February 2021 Editorial

Caveat Emptor

[Buyers beware!]

Author: Roger McCuaig - TNT Canada
Published: February, 2021.

The first thing that I wrote after joining TNT-Audio included the following sentence; “Don't trust an audio salesman until you get to know that person very well.” I still sincerely believe in this advice and recommend it to anyone who will listen. So how did I come to adopt this philosophy? In my case, and I believe this is a common road taken by many of our readers, it took many years for my system to gradually evolve into what it is today. A lot of components have taken up residence for varying time spans. Especially for those on a limited budget, figuring out what sounds best and what components work best together can be a long, sometimes never ending, quest. Of course, some of us have to add the WAF into the equation. So, in my first years of this quest I visited all the local audio shops, some of them were lucky enough to receive my visits quite a few times. Well, lucky may not be the most appropriate adjective!

Some of the pieces that came to sit on my audio stand were purchased at these local shops. Sometimes I got screwed by these local audio shops (my opinion anyway). I am not going to name anyone here. The shops that screwed me are active on social media and will automatically deny any fault on their part, I know this from experience. Also, in one case, I would not at all be surprised to receive a vicious verbal attack and legal threats. Yes, dear readers, in this area we are proud to boast of having an audio dealer that is half human, half pit bull. For the record, audio shops are only part of the problem. I have purchased (and sold) quite a few pieces from sites like Canuck Audio Mart and Audiogon over the years. This is always risky and I have sometimes received things that were not quite as advertised. Very seldom has this happened though when dealing with online purchases. However, when we go to these sources, we kind of expect that don't we? One might be justified in expecting better from a “reputable” audio shop.

Buyer beware; there are two types of behavior that the buyer needs to be on the lookout for; the technical snow job (Merriam-Webster: “an intensive effort at persuasion or deception”) and the unkept promises.

The Snow-Job
When you go into an audio shop you need to turn on your BS Detector as soon as you cross the threshold. Asking an audio salesman to tell you the honest, complete truth about anything other than the weather is like asking a leopard to change its spots. They are there to sell you something, not to make friends, not to steer you to someone else's store. My favorite story is about my visit to a very high-end audio shop in Montreal. The kind that has $225,000. speakers sitting on the floor not far from the front door. The sales guy spent a good 30 minutes trying to convince me that a blind test was a bad idea when trying to evaluate interconnect cables. What! I politely listened and offered some opinions on the subject but the more I spoke, the more hocus-pocus came from the sales guy. I finally was able to extricate myself from this painful episode and made a strategic retreat from this store. I have dozens of stories like this and I am sure many of you do too. These guys pray on inexperienced buyers especially those who do not have a lot of education in Science. We really don't teach enough science in our schools. Our world is completely dominated by technology and half the population of the planet believes that the COVID vaccine will give you AIDS or contains nano-transducers that will control the brain. But I digress.

I feel that I should not leave this subject without mentioning that there are some good apples too, and this time I will give a name, confident that I won't get sued for giving out compliments. I have visited Codell Audio in Montreal several times over the years and have bought at least 3 items there that I can remember. I have always been well received there and found the BS level to be quite moderate. The owner Issy Nudell has been in the business for a very long time and he and his manager have a knack for putting items in their listening rooms that are really solid performers. A while back, one of my audiophile friends mentioned to me that Israel Blume, the founder of Coincident Speaker Technology, got his start in the audio business working at Codell. Good audio people create more good audio people.

Now let's move on to behavior number two!

The unkept promises
When you hear the words “If you are not happy with this, come back and we will fix you up with something else”. Your first reaction needs to be DON'T BELIEVE IT. Alarms and sirens need to be going off in your head. This is code, it means, “You are going to pay for bringing this back, we will make our money, twice!” Of course, I have a story for this too. Quite a few years ago, I bought an amp with the promise as quoted above, attached to the sale. I didn't like the sound of this amp and brought it back. The replacement options that I was offered were a joke. At one point in the discussion the owner of this noble establishment said to me, “my wife is listening, I can't give you a better deal because she will be angry with me”. Seriously? That's your business model? This guy was determined to get a double profit out of me. I left there with no amp, a lighter wallet and a brutal, valuable learning experience. What about demo units? When a salesman says “this demo unit is in perfect condition”, that's a joke, you're supposed to laugh. Don't ever believe such nonsense. My personal success rate on this is 100%; every time I have purchased a demo unit in a retail store it has had a problem. I definitely have more confidence in buying used equipment on the internet than from an audio shop. At least on sites like Canuck Audio Mart and Audiogon you can often get your money refunded. An audio shop will put you through the “we will make our money twice” routine.

You know the old joke: “How can you tell when a car salesman is lying to you? Answer: His lips are moving.” Well, dear readers, I sincerely hope that you will bring the same level of caution with you when you enter into these Halls of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Now there are readers who may be thinking, “This guy is biting the hand that feeds him!”. Well in fact I am not, TNT stands for “The Naked Truth,” my mission is not to promote the audio industry, it is to help our readers understand it. Retail audio shops are not "bad places", the message that I am attempting to convey is simply than that audio shops are the home of expensive products with high mark-ups. It's hard to make money in that business, and getting harder every day. When you enter one of these places, do not make the mistake of thinking of them like a Best Buy store. If you are inexperienced or technically challenged, be careful.

I hope you enjoyed my little rant this morning.

DISCLAIMER. TNT-Audio is a 100% independent magazine that neither accepts advertising from companies nor requires readers to register or pay for subscriptions. After publication of reviews, the authors do not retain samples other than on long-term loan for further evaluation or comparison with later-received gear. Hence, all contents are written free of any “editorial” or “advertising” influence, and all reviews in this publication, positive or negative, reflect the independent opinions of their respective authors. TNT-Audio will publish all manufacturer responses, subject to the reviewer's right to reply in turn.

Copyright © 2021 Roger McCuaig - roger@tnt-audio.com - www.tnt-audio.com