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February 2008 editorial

Your mileage may vary (YMMV)

Writer: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy

You may have heard or read this before. Your mileage may vary is frequently used in Internet jargon to express something that can give different results depending on the user/configuration. It may refer to an operating system setup (mostly Unix/Linux), a piece of software and the like. You might find it briefly expressed as YMMV as well. The origin of this very popular disclaimer dates back to the '70s, when EPA (the US Environmental Protection Agency) used to put fancy stickers on cars in order to indicate the medium fuel consumption of each vehicle. The YMMV disclaimer meant the mileage a driver could get from his car was heavily dependent on his driving style and on how heavy his right foot was ;-)

[Klipsch Heresy III]

We have sometimes published that disclaimer close to "medium (or manufacturer) suggested retail price" (MSRP) of HiFi components. Why? Because prices of HiFi components may be subject to wild changes depending on the Country you live in. If you live in Italy, for example, you could end up paying 200% more than your North American audiophile colleague.
Ready for some enlightening example? A pair of Klipsch Heresy III can be bought, in the US, for around 1500 USD (at Onecall.com, for example). This is - more or less - the standard "street price". Translated into euros, this equals to 1000 € or less. You would be surprised to learn that the very same pair of speakers, here in Italy, costs 2100 € (and this is the lowest street price I've found). Distributor list price is 2800 € (+180% compared to the standard US street price). That's 4,120 USD!!!!
One may argue this is caused by shipping costs and customs fees, VAT etc. Not so. The same fees apply to other EU Countries as well. Surprisingly, the same pair of speakers costs 1600 € in Germany (40% less than the cheapest Italian shop). Confused? Don't be and...read on.

Do you think shipping fees (of such large and heavy speakers) might heavily influence prices? Not so. Let's prove this with an item that costs nothing to ship...a stereo cartridge.
Let's take something manufactured in Japan, then. A Shelter 501 cartridge can be bought (from a Japanese dealer, worldwide) for 550 €. Add shipping (10 €), VAT (+20%) and customs fees and you will end up paying 700 € (worst case scenario).
The same cart can be bought in the US for 850 USD (less than 600 €). In Germany you need something around 900 € to buy this cart, while in the UK it costs 790 € (560 UKP). Now, drums roll please!, are you really willing to know which is the list price of this cart...in Italy??? Ready? It's 1500 €. Read my lips: 1 thousand and 5 hundred €. The lowest street price I've been able to find is 1125 €. Again, it's a whooping +180% factor.
I might cite other examples, if you wish. It doesn't matter where the HiFi component has been made, if you have to pay customs fees or not, if you have to use a different currency. What am I trying to prove, you may ask.
The point is that it is hard for us reviewers to detect a precise quality/price ratio. For example, if that cart sounds good considering its list price in Italy...it might be excellent considering its price abroad. And viceversa!
For this reason we are going to publish MSRP prices of HiFi components, as they can be retrieved from the local distributors. Then, when possible, we will publish the MSRP price of the product in the Country where the product has been manufactured. This will "expose" differences and will force distributors to find better and better excuses. Of course, we will add the usual disclaimer "Your mileage may vary" ;-)

Everyone is talking about the "positive" effects of the so-called globalization. I'm still trying to find one... but I'd love to see those effects (if any) applied to the HiFi market. I might accept ± 20% differences from one Country to another but +180% is something so ridiculous that it is hard to find good excuses. Mission: impossible.
Back in 2001, when the Euro was introduced, the dollar was quite strong: you needed 1,20 euros to buy 1 dollar. This was a very good excuse for European distributors!!! Now things have changed radically and you need 1,5 dollars to buy 1 euro! You might expect that this, sooner or later, will affect distributors' prices. Not so. Prices of goods paid in dollars have remained the same!!! We can't tolerate this situation any longer. Perhaps this will make us more unpopular (among distributors). We'll take the risk.

The bottom line is: browse the Web before shelling out your hard earned cash on expensive and overpriced HiFi components. Big surprises are waiting for you. Ah, before you ask: I've not compared apples with oranges...the prices above refer to online shops only.
It's a small world, after all. Enjoy the lyrics below ;-)

It's a world of laughter
A world of tears
It's a world of hopes
And a world of fears
There's so much that we share
That it's time we're aware
It's a small world after all

There is just one moon
And one golden sun
And a smile means
Friendship to ev'ryone
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It's a small world after all

It's a small world after all
It's a small world after all
It's a small world after all
It's a small, small world 
(lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman)

© Copyright 2008 Lucio Cadeddu - www.tnt-audio.com

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