It's No Fun Being a Guru Anymore

I would be curious to hear everyone's opinion on this -- somthing that probably happens to all of you as often as it happens to me.

Years ago, when systems seems more oriented towards MUSIC, it was flattering and fun to help friends choose equipment. Choose music, choose equipment, sit down, enjoy.

Today, however, it just seems like a nightmare and fraught with potential problems. Or is it just me?

Last night, I visited a friend of a friends new apartment in mid renovation -- a beautiful pre-war high ceilinged apartment near Park Avenue in New York where he has happily spent a zillion dollars on everything.

And here is the exciting news on the state of his audio/video plans:

He is requesting:

1)bookshelf speakers in a study/library, approx 8x12

2)unobtrusive speakers in living room, possibly near ceiling and possibly with subwoofer, approx 14x20

3)a second pair of bookshelf speakers in a kitchen/den area, approx 18x20

Here's is where it gets interesting: (NOT!)

He thinks he can use a 10ish year old YAMAHA AVR-75 receiver and a similarly low end SONY DVD/CD/Video CD player to drive EVERYTHING.

And the dealer who gave him a $10,000 proposal has encouraged him!

So the proposed solution is:

Keep the existing yamaha components and add:

1)Fujitsu HD plasma screen in kitchen/den area
2)$900 flattish speakers that hang off the plasma screen
3)An $800 Denon A/V receiver to drive these speakers and possibly the second pair of bookshelf speakers in the kitchen/den area

4) Hundreds of $$$ more on stuff I've never heard of, including programming his remote to receive Timewarner cable, and an ARTICULATING arm to swing the TV off the wall and over the kitchen table. Am I just getting too old or is this a JOKE?

I would say $10,000 or more later, this will sound like CRAP, in EVERY ROOM.

Despite the cheesey garden variety home theatre "solution" there has been no mention of surround sound or a subwoofer for the plasma system.

So my first thought would be to listen to TV and DVD through a decent pair of proper speakers in just stereo and junk the flat speakers that mount on the TV.

But I really dont even know where to begin.

He is actually a nice guy with a nice wife and I would like to help, so if anyone has any ideas or advice, please let me know ASAP.
Yours is a tall order, more so because time is pressing! How do you educate otherwise fine people who just don't know any better? I hate to use cliches, but they seem like the ignorant masses. I use ignorant in its proper context: as from Webster 'destitute of knowledge in general, or with regard to some particular' (subject, for example). Ignorance does not equate to stupidity.

I'd do a little homework on their tastes, musical and film wise. Then invite them over to your place for an 'informal' but surreptitious demonstration of what they are missing.
Introduce them to the virtues of Audiogon!

It seems to me with a budget of $10k, they can do wonders.
You're right, it's no fun being the guru in this case. My guess is that they don't care about sound as much as being able to hear their tunes, given the current equipment they use, so I wouldn't go crazy on the two channel speakers and sources; the only thing I think I'd focus them on is getting a good multichannel surround sound setup for the home theater, with reasonable speakers and a subwoofer (B&W or PSB, perhaps--doesn't need to be expensive, just clean and plenty of impact) and a good AV receiver that can deliver the sonic goods for watching movies. My wife really doesn't care for anything more than her boombox for her music, but she was very much enthused when I had her see and hear a good home theater setup at my dealer's (close enough in NJ, and very good at advising and setting up a good installation, if the people your friends are using aren't). Maybe your friends would react similarly?
It might be good to talk to the dealer who may have led him astray (or, perhaps your friend simply misinterpreted -- this is pretty complicated and anything complicated can be misinterpreted). If you visit the dealer and develop some potential alternatives that will work, your friend will be hearing the same thing from both of you and it will be a lot easier to convince your fried to focus more on the music and also set up a decent home theatre system. No sub-woofer? That is odd unless the building codes frown upon them.

If you and the dealer are at odds and if your friend likes and trusts the dealer, I'd abandon ship and politely beg off in favor of the dealer. Getting exactly the right sound for someone who may not have sound as a priority is not worth ruining a friendship.
This would be a case of casting pearls before swine. I gave up on giving this type of advice. You will spend a lot of time on this project and they will not know the difference anyway. The dealer with the $10,000 proposal will be very threatened by you and try to convince them that you are an idiot. These people probably would not know good sound if it hit them in the ass with a snow shovel. Let them spend their money, smile and say "gee, that sounds great".
People seem to like pictures better than music today. Ears go basically unfulfilled these plasma-days and few people like us notice. Different strokes....
It will probably be clear within the first minute of talking to them whether sound quality is of interest. If it is offer to demo your system to make them aware of what a real hifi sounds like ... most people have no idea that hifi can sound real and natural.
The ball is then in their court.
I find that if someone is not interested enough to make the trek to my house to hear a real hifi then there is no point mentioning it a second time. IF they are then they will put in the time and effort, and will lap up any advice you offer.

the first step is to separate the people who did not realize what a good system can sound like from those who do not care, so long as noise is produced.
I call it the "Audio/Video Interiors" syndrome. If you have perused that periodical of late, you will see some very nicely appointed dwellings crammed with expensive, out-of-site components with performance somewhere between mediocre and (fill in the blank).

In the early days of it's publication it represented a marriage of the high-end AND interior design, each issue usually having at least one audio only set-up. Slowly the HT/visual image centric systems became prominent. The roaring stock market flooded this sector with cash as boomers moved up, built up, and wanted to equip their homes with toys. The partnership of ASID/CEDIA and the dealers who got themselves "certified" answered the call. Hide it away, make it look good, and give me loud with lots of thunder for my movies and video games, ceiling speakers or in-walls painted to match my decor and I'll be OK.

An uninformed person will not be swayed. After all, he just threw 10,000.00 at an HT installer. They must be good, right? If they can watch movies with big sound effects on their latest, greatest plasma TV, and playback MP3's from a 100 GB file server anywhere in the house AND they are happy fine. These days it's form over function. In some ways audiophiles are lucky in that we know you can have both form and function, but like religion, it's a tough sell to someone of another faith
I think your right. At least as far as Audiogon is concerned. We haven't heard from Asa or 6chac for some time now!
Dude, i feel you here.

My ol man had a HT built in his basement when he finished it. He asked my advice, but he didnt take it. He asked me about the Bose Accoustimass systems and i told them they were more hype than anything else, and he could get better sound for far less.

He now has a Bose accoustimass system running, with a Yamaha Reciever that does not even power his speakers, instead the power is redived from the bass module.

I dont like it, and he could have gotten better if he had listened to my advice, but here is the simple truth of it.

He thinks it sounds fantastic, he is confident he bought a good product, and he is proud of his HT setup. I could tell him that he wasted money, but in his mind he diddnt. And telling him this would only give him the impression that i think he is stupid. With 3 masters degrees 4 bachelors degrees and like 5 associates degrees, there is no way he can be an idiot.
Plus when he watches a movie with big explosions, and the sound shakes the room and h gets that grin on his face, he obviously got what he wanted.

I like a crab and steak dinner, but sometimes i would rather have a cheeseburger
Ya know...

Audiophiles are a very small percentage of people. Most people really dont care about having the "Best" quality of sound. They just want something to make them grin when something explodes on screen.

None of my friends are into audio gear like i am. Yes, i confess, i love the gear. maybe even more than i love the music.
When one of my friends buys a new HT-in-a-box or a new stereo system, they always want to know what i think about it. They always start with "Yeah, its not as nice as yours" and that is when i usually crank it up and find every nice thing i can possibly say about it, and sometimes even make a few things up. They bought something they really like. Who the hell am i to tell them they wasted thier money? it sounds like crap? How good does something have to sound? 99% of the people out there are pleased as a puppy with 2 peckers if they get deep bass range and snappy dynamics.

Remember this, for everyone who we say wasted thier money on a sub-par system, im sure there are 100 people who think we waste money on a "stupid stereo system"

Its a hobby that not too many people really get.


Funny, I have found the same sound at dealers with all the equipment in the world to make a system sound musical at the least. I recently heard a new speaker line made by a very well known cable manufacturer and the guy who set up the audition for me and my friend was gushing about how real it sounded. I felt so bad when after the first three notes my friend said "I don't like this at all", I was a little more relaxed and said that he needed to use some different components and reposition the speakers, BTW the system had the worst sound I have ever heard, Slappy, even worse than my wife's friends Bose system. It actually hurt our ears. After we left, I told my frined to take me to the rat shack to get us some real speakers.

So it does not always come down to componets every time but bad sound is bad sound no matter how much you spend.

Happy Listening, just not on those new speakers I heard!
I fully agree with Slappy (Yuk! I normally disagree with everyone on everything. Maybe I'm getting old......). If people buy something that you think is crap, but they are happy with it, is it your job to make them unhappy and tell them they've thrown away a pile of money? Maybe, but you won't have much friends in the end.... And maybe WE are the crazy ones, spending a lot of cash on stupid things like cables, powerconditioners etc., when the same amount of money can get you a decent trip to Disneyworld with the kids. So if people ask my advice I give it to them, and if they buy something else I visit them, compliment them with their good choice and, to get even, drink all their booze and eat all their food.....
I've been in this situation myself. Believe me, you have nowhere to go but down. Unless they're audiophiles like yourself and know good sound, you'll be fighting every inch of the way. And in the end, they'll blame you for everything that's wrong, and the fact that they spent way more money than they had to. Smile and stay out of it

Not certain about DVD players, TV's/Screens (I use a cheap Mintek DVD-1600 in our bedroom).

However, for the sound part your friend should check out the Yamaha Pianocraft mini systems. I'm familar with the 40 watt version, but recently read of a 50 watt model (Terry Cain of Cain & Cain mentioned it over @ AA).

The 40 watter is a compact/attractive/remote controlled system that sounds very nice. It will work in the 14 x 20 with near/on the wall speaker placement, but a larger room would be stretching things a bit too much, IMO.

The older 40 watt version, a friend's daughter uses, has extra inputs (DVD) and if I recall correctly it also has a sub out feature.

Having experimented with Hi-fi in kitchens over the years I always ended up preferring the random/chaos of radio and the sound of mono. Vintage Art Deco radios are attractive, but they also have a tendency to drift. I used a KLH Model 21 for years in this application, which is one of the nicest sounding table top radio's ever produced (even if it is SS:-).
Yesterday, I called the dealer proposing this $10,000 mid fi setup, introduced myself and gently explained that I didnt wish to step on his toes, irritate him or get in the way.

I said I knew that there was "nothing worse than an 'expert' friend complicating a sale" etc, that I was not being paid to do this and that I only hoped we could "collaborate" and "compare notes" in the interest of helping my friend.

Guess what?

For at least 10 if not 15 straight minutes without even drawing a single breath, this guy unleashed a PT Barnum esque tirade about how he has been in the business for over 30 years, speaking to me as if I had never set foot in an audio store.

He paused in the end, only to CHALLENGE me to questions including:

Do you play a musical instrument (yes) what percentage of your music collection is classical (25%?) or jazz (20%?) trashing audiophiles and mentioning his affiliations with a long list of cheesey mid fi brands.

Funny of course, that although I play the piano myself, there seems to be an inverse correlation between musicianship and caring about high quality audio -- certainly true in his case!

I then politely stood my ground, reminding him that I had no commercial interest in this situation, but was simply trying to help a friend and that I might suggest a more simple, less feature and home theatre oriented solution for his needs and desire to listen to music throughout his apartment.

He actually said, in the end:

"If I tried to sell what I thought was right instead of what people think they want, I would never make a sale."

Unbelievable. And sad. Please help.
Cw- "No good deed goes unpunished" has become my (more than somewhat cynical) credo. But ya know, I think that Slappy is pretty much right on the mark (how's that for a scary thought ;~)). Gently offer help, but if re-buffed, just let it lie.
That salesman really sounds like a jackass.

Its too bad your friend diddnt hear that.

I think it might be a good idea to let him know of your experience with this salesman, and tell him you think you might be able to ensure he has a system he is happy about, but dont try to pressure him. If he decides to go with the salesman then so be it. I wouldnt worry about it much, but i certanly would not buy anything from that retailer anymore.

Basically ask him if he would like your advice on what to do. If he is your friend and knows of your passion for audio, he will probably listen. Im sure he does not want to spend 10k and get a system he is not happy about.
If he said he would like your advise, then gently guide him on what he should look for and let him make the final decisions. Be sure to really listen to what HE wants. If he wants an "Articulating Arm" then dont argue it with him.

If he doesent want your advice then dont worry about it. Less stress on your side and your consience is clear.

Ive had some good experiences with salesman in the past, and some real bad ones as well, which i find no reason to discuss with anyone on the 'gon cause i was attacked pretty heavily about it. For some reason several people on the 'gon find it perfectly appropriate for a salesman to take one look at me and tell me to go somewhere where i can afford the gear. im gonna drop that subject, either way, do what you can to help your friend but dont step on his toes.
Leave it alone. the best you can do is try to get the best wires in the home that you can so that, no matter what, they can make changes at a later date.

Yes, you could ask them to gather together two or three of their favorite CDs and take them to a couple of high-end local stereo stores and ask them if they can hear the differance between what you are suggesting and what they are buying...but hey, don't worry. they have their own directions. Do they buy good wine?