Pro vs. pro

November 11, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

The definition of a pro is someone who makes a living by virtue of what they do. A plumber plumbs, a carpenter pounds nails and saws wood, and a stereo dealer sells and sometimes installs stereo equipment.

They get paid to do a specific job.

How good they are at that job should in theory determine whether or not they remain able to support themselves over the long term. In our capitalist system, the idea is the marketplace sorts out who’s good and who’s not.

That model’s fine in theory.

Fortunately, we can often judge a pro by their work. The pipes don’t leak, the house doesn’t fall down, and your stereo system brings you more pleasure than you had hoped for.

On rare occasions, we get to watch a master practice their craft: John Hunter or Peter McGraff setting up a stereo system would to me qualify as true masters of their craft.

Whatever level of pro you might be considering help you choose your stereo gear or set up your system, the best advice I can offer is to first make sure your values line up with theirs. Do they have experience helping others get to where you wish to go?

Once you’ve managed to form a bond of mutual values, pros can offer a great partnership.

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44 comments on “Pro vs. pro”

  1. The theory about the function of the market in a capitalist system requires full transparency meaning all participants have the same complete and comprehensive information. And of course all participants act most rationally as a homo oeconomicus. I never have found a market fulfilling these requirements. And isn’t audio a most emotional and subjective affair lacking most important information about relevant product data? An example: I still haven’t found a manufacturer of loudspeakers who reveals the minimum listening distances for his loudspeakers and the boundary conditions of the individual voicing process. No wonder there are so many snake-oil products in the audiophile realm.

  2. I don’t get this “make sure your values line up with theirs”. Why should I be interested in their values? Like any purchase, whether a suit or a dishwasher, I want to get the feeling that they understand what I like, the type of audio system that suits me and what best suits my circumstances. That may be completely different from someone else. Audio is a consumer product and service like many others and I trust my audio dealer, Jason, just as I trust my plumber, Glenn. I know he has experience because the business has operated from the same premises since 1965 and, like other dealers, they host launches and open days and they seem to have lots of happy customers.

    It’s not like my audio dealer has to be my best friend. How often do people actually buy audio equipment? I might not speak to my dealer for a couple of years or more.

    I bought two things in the last year. One he called me up and recommended an item for a home trial as he thought it would benefit me, the other was in the shop. He’d never met my wife, but after a few minutes they were getting on famously and shortly thereafter a sale was agreed.

    The internet is great for a lot of things, but retail is not dead yet and we still rely on good, knowledgeable customer service. You won’t find me buying a suit, a dishwasher or audio online anytime soon.

  3. If you want something done properly then do it yourself.
    However educate yourself on the subject first (obviously)
    Learn how to wire things up.
    Learn how to saw wood in a straight line & how to hammer a nail in without hitting your thumb.
    Learn how to connect pipes & how to run them so that the water flows in th right direction without pooling at an elbow.
    Learn how to change the oil & the filters on your car/motor bike/truck & how to replace your brake pads.
    Learn how to work the investment scene & the stock market in your favour.
    Learn how to do everything that you need to know to conduct your life & to be self-sufficient…including how to set-up your home audio rig properly; apparently there’s a book & accompanying CD that, with a little bit of effort & intelligence on your part, will make you a pro.
    The feeling that you will get from doing everything properly by yourself is immense self-satisfaction 😀

    1. Fat Rat,

      Your post reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from author Robert Heinlien:

      “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    2. A good audio designer would make equipment that does not require some guru or expert (who are John Hunter or Peter McGraff anyway?) to set it up, and ensure their dealers can assist their clients when needed.

      Setting up an audio system wrong doesn’t kill anyone, but wiring your house yourself without an electrical certificate may kill you and will certainly invalidate any insurance you may have.

        1. Well that’s one spin on customer service. No spin on the fact that Aus have their work cut out this afternoon! Just won the toss.

    3. Indeed, I cannot but fully agree. However becoming an expert myself means investing in learning (trial & error) or scientifically studying things. A most time consuming process. And due to the fact that a human being starts learning but simply imitating its parents and later all kind of role models a majority avoids the stress of learning and studying and relies on self-acclaimed experts and authorities. Imitating parents of role models was sufficient when mankind was organized in tribes or clans of some dozens members of hunters & gatherers. But in today’s mass societies with highly specialized jobs things are much more complicated because knowledge isn’t commonly shared. What about the general trustworthiness of politicians, journalists, (used-car) dealers, bankers, sales and marketing guys? 😉

      1. For sure, Paul wants people to invest time (and money) and generally engage in audio and preferably PSA audio products. Time is a limited resource and home audio is a pretty esoteric thing to engage in. I suspect there are far more people who want good home audio, without the time obligation. They just want to sit down and listen to music, and not worry about installing and updating the hardware. I disagree with Paul that good home audio should require an investment in time and accumulation of knowledge. I much prefer people who make products that make life as easy as possible for the customer, whether it’s plug-and-play or any set-up/installation is part of the deal.

        1. Isn’t the easiest way to enjoy recorded music listening via a decent pair of (wireless) headphones featuring crossfeed and dedicated DSP (as offered by Roon and Weiss DAC501)? 🙂 And if the perfection is reached with digital audio it should be no rocket science to run room correction and speaker correction (as SAM by Devialet) from a DAC. I am still waiting seeing room correction and crosstalk cancellation in Devialet’s amps and active speakers. The crucial point today aren’t hardware (power supplies, amp-stages, computer power, …) or software but brainware (deep knowledge of room acoustics and psychoacoustics).

    4. Not that I don’t agree with you FR, it’s just that many of us reach the point of our own incompetence depending on the task at hand and then ‘Oh Boy…Run for your life honey, the foundation is crumbling’.

      It’s called the Peter principle but you already know that 🙂

    5. FR, All you said is correct and I know how to do most of things you have listed. However, I am old, I have a bad knee and a bad back, and I am tired. So I now use a “pro” ( slang for a professional ) to do some of it ( like plumbing, changing an oil filter, and to some extent investing ).

      Paul’s definition of professional was a start. People like Peter McGrath who work in pro audio are considered professionals.

      Electricians and plumbers who must be trained and past exams to be licensed are consider professionals.

      Physicians, lawyers, scientist, and engineers who must be educated, trained and in some cases certified or licensed are considered professionals.

      My father was a truck driver ( 18 wheeler ). In the state of Missouri you must obtain a professional license ( they use to call it a chauffeur’s license, I’m not sure they still do ) to drive a motor vehicle for money. I wonder how many people think of truck drivers as professionals?

      I am not sure thinking of people as professionals is a good idea. Do think that the person who asks you if you want fries with your order is a professional?

  4. You gotta respect a good craftsman or a pro who takes a lot of pride in what they do. If one is extremely passionate and enthusiastic about what they do as a special interest or of course as a career, chances are that person can help you.
    Bottom line is I like to hear what the other person has to say. I will drink in the advice, but you can be damn sure I’ll spit it out if I know in my heart somehow something is off. I’ll spit it out nicely of course. 😉

    In life I don’t know everything. Not even close, so when I recognize a good craftsman I put aside any ego or preconceived ideas to allow that craftsman to have the floor.
    Otherwise I feel I will go through life missing out on decent practical experience.

  5. I wonder if Paul actually meant Peter McGrath of Wilson audio fame…

    Having said that, I feel that advice should be filtered through the frame of actual experience in a field. For me, Pro denotes a class of audio, and we are speaking to the class of mid-fi and hi-fi arenas when it comes to home entertainment in these subjects. Pro audio is in and of itself a different class.

    As the ol’ adage goes, “be careful how you listen…” (or who you listen to)

  6. I think it’s kind of odd for this kind of post because you can only get ps audio products online and not thru a dealer so it’s on the client to know what he wants and how to set it up (this is a good thing btw). I have ps audio products because I don’t need a local “pro” to help me with what I want. Paul here touts well known people that come out and install their own speakers after purchase, so what is ps audio going to do when they start selling their own speakers? Are they going back to teaming up with dealers so they can send someone out to install and setup their speakers or is ps audio going to offer this service?

  7. Yes, an independent professional can save you half an audio lifetime and from so many unnecessary investments.

    And yes, it’s most important to care for sharing the same values and goals for the audio project.

    Independence is the difficult precondition. For some a dealer already fulfills this sufficiently, fore others even a manufacturer, at least for non product related topics.

  8. Paul has certainly met Peter McGraph and John Hunter. And the other Peter from Magico, also pretty good at set up. I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with McGraph on several occasions, he’s remarkably knowledgable and unimposing, almost shy. He is also an accomplished recording engineer having done remarkable work in that area before joining Wilson. He appears at many if not most Wilson dealers for their events and likes you to listen to his demonstrations with the lights off for best sound. Speaking of Wilson, (Soundminded) having owned now four pair, they take a different approach to what’s best in your room. The first is mandatory dealer set up. My dealer is in Maryland but since we’ve moved to Sarasota, FL he needed to come here to install my latest purchase. Their set up guide is published on-line for every speaker and shows you how to use the speakers in your room. By inference, if you can’t accomplish their process effectively the model is not for you. Between the two, you have more than enough information on what models to purchase. So, not really an on-line purchase. The guides for each speaker are in their online catalog. I should add that as you go up their model line the speakers become adjustable to you listening room and position. The lower, unadjustable models sound great and have published tables with ideal setup distance measurements. Of course, the build quality is excellent as is their ongoing customer service. Guess that’s how their total system brings value to owning Wilson.

  9. Barsley… Not sure what you imply, other than I didn’t bother this early in the morning here to look up the correct spelling of his last name. My bad and you are correct as you have written it.

    1. My comment was axiomatic. I wasn’t trying to imply anything outside of those who name drop and don’t actually know the person’s name shows the extent of the knowledge of that person.

  10. I read Paul’s early morning post.
    And I read all the comments that came after it.
    All of you made some very vallet points here.
    Truth be told about me, I’m self tought.
    In spite of the fact that I can’t see from my eyes, that still doesn’t stop me from learning something about something I want to know about.
    Sure you can go online to gather information about stereo equipment.
    But here is the question.
    What if the itam you’re looking at online doesn’t have enough information posted on it?
    And what if the website doesn’t give you any contacting information to get in touch with the company?
    Who can you turn to, to get your questions answered?
    To me, that’s one of the many things that’s wrong with shopping online.
    If I could go to my loco high end shop to find out anything that I want to know about, the better it is for me.
    And the setting up a system, if I saw it done right once, I can do the same thing myself without any help.
    You just have to be willing to learn how to do it.

  11. I have the Audiophile’s Guide and Reference Disk. Why would I need a pro? 🙂

    Seriously, there is a wealth of YouTube DIY videos on nearly every subject. I watch them and determine if I have the proper tools, manual dexterity and patience to perform the task. If not, I look for an experienced pro.

    Even when I hire a pro, I do my research. For example, half the “professional” roofers do it wrong.

  12. In setting up my speakers (etc.) I have 2 experts to help me… my ears.
    I don’t need/want no “expert” to decide for me (…) in my room what is “the best” sound. Ridiculous.
    You don’t need (to be) an “expert” to set up your audio system correctly. It’s no rocket science.
    It’s a matter of creating the sound(quality) you like. That’s all there is to it.
    IMO in audio : when it comes to the technical part, trust the experts (most of the time).
    When it comes to sound(quality), don’t trust the experts, just your ears.
    And by “experts” I mean dealers, distributors, manufacturers.

  13. About four months ago, my power amp had a problem after 22 years of zero issues.The manufacturer told me that the minimum fee to make a repair was close to $900 just to send and receive it and for them to take a look. The upside was that the head of tech-support gave me a good idea of where the problem was based on my description and the name of my local dealer. The dealer worked with an independent bench guy who made the repair for $400 and had it back to me within two days working just as beautifully if not more so as I had him check all the capacitors and do a general look through, clean all tube socket contacts and replace the entire complement of tubes. I’m a happy guy because I found a quality professional.

      1. Appliance and car repair are two areas where knowing a professional outside a big organization is a gold mine. To change an engine oil gasket a local dealership here in L.A. charges $1,500 just for 6.5 hours of labor. That is $230 per hour. Most of the parts and labor charges is overhead to pay for the beautiful showroom, customer service staff, and other amenities in the business’ prime location. Finding a qualified, reliable mechanic who operates in mundane facilities with much less overhead but can take equally good care of your car can save thousands over time.

      2. An honest auto mechanic is worth his weight in gold. I am old enough that I use to do all my own maintenance and minor repair myself. I had a timing light and did my own tune-ups and changed plugs, filters, rotors, belts even shock myself. Today I would probably have to by $10K worth of equipment to do the same on a modern emission controlled car.

        1. Same here. I had a Mazda rotary engine car and drove it 110,000 miles. Did everything myself except had to take it once to a shop for a new clutch. My current Audi doesn’t even have an oil dip stick. The Audi service manager told me that if I wanted a cheaper car to maintain, buy a Honda.

    1. Guys, When it comes to manufactures and technical knowledge I view them as the ultimate source. They built the gear, if they do not understand who will. When comes to service as with all things in audio YMMV. I have known some like Oppo,VPI and PS Audio who will bend over backwards to make things right. I have also known some who are arrogant and treat you like your an idiot. I tend not to buy their gear a second time.

  14. Rather than attempting to be, or pretending to be, self-sufficient I think it is more important to have the introspection of self-appraisal, an absence of ego and an understanding of cost/benefit analysis to know what to outsource.

    For example, I think phono cartridge alignment is a black art. Many audiophiles probably are not realizing the promise of their expensive vinyl playback systems due to imperfect cartridge alignment and set-up.

    I could spend the rest of my life learning the techniques of cartridge alignment, and still not be nearly as good as a cartridge expert I can engage to perform this critical high-end audio service.

    1. I believe this ability has to do with the individual and their fine motor coordination and an abundance of patience. Learning how to work carefully and methodically without rushing and double and/or triple checking your work for each step of cartridge alignment can be quite doable.

      This comment is coming from a guy who started to build electronic projects at the age of 11 and got all of my frustration out of me by the 10th project. You need to know when it’s time to take a break or stop for the day as well.

      There is a video on ANA[DIA]LOG where Guido uses a $15.00 piece of rectangular clear plastic for azimuth correction which is VTA (Vertical Tracking Angle“ and SRA (Stylus Rake Angle). Measuring the stylus tracking force and anti-skating adjustment use different adjustment methods but are not difficult.

      Tony, I am not suggesting that you even lay a finger on your tonearm or cartridge to do any adjustments because it seems that you have given up before you have even started and judging by your speakers and amplifier I wouldn’t play around with your quality equipment if you don’t feel comfortable doing this sort of thing.

      The video is worth watching because it is quite informative and at least you’ll get a better feeling as to what goes into making these adjustments. If you start the video please watch the entire 15 minutes and don’t shut it down out of frustration because it’s worth the entire watch. You know so much about your system why not take in a bit more knowledge?

  15. Hi Paul,

    Who are John Hunter and Peter McGraff? Are they employees of yours? Or partners you leverage for installations? Do they share their thoughts on tuning or is it proprietary knowledge they retain for their livelihood? I’d be interested in learning from them for my own personal education since you promote their virtues. Maybe they have online presence or community they discuss these bits of knowledge?


    1. Richard, I came across this internet article that professes to describe John Hunter’s speaker set up procedure that supposedly “creates a stable music image that is the same from any seat in the listening room and eliminates inter-speaker distortion and the resulting listening fatigue from this distortion.” Sounds suspect to me, but then I haven’t tried the procedure to test its effects. Paul may know more about the technique and whether it is beneficial.

      There are several internet videos featuring Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio. Having not watched them, I don’t know if any of them get into the specifics of setting up speakers.

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