Who’s on first?

April 20, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

Making a decision as to which model of amplifier, phono stage, or preamplifier can be daunting. There are more brands than one can count and, within those brands, many models.

In the days of dealers, we relied upon their curation skills to narrow the field. The only problem with that model is that most times big dealers carried not what they believed you needed most (after all, how could they?) but what worked best for them.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the norm in our small high-end industry. The dealers we loved and honored were those that stocked what they loved and eschewed brands and products that didn’t meet their standards. Those were the good guys in our industry. Personal pride and a love of audio drove their interests and formed their opinions.

Sadly, many of those heroes are gone. (Lyric HiFi recently announced the closing of its New York City store)

Despite the shrinking number of honest and heartfelt curators, it is still possible to cut through the cruft to narrow down the field to a few choices.

That happens through trust. Trust built through a magazine, an advisor, a reviewer, a manufacturer, or a friend.

Who’s-on-first gets less confusing when we’re working with people we trust.

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26 comments on “Who’s on first?”

  1. Remember that if two close dealers want one brand or consider it great, only the first has the free decision, the next will have to take the brand that is still available for that region and so forth.

    So I think the dealer who “always” or “usually” flexibly chooses for offering what he likes best or what perfectly fits together is theory or good luck in my understanding of the reality.

    But for sure what every dealer stocks at the end IS the perfect match and carefully selected 😉

    Nothing against dealers and their good will, they certainly try to combine perfectly within the remaining options.

    1. In the old days, one company offered two different outboard motors so they could have two dealers in the same area. These were the Evinrude and Johnson motors that were virtually identical except for their outer covering. Did any audio companies do this?

      And the “Who’s on First” routine remains a comedy classic, even if many other A&C routines and movies have lost their luster.

    1. I got a kick out of the comments there. Took me back to my younger days, growing up near Pittsburgh. My best friend and I were both into sound (although I didn’t have money) and would trek into town to visit the shops. The Listening Post and Ovation were the 2 “best” places. They felt special just walking in the door. There were other places too that were a bit less high end but who still carried some decent stuff. Somewhere along the line I heard Maggies for the first time and was smitten. It was about 35 years until I finally owned them. Back then, after going through a few pair of EPIs and another make (I don’t even recall the brand) I ended up with Polk Monitor 10s, which served me well for years. My friend ended up with Large Advents. There were the thing back then.
      Sure do miss those days.

      1. Back in the day, the smart brick-and-mortar dealers knew how to cultivate future clients and would accommodate impoverished students. If they weren’t busy with actual paying customers, they would even let us listen to the ‘good stuff’ (Koln Concert over big Maggies, Sgt. Pepper over JBL Paragons, yeah!). In my case it worked. Although the big Maggies et al. remained a bridge too far, I did buy a few pieces of kit affordable by mere mortals from them both when my financial situation permitted.

        When (if?, see the current extreme nastiness in India) things return to a reasonable facsimile (I seem to use that word a lot) of the old normal and PS Audio reopens it’s doors, I hope to pay them a visit. And to see the glorious Rocky Mountains again, it’s been too long.

  2. I’ve made mention of the value of great audio salons several times and what you’re saying today is the absolute truth. It’s not difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to audio dealers.

    I remember the first time I met Mark Levinson at Red Rose Music in New York City. The consummate salesman and visionary was very helpful at trying to sell his own products but no one else’s.

    Loss of Lyric HiFi is tragic as is Audio Outlet formally in Mount Kisco New York and it’s owner Frank Huang. He’s fortunate in the fact that he had the foresight to move into home theater in the early stages so he does very well because his knowledge and understanding of the customer’s needs is incredible. When Frank gives you his attention you know you are being taken care of properly. John Rutan of Audio Connections has also survived because he has the passion and strives to make sure every customer gets what they’re listening for.

    There were and still are so many more great stores to shop at and I know that they have your best interests in mind and yes they were selling the equipment that they felt was best for them. That’s why I bounced around from shop to shop in my never ending search for synergy in my music system.

  3. Here in the Highlands of Scotland it was a 130 mile drive to audition a pair of monobloc amplifiers at a hifi store with a suitable equipment rack. After a lengthy and comfortable audition it was a sale. The proprietor offered to drive over and install the amplifiers. True to his word he arrived, being an elderly gentleman I offered to help carry the amplifers up the steps into my house. He wouldn’t hear of it even though he was struggling quite a bit. After a well earned rest he did the installation carefully. I’m so delighted that such old world service still exists in the high-end world.

  4.  In a study hall back in 82 i filled out a Stereo Review magazine card and recieved a beautiful large booklet that explained hearing music through drawings & paintings.  This presentation from Germany helped influence me to run my scan furniture store that old style way. No product leaves without being assembled by the best.  No website offered other than manufacturer’s own.   Its a very mello atmosphere.  During this pandemic it has been an oasis (as far as going to a brick & mortar job can be).

  5. I’m so glad my gear selection days are over–all bases are loaded in both my systems. My first experiences with high end audio stores 25 years ago was awful. Each city I lived in only had one or two. Their offerings were so limited. I felt uncomfortable in them, because just the equipment stands and accessories were above my price point. At one shop I explained to the dealer the type of sound I wanted and he sent me home with the largest, most expensive tube amp he carried (a top of the line VTL, I think it was). It had a multitude of tubes and was like a radiant heater. I accidentally left it on when I took a day trip and when I came home my apartment was like an oven. The amp was gritty and shrill sounding to my ears. After a week I took it back and told the dealer I couldn’t live with it. I was not willing to punish my ears with further “break in.” He was not happy with my decision and had no other recommendation for me. From then on, I bought all my gear online based on magazine and internet reviews and never regretted any major purchase, save a preamp that did not meet my expectations.

  6. What used to drive the good folks to the hi-fi stores during the boom of the 70s, 80s and 90s was simply their passion for the music of the day. Enter the late 90’s and the 21st century and suddenly to supplement a profitable business model most dealers chose to make the shift to video, home theatre and custom installation. Entertainment solutions that served the entire family.

    Today, to sustain a business selling high performance audio, video & theatre to resourceful clients now requires dealers to be proficient integrating home automation including computer networks, lighting, climate control, security and 24 hour system monitoring. Basically selling installation, programming & monitoring labor and service contracts as a profit center. How fun is that!

    There’s a substantial library of music recordings available from the great modern music cultural period. Today, mp-3 and the majority of music sucks, we all know that and that’s why the remnants of the high-end audio industry caters mostly to men over 40-50 years of age.

    How you pry these kids from their mobile phones, educate them about the history of great music and sit them down to listen sounds like a lot of work, almost like surfing against the tide. Further, PS Audio’s business model of having to make three sales to close a deal appears complicated and inefficient. (30 day trial -> trade in -> resale and monetary collection of trade in -> reconditioning returns).

    That said, i do respect Paul’s chutzpah to keep on keeping on!

    1. I have been watching a few music reacters (-ors?) on YouTube lately. As examples, Dicon Dissectional (age 16) and Niamh the Prog Nerd (age 19) give one hope for a renaissance of music from the ’60s and forward. Daniel of D.D. apparently gets most of his music on line, but Niamh (a British lass with an Irish name, which she pronounces ‘Neeve’) is an unabashed vinyl aficionado. We old dudes just need to sit back and let them work it out for themselves and then do the proselytizing to their peers. This is as it should be. The voice crying in the wilderness is still a viable model of action, even if we don’t live to see it come to fruition. “The kids are alright.”

  7. Dr. Goodears… who pried us away from our table radios and flimsy car radio speakers?
    Perhaps Confused Stephan is right. They will find their way. Not everyone likes to sit alone and listen to music as we do. One might ask, you do what? Really? Yep we do.

  8. What pried my friends, brothers & sisters away from the 45 rpm driven fold-up compact music players of the 60s into concert halls, hi-fi and record stores was the compelling music of the era. We all gathered at concerts to socialize and built temples in our living room’s to share and celebrate music. In pursuit and service of the magic i dedicated the better part of my life sharing music on every level with as many folks possible.

    I’m not saying there isn’t a pocket of good music out there. Kids still gather today, but it’s a social-technological paradigm shift to mobile phones, social media, selfies and video games. Their music is somewhere in the background which in my humble opinion is exactly where
    mp-3 auto-tuned unimaginative lyrical noise (do i look good on this video) should be.
    Have you watched the Grammy’s lately?

    Back to yesterday’s post regarding high-end audio dealers and Lyric Hi-Fi in particular. Doing business in Manhattan is expensive and many high-end component sales to audiophiles these day’s are based on price. Lenny simply went as far as he could and chose to no longer adapt to the modern marketplace which is serving financially resourceful clients who enjoy music & video but also want integrated house-wide extended computer networking, home automation and most recently, home office and outdoor music & theatre.

    In my experience, these modern Cedia driven ProSource buying group power dealers should just take the final step. Add plumbing, electrical and hvac to their agenda’s and evolve into custom home builders. A complete turnkey integrated solution just like a Tesla. It’s a brave new world out there, the greatest fundamental change of our lifetime! (enter smiley face or frown face dependent upon your disposition)

    PS Audio – A playground for audiophiles…

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