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.
adambmedia
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.