May 19, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

When sports-minded people see the TLA MVP they naturally gravitate towards the acronym meaning Most Valuable Player. In our case, we’re going to refer to another definition, one used in product design, Minimum Viable Product.

Most product designs start out with a MVP specification defining the least it must do. Designs are then generated to meet the MVP spec and then forwarded to the marketing department to see if anything more is needed to make it salable.

That’s certainly one way of designing products and, sadly, the most popular way.

Designers who are emotionally attached to their creations often assume a very different set of guidelines from which they design.

In this model, they dream big then titrate their grandiose dreams to something that fits into practical realities.

Two very different approaches.

The products resulting from these two design philosophies will likely perform differently as well.

Which would you choose?

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34 comments on “MVP”

  1. I like products that do more, sound better, are smaller and cost less. I am about to install such a product (which includes audio) throughout my house. Having worked that out for myself after costing various other single-function products, I was informed over dinner last night that that was the design philosophy in the first place.

    Paul overlooks the most common approach, which is to build to a retail price, or range of prices, and pack in as much tech and quality as possible. It gives the customer choice, value and upgradeability.

    I was only encouraged to post by the picture of Wembley Stadium, visible from here on a good day, which was such a financial fiasco that they had to rent it out to U2 and the NFL. The acoustic is terrible and the old stadium (for football and music – notably Live Aid), originally built for the 1948 Olympics, was better.

      1. Glad to hear I’ve got one (online) friend. One more than I thought I had.

        Actually I was wondering more about why Paul posted a picture of Wembley Stadium. There is clearly a football match going on (surely he knows that much about sport and he did spend some time in Germany). MVP does not exist in football, the football equivalent of MVP is the Ballon D’Or. Maybe Paul was just avoiding French after his previous Faux Pas.

        It is an interesting post today and, as I comment below, I think both options have merit, whether making something much the same as others but cheaper, or being truly innovative.

    1. “Paul overlooks the most common approach, which is to build to a retail price, or range of prices, and pack in as much tech and quality as possible.”

      You’re right. Paul McGowan,- a preeminent electronics engineer, world renown, a head of a widely admired high end audio manufacturer, author of many books on a variety of subjects – doesn’t know anything. At most, he may know a little bit about something, but not much.

      You, OTOH, are a great American, and it’s a good thing you’re here to teach Paul McGowan what he needs to know.

      High end audio’s purpose, by general agreement, is dedicated to the endless search for the very best sounding audio gear possible at a given moment in time. As a result, high end audio equipment tends to eliminate elements that some might derisively call “bells and whistles” in a purist attempt to secure the finest sound.

      What idiots. What everyone wants and needs are products that “pack in as much tech as possible…built to a retail price”.

      Oh —- wait —– we already have that. Why…why… uhhhh……yup. That pretty much absolutely describes AV Japanese receivers, built in China. Yeppers. The Sony STR-DH550, Yamaha R-S202BL, and dozens and dozens of others, are all there – exactly as you’ve described them.

      Cheap, built to a price point, and chock full of nothing but tech. Tech and more tech. Yeeeehaw. Here’s a link to one right at Bestus Buy:

      Meanwhile, poor, dumb old Paul’s wasting our time making things like basic power amplifiers that perform only a single function – amplifying an audio signal. That’s it!!! That’s all those things do!!! Izzat stupid – or what? Plus, those things are definitely not built to a price point. PS Audio actually wastes their time doing dumb crap such as listening to the component parts that are put into the amplifiers, so that PS Audio can make the best sounding audio equipment they can produce.

      Complete idiots.

      Hey – here’s an idea. You – yes, YOU – you should run PS Audio. Do it! Just barrel in thru their door, belly first, and take over. Do it.

      You’ll be saving them from themselves. Whew. I’m sure glad we have you around to lead the way.

      Rock on.

      1. Neward,
        Actually Steven is an Englishman…British in fact; NOT an American.
        You’re still on those high ranging, mind altering drugs aren’t you…lucky bastard!

        Also, the PS Audio ‘Sprout’ amplifier is completely built in China; unfortunately.
        Let’s give more money to the CCP…makes sense, yeah?

        1. Thank you for taking time out of your prodigiously busy, monumentally productive day to reply to my post. You’re a great ‘merican, even if you’re not actually from ‘merica. Our greatest merican of all time has golf courses and interests all over the world, so we can all be AGA.

          Similarly, Steven Not’s a great ‘merican – even of he’s from somewhere else. I’m completely sure that if he’d called into the great, late RL’s program, he’d have been welcomed as a great merican. All you need is to stand behind great mericans who’re bravely out in public- such as MTG, RDeS, KMcC – spewing great truths.

          So, let’s have a look at your own great truths, Fatty.

          “…the PS Audio ‘Sprout’ amplifier is completely built in China…”.

          Boom. There it is. Boom. Boy, there’s just no fooling you, is there, Fatass? Yes, the Sprout’s made in China. It’s intended to bring a taste of true high end sound and quality at an extremely affordable price. But, PS Audio makes some 74 or so other products.

          Among them are true high end units such as the Stellar Phono Preamplifier and the BHK Signature 250 Amplifier, which compete with the best high end products available.

          But, none of that matters, right Fatso? Those 74 or so products may’s well not even exist, cause you say, “well, duhhh, the PS Audio ‘Sprout’ amplifier is completely built in China”. End of story. If PS Audio produces even a single fragment of a product made in China, then all of PS Audio’s just more Chinese junk. “Let’s give more money to the CCP…makes sense…”.

          Fatty gives no quarter – and neither should we. The Sprout’s made in China. No further discussion. End of story. PS Audio’s Chinese junk. Full stop.

          But, wait – there’s more. Your busom best-buds buddy Steven Nut was spraying spittle about “products that do more, sound better, are smaller and cost less”. Didja read that, Fatass? Didja? Didja read what Nut wrote? Hmm, better go back and read thru Nut’s post – after all, he’s your conjoined twin buddy.

          Here’s Nut’s words:

          “single-function products that do more, sound better, are smaller and cost less and pack in as much tech and quality as possible”.

          Now, think Fatboy. Think. It’s hard, but give it a go. What products are ” single function pack in as much tech as possible”?

          Uhhh….duh…{snap}…oh yeah. AV receivers. RECEIVERS.

          See what Nut wants? See that? He doesn’t give a flying *** about high end sound. He probably doesn’t even understand what that is [and neither do you]. What he wants is maximum tech for a minimum price.

          And – and here’s the clincher, Fatblob – where are AV receivers made? Where oh where oh where oh where? Oh, yeah. CHINA. CHINA. CHINA. CHINA.

          So, putting it all together, Fatsh**, what you’re defending and saying’s that when Nut wants a maximum-tech, minimum price Chinese AV receiver – that’s A-OK. But, because PS Audio has a product made in China – that’s sending money to the CCP.

          You’re definitely a great merican brain, Fatto.

          Rock on.

          1. “…drug-f#@ked…Rock on moron…”

            You’re extremely lucky that Paul M.’s so lenient with postings on this board. Anywhere else – even Reddit – and you’d be immediately and permanently banned for your obscenity and personal attacks.

            Regardless, I see no positive yield coming from responding to you any further. Your remarks – not only in this thread, but thru out this site – reveal just another sad old loser, hobbled by morbid obesity and other physical ailments [probably all stemming from the same porcine habits], but most acutely stricken with with **senility**.

            Actually, that may be too generous. It’s very likely that you’ve been stupid all of your life, given to utterly absurdly false pronouncements such as “There were audiophiles in 1913 for acoustic windup phonographs”, equating a single product with an entire manufacturer’s line, utterly missing the whole point of another poster’s remarks, and all of the rest of the dumb ass posts you’ve made

            You’ve even missed my transparently obvious quasi-political snarks, which such ridiculous slang contractions as “mericans” should’ve immediately clued you to.

            But, with your incapacitating senility, it’s unlikely that you could sustain the concentration needed to actually read thru my entire posts – or anyone else’s – much less catch the innuendo and satire embedded there in.

            That’s fine. It’s likely that your impending dementia means you’ll probably stop posting – or typing – anything at all, sooner or later. Probably sooner.

            Before you die.

            Rock on.

      2. Great rant, but Paul never mentioned High-End in his post. He was saying what other people do, not what PS Audio does. Walk into any audio store and there are ranges of products with increasing power/features at increasing price points. The last audio show I went to this was explained to me by the Sales Director of Dynaudio, and then half an hour later exactly the same thing was explained to me by the UK Sales Manager of Onkyo.

        Paul has said that he does not generally build to a price point.

  2. As an end user, I would choose the equipment that sounds the best to my ears/brain for the money that I’m prepared to spend regardless of the designers topology, the manufacturers choice of parts, the accountants bean-counting or the marketing department’s ‘creativity’…or lack thereof.
    However, if I was a benevolent dictator (CEO), like Paul, & I was running my own niche home audio company, I’d probably go for option 2…”a very different set of guidelines” 😉

  3. Certainly the “dream big” model and I really believe you do it that way.

    It would be interesting to explore how compromising approaches have to vary slightly due to the different expectations of customers buying at different price levels. I’m sure some rules (not the dream big approach) might change for PSA, too, when entering the 20k front end range.

  4. The MVP is coming from sw development (agile), where the end-user or the requirements are not fully understood and thus it seen as a waste to deliver too advanced features since the requirements are not mature enough. The cycles between product are fast and improvements can be done quickly adapting to more mature requirements and experiences.
    When it comes to High-End equipment, the end-user and manufacturer are normally well aware of what the customer wants and what are the requirements. Now and then a manufacturer such as PS Audio surprises the market by delivering something totally new and not expected. I’m thinking about the DAC which is a REMARKABLE PRODUCT! I can bet that it was not developed as a minimum viable product! 🙂

  5. I’ve never given much thought to MVP or to the Grandiose method of design. As a consumer I’m looking for my perceived bang and value for the cost. To me size, looks and individual boxes are far down the scale when making choices. One thing I have thought about is, if designing by ear a lower priced item, and one stumbles across a component layout combination that is very close to equal of a manufacturers top end sound, then is the choice made to ‘back off’ so as not to jeopardize other sales?

    Regarding upgradeability that depends a lot on the manufacturer and how long their support cycle may be. Case in point the DSDAC – if one jumped in early then they grew with the software as new versions were released. If one jumped in right as Windom was released they got one upgrade and now that product is done as far as software upgrades go.

    From my perspective the majority of changes over the last decade or so have occurred in the source world. Not to say that amplifier, preamps, speakers, cables and tweaks haven’t marched on also, but ‘earth shattering’ differences in sound reproduction from those devices seems to occur at a much slower pace.

  6. There are companies–Apple and Sony, for example,–that occasionally come up with products I had not thought about, didn’t know I needed, but suddenly made great sense. For the most part, however, I search out products that serve a certain function or provide a certain level of satisfaction at a price I am prepared to pay. What really annoys me are the companies who over promise and under deliver, irrespective of cost.

    1. Sony invented a few things, like the SACD player (may it rest in peace), but arguably Apple did not invent much if anything. Apple did not invent the telephone, the contact book, the book, the watch, the map, the diary, the calculator, the computer, etc. but they became the world’s most valuable producer of consumer goods by packaging these products in small, shapely devices. Even when stripped naked, your iPhone will be in easy reach, if not the last thing you touch or hold. Many are slaves to these devices. Ultimately, I am sure large, expensive, impractical consumer goods like high-end audio will largely or entirely disappear, like most other complex, inefficient single-purpose technologies, with the possible exception of the dishwasher.

      I’m starting to think that virtually everything that the consumer needs to be invented has been invented. A better DAC and an even better DAC gives me a feeling of ennui, total disinterest. I generally distrust most claims to have invented anything new. Notable new consumer products seem to serve us existing technology in a more practical, effective and friendly manner.

      It’s understanding the needs of the consumer, developing a product that meets those needs, to the point that they can’t do without it. That’s what Apple does very well and, as you point out, most others don’t.

      Apple launched products from a base of total secrecy. The product I purchased, referred to in my first post, was also launched that way. My son has been on the design team for 18 months and I knew nothing about it until the public launch day. Again, as you suggest, you can’t under-deliver if you haven’t promised anything in the first place. Makes sense to me.

        1. Not all my dumb ideas, some taken from Glenn Adamson from Yale. Ironically, he describes “dumb” technology, as opposed to “smart” technology, usually inert objects that are repositories of millennia of human intelligence, that are not dumb at all. He quotes Pamela H Smith from Columbia: “Objects inscribe the memory of previous generations”. I would suggest that innovation is far more frequent than invention.

          1. Of course, I prefer Paul’s second alternative, which essentially is to innovate and then try and make the innovation into a commercially viable product. His first option is tends to be copycat technology, which has its place as it is usually based on lowering prices.

              1. No cricket, nothing to talk about. Speakers to be installed in the ceiling – the shame of it! I was planning to hold off until Octave is launched, but that may be longer than expected. 2024? I was saving up some particularly dumb comments, apparently.

                1. Morita, the founder of Sony, invented the Walkman. All devices used today to listen to music while wondering about are descendants of the Walkman.

                  1. … preceded by at least 10 years by the Sinclair Micromatic, a matchbox size pocket radio with earpiece. Clive Sinclair had already made the first commercial Class-D amplifier, followed up with the the first home computer (ZX81, Timex Spectrum etc.), pocket calculator, digital watch, electric bike, folding bike … a national hero in the UK and a prolific inventor who also made a huge amount of money. The Walkman was a glorified dictaphone, but a truly great product all the same.

                    1. SNTBCBS,
                      You are technically correct. As a kid I recall fans going to football stadiums with their portable radios to listen to the announcer.
                      Morita’s invention deals with music chosen by the person carrying it and not transmitted.
                      Morita himself spoke about this to our class in graduate school. I was there.
                      Fat Rat proves again his ignorance.

  7. Pedantic Alert: MVP is an initialism not an acronym (see below):

    an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word (e.g. ASCII, NASA ).

    an abbreviation consisting of initial letters pronounced separately (e.g., CPU ).

  8. Thanks kcleveland123. What would the world be without you…a total mess.
    And SntbcwS…you should stop fooling yourself. You’re hooked on audio and every now and then you have to give in to this urge to post a comment. Just admit and accept it, it’s the first step in the healing process.

  9. I’ve never heard of the term MVP the way Paul used it. In the industry I work, they use the term TPP (targeted product profile), which unfortunately becomes a very rigid document that does not adapt to the realities of the developmental results. You may wish a profile but once tested nobody wants to change it to what the product actually delivers. They are incapable of acknowledging that their TPP is not possible and they have to adapt. Then, they market something, or they try to make claims of something that is not there.

    And it is both the developers and the marketeers the ones refusing to admit that their “baby” is not what they wanted or thought they wanted.

    This is one of the most difficult issues in the industry. How to make people realize what they have and not what they think they have. Wishing is a not a strategy.

    It is like people thinking they have the best DAC, or speakers… The problem is in almost every industry even if the terms used are different.

        1. CtA,
          Doing well, thank you.
          My BMI has just crept over 30 (193cm/113kgs) so it could be argued that I am no longer in the ‘fat’ range & that I have indeed transitioned into the ‘obese’ range.
          I’ll automatically slim down when I become an octogenarian.

          My wife & I are always ‘ribbing’ each other.
          We believe that in a successful marriage humour & laughter is the epoxy resin that keeps us together…when the fun goes then so does the relationship.

  10. Newsflash.
    Pedants association suffering from low membership due to application forms being completed incorrectly 😉

    BTW kcleveland123, I appreciate a bit of pedantry. It’s very close to accuracy, that we all crave from our systems.

  11. I would choose the one that sounds best. Listening is the only way to determine that. Not specs, not dreams. It must be difficult to design audio products these days when they are up against a wall with not much meat left on the bone having been devoured by so many previous successful designs, but unless someone comes out and says we cannot get this to sound any better which you will never hear them say than dreaming is all that is left. 99.999% of gains in sound quality have been accomplished. At this point I’m not sure there is anything left to improve on other than reducing it to the size of a Nano but that’s not making it sound better. I’m not even sure if that will ever be possible. When it comes to hi fi weight is still king and so are the laws of physics. I want my speakers heavy and my components heavy. I dream about heavy components and speakers. The only problem with heavy is rising shipping costs and old age making it costly and difficult to move without help and we audiophiles don’t like anyone handling our gear.

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