Hi-Fi Honesty

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Dr Bunsen Honeydew
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Hi-Fi Honesty

Unread post by Dr Bunsen Honeydew » Mon Mar 25, 2019 10:15 am

Time to repeat this for newby members and lurkers I think.

I thought I would put a few words together to cover where we are and how we got here.

In reality Hi-Fi started with the production of microgroove records and stereo LPs using two different recording systems in the mid 50's by Capital in the USA and Decca in the UK. Music reproduction in the mainstream was record players and radiograms, but there were a small number of electronics enthusiast who had learned the tech aspects in the war who wanted to play. So a small home build DIY enthusiast market emerged using mainly gov surplus components sold out of scruffy shops in London Edgware Road and Lisle St. From these people a small industry emerged with magazines like Wireless World feeding in new projects, and they seeded new companies to produce product of higher musical standard than your radiogram of the day. These companies like Quad, Rogers, Leak etc have now become legendary. There was also a pro market feeding the BBC, the cinemas, the recording studios with product like Garrard and Tannoy who also began to supply the domestic market. Up market shops like Imhofs (who started the Tottenham Ct Rd Hi-Fi conurbation) appeared. Salesmen in suits and dem areas, with the benefit of the newly allowed hire purchase, or as generally called "the never never" on one side and the scruffy component shops on the other, who also started to sell finished goods - a market and a hobby was created.

The distribution chain in those days was very different to now. A manufacturer designed and made a product. He didn't try to sell it himself he appointed a wholesaler or more than one to do his retail distribution. The wholesaler appointed reps who took the product around to sell to the shops. So there was a three price structure 1 wholesale price 2 trade price 3 retail price. A manufacturer had control as he could fix or demand the price the retailer sold it to you for, it was called retail price maintenance. It created a stable market. The price structure was very stable with low profit margin relative to today. A wholesaler made 10 to 20%, a retailer made 20 to 30%.

The first shock to the system was the ending of retail price maintenance in 1964, and the appearance into the UK market of Japanese product at about the same time. Both these created shock waves and changes in the industry. The big winners to begin with were the wholesalers who were freed up to sell to anyone they wanted at any price they wanted and if a manufacturer refused to supply them they could be sued under the new law. The other main winners were the scruffy components shops who morphed into the big discount houses free now to set what ever prices they wanted. Small companies like Laskys, GW Smith, Comet expanded and to a large extent took over the retail side of the industry.

This process needed to be promoted and the new battle of prices needed to be advertised, so the specialist Hi-Fi magazine market expanded with the Haymarket type mags like What Hi-Fi, Hi-Fi Sound etc leading the process, doing everything they could on the cheap just to bring in the large full or double page listings of prices adverts. The *proper* magazines like Gramophone and Hi-Fi News had been employing design engineers and well known techies as editors and reviewers, So they were almost entirely judging product by specs and measurement, product often reviewed without even being listened to. This is now known as objective reviewing. These people though cost money and Haymarket wouldn't pay their rates so they employed young lads just out of college to do the reviews and edit the magazines. They had little to no technical background so the day of the subjective review arrived. Reviews became as we largely know them now, based on one persons opinion. These kids became what are now the industry gurus, and in some minds still worshiped.

At the same time the Japanese hi-fi industry invasion happened and threw our staid domestic manufacturers into a tiss, and they started to die as they couldn't compete. The *perceived* quality of these new Japanese products was great and prices were very good and the discount house jumped on them, which combined with the emergence of the *flavour of the month* product reviews in the new mags severely polluted the industry. This was not helped by the Japanese distributing via locally based UK distribution companies, instead of doing it themselves. These distributors had no interest but turnover and profit and led to it becoming a price led *hand over a cardboard box* type industry. This also meant that the better more expensive but lower turnover Japanese products were hardly ever imported here at all and are now becoming much sought after.

So now into this situation appears a very clever marketing man who could see what was going on and saw a way to take advantage of it - Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn products (well originally Castle Engineering). The traditional high cost retailers were struggling in the face of the discount houses and needed high profit margin exclusive products that the discount houses could not buy. Linn provided this and a good story (marketing) to back it up. They needed amplifiers so until they could make their own they roped Naim in partnership into the process. The time was right, the marketing was right, the product was different sound so a line could be spun, and what is now known as the flat earth was created. The young lads reviewing at the magazines were very impressionable and open to being turned to a *way* and most were converted by visits to Glasgow and the silver voice and arguments of Ivor. Once he had the industry in his grasp it was very hard for other new manufacturers to find good and responsive retailers for their products and many fine companies and products were killed off, especially in the two recessions of the early 80's and early 90's.

Eventually, inevitably, a yin appeared to counter the yang. CD appeared to challenge the turntable, Linn tried to kill it in the UK but it was stronger than them so they had to bow to it and make their own. Some owners were getting fed up of the PA-ish in your face sound of the flat earth so there was a back lash against Naim which started a new retro market for valve amps. This was because the flat earth brainwash had stated that no transistor amp could ever be better than a Naim so valves provided an excuse to change. Also another very good marketing man I call the Wimbledon Womble (Absolute Sounds) appeared to almost single handedly create the so called High End market in the UK starting with big American muscle amps. But the Linn Naim axis control on the industry was very strong, very few new UK companies were able to emerge and find a market for their products. A side line appeared at the end of this period that looked as if it could take over but has become in time just a separate market, home cinema.

This takes us up to the end of the 90's. During the late 90's growth in the industry stopped and a slow decline set in which has accelerated since. Since then youth has turned its back on hi-fi and especially the hi-fi enthusiast who became almost as maligned as the train spotter. The new way is personal and of course on line based, so the rump of the hi-fi market is left to customers largely getting older and older, but because of property values mostly also richer and richer.


So what do we have now and what is wrong with it and why do we have to change it again. Obviously the Elephant in the room is the home computer, at last hi-fi enthusiast can find and talk to other hi-fi enthusiast, they don't have to rely on what was often corrupted information from retailers and magazines. And forget the so called experts THE best information comes from someone who owns one.

As explained in part 1 the industry is declining but the buying power has increased, so the so called High End market has expanded and the like of Linn and Naim have adopted it as have many other larger British manufacturers. Quality reasonably priced products, especially British made, have largely disappeared. The companies that made them have been bought out by Korean, Malaysian, Japanese, but mostly Chinese companies, that now either just use the name to sell poor replacements, or in some cases they really do try to supply a good product. The pretense being they are British, but they are not, but they do employ British designers sometimes.

Prices of the High End products is the real problem at the moment, in reality you are all being subject to a giant piss-take. There is absolutely no justification for the price increases of hi-fi products over the last 10 to 15 years and it is accelerating. The reason is the aforesaid decrease in customers but increase in customer wealth. Well known manufacturers coming to the end of their days with aging owners and retiring staff are just trying to build a massive pension pot for their old age. New manufacturers are also jumping on the band wagon spending all their costs on external bling. Just look at the likes of the Munich show, it is hilarious, the ridiculously overpriced concept products that they believe they can foist on you. Well in some cases one Russian Oligarch customer is enough profit for the year. What doesn't help is also the amount of middlemen who are taking a cut. The present industry is getting like jewelry for the margins involved. Distributors 30%, retailers 50%, (of the retail price), as they have to be compensated for less sales as well. Manufacturers only 20%.

Promotion, well the magazines are dying, there is not the numbers of readers or available advertising to keep them going or the number of them as was the case in the good old days. Some seem to have become like super car mags, just for people to look at the pictures and read about things they can never own. What Hi-Fi is still What Hi-Fi and to avoid libel charges that is enough said. Dave Rosam tried an on-line mag in the mid 90's (Cyberfi) much too early. Hi-Fi Critic on line magazine is trying to hold it together but even that is an expensive and difficult job.

So the future, what has to happen when the present OAP Hi-Fi market finally dies out and a small rump of enthusiast are left. Well the obvious first call will be all the Hi-Fi in circulation from the good times and available now second hand. The second hand market is now far bigger than the new market, and though prices are going up bargains can still be found. Some retailer try to use this market but again largely price themselves out of it. The king in this market is eBay, and though they can be a pain the service they give to us enthusiasts I think is mostly very good.

The next bonus is the DIY market, just like the 1950's this is getting prominent again. This is a good thing and should be encouraged, as from these people new product and new companies will emerge, but how do they sell and find customers. Well this is where what I call the underground market is emerging, and it is emerging from the hi-fi forums, Sadly some of them are owned by egotists and idiots and suffer from conflict, but even they are providing a service. New product is emerging that is offered for loan and trying on the forums and sales are coming and new small enthusiast companies emerging. AND what should be obvious is that by direct selling to the customer most of the overpricing problem is solved, no distributor, no retailer, no advertising, just good product at good prices that you can try on loan in your own system. It would be very nice if this business could be linked or tied together in one place for the benefit of the customer, yes shock horror, the benefit of the customer not the benefit of the industry. Obviously vested interests are fighting it like Hitler defending Berlin they will try to hang on as long as they can until the inevitable overtakes them. So there is much shilling and spamming on the forums (google the terms). So a bit of intelligence is required, but they can be great fun and a social outlet if the conflict is avoided. The other great thing about forums is the organisation of what most of them call Bake-Offs. Where enthusiast gather at a members house and compare what they own, people bring equipment to compare or just new music for everyone to listen to - great events to be encouraged, and again hated by the vested interests as they have no control over peoples choices. And the results are written up on the forums as a form of comparative review. Also members when they buy or try something new to them are encouraged to write their own review and opinion of it, good or bad. Again something the vested interests are scared stiff of.

So the future for us is - 1 second hand via the like of eBay. 2 direct selling via forums, eBay, amazon etc. 3 DIY enthusiast, everyone should learn how to use a soldering iron. 4 a social network of Bake-Offs and Bake-Off shows, like Wigwams Kegworth. 5 loan schemes to show off new product, or help people hear equipment they can't normally try without buying it.

The main independent non magazine or manufacturer based UK forums, in no particular order.

HiFi Wigwam
Pink Fish Media
The Art of Sound
Hi-Fi Subjectivist
The Audio Standard
Audio Talk.

Victorquartermaine
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Re: Hi-Fi Honesty

Unread post by Victorquartermaine » Mon Mar 25, 2019 11:37 am

Very sad to read but it seems to be the way of the world (the world of stupid). I must have the latest iPhone etc. Agree also with your bleed the idiots and dump the debt into property equity. Sad state off affairs.

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Re: Hi-Fi Honesty

Unread post by _D_S_J_R_ » Mon Mar 25, 2019 12:30 pm

For all my sins, I keep railing when Ivor is 'attacked' for seeing an opportunity and going for it! However, the UK audio scene in the mid 70's was all about wow & flutter and rumble in turntables, THD in amplifiers and flat frequency response in speakers and ALL the important secondary aspects in specs and installation (speaker cable gauge and so on) were totally ignored I remember. Not sure where the music came in either with many customers, but I may be doing them a disservice looking back.

Whatever you say against Ivor T, he and Julian Vereker (who made some nice sounding amps prior to the 'Chrome Bumper' 80's), did try to steer the enthusiasm back to music enjoyment first, before specsmanship and in my case, the 'tune dem' has worked with all manner of equipment, as I felt I was doing this subconsciously anyway and the 1980's trips to Glasgow which I enjoyed greatly, were never stressful, unlike a certain visit to Naim in the mid 80's where I came away humiliated because I didn't toe the Naim party line by then.....

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CN211276
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Re: Hi-Fi Honesty

Unread post by CN211276 » Mon Mar 25, 2019 2:04 pm

Ivor T was the biggest purveyor of bullshit of the 20th Century bar Goebbels.
I set a course just east of Lyra
And northwest of Pegasus
Flew into the light of Deneb
Sailed across the Milky Way

Sonore microRendu/McRU PS, AQ J-bug, Wirewold Ultraviolet, Chord Mscaler/Qutest, Geitnote Apogee, NVA BMU, P90SA, A80sMk2, Phono 1, SSP Mk 2, TSCS, TIS mk2, Cube 1s, Atacama stands, Rega Planar 3, Denon DL-110, Grado SR 325e, headphones.

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Dr Bunsen Honeydew
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Re: Hi-Fi Honesty

Unread post by Dr Bunsen Honeydew » Mon Mar 25, 2019 4:11 pm

Posted it on Audio Abattoir (with mod permission) to get a wider reaction. Predictably they just want to kick me and ignore the subject, but valvebloke corrected me with validity.


Valvebloke
Loves a brown lab coat.

A couple of points of detail, which don’t affect the main thrust of the argument to be honest:

"In reality Hi-Fi started with the production of microgroove records and stereo LPs using two different recording systems in the mid 50’s by Capital in the USA and Decca in the UK. Music reproduction in the mainstream was record players and radiograms, but there were a small number of electronics enthusiast who had learned the tech aspects in the war who wanted to play. So a small home build DIY enthusiast market emerged using mainly gov surplus components sold out of scruffy shops in London Edgware Road and Lisle St. From these people a small industry emerged with magazines like Wireless World feeding in new projects, and they seeded new companies to produce product of higher musical standard than your radiogram of the day. These companies like Quad, Rogers, Leak etc have now become legendary."

Actually the hi-fi companies were in business earlier than that. Both Quad (then called The Acoustical Manufacturing Co) and Leak were up and running before WWII. Leak worked on the ground-breaking TL/12 Point One amp - the first commercial amp this side of the Atlantic which genuinely met the 0.1% THD hi-fi standard - during and immediately after the war, and it was launched in 1948. Acoustical’s original Quad amp followed at the very start of the 1950’s and was updated as the Quad II in 1953.

There was still a parallel DIY effort at this point but it was largely in construction rather than design. Many of the DIYers built variants of the Williamson amp, also a 0.1% circuit. This was not, at least not originally, commercially available but was designed by Williamson while he was working at Marconi-Osram Valve with the aim of selling their valves. He moved to Ferranti before the design actually appeared in print which happened in 1947 with a significant revision in 1949.

The real pioneering DIY phase of hi-fi was back in the 1930’s. A good example is the “Quality Amplifier” developed over a decade or so by Cocking, sometime editor of Wireless World IIRC.

"The distribution chain in those days was very different to now. A manufacturer designed and made a product. He didn’t try to sell it himself"

True in the sense that Leak, Quad etc didn’t retail direct to the public (although I imagine if you turned up at the factory gate with folding money they would both have sold you an amp without a moment’s hesitation). The manufacturers did, however, have strong publicity activities. They took out large ads in magazines and they appeared in person at any and every audio show. Gilbert Briggs (Wharfedale) and Peter Walker (Quad) staged large-scale public demo’s of their equipment, comparing it with live musicians in venues both in the UK and abroad. Harold Leak was certainly the face (if not the curvy parts) of his product.

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Re: Hi-Fi Honesty

Unread post by _D_S_J_R_ » Mon Mar 25, 2019 8:17 pm

CN211276 wrote:
Mon Mar 25, 2019 2:04 pm
Ivor T was the biggest purveyor of bullshit of the 20th Century bar Goebbels.
So, what bullshit was that exactly? That turntables affected the sound of records played on them? That people had tended to forget the music in the quest for better Hifi? That the Linn amps were 'better' than Naim? That he genuinely felt 'his' turntable was 'better' than everyone elses?

Look, I can't possibly judge his business decisions, especially in the early days. He stuck his head well above the parapet and shouted his message certainly, but the buyers weren't *all* blind and deaf and many in the early 80's loved their music and wanted to hear it better.

I was lucky to have a few dinners with Ivor joining us as host and a more charming and informative gent you'd be hard to beat. If he went a bit overboard on occasion, I just smiled and we changed subject, but I never found him overbearing, overpowering or unintelligent and he was able to listen and respond intelligently too, meeting in the middle if opinions differed a little. Sure, he's made, lost and probably re-made some seriously good money out of his business, but purveyer of bullshit having spent time with him in times past in Glasgow as well as NW6? No, most definitely not, sorry.....

Current mad prices deprive me of ever exploring what they're up to these days, but then, I always 'listened' that way, so maybe I'm too biased.
Last edited by _D_S_J_R_ on Mon Mar 25, 2019 8:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Hi-Fi Honesty

Unread post by Dr Bunsen Honeydew » Mon Mar 25, 2019 8:24 pm

He was a nasty bully with anyone who disagreed with him, you must have not disagreed with him.

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Re: Hi-Fi Honesty

Unread post by _D_S_J_R_ » Mon Mar 25, 2019 8:34 pm

Like I said, I always sang along with songs, hummed along 'to the tune' and still do (silently so as not to offend people nearby ;)). Essential to any semblance of sanity in my life. I had little to disagree with him about I suppose and I was hardly important where the dealership was concerned. He didn't always care for our sales director though, but then neither did any of us at the time...

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Re: Hi-Fi Honesty

Unread post by Dr Bunsen Honeydew » Mon Mar 25, 2019 8:52 pm

You needed a sales director, and how much was he paid to come out of customers pockets. It was all slurp and bullshit, reality was the last thing going on. But you were part of it so couldn't see the wood for the trees.

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Re: Hi-Fi Honesty

Unread post by CN211276 » Mon Mar 25, 2019 8:59 pm

Dr Bunsen Honeydew wrote:
Mon Mar 25, 2019 8:24 pm
He was a nasty bully with anyone who disagreed with him, you must have not disagreed with him.
He disagreed with me about the contents of a letter i had published in Popular Hifi. His two page published response was nasty towards me amongst all the bullshit about Linn being enthusiasts and not clever marketing people. The letters are here in the archive somewhere.
I set a course just east of Lyra
And northwest of Pegasus
Flew into the light of Deneb
Sailed across the Milky Way

Sonore microRendu/McRU PS, AQ J-bug, Wirewold Ultraviolet, Chord Mscaler/Qutest, Geitnote Apogee, NVA BMU, P90SA, A80sMk2, Phono 1, SSP Mk 2, TSCS, TIS mk2, Cube 1s, Atacama stands, Rega Planar 3, Denon DL-110, Grado SR 325e, headphones.

Second system
Chord Mojo (also HP amp), NVA P20, A20, Cubettes, SSC, LS3.

Out and about
Oppo PM3, Audioquest Dragonfly Red.

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