sale. I suppose this may be viewed as self serving, but supporting local retailers is your only means to ensure they will be around to help, otherwise you will be forced to deal with box movers whom you never see before or after the sale, and the high end will vanish as the industry is dumbed-down and commoditized. It truly is a self fulfilling prophesy.
Never encountered that type of snobbery. In fact, ten to twenty years ago, most were willing to demonstrate systems that they knew were well beyond my means. Some had plenty of advice and opinions that I took with a grain of salt. However, without that exposure to various brands, I would have had no idea how well music can be reproduced.
I've heard what really killed the high-end shops was the returns. A salesman told me that over half the gear was returned after a few days of test driving. Naturally, it could not be sold as new anymore and that dug into the margins.
It's a loss, mostly, to the younger generation that won't get the opportunity to develop a discerning ear.
''My advice is, find a dealer in your area who goes out of his way to help you optimize system performance, and reward his efforts with your business and referrals''
Great advice. Let me know if you ever hear of one will you?
Its a shame Sonicbeauty thinks dealers who go the extra mile are a myth, they are real.....maybe few but real.
Audio Connection in Verona NJ is a great store with a helpful staff and have been out to my dad's a couple times for follow-ups and this stores efforts will be rewarded whenever possible. They have also mailed me products to try, even though I do not live in NJ.
I think many who have dealt with John and his staff will agree with everything I have said. Mostly I am in the camp of not really caring about bad stores with bad staff closing shop, then you come across a store like A.C. and it makes you re-think your position.
I can't imagine losing my local dealer. Sure, he and I don't see eye to eye on everything, but he has always taken good care of me. I don't pay retail there, but my discount isn't huge. The extra that I pay is easily made up in the level of service that I receive.
Ordered a new pair of speakers with 6 week wait (no deposit taken) and he's given me his demo pair to use in the mean time.
Equipment loans are very common. At one point I had close to 50K worth of gear on loan as I was trying to decide between multiple preamps and amplifiers. After realizing that I couldn't satisfy all of my criteria with the products that he had available he encouraged me to look for a couple of used/discontinued products that would work. Let me keep the demos until I located the used gear.
I've spent a lot of money with him over the years (probably close to $100k), but the level of service has always been like this.
His shop isn't much to look at, but that really doesn't matter at all. The interesting thing is that he is the last true high end shop left in town. 5 years ago there were at least 5 true high-end stores. 3 years ago there were 3... Now he's the last one left.
Great advice. Let me know if you ever hear of one will you?
Sarcasm noted, but it doesn't have to be so. If you don't like how you are treated by a dealer there are things you can do besides buying over the phone or the net. For one thing, the dealer needs to know he could do better, especially if it involves something you were ready to purchase. Drop a note to him anonymously. If you were really put off, tell the distributor or manufacturer.
Chadnliz summed it up well.
I generally agree with Sonicbeauty, save that it was not the attitude of dealers that did them in, it was the internet and world competition. Local dealers need a 35% profit margin (this was years ago when I was involved as a dealer). There is no way that internet sales needs such a margin. They can afford to give "deals" to customers state, nation, and even worldwide.
This is going to happen or has happened for most goods. I just bought a suitcase on the internet, as local prices are substantially higher and I can find just what I want, not just what local dealers choose to have. Restaurants, grocery stores, cars, and houses are all that is likely to resist this.
When I first used the internet in the 80s, I had no vision to see where all of this was to lead.
and the high end will vanish as the industry is dumbed-down and commoditized. It truly is a self fulfilling prophesy.
Man, that's far from reality!
You need to see the manufacturer's forums in AudioCircle, starting with Channel Islands Audio. Now, that Dusty V. is a real threat to the establishment, let me tell you...
Psychicanimal, we are talking about different things.