Lemons are an actual thing in high-end audio


The last couple of years I have been on a quest to get my system to the point where I am satisfied that it is as good as I could get it within reasonable budgetary limits, which for me was about $20K.

Along the way, I sampled quite a bit of gear in my home for extended periods. In particular, I went through a surprising number of amplifiers before I arrived at my preferred piece of equipment.What I discovered during this process is that lemons can and sometimes get released by high-end audio manufacturers. I am not going to name the manufacturers in question because I honestly believe that my experience was the result of purely random factors and could occur with ANY manufacturer.

One of the lemons I got was a high-power solid state amplifier, very well reviewed, from a highly regarded major manufacturer. I kept hoping that the fabled "burn-in" would fix what I heard. It did not. After about 200 hours I gave up.The sound, though powerful, was harsh and unmusical. In this case, I suppose that I only had myself to blame because although I bought it brand new, I had found it on the gray market. I just couldn't resist the substantially discounted price. Lesson learned. Interestingly, the amplifier I eventually settled on was a different model but from the same manufacturer. I bought it used, but it was from a reliable and known source. I couldn't be happier with the result.

The second lemon I got was altogether different. I bought a high-end DAC directly from the manufacturer, and in this case I was quite lucky. The shipper had made a mistake and sent me two separate units. The first one I got was a upgraded version of the same model that I bought that was intended for another customer. Until the manufacturer reached out to me I didn't know this, and I was terribly disappointed by what I heard. Not only was it not an improvement over my existing DAC. It actually sounded worse. When the manufacturer told me that my unit would arrive in a day or two and would I please ship the one I had been sent by mistake to the intended customer, I was elated. The unit originally intended for me arrived the same day I shipped the wayward unit to its rightful owner. As I had hoped, this less expensive version of the same DAC sounded MUCH better than the one I had been listening to. In fact, it sounded better than any DAC I have ever heard. So, now I am happy. The DAC was the last link in the chain of my dream system.

Much has been written by those in this hobby about snake oil and how manufacturers of high-end audio can take advantage of audiophiles by producing sub-standard gear at exorbitant prices just as a cynical way to turn a buck. For the most part, this has not been my experience. I have run across gear whose sound was obviously refined and well-executed, but just not to my taste. That didn't surprise me. But what did surprise me was the sub-standard gear I encountered from manufacturers acting in good faith who, for whatever reason, just got it wrong and let second-rate gear slip through their quality control efforts.

Buyer beware.
tomlhuffman
In each of these cases, it doesn't sound like what you experienced was a lemon. Neither piece was broken, and you don't know for a fact that either was malfunctioning. You only know that you don't like the way that they sounded.
I once bought a Pass Labs 250.5 and really disliked the sound of it, but it was functioning perfectly when I had it checked out by Pass.
A: all manufacturers of things have duds. Call them what you will.

B: poor synergy or dislike of the color of the sound, does not make something a lemon overall... just means you did not prefer it. Had you compared apples to apples and sampled two like items and one was indeed “bad”, then a lemon it would be.
You put a lot of time into your post; I'm not sure why you feel it necessary to not mention the manufacturers. People can troubleshoot or confirm or disconfirm what you've experienced much better if you just name names. Otherwise, what can we say?

Agree that "lemon" may not be the right term. Something is clearly mismatched for you -- but these are functioning products.

Tom: Good thing you hid the brand names of these components. Calling them “lemons” is really slanderous and you fail to prove the claim.
In my experience, lemons rarely occur and what you got were units that you didn’t like, or were shipped incorrectly. In neither case is the factory at fault. They worked! 
A lemon is a unit that fails more than 2 times requiring the same, repeated repair. Lemons and break-in are among the reasons most dealers offer 60 day evaluations. You not only sodomized yourself by buying a grey market amp but then you reinforced the manufacturer’s bona fides by buying another model from the same factory. Huh? Your lemon is just going to be repacked, tested and sold as “B-stock” at the first opportunity.
The owner of the first serious hifi store I managed had a wonderful slogan in his front display window—one that I still consider every time I make a purchase: “Buy the best and cry once.” That should include an authorized dealer, especially if you’re buying super expensive new gear, super complicated items, or stuff you have no knowledge of and possibly no business owning.
There are flawed designs and there are units manufactured on Friday afternoons.  Two different things.
Will read when i have an hour.
This forum is unlike any I have ever participated in. It is apparently populated with irascible, suspicious types.

I reported what I thought was an interesting phenomenon I had encountered while sampling many different pieces of high-end equipment. I have been criticized for NOT naming the manufacturers. I have been praised for not naming them, as this would have been slanderous. The most consistent criticism I got was that the items in question were not actually lemons. Apparently, the reason for this is that they worked. I mean, I was able to turn them on and they did produce sound. This is a particularly bizarre observation for a group presumably interested in high-end audio in which sound quality the coin of the realm. They also were not lemons I have been told because:

1) I didn't compare apples with apples. It was just poor equipment matching.

One of my examples was of two DACS, both the same make and model, and manufacturer. They differed only by the presence of some optional upgrades. One sounded fantastic and the other sounded significantly worse, worse than the cheap DAC it was supposed to replace. This is not a matter of "equipment matching". They were the same unit differing only by the presence or absence of some relatively minor upgrades. They were both auditioned using the same same associated equipment in the same room under the same conditions. Any difference in sound should have been at most minor. In fact, the sound was quite different, with the more expensive unit sounding significantly worse.
Also, I should have mentioned that in the other case, the amplifier, I am very familiar with this company's products. They have a house sound. I own another one of their products. Not only did the significantly more expensive lemon not sound better. It sounded significantly worse, and, more importantly, it did not ever really sound at all like my other unit. I might also mention that it had been widely reviewed and praised by all. When I settled on my final choice, it was also from the same manufacturer. It sounded better than my existing unit, but they clearly sounded similar. Unlike the lemon, they sounded as though they were clearly made with the same DNA.

2) These were not lemons, they were just expressions of personal preference.

I suppose in the broadest sense, ALL audio choices are a matter of personal preference, so to that extent this becomes a trivial observation. The sense in which it is NOT trivial is that after listening to a lot of expensive gear for many decades, believe it or not I am able to make intelligent judgments about gear that sounds good and gear that does not. This is NOT a question of personal preference. I mentioned in the post that some of the equipment that I auditioned sounded refined and of obviously high quality, but just did not accommodate my tastes. That can easily happen. The lemons were not that. Yes, I could turn them on and yes they made sound, but the sound they made was not enjoyable, was not refined, and was not musical. Something was obviously wrong.
@denverfred -- good point. The word "lemons" really did necessitate not mentioning the manufacturers' names. I withdraw my question.
There is no reason for why lemons cannot exist in audio. They’re out there and I’ve had similar experiences to the OP’s. These days I rarely buy a product with no option for return or exchange. 
I didn't read the responses as criticizing you, just people responding with their thoughts. I also didn't read the agreement with not naming names as you being praised. He just said it was a good thing. Not sure why you felt praised... or criticized for that matter. There's a difference between not agreeing and criticizing. Looks like over sensitivity to me. Ease up?
I agree with daj. I was not criticizing; just saying that as I see it, OP's experience does not really fit the definition of "lemons" as I know the term.
When life gives you lemons, make whiskey sours.
I just came off of a very very bitter experience with a lemon(used.) Not only did I spend a lot of money getting it repaired a few times but the biggest problem was the sound it made was so magical and compelling I couldn’t believe these sounds were coming from my system. The shimmer and impact of the personality of each instrument(I’m not talking about the general sound of an oboe let’s say but THAT oboe) and the layers of sound reaching out to me from a blackness that I don’t know where it exists in my small apartment continually astonished me. I wanted to listen to my entire library again with an unknown excitement and it was a struggle to live a life outside of listening to music. And no wine or vodka needed!
Alas I had to give it up due to inevitable continuing expensive problems.

Here’s the kicker. the company is very very famous and popular and known for making unreliable products which I did not know until I purchased it. I tried doing my research before but after the purchase I saw for some reason all the complaints on this site.

I was warned by two audiophiles never under any circumstances to buy their products again. Wait currently for repairs is now 3 months after they receive your unit.
It boggles the mind a company can be so sloppy in its reliability yet produce such a beautiful product, no I'll use the words beautiful instrument.

And it’s enormously sad as well. I never expect to hear those sounds coming from my system again.



I've run into the exact same thing with components that reviewed very well.  In fact, one component was very well designed and its components were beautiful, perfectly isolated stages, top grade semis.  I'm a manufacturing engineer and used to work in the electronics industry so I know how stuff is made.  I could not, for the life of me, get this thing to operate properly, even after cycling it back to the manufacturer for repair/testing or trying to isolate it on its own circuit.

It had zero issues after swapping for a brand new unit.  My only explanation?  We used to x-ray PCBs.  My guess is some of the components were either bad or were simply one of the 5-sigma or 6-sigma fallouts...
Yes Jason,THAT would be considered a lemon. 
roxy1927,
And why wouldn't you want to name the brand and save others from the same problem?
Some manufacturers invest in quality control more so than others.
I took the initial responses as mostly negative aimed at the OP for no good reason. Why address whether he named the manufacturer or not. Or whether his definition of lemon stands up to yours. Or whether he hooked it up correctly.
the main point he asked is whether anyone else experienced out of the box components that were just not right.
i bought a pair of  speakers that took everyone by storm, won awards, all reviewers, shows...everyone proclaimed how wonderful they were.
got them and they were just wrong in bass.  I listened for months, then a year trying to convince myself the bass is there, it’s just more “elegant”.
spoke to the manufacturer who likened it to someone that’s been drinking coffee with too much sugar.  Saying  When you at first bring the sugar level to normal it doesn’t taste sweet enough. Once you get used to it, it not only tastes sweet enough but you get the real flavor of coffee. I struggled to appreciate the “correct” level of bass for several months more.
at this point in my response I’m sure there are a handful of readers here thinking “did you move the speakers around to improve bass, or maybe you had it hooked up wrong, or maybe your amp is the culprit.  Save it.
internet searching on the bass of these speakers turned up mostly rave reviews but a good handful of owners saying they had to add a subwoofer to make it sound right, that the bass was lacking.
i put the Speakers aside for a year and tried some other brands.  Every once in a while went back and hooked up the bad speakers hoping in their sleep something might have self corrected.
finally decided to try fixing them, sent woofers out to test and repair if needed. No change. Looked at crossover and played with connections, no change. Finally lucked into changing the phase of the woofers from the rest of the drivers. Whammo! Everything clicked in and magic came out of those speakers.
a simple listening session at the factory by the QA person before shipping should have revealed something was wrong. Based on internet posts, there were a handful of other sets shipped with the wiring wrong.
lemons? Indeed!
@jacksky - An interesting story. Thanks for sharing. 

  
jacksky,
Yes, you could call that a lemon, but there is nothing wrong with the previous posters who disagreed with the OP regarding his definition. I was one of them, and his issue was completely different.
I found your post very interesting, as I too have had several "lemons" from a wide variety of manufacturers over the past 25 years.  
I don't mind naming brand names, but in more than half of the cases the manufacturer made right on the problem is relatively painless fashion, so if I do mention them by name it will only be a compliment to their brands.  
Consumer Reports used to be a very popular magazine for this very reason.  People want to know what brands are good and what companies are not worth spending money on.  
I respect your decision not to mention these companies by name.  
Roxy54,
You’re correct. its an open forum,  different posters have different takes on the same sentence. Didn’t mean to come out righteous or high n mighty.

You didn't at all. You just had a point of view.
that's what's so valuable about support.   Chances are a made in America label would be more comforting.