The High-End Examiner

The High-End Examiner
Greg Petan
10 September 2002

To quote my man Dennis Miller, “Now I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but….”
The high-end sucks. That’s right, you heard me… the high-end sucks. What should and could be a joyous, inclusive soul-satisfying experience, from start to finish, is all too often a tedious, frustrating, exclusive, soul and financially depleting obsession. And I’m in part responsible. More about that later.

For starters, the high-end establishment, from as far back as the early 70’s, has created an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, and exclusivity that has permeated the general public’s consciousness, leaving the potential high-end advocate certainly turned off for life. There are just way too many cases that you and I could recite to argue that assessment.

I remember my first stroll into an audio store as young adult, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with a not-so-small sum of cash and high level of anticipation. I couldn’t get over all that cool gear. Speakers that I could actually see through, amplifiers the size of the V8 in my Firebird and wires that looked like something NASA would use to connect their toys. I was hooked… and then the salesman walked in.

Barely able to disguise his contempt, his furry little arms folded tightly across his scrawny chest, he avoided any eye contact. “Can I help you with something?” he blurted. Confused by the frosty reception, as though I had just insulted his mother, I quickly tried to gather my composure. “Um, yeah, can I hear those speakers?” “They are not hooked up,” he snapped, the words rolling out of his mouth so quickly it was as if he had rehearsed his response a thousand times.

“Well hook them the hell up!”, lingered in my head as the thing I should have said. Hoping to avoid a nasty exchange I calmly requested to meet with the manager. “I AM the manager,” he blurted. So smugly, with tobacco stained teeth darkly glinting out from underneath an equally heavily tobacco stained mustache, forming some pathetically victorious smile.

What could this guy have been thinking? “Great, I just dashed all the enthusiasm and joy of another potential customer, way to go!” And believe me, this was only one of many such experiences. As a matter of fact, a week later at another establishment, I presented a salesman with LL Cool J’s, “Walking With the Panther.” I just wanted to hear how speaker X handled some thumping bass. My hand to God, he said, “We don’t play that ni…r music here.” I was so deeply shocked that I could not speak; I was actually rendered speechless. I lobbied hard to get him fired on the spot, but it was to late, the cancer ran too deep. That establishment was gone a year later.

For every one like me who persevered the insults, ambivalence and flat out bigotry, there are probably a thousand, make that ten thousand, customers who threw up there hands, headed to circuit city for some funky rack system and banked the cash balance. (Did I mention the misogyny? 10 years later at New York’s biggest dealer, in response to my desire to consult my wife before I made a very substantial purchase, he proprietor, who I will call “Mr. Zinger” retorted, “Real men don’t consult their wives!!” GEE WHIZ, you’re right Mr. Zinger!! I don’t care about that nag! Here is all my money! Right!

If the salesman is the final link of the audio establishment before the whole of the industry reaches the customer, there must be some serious problems further up the product chain. One more thing about dealers while I’m on a roll. If I hear one more merchant whine about how customers come into their stores to audition gear only to end up buying it on the web or second hand, I will not be able to control my throwing up. These guys created this mess with their contemptuous and often fraudulent behavior, and now the Reaper of evolution and Karma has come to collect. Unfortunately, some good dealers and salesmen are getting caught up with the bad apples and they will have to get real creative to remain relevant and viable.

Now, I’m not letting myself off the hook here either. A substantial part of that rotting possum pie lurks in the belly of the audio press. Don’t get me wrong; there are many good writers out there that have helped to shape the enthusiasm for the high-end I have today. Thomas J. Norton comes to mind, as do Corey Greenberg; and Art Dudley seems to be getting it right. Tom Miiller with his child like enthusiasm for all things audio coupled to a sharp pair of ears, not to mention his allowing me to contribute my first review to his very well intentioned magazine, Audio Adventure.

There are many, many more white hats out there (probably reluctantly holding their tongues), yet the overall tone and approach to high-end reviewing smacks of the old guard, fat cats that use lots of witty italicized French phrases and others who murder trees and wasted server space for the purpose of so much wordy, quasi-intellectualism that results in reviews that are as tasty as a mouth full of sand.

Now I know I have ruffled some feathers here. I only hope those perpetrators who can be readily identified will chew a nice minty laxative and flush out the creative constipation that has kept this industry choked-off from the very people it needs so desperately to prosper, average music lovers that can be convinced that a decent audio/video rig is of greater value than a third vacation or new tile and wall paper for the second bathroom.

There are so many riches to be found in this passion. It is truly a worthy pursuit that feeds the very nature of our humanity. As a matter of fact, as a demonstration of furthering the stunted growth of our culture, I call on our government to issue every man woman and child a Linn Sondek CD12 as a birthright. Heck, that would be cheaper than paying that same individuals expenses for a year in the pokey!

In the very near future, I will explore more ideas and attitudes concerning varying aspects of the audio components life cycle, from design, through pricing to retail and even living with high-end audio and video gear that I hope will contribute to the solution.

Thanks to Clement Perry and The Stereo Times, we will be exploring a totally revolutionary forum for the discovery, exploration and joy of high – end audio and video and the people that make it happen.

So just for old times sake, Au revoire est vive la differance!

  Don’t forget to bookmark us! (CTRL-SHFT-D)

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