Tone of Muisc, SF - worst hifi experience. Yours?

Some times a retail experience is so bad that as soon as the shop door closes behind you, you want to scream. I just had this kind of experience at Tone of Audio in San Francisco, with Tim, oh Tim, and it's difficult to type in between the acrid taste in my mouth and the compulsion to clench my fists and teeth. Where to begin.

I'm thrilled to buy a new set of speakers. It's for my wife. She's just as excited. We're listening to things together. Discussing. It's great. We've just had a multi hour listening session down in the South Bay. We're heard many different things. We both have good ears. I have a phD from MIT. I do advanced audio research every day. She's a brilliant, discerning listener. We know what we're doing. We want to listen to Harbeth 30.1s. We want to listen to Prac 3.8s. These are two speakers Tim's got as trade-ins at killer prices.

I drove in last week with my wife from South Bay. Schedules got busy, and we couldn't make it over there after 11. Another week goes by. Everything is lining up. We've got time. We're thrilled to hear these speakers. We drive in. An hour later, the store isn't open at 11. No problem. Typical. I don't think I ever opened the record store on time back in the day. We go have brunch in the area. I call before we order. Tim picks up the phone. He seems great. Wants to know all about our setup. What we want to hear. No problem. He seems to struggle with how we want to hear the Pracs. Weird, but fine. See in 45min.

45min later we come in. Here's this guy. Totally frantic. Boxes everywhere. Half opened speakers. Hey, Tim, we just talked. Let's do this. There's a problem. What follows is the most bizarre, convoluted, mental monologue conversation I've ever heard in all my years being in the characteristically bizarre mental world of audio and hifi.

Tim opens with a combo salvo/sob-story about how he's the only person who works here, how if I would have read the website, not on the front page mind you, but way down in the contact-us page accessible from a top navbar, it says demos are by appointment only, how when people just come in they aren't respecting his time and they don't buy anything. How, do you see these speakers right here, these speakers cost 16$ (he can hardly mask his excitement), and someone might come in and knock them over (in the back room, the listening room, where he works alone), how he has so many speakers to listen to that he just doesn't want to play me the Harbeth's he wants to play me many things, more expensive things, stop thinking about those specials, I get contacted about the specials all the time but I won't demo them to anyone, I only demo these other things. Then, he goes on. Topics cover his goals in life, how he's paid as a consultant to tell people, very successful people, what they should be doing with their setups. We get stories about how customers who think they know what they want come back to him a year later to say, you know, Tim, I should have bought exactly what you told me. It goes on. There's not much way into the conversation. Let's say, the meandering diatribe was more of a full-range sound.

Finally, my wife butts in. Errr, my husband has a PhD from MIT in this area. He builds these things, and works in audio everyday. Whoa that set Tim off. He interrupts, Yeah, well some people look at this like a science project (I'm imagining my PhD as a science project, like school fair volcano), for instance, he continues, see this amp here, why does a tube amp sound better, science can't even tell us...Oh man, thanks for the insight.

All said, about 20 minutes go by, us standing there. Tim, I finally offer, we can come back, but I'd like to listen to those prac speakers agains the Harbeth's to compare with things we're about to buy somewhere else. Now he loses it. It's my policy to never play specials for people ever. I'll plug them in to make sure they work but never demo. On audiogon you don't get to demo anything, he reminds me, with a sneer as Audiogon rolls off his tongue. I receive so many emails about the specials and people come in here (and here's where I'll paraphrase, people come in here and hear completely different speakers that Tim bait and switches for a margin). If I'm supposed to have quite randomly ice-fished down to the contact page to make an appointment, perhaps I could have seen on the specials page, where I spent most of my time, that he won't demo any of this stuff. But you won't find such a noticie. It isn't there. These things are bait.

So here's my review of Tone of Music, San Francisco. Tone of Music is a hifi store that works for one very specific customer. If you want to be friends with Tim, listen to his expertise, learn from Tim, learn about this magical world of tube amplifiers and beautiful extremely expensive equipment, he'd like to see you someday, after he's assessed the maximum amount of money you can spend in the area for which he has the perfect thing, without exception, actually, without even you being in the room. Check out the about us page on their website. There's a lot about Tim there. His favorite foods. His teenage dreams of hifi. This should make you want to learn more from him. Don't even think about wanting to hear a particular speaker. Let's talk about Tim. And have an appointment. He suggested a two hour minimum, just to hear the Harbeth's, nah, he has other plans.

Actually, I had an appointment. I talked to Tim over an hour before we got asked to leave. He didn't say don't come. He said come. Respect his time? I've waited weeks to hear these speakers. I'm already an hour in the bag just to have driven up here. He spends 20 minutes on wide-eyed monologue, plus the hour that I'm eating around the corner ostensibly while he gets in order. Total nutty. What a waste of time.
I'd suggest finding another dealer, as Tim apparently has no clue how to run an audio store. He sounds so aggravated by trying to accommodate simple requests that he should find another way to make a living. I have no personal experience with this dealer.
I'm not taking sides and certainly they have lost your business. However, it states clearly on their web site the following:

(To ensure that you receive the best service, I personally serve one client at a time. Please make an appointment for auditions and consultations. I promise you'll have a wonderful experience. Cheers, Tim.)

That being said, it appears that he made more of the situation than needed to be. He should have found a way to meet your need or informed you of his policy when you were on the phone with him and scheduled a time that would have worked for both of you.

BTW, if he does his trade ins correctly, there is a handsome dollar to be made on used equipment.

Also, you stated, "Tim, we can come back, but I'd like to listen to those proac speakers against the Harbeth's to compare with things we're about to buy somewhere else."

You then stated that he lost it. Please re-read the above because if that is what you said, then, I don't blame him for getting irritated. You just informed him that you had no plan on purchasing from him but wanted him to spend time with you, set up a demo so you could compare them to speakers you are buying somewhere else. Why would anyone waist their time doing this?

I think what you meant and would have been better served by saying was, "to compare them to other speakers we are considering."

Do you see the difference. You might have inadvertently gave him the wrong message.

Finally, Okay, you have a Phd. from MIT, and in the field of audio, for which you should be proud, but be more modest. It can come across as condescending to throw that out there. You might not have meant it that way but it can come across that way, none the less.

Again, I have no doubt that you had a miserable experience and maybe it was all Tim, but from your post above there were things you could have, or might have done differently if given a second chance, which may have led to the wonderful experience Tim refers to on his site.

It sounds like a world class bad experience, and you certainly have my sympathies. If he had no desire to demo specials, it should have been clearly stated before the appointment.
This lack of clarity on store websites caused a problem for me as well. USA Tube Audio in Scottsdale maintains a website that never mentions an appointment being required, but when I went there in the middle of a weekday, they were closed. There was a sign in the window stating that they were out doing installations. Fine...but who's minding the store?
Instead of an apology, they let me know that they had sent the content of my email, which contained no obscenities, to the management at Audiogon. What a way to do business!
I think, Raymonda put it quite clearly and correctly. There appears to have been mistakes on both sides.
And you throw your PhD around here too. Many of us have various degrees, some even have two or three. It's OK not to engage your papers, you are among friends.
Having said that, it is difficult to deal with most hi-fi dealers, but it is difficult business too.
Why not simply find another dealer? Problem solved!
I feel compelled to respond to this negative, nasty review of Tone Audio. I have no affiliation with Tim other than as an occasional customer.
Tim has always treated me with respect and cordiality, never tried to "up-sell" me, happily demonstrated whatever equipment I was interested in, and often suggested less expensive alternatives.
I, too, was interested in Harbeths and when I told him the size of my room and my listening habits, he suggested the smallest (and cheapest) in their lineup. He also felt my electronics needed no upgrade. He even came to my home to help set them up.
I've stopped by occasionally to see what's new, without appointment and felt welcomed and never pressured to buy anything.
I've referred others there and they've been treated as I was. In short, my experience with Tim has been totally opposite to that of the reviewer.
It's too bad this reviewer feels he had such a negative experience, but it's even worse that he feels better venting in a public forum, at the expense of another.

PhD from MIT in which area?
Not clear at all.
It's a shame you didn't get to hear the Proacs. The Response 3.8 is a wonderful speaker if you have room for them.
Agree with OP. Thanks for the warning about Tim the narcissist.
you got to feel some sympathy for the b&m dealers, who are forced to deal with the ever-increasing number of "customers" who are there merely to audition gear to buy on the internet. on the other hand, there is still a significant class of people who only buy at retail stores--an audio salesman who's really good and really patient can still get by. if you're not both, though, you're doomed.
i remember when i lived in northern california there was a guitar stored where kids would hang out all day and play with expensive equipment they couldn't possibly afford. the owner never got irritated or chased the kids out; his philosophy was eventually they'd be in a position to afford the gear and, because of their positive experience in the store, would buy from him. from what i could glean, his approach was very successful and he very well for many years.
It is what it is and there is a reason not many high end stores for audio these days.

There are two kinds of salesmen. The kind that help you find what you are looking for and the kind that want you to do it their way.
I sell and service vintage equipment which is great sounding.
Any consumer living within 50-mile radius would rather walk into the store than buy on the internet.

Prices matter. My prices set to be slightly higher than most of the internet considering provided up to 1 year warranty on each sold piece of equipment that had been properly checked and serviced.

I have a hipster store with vintage equipment, instruments and vinyl. I guess hi-fi isn't suitable there at all, but if any manufacturer would want me to consign their new products, I would politely opt out.
It would be interesting to hear stories about this kind of encounters in other countries. How are UK, German, Canadian and other hi-fi dealers doing?
I am a regular customer of Tim's, and don't appreciate someone who tries to slander. The very fact that you chose to use this forum to post a long winded negative review, in my opinion reflects badly on your self. Tim, in my experience is always helpful and polite, and has helped me in numerous ways with regards to my system, without regard for profit.
I think the "compare with something we're about to buy somewhere else" was written more for effect. I mean, of course I wouldn't assert to a delaer of anything that I'm not going to buy from them. But if I suggest, and I did, that we've been listening to many things at other dealers, which is always in the best interest of the customer, the implication that we may go a different direction is there and should motivate both sides.

In terms of credentials, entitlement is the worst. But so is being talked down to. At some point, far into the monologue, you just want to try and do a little course correction. Hey man, this isn't my first rodeo. But alas, some are on a roll at that point, with no room for input.
Sometimes people just have bad days.
I don't understand why a PhD would factor into this story. I've got a measly BA and I'm sure no audio dealer I've ever dealt with knew about it or cared.
Talking about P.H.D's. I used to have an audio dealer by me that used to say "let me teach you about audio I have a P.H.D." That turned me off so bad I never stepped back into that store.

I would be more worried about the bad review he put on Yelp.
I've had nothing but positive responses with Tim. He's been polite, informative and helpful. I've bought a Luxman integrated that he recommended for my Harbeths and a Line Magnetics DAC and both were solid recommendations. Audiofilia (just made that up, I think) spawns its own sort of craziness, from products to dealers to consumers. Today's brick and mortar retailer has to compete against internet sellers for both new and used equipment and the most frustrating thing must be feeling your being "shopped" for demoing and then having the sale go elsewhere. I'm respectful of this. If I were a retailer, I would be tempted to have a policy along the lines of "I charge $100 a hour for demo and system consultation. If you decided to buy from me, that charge will be credited to your purchase." What do you think of that idea? BTW, I'm not saying that you were "shopping" Tim--it sounds like you legitimately wanted to listen to some gear and it worked out poorly and that's a bummer. My rambling is paint a larger picture of this whole episode.
Let's appreciate the OP's openness. He took quite a risk and potentially put himself in a fire line. This doesn't mean that we should fire much.
I've deleted the Yelp review, even though it had some awesome all caps reply from Tim and in hindsight, wish I hadn't posted anything at all. The take home is that dropping a note incurs the cost of having to revisit the thing over and over which is never ideal.
I read about your experience and empathize with you and your wife. I have been visiting audio stores for many, many years and look back on a wide range of proprietors. Thank God for Yelp!

I live in the Bay area too, and have never heard of Tone of Music, SF. Many of the dealers fancy themselves connoiseurs of sound and look down on those of us who have not devoted our entire lives to this hobby. I remember the arrogant, condescending way I have been treated at stores like Stereo Unlimited, Audible Difference and even Blue Moon Audio. The owners act as if they are doing you a favor by letting you into their stores.

In the future, look to stores like Music Lovers (in SF and Berkeley). Ask for the manager (I forget the name) or Grant (one of the salespeople). I know they will help you and treat you civilly. You're more than just someone they want to separate from your money, and you deserve better. No, I don't work there! Unfortunately, many of the stores with helpful, friendly employees closed long ago.

Thanks for the pointers Tony!
Quality service is always about meeting customer expectations. Of course those expectations must be reasonable. In the story outlined, those customer expectations were certainly reasonable. I am sure Tim will be rethinking the service provided. For it he does not, he will be the looser going forward.
I agree with Tonkay and Buconero....couple questions though. If auditions are by appointment only then why bury that info in the contact page of the website instead of having it on the home page? Secondly, why would Tim make a reference to Audiogon and use it as a baseline to justify his reasoning for the policy he has implemented?

There is certainly no doubt that internet sales have been the bane of B&M's and for good reason. Every experience I have had in my local shops are very much in line with the op's.

I had always assumed that all the shops must operate like that until I visited Seattle. In every single shop I went to I was met by enthusiastic staff who were more than eager to let me listen to what ever I wanted for however long I wanted. Even though I had told them I was in town on vacation and had no plans of making any purchases. My take away was the difference between sales people who happen to be in the audio business vs passionate audiophiles who don't treat it like a sales model. I very much enjoy the latter and yes I have since purchased from those shops I visited.
Seattle must be an anomaly. All the big cities stores I have been to try and qualify you first before they let you sit for hours and listen to whatever you want.
The beauty of human interaction. You want to talk to the manager? Here (grabbing one's groin area) Talk to the manager!!

Now that you're holding your "groin area." How does that make you feel?
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@Chrshan137 @Taters Seattle really is an anomaly! We just moved from there and frequently lament how people are just so nice up NW. Young people, people around, your daily interactions are just nice. Helpful and nice.

Totally different from LosAngeles where people are unfriendly and give you dirty looks. It must be really nice to live in a friendly city.
Try Ears Nova in N.Y. they are the worst also In Living Stereo pretty bad as well.
Checking out Singer, wanted to see first hand how they represented Meadowlark speakers $12k Blue Heron 2 that went head to head with an array of $20k+ speakers. Told the salesperson what I wanted to hear, he says "oh we have better speakers than that that are less expensive". I repeated that I wanted to hear the Blue Heron 2's. He says well we don't have them set up. When I finally insisted I wanted to hear them he was going to set them up in the baby entry level room that had entry grade cables. After more run around and bait and switch I had heard enough. I called Pat and told him that if Singer hadn't paid for the speakers yet he needed to pick them up. They had been there for months without being broken in, and this dealer was simply tying up the product so another dealer in the area couldn't take sales from singer's products. Most dealers with a lot of lines has far too many conflicts of interest, and reasons for pushing things that have nothing to do with what's the best.

You want to get great service and listen to statement products park a Ferrari in front of the door, works every time.
That's my favorite bottom feeding dealer that is.

Sacramento, my fellow Balanced Audio Technology dealer, Chris. I talked BAT into letting me have their whole line of products from entry level to their best special edition versions. So I borrow $60k from my father in law to cover my shortfall, and I take delivery and break in every product over a period of months, I loaned the wire, amps, and preamps to friends and had them play them all day for weeks at a good level while they were at work, had them keep a log of hours so I could be sure they were sounding right.

So I spend three hours with a guy who wanted to listen to the five thousand dollar midline SE tube preamp. This guy loved it. He says he is going to buy one, when I went to get a check he says oh no, I am getting it from Chris for 25% off. I told him I'd match the 25% off, and I went down to Sacramento and had a face to face talk with Mr. Chris after talking to the owner and sales manager of BAT about the situation.

Turns out Chris had sent this guy to me because the only products he had on hand in his home based showroom was a statement system with the big tube amps and the best preamp.
That's high end audio for you. Limited customers, cut throat dealers. I love high end audio but from a business point of view it has to be one of the worst businesses to be in.
Sounds by Stinker another winner!!!
My only real bad experience was at SBS with the man himself.

I was one for two there. The prior time with another employee helping me was fine.

FWIW SBS closed their doors soon after.
I'm proud that for the past eight years ,I have spent hundreds of hours helping thousands of people with advice and tips that both saved them hundreds to thousands of dollars. ( often at no charge) On several occasions even helping sweet little old ladies in the neighborhood with calibration their 70s vintage turntables again at no cost ( labor would cost more than the table itself) . While these event go unposted on line , it's okay. I know they are happy when they occasionally pass by to say hi.

I can not help this person who randomly shows up with out an appointment on a busy morning(leaving a voice mail anouncing he and his wife are out front at 11:08 doesn't count) with unrealistic demands for services which Are outside of the services we provide.(consignment and trade in are not on site, they are stored in an off site warehouse - demos are by appointment - we do not demo consignment pieces- but we are happy to set a visual and audio inspection to the satisfaction of the buyer at the point of purchase to ensure they are as described )

When returning his call ( before he even set foot into the store) I politely informed him of our policy for consignment pieces .

I offered to let him hear what we do have that is already hooked up, or make an appointment for a later date to demo what we have available for auditioning.

I did not -after eight years of consistietly providing outstanding service, decide to turn into the grinch one morning ,

I believe there is such a things as fairness , decency and respect for other folks time and the time of other clients who do have an appointment later in the day.

In this day and age of online posting, one can say anything ( whether it's true or not ) without much recourse. Perhaps you should take what I say with a grain of salt also.

I will proudly continue to offer outstanding service, as we have for the past eight years , to potential and existing clients.
Tim, Thanks for telling your side of the story in a civil tone. There are always two sides to any story. Having some experience in retail, not audio, I know that it is not possible to please every customer.

Perhaps if you put on your home page in a clearly visible spot that auditions are by appointment only and that used and consignment gear are not available for audition, you could avoid misunderstandings like the one discussed here.

I'm not taking sides in this dispute, but I must say that if you have remained in business for 8 years, you are doing something right.
Two sides to every story. Glad to hear them.
i personally don't like favor venting grievances on these forums since one side's usually not around to respond and, as stated, there's usually two sides to the story. it's good then that at least the other guy got a chance to weigh in, though i'd think this is the kind of tiff best kept private.
Thank You! Adam for your experience.
It is imperative that we (audiophiles) share these types of
experiences for the rest of us. I find it particularly helpful to read and learn from the rest of you guys who live in the big cities and have many more dealers/retailers at your discretion.

We must never be in a position to receive poor service from any establishment (B&M shops). Adam gives a proper example of one of the many reasons that dealer/retailer networks
fail regarding the general public. Then there are people who buy strictly via the net. Personally, I love visiting
B&M shops and see the various wares that I read about in print magazines as well as the internet.

Keep me posted & Happy Listening!
I have delt with Tim multiple times over the last two years through my brother who has delt with him more than twice that time. I have always been treated with utmost respect and courtesy. Combined  sales from Tim sales  to myself, my brother and three three other member of our audio circle have totaled over $60k. Not ones of us have a bad word to say about the service. Tim has personally traveled 250 miles  one way to my house to install speakers and another separate trip to install  and  room tune some subs.  How many of us have had a dealer do the same?  Tim has also sold consignment gear for me and came to my house to help me pack  my consignment speakers for overseas shipment all with no charge because he wanted to make sure I packed them correctly.  Tim's loves music and wants his customers to share his passion.  
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Let us not forget that the B&M audio shop aspect is laden with "flakes".
As these types move to internet audio operations, the problems, are exponential. Happy New Year!


If he deserves it, the OP doesn't have to be nice. By the way, are you finished building your new speakers?