Taking the bad with the good

While many of us share what we think are good components and combo's of gear, is there any specific system(s) that you've heard that you thought was utterly attrocious ?

Personally, one of the worst "mega-dollar" systems that i've ever heard was the demo system that Linn used here in Chicago at Hi-Fi '99. It was actively tri-amped using the infamous Linn CD player, their "flat as a pancake" sized power amps, Linn speakers, etc... The sound was SO "flat & sterile" that it made me think that i was in an elevator listening to a piped Muzak.

This all started out with the Linn rep's giving us a big schpiel about how technically excellent this system was, what the benefits to using components from one manufacturer were, how "system synergy" could be maximized, etc... This went on for some 20 - 30 minutes. Quite honestly, i was surprised at how full the room remained during this WAY too long of a sales rap. Finally, they ended up playing some music.

As i mentioned, everything sounded as if it had been "bleached" i.e. the music had no body, soul, colour, feeling or dynamics. By the middle of their first selection, over 60% of the crowd had turned around and walked out of the room. My brother and i stuck around as i wanted to give them the benefit of doubt. Onto the next selection. More of the same. Even more people got up and left. By the end of the demo, there was about 20 - 25% of the original crowd left.

I ended up talking to one of the sales reps and told him what i thought. I did this to let them know that they might want to try listening to the system from the consumers point of view / listening point rather than near the equipment or off to the side. Obviously, in my opinion, something was drastically wrong.

First of all, he did not know what the term "sterile" meant. He then went on to tell me "well, you're probably just used to listening to coloured equipment. Now you know what real music sounds like on accurate equipment." My only response to him was that most of the crowd must not like "accuracy" either, as they all split right away. If they were there to sell their product, they were doing more harm than good. Otherwise, the room would have still been full and people would have been asking "how much" and "where can i buy" rather than mumbling under their breath and heading for the door.

Anyone else have a similar story / experience ? Sean
Interesting post, Sean. I never attend the shows or spend much time in the shops, so I will refrain from commenting on specific systems. Also, the 'sales job' you describe here speaks for itself, and so requires no elaboration from me.

I would, however, like to note what I feel might be a reason for the phenomenon you describe of audiophiles perhaps more typically reporting on successfully synergistic systems than combos that fail to ignite.

We have all read disclaimers about how tough it is to achieve good sound at shows in particular, but there is a factor which may go beyond that probable truth. There is in audio, as in science or philosophy, the matter of not being able to prove the negative.

If you audition a system and it sounds great, then you know without a doubt that the combo is capable of excellent performance under the right circumstances. But if you hear a system that you and/or others think simply does not work as it ought to, you cannot be certain that there does not exist the possibility of one or more "X" factors causing the resultant sound to be worse than the combo might be optimally capable of.

I think audiophiles as a group tend to realize this, whether consciously or not, and accordingly refrain from passing total judgement when they hear something that they feel doesn't get the job done. Unless comparisions are done in a controlled environment, over a period of time, with known variables to complement the unknowns, I think most folks will quite rightly cut a little slack before drawing hard conclusions, especially for gear with a high reputation (or, let's face it, price tag).
Interesting Sean -- strange though it may be, I remember the "pleasant" surprises. Maybe because I relegate the "mediocre" to the back of my mind and I don't remember the atrocious... A recent "mediocre" system was an all Quad system (pre, powerx2, cdp, 9's). I have NO idea what was amiss in the set-up -- but s/thing obviously was. The combo was SLOW (unbelievable w/ those speakers); I remember cellos sounding like electric bass, lack of upper extension... boom-tizz galore! And this was demo'ed at the local importer's who also sells grand piano's (so you'd think they had an ear or two for reasonable acoustics!).

But I love the sales rep's part about you being used to coloured sound! By inference, live music, if "alive", is coloured. Ergo: if we wish to come closer to the live event thru our system, we have to choose a "coloured" combo...Cheers
As usual Sean and Zaikesman bring up very good points. Not to rehash previous threads but one of the worst demo's I've ever heard was the one by Classic Audio Research at the last Sterophile show in New York. I know Sean liked it. Before I recently moved I used to frequent a dealer in New York that was very pro Linn. Sometimes I liked what I heard, other times not. Sometimes it was the same system in the same room. Are audiophiles fickle? Perhaps or more probably different music showed different +'s and -'s. If this could happen in a good demo (and this dealer presented quality auditions) Zaikesmen's point would certainly hold true at shows. There is some equipment that I consistently like and some that I consistently dislike, as well as some that I inconsistently like and/or dislike. Go figure?
While my wife was shopping for...who knows what at a mall I saw a Bose store and decided to hide there for a while. At the risk of beating a dead horse I have to say their 901 speakers sounded terrible! For all the hipe we listened to in the last 40 years about them, they sucked. Even in their own store they couldn't get them to sound good. The salesman droned on about this measurement and that acoustical treatment but no matter how long he talked he couldn't make them sound better. Wow, was I happy when my wife walked in!
Ok, I went to two shows years ago,both here in LA. I, like others have heard or read about pee poor setup within the rooms. I think it was "Brooksie"--(Brooks Berdan LTD) that said most don't have a clue. I have heard or read more than once about speakers where the glue that holds them together wasn't dry. Amps where the solder wasn't cooled--in an effort to "make it to the show on time"Last minute snafu's QQ,whatever all plague their efforts. They just think having the product on displayi.e.a presence is "all".
I have heard a few underwhelming but expensive setups so I know what you mean by your question, but it strikes me that what really got you here was the salesman's refusal to listen, both to you and to his system. Which is perhaps ironic considering what he sells and Linn's own frequently-stated commitment to the music. But I see several factors at work, and here they are as quick as I can:

--Nobody expects first-class sound "under show conditions," even the pros. This is too bad as more could probably be done. Some demonstrators do manage a good job, investing in a large room, absorbers, diffusers and time-consuming experiments with placement. This can all get very costly.

--Ears get tired just like the rest of you and in synch with the rest of you too. Show demonstrators are under real pressure; their main goal is to get the kit set up fast, then get at least some sleep. Ears don't get rested. In my view everyone should have a 24-hour break between setup and opening, preferably out in the woods.

--The famous "subjective judgment" blind spot which you so clearly describe. Lots of people in audio have it, and Linn people are quite special that way, their slogan is "the only sound," and their Scots singlemindedness is both maddening and charming. The system doesn't sound good to you because "you don't know how a good system should sound". Yet their ads in the past have encouraged you to trust your ears. It's enough to make you want to run for the woods, which might do everybody's ears some good come to think of it.

For anyone building a high-end system Linn equipment is a must-listen if you can stand the pitch. I have heard the same system you describe, in Montreal, and I thought it was terribly disappointing there too, and much too loud. Other, lower-key demos of lower-end rigs have been much better.

And to answer your question at least a little bit, I would say that every single home theater demo I have ever heard at a show has had poor sound and a high price tag.
I haven't been to one audio show in the last twenty years, I did not go away from, sniggering inwardly about how my rig at home was much better, only to be brought back to reality, listening to perhaps similar systems at friends' or collegues' homes. Reason for that could be to my mind:
Sales people know how to sell, but generally haven't got a clue about music. Besides they have to stick to the names, they represent and there the synergy sought after is not musicality but money.
Their ears are ideologised, in a George Orwellian sense.
The room accoustics under show conditions generally stink to
high heaven.
Generally the power is polluted.
If at all, the systems have been tuned in empty rooms and they sound different, when they are packed with listeners.
I've heard myriads of excuses or "explanations" of the unfortunate salespeople, all of which I've forgotten, because they were probably neither funny nor particularly original. I was also genereally a bit taken aback by the taste of the general public, who seemed to love window rattling bass, which made the lower registers of a cello sound like a love sick dynosaur, I heard them rave about the clarity of upper registers, the sound of which made my teeth grit, or the naturalness of a guitar, which unfortunately had the size of a Mack truck. Mind you, this is Europe. Perhaps chez vous across the pond things are better.

Great post. You hit upon a raw nerve with this fellow Audiogoner. Your experience at CES with the Linn reps is exactly why the Linn retail outlets are full of insufferable jerks. Attention all: THE TAIL DOES NOT WAG THE DOG! It is obvious that the people you spoke with actively train the retailers to insult our collective intelligence and this mindset comes directly from the top.

These blistering comments are coming from a member that has a Linn based system of which I am quite happy. Unfortunately, this will be my last investment in the Linn line. It is simply too difficult to do business with snooty folks and their canned speeches. Please note: applogies to the Linn dealers who shoot straight.

I will give credit to Ivor for blazing the trail in turntable design. His flagship comment that "you can't improve upon the source" holds true today and, in my mind, is a universal truth. I applaud Linn for embracing active crossovers and intergrating components so seamlessly. Somewhere along the line Ivor became so full of himself that he fullfilled Murphys Law; eventually, you rise to your level of imcompetence.

I understand that the Komri can't have enough Linn amps thrown at them to work well and that the system shut down several times at one of the CES shows. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

All that being said, I still believe that my LK100's/Keilidh/Aktiv at $1300 used was an incredible bargain. My LP12 has served me well for over 20 years and doesn't beg for a replacement.

One man's meat is another man's poison. As with all things audio perspective is everything. Sean, do you use vaccum tubes in your home rig?
Sounds to me like they could have used a couple dedicated circuits :^)
Many years ago I was a Linn dealer. We referred to the Linn folks as "The Linn Gestapo". As a dealer, it was almost impossible to deal with these snobs and it was a happy day when we discontinued the line. Everyone else we dealt with
Conrad-Johnson, Acoustat, DCM, Denon, Bryston, KEF, Threshold, etc. were a pleasure.
I have heard a system consisting of Krell's current top of the line CD player/preamp, an FPB 300 and Sonus Faber Amati Heritage speakers that sounded like the left channel was down 20db, with no bass below 100hz, and no life at all. This was in a chain hi fi store which has picked up a few high end lines to try to get into that market. The poor Sumiko rep was there demoing the system for us. After a number of cuts one of our club members broached the subject if the speakers always sounded like this, at which point the rep said no, this was the worst setup he'd ever had with them! The room was the main culprit--walls of thin plasterboard that flexed if you breathed on them, no real space to bring the speakers away from the left sidewall, and no real room treatments. He'd tried for two hours to rearrange things to get them to sound decent, but to no avail. A real pity, those speakers are drop-dead gorgeous, and I'm sure that they must be well-designed and sound good from other SF models I've heard, but I've heard Bose systems give that setup a run for its money!
My post was not meant to single out Linn or any other specific manufacturer. It was meant to show that, even with the "assuredness" of knowing that the components "should" have worked together, they didn't. Whether this was from poor speaker positioning, AC problems, poor choice of cables, etc... is anyone's guess.

The fact that Linn is a "full-range" manufacturer and was able to produce a system from source to speakers with all of the amplification and cables in between shows just how "hard" system set-up and tuning can be. The fact that they did not have to rely on any outside vender or another manufacturer to bring support components does somewhat lower my opinion of their products though. After all, i can understand multiple companies bringing different products together to form a system and one of the companies bringing a product that is not up to snuff. Obviously, one weak link in the chain can kill the total performance of the entire system. As such, i can understand several manufacturers being let down by another "bad apple" that didn't plan ahead. Such situations are simply out of their control and end up hurting several companies that may otherwise have most excellent products.

While i do not "discredit" that things are rushed in terms of set-up and very poor AC, i have heard systems that were quite good that were operating under the same conditions that everyone else shared. This tells me that manufacturers either don't care about their products under actual use conditions or that they really don't know how to make a system "sing".

Personally, i would make SURE that a system that i was going to be demo'ing to thousands upon thousands of prospective customers over a short period of time was as well planned and operating at peak potential as is humanly possible. If this meant taking less than optimum AC into consideration and needing time to work with the system / room, so be it. How much more costly would it be to have employees that you are already paying doing a bit more work and effort to "make things right" prior to the actual showing ? I think that most of you feel as i do and wonder the same thing. After all, a "show" is to "show off" what you've got and can do. Would anyone ever think of taking a rotted old rust-bucket of a beater to a high profile industry sponsored car show ? I think not. In fact, i don't think that a manufacturer that REALLY cared about their product would bring anything less than a product that was "kick ass" and looked / played the part. Why is it that "hi-end" dealers / manufacturers think that they can get away with anything less ?

Unsound: My experience with the Classic Audio Reproductions and Atma-Sphere gear was at the same show i.e. Hi-Fi '99 here in Chicago. As i stated in a previous post, the demo that i attended received a standing ovation from a roomful of people. When the demo started, there was less than a quarter of a room and the excellent sound is what drew people into see what was going on.

Viridian: I have three SS 2 channel systems, one tube 2 channel system and an SS HT system. As i mentioned, the Linn presentation had little to do with personal taste. When 75% - 80% of the crowd disappeared after 3 - 10 minutes of music, that should tell you that something was VERY wrong. Sean
Sean, we were obviously comparing different venues and at different times (years), the point of your thread rings even truer. I agree with your latest post as well, the only excuse I could grant the demostrators is that they were marketing a specific (new?) product at the expense of making a quality presentation in a room with the given acoustics, power, etc. available. Still a silly idea to my way of thinking.
Lugnut, you are thinking I believe, of what is known as the "Peter" principal.I think that Murphy's Law is something altogether different. I used to work for a guy who's name is Murphy and the "law" must have been written about this dolt! He is the owner of the business and he most certanly is incompetent as well! So both the "law" and the "principal" could fit in his case.

You are right about the Peter Priciple. Sean, I apologize for going off topic. Unfortunately, I have never been to such an event.
I don't know - I've never had to set up an audio show, but I've been involved in setups for technology shows, and it's pretty amazing all of the things that can go wrong in the little time you have to set up. You'd think that with enough preparation you'd be set to go and it wouldn't be too tough, but Murphy shows up big time. People work from the time they're initially let into the hall until 3-4a.m. before the show opens, and there are still issues. I've never done audio, which admittedly doesn't have network connections, etc., but it might be similar in the time demands.

I heard a pair of Revel Studios driven by all Mark Levinson gear sound pretty terrible once. It was in a room that had one of it's long walls as completely a two-story window, and a lot of hard surface floors. I didn't blame the gear.
What's really weird is that I had the exact same experience. I was really excited about hearing a new amp technology that was raved about by J-10 in Stereophile. I sat down to listen and my jaw dropped. This sounds like my very old Sansui receiver from the early 70's. The sound was dry,amusical,and boring,boring,boring. I walked up to see if the speakers were hooked up properly. Nothing seemed amiss. The company reps seemed oblivious to any statements that suggested that this was anything but "state of the art" sound that they proclaimed in their presentation. I walked out shaking my head in disbelief. Every time I read a review about a Class D or digital amp I cringe and wonder how they could sound any good if they are in any way related to the Linn amps.
Jayarr with all due respect I think lumping all components with any similarity in design prejudicial. This might be especially true with emerging technologies. With enough time perhaps patterns will emerge that will justify your "wonder".