The Lawyers Have Taken Over Audio

Great article in the wall street journal today.

Strange, Gideon mentions that he has a $500,000 ceiling on a system. I will appreciate that when I visit him. I now know how much cash to bring.
Most people have never heard a really good sound system. Especially today where the focus is on quantity and not quality. Pretty easy to blow the minds thoae listening to ipods. If your buddies all work for GS then it would be an easy sell.
In the 1970's, you could walk into a Tech Hifi in NYC and get a top performing system of the day for a reasonable premium.

Since then, high end audio has become more of a niche/boutique industry. Today, you might well pay a huge premium in a big city audio shop for a rig that may not even sound as good as what you might put together as a smart thrifty shopper on the internet for a small fraction of the cost. It could be a huge discrepancy if one uses component cost alone as their main indicator of performance. Or one might find a good value still if smart and working with a dealer that has a range of customers best interests in mind, not just those of the ultra wealthy Wall Street types. IT can be a slippery slope for the uninitiated though. Retail price is clear as day. Most other things that really matter tend to be more nebulous. The financial stakes can be quite huge!
I have heard really good systems and yes, the total outlay was otherworldly, but I have this stinking feeling that some small aspect of the system, a part, a piece of equipment or two, were the prime factor as to why it all sounded so great.

Certain parts of the chain (speakers, cables, amp) could have been swapped out for something far less costly and you'd have close to, if not, the same results.

Barnum was a prophet.

All the best,
The high end has become a treacherous mine field, much higher prices with much fewer places to listen.
As Mr. Schwartz recently told a skeptical customer: "The more you spend, the closer you get to musical truth."

He may be a lawyer, but he certainly talks like a regular audio salesperson.
That's all N.Y.C. needs is another audio salesman.
Stop buying for the next 2 years.
"The Musical Truth" may just well be the name of the trust Mr. Schwartz puts his clients earnings in.

All the best,
Jmcgrogan2, I'm sure that Mr. Schwartz's assertion that "The more you spend the closer you get to musical truth." takes into consideration that professionals will be in charge of installing and fine tuning the system. Because let's face it, if you simply sell the same gear to the average consumer and leave it to them to set it up you'll have a vastly different outcome.

What I'm saying is that proper set-up, component matching, and very good room acoustics must be considered a huge part of the overall results... which could vary greatly.

I also agree with Mapman that if you know what you're buying you don't need to spend a ton of money in order to get very respectable results.

I wouldn't be too surprised to find that my system at roughly $25k would surpass some of Schwartz's $100k+ systems. I mean, if he's selling to a relatively inexperienced clientele how could they know what level of performance is possible and if they are getting nearly their money's worth?
"Not to sound too lofty," he said, "but every art should have someone who raises the level of the art. With stereos, that's me."

All respect, Mr. Schwartz, but you're sounding too lofty.
a top notch audio system:

stacked quad esls
2 warm sounding tube amps and preamps and a decent turntable, arm and cartridge or good digit system.

the cost will not be prohibitive.
As Mr. Schwartz recently told a skeptical customer: "The more you spend, the closer you get to musical truth."
Seems to me that the intellect and experience of the designers of the components in the system have a lot to do with the quality of the results, and good thinking costs no more than bad thinking.

-- Al
"and good thinking costs no more than bad thinking."

Good point. In theory, it should cost less to achieve any particular product goal.
OK, I'm going to interupt the piling on for a moment to say that I have made a couple of purchases from Gideon Schwartz and Audio Arts In New York.

Even though I live on the opposite coast, he has provided to me tremendous advice and has been very fair in both his dealings and his pricing. Whomever wrote the article did everything they could to make the hobby and the equipment sound overpriced and unachievable which is absolutely not the way that the Gideon with whom I have done business would have likeley preferred.

He champions some very small brands with very limited distribution so the prices reflect the small production realities when it comes to price and yet, he will proudly set you up an entry level system for alot less money than the article stated....he carries 47 labs among other reasonably priced equipment. He takes trades, takes a full system approach and truly has a passion for the hobby.

Why wouldnt we want a guy to open a shop and prosper? He travels the world to discover brands and has the courage and financial strength to import them. There are a number of dealers who fill this need and yet they get bashed in this forum, I don't understand. At a minimum, isn't it great that someone purchases some expensive gear, lightly uses it for a brief time, trades it in and then Gideon lists it on Audiogon where someone like me can finally afford it? I have purchased twice from him and will hopefully do so in the future.

Other great dealers like him deserve our patronage when possible....Peter at Venice Audio, Matt at Pitch Perfect, Fred at Katli, Sunil at Sunny! Walter at Fidelis and there are many more. Shouldn't we be pulling for these guys to prosper and advance the hobby rather than to slam them? What about the Wall Street guy who shells out the 6 figures for his gear....these dealers need them so they can afford to help the rest of us. Peace.
Top end audio is struggling for survival and all you guys can do is bag people for trying to sell it ...
I can tell you the money is in the baby boomers and they dont want to spend weekends trawling ebay and the local flea markets. They actually listen to music and just want a complete system ready to go.
WOW!! An outbreak of common sense. I hope it's contagious. Reason strikes back!!
Ghasley and Dover, May the Schwartz Be With You!
I think a lot of us forget that a proper professional setup is indispensable for excellent sound. Including the room and how it's treated.

Sounds like this guy has what it takes...and he's built a small business in a very tough market...I haven't heard of some of his brands but maybe I should check some out next time I am in NYC...
Anyone who belives any speaker is worth 100k is mentally ill.
Not sure why many are being so hard on both Gideon as well as his clients. I have experience with many very wealthy clients/friends. I would suggest that most are very intelligent and capable of making smart and well thought out decisions. Many might seem to have more money than time, that does not necessarily make them deaf. I am not certain, but perhaps this makes someone that can provide what they desire with a minimum of time and effort. It seems to me quite possibly Gideon is providing exactly what they are looking for. While I do not agree with his "philosophies" I for one do appreciate his supporting some of the companies that push the sonic limits (as well as the extreme pricing).
New York generally knows how to do things well and often to extremes. That's part of what makes it unique. No reason to think high end audio would be any different.
"Anyone who belives any speaker is worth 100k is mentally ill."

SOme might be worth it.

The question in my mind is how many people really need $100K speakers? I don't think it should cost nearly that much to max out most any normal room at home.

Of course, need or worth are often not the determining factor in a purchase.

But if one can really afford it and is happy with the results, more power to them!
"The more you spend, the closer you get to musical truth."

Fortunately, most of us here knows it doesn't work that way. I've heard a couple of systems that cost roughly $400k, to $600k, that didn't sound as good as some way under a $100k systems can. Actually, I was relieved to get home and hear my own system for a fraction of the cost of those. The one was put together by someone with over forty years of experience. That's about this mans age. It takes a lot of years to really learn this hobby.

Going by price is one way of putting together a system, possibly at someones else's expense. But years of experience of trial and error, and a good ear can get you a lot more for your dollar. Sadly, if you don't have that experience, you may end up with what someone else thinks is a good sounding system.

You could buy some amps shown here, and some speakers shown here, and spend a lot more than $500k, and into the millions of dollars with a system. I've heard some of those companies products myself. I imagine you'll find a lot of those aren't necessarily going to be the best sounding.
Upom reflection, I ammend my statement.
Anyone who thinks a speaker is worth 50k is very mentally ill.
Schubert aren't both of those a lil harsh?
Schubert, It's all relative to your income level. At least we know who buys the ultra expensive stereo equipment. It's the poor banks we needed to bailout.
@Schubert, so I guess speakers that sell for well over $1,000,000 are owned by stark raving loonies???
Love ya all
20K is limit of Sanity, and that only if Classical is your primary fare.Period, end of story.
Schubert, I agree with you. I see no need for speakers that cost over 50k.
I just had to laugh when the wife commented "Oh, and the remote will match the color of the rug - or was it drapes? GMAFB...

We all have our priorities.
Anyone who thinks a speaker is worth more than $50k is -------lucky if he can afford to buy it.
There is an interesting editorial in HiFi+ this month. It will be in the US next month. It discusses the demise if high end dealers. What Alan Sircom says, is that whatever else you lose, it is set up that is critical. You can't gaurantee that a high end dealer knows what he is doing. His job though, is to put together components that have synergy and help set them up, with accessories, room treatment and speaker placement, that gives you some chance of hearing what theystem is capable of.

Sircom suggests there is no other easy source for this sort of knowledge. Reading books, using members of a HiFi society, may be a substitute, but not a complete one, for an experienced high end dealer.
"Sircom suggests there is no other easy source for this sort of knowledge. Reading books, using members of a HiFi society, may be a substitute, but not a complete one,"

Very true.
Best that Giedon's clients call Jim Smith of better sound. A second opinion is always worth it.
We are hobbyists who actively pursue this stuff, post about it, trade
information, and have a willingness to spend the time and effort to research
and analyze the details. Most of you have experience, probably a lot of it
and when you think about it, you probably know a lot more now than you
did when you started, or even compared to 5 or ten years ago. You read
magazines devoted to the subject, and scrutinize changes in systems,
perhaps go to hi-fi shows, and probably spend a fair amount of time on the
That's true of a lot of hobbies and pursuits, and the enthusiast's 'take' may
be different than the guy that just wants 'the best' and can afford it.
Granted, there's salesmanship, but it's everywhere in this hobby as well as
every other one. And, unlike a car or watch or other high end commodity,
most hi-fi is not pre-packaged- it needs to be put together in components
that make up a system and it needs to be set-up properly.

I'm not apologizing for bling hi-fi in general or for investment banker
customers in particular, but this gentleman has found a market. I don't
know him, have never done business with him and haven't a clue as to
what his systems sound like, but I'm not going to fault him for selling
expensive products to people who can afford them.
New York City is a mixed bag in terms of high end dealers anyway, despite
its size and 'importance.' Although there is still a thriving audio community
here, we probably don't have any more, or better dealers than any other
major city and some of them are not the most user friendly either. Jeff at
High Water deserves a call-out (and I've never bought anything from him
either, but he's the kind of guy that will spend time on the phone with you
talking about step up transformers he doesn't even sell).
Let's support the good dealers if we can. I know that the very existence of
this site is based on used equipment, and often, folks here have no need
for advice or the support that a good dealer can provide. But there are
plenty of people who want a great system who lack the knowledge (or the
time to get the knowledge) to get there. (Just think about the tweaks, the
repositioning of equipment, the upgrades, frustrations and mistakes we've
all gone through in this hobby and ask yourself if someone who wants the
end product -without the travail- is really being unreasonable in relying on a
'boutique' dealer).
FWIW, Andy Singer was also a lawyer.
I'm a big Gideon fan, customer and supporter. All on this site within their own financial means and circumstance looks to raise the level of this art while we are surrounded by "muggles" who believe a Bose table top radio is state of the art or at least good enough. I believe the reporter has most likely misquoted and taken out of context some of the statements being swatted around on this forum. The WSJ is a financial newspaper and a high end audio store is a business. The passion for what these product deliver to those of us in the know and who considerate good audio important is not really reported on in this article. But the reality of running this type of business is that you should cater to a range of tastes and financial abilities to stay viable. We can all see Gidion also offers the affordable brands and products he likes for the person looking for something better than the run of the mill. Give him his due for supporting our love with his investment in a facility where we actually hear something with personal assistance added.
A few years back i was taking competitive driving track instructions because i wanted to buy a Ferrari, my teacher suggested to take a test drive in a Lotus Elise at a quarter of the price it was as fulfilling and thrilling as the Ferrari, i bought the Lotus. A few years latter I needed to upgrade my audio system somehow i ended at Gideon place, same experience, he sold me a system half the price of what i was expecting to spend. Talking of professionalism nothing compares the experience of the race track or the audio salon. And then the lawyer thing, I feel more comfortable dealing with somebody ho don't have the need to make a profit to exist and does his thing because of the passion of it. Do you think Mayor Blomberg is in for the money?
Whart, your long-winded whine in praise of excess is analagous to a man marrying his true love and some abcess on decency aquiring a trophy wife.
Schubert- Long -winded, perhaps; a 'whine,' not at all (there was hardly any criticism or bitching about the guy, the industry or pricing); I don't understand the last part: 'some abcess (sic) on decency acquiring a trophy wife.'
"His job though, is to put together components that have synergy and help set them up, with accessories, room treatment and speaker placement, that gives you some chance of hearing what theystem is capable of.”

You’re right David, that should be the job. Unfortunately, the appeal of selling $100,000+ stereo systems, while gaining access to the the type of person who is willing to spend that kind of money on a stereo system, is irresistible to a certain type of grifter. I’ve seen salesmen bleed clients for decades with never ending phone calls that begin something like this: "I’m not sure if you're ready for this; your system is already so frickin awesome, I just don’t know. Do you thing you’re strong enough for another twenty percent improvement?" I know that everybody here is too smart for that, but it does happen, and the grifter salesman doesn’t need a lot of those clients to make a great deal of money.
I am a big fan, customer and supporter of Gideon. You know we are all in this hobby to elevate the level of the art of music appreciation in the home even though we are surrounded by “muggles”( that would include WSJ reporters) that may believe a Bose table top radio is state of the art sound reproduction or at least good enough. The statements from this article being swatted around on this forum I believe from my experience with Gideon were misquoted and certainly taken out of context. The WSJ is a financial newspaper and a high end audio store is a business. The WSJ needs eye catching headlines for its demographic reader and we need hi end audio stores and the well-heeled that help support them. The passion about what these products deliver is not really reported on. And to be in this as a business you should cater to a defined range of tastes and financial ability. We can all see Gideon does in fact sell brands and products that he likes that cater to the person that just wants to step up beyond the run of the mill stuff. I realize that there are some of us on this site that just like to antagonize for fun. I get it. But still give Gideon his due for making the investment in a facility where we and others can actually hear something along with providing exceptional customer education and service.
Again, I'm saddened that the attacks on high end audio don't just come from those who don't any better, but from some within the hobby who should.

I can agree that to many people, higher priced merchandise of any consumer category may not make sense. If you consider a car a transportation appliance then a Bentley versus a Honda Accord is a comparison that the Bentley can't win. The Honda is more reliable, efficient, cost effective operationally and better on the environment. So some people might even extrapolate that anyone who spends more than say $40k on transportation is an idiot. The same can be said for watches where the gap for a time appliance price wise is crazy. Free time on your cell phone vs. $100k+ for some rare Pateks. The comparisons for everything on earth have a wide field of vision....housing? nourishment? clothing?

But we are forgetting that innovation is typically pretty expensive on the front end of virtually any new technology. Anyone else here remember a dual floppy disk, 1st gen Intel chipped IBM PC for $10k? Using the logic of some on this board would lead to the conclusion that there is no need to develop the pc to begin with because it simply doesnt make any pricing sense. But innovation piggy backs and goes exponential in a hurry. Just compare outboard DACs of 20 years ago(ML 30.5!) with a new Audioquest Dragonfly at $250! The performance gap got pretty narrow in a relatively short time. I happen to be one who applauds the boutique manufacturers pushing the performance envelope and charging what they must to stay in business and make a profit. I cant afford it but I can sure learn from the experience of hearing it, whether the sound is better or worse is an individual thing. The marketplace will determine if they stay in business and whether it was was an ill advised business model. If it weren't for dealers like we are discussing here, nothing "outside the box" would have a retail outlet which is, for better or worse, an objective arena to determine an opinion on sound quality. Furthermore, dealers with really affordable and inexpensive products have been driven to sell home theater installations or move their pricepoints way upmarket to survive. Why, because we consumers have forced it by discounting the value added by the dealer channel. I plead guilty on this too, I have to seek out the best value I can to stretch my buying power. That is natural for all of us so I try to buy preowned or demo to maximize my system dollar but I also buy some new product. When dealing with an excellent dealer, I thank them for their patience and time spent with me and for having product on hand for me to experience. Stocking dealers are a rare sighting in the wild, shouldnt we support them rather than denegrate them?

Back to the example of the many well paying jobs does the manufacture of one Bentley create compared to one Honda Accord? Is the stitching of a leather seat identical for both cars or does one require more care and skill? We can agree that seating stitching doesn't affect 0-60 times or gas mileage or some other arbitrary measure, but it matters to the purchaser and the craftsman performing the work. After all, isnt that the true test? Are both parties happy with the transaction?

At the end of the day, I simply don't understand the mean spirited potshots toward a fellow lover of audio and of high end dealers in general. Giedeon's silence on the matter shows a great deal of class because I know with certainty that he was severely misquoted in virtually every paragraph, he was not provided an advance copy of the article for proofing or fact checking and I believe the author had a motive to exagerate system pricing for the investment banking elite. The WSJ has slipped a great deal under Murdoch's ownership.

If you havent heard the systems he coordinates but you choose to criticize, thats simply unfair. I hope the vast majority of fair minded hobbyists would make this type of behavior unwelcome here. Hey its one thing to debate a real point of difference and to even dog on one another a debate. But unfair trashing when you dont know what you are talking about is indeed unfortunate. Peace.
its intuitive that price and sound quality are not necessarily highly correlated.

this means that you can attain very good sound for under $20,000.

i provided the framework in an earlier post.

all this chatter about megabuck systems is moot. you will never get a definitive conclusion to this philosophical argument.

who cares what the sentiment is regarding a $50,000 speaker system ?
ghasley - nice post...thanks for taking the time to write it
One mustn't confuse humor with bashing with some of these posts. I can appreciate someone with the disposable income needed to acquire something they're not involved with on a level necessary to enjoy it.

Paying a large amount to offset the cost of, say, R&D, is not the same as paying through the nose for something already established. This is not to say that some expensive devices out there aren't justified as new, cutting edge technology needs a return for the effort and outlay.

If I had the wealth, there would be a bright line as to how much I'd spend on a classically made watch, a Porsche, a home. Anything more would be ostentatious, conspicuous. I don't begrudge them their wealth and maybe the seller was misquoted which would imply conspicuous consumption.

Some of these folk are paying for the gild, not the build.

All the best,
I read the WSJ article. I laughed. The, A fool and his money, thingy came to mind.
Rok2id, I agree with you, if the article had not featured someone I know to be the antithesis of those traits, I would have just chuckled and moved along. Fortunately, I know Gideon has immense character and his ethics are beyond reproach.
Then I stand corrected. To be perfectly honest, I laughed at the ideal of paying real money for a FRENCH made component. Also, if the rich can't splurge, what's the point of being rich? And we, the USA, have the best rich in the world. Many are generous to a fault. I do not in any way begrudge them their wealth. They pay the tab that make many technical advancements possible. They also support the Arts. Although, I must admit, I have not noticed any 'trickle down' in high-end audio lately.