The White Van and Other Audio "Bargains"

It has been several years since I was approached by that ubiquitous white van selling speakers in the home center parking lot. The last time it happened, two very dubious looking guys approached me as I was going into Lowes to get something for the house. "We have some really great speakers for a really cheap price" they yelled at me as I walked along towards the door. 

AR-WhiteVan2SmallFormat.jpgNeedless to say I am far too skeptical and way too cautious to ever hand over cold cash to two guys riding around in a white van. I'm given to imagine that someone does or why else would it still be occurring? It's sort of like that email you receive from some supposed general in some country on the other side of the world telling you you've inherited 50 million dollars and all you need to do to get the money is... 

Someone, unfortunately, is being conned by such scams but it sure ain't me. 

While it's true that most audio companies are completely legitimate, it doesn't for one second discount the fact that there are those that, while not to the level of a white van speaker, may to some degree be misrepresenting their product. Perhaps the technical specifications are not as advertised. Maybe the sales information purports one level of quality and the actual component delivers yet another. 

AR-Capicitor.jpgIf a manufacturer, for instance, advertises that a premium grade capacitor is used in your new amp you'd probably be impressed. However, open the cover and what do you see? A bunch of electronic parts. Unless you are possessed with a sophisticated knowledge of the make and cost of what's inside the component, you will likely have no clue as to exactly the quality level of the parts staring back at you from inside the cabinet. At that point, you have little other choice but to believe, or not believe the veracity of the manufacture's claims. Your best hope is for sonic acceptance. 

Another tangential occurrence is the condition of used gear for sale. How many audiophiles have bought something that did not measure up to the level of quality claimed by the seller? And yes, the product can in most cases be returned, albeit not without a certain amount of hassle and cost. And yes, most people would never misrepresent something they are trying to sell. And yes, there are multitudes of people who have and do successfully purchase used gear to satisfying, amazing results. Unfortunately, it's the few bad apples who are knowingly and purposefully trying to cheat a prospective buyer that spoils the bunch. I, for one, would only buy used gear if I knew the seller and the equipment. I'm probably being overly cautious, I'm probably missing out on some good deals, but that's okay. I'd rather spend my money on something known and proven even if it comes at a higher price. 

AR-WhiteVanSmallFormat.jpgAt one end of this spectrum is the white van speaker. How many of us have heard horror stories of someone who bought a set, got them home and discovered there is nothing inside the cabinet - or that the parts are so cheap they don't even play. At the other end of the spectrum are the well-known and highly respected manufactures producing products of museum quality build, fit and function. Then there's the middle. And in the middle there are certain manufacturers, most are unheard of, that fall slightly on the wrong side of the line or perilously close. So how does the consumer know which product to choose? How does the average audiophile looking to maximize sonic integrity at the lowest possible price make a safe yet informed decision? 

It's probably a crap shoot. 

Personally, I'd be very leery of the scores of comments on audio forums. While there are some very knowledgeable people, both consumers and industry professionals who frequently contribute to forums, it should be understood that there are exactly the opposite offering ill-fated advice. I am confident there are those who heed the suggestions of an unknown stranger on an Internet forum but I see that as one precipitous step above the white van. Here again, there are those that will offer accurate advice and sadly, there are those that don't. Recognizing the difference is manifestly important. 

AR-BuyerBewareLatin.jpgWhen it comes to manufacturers of unknown brands that seem to be too good to be true, then common sense must rule. Buying something because an advertisement from some company you've never heard of at a price that is substantially lower than familiar manufacturers in the same class of product is unwise on all levels. For those who are thinking "I'd never do that" consider yourself a wise consumer. However, just like the white van speakers, there are those that get burned. 

When considering such components can the manufacturer be contacted by phone? Is there a receptionist or does some guy with loud noises in the background pick up the phone and say "yeah?" Is there a dealer network for the brand? Can you find a dealer reasonably close to your home that you can visit and hear the component in person? Have you ever seen this brand at an audio show? Do you know anyone who owns one and can validate the build quality and performance parameters? Do you have an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach about buying this product? If your answers are no, the "yeah" guy, no, no, no, no and uneasy, better run and hide. Or take your chances with the junk in the white van. Or maybe the inheritance of the 50 million. Because otherwise you may be on the short end of misrepresentation, cheated, conned or all three. For those lucky and smart enough to not incur any of this, you are indeed fortunate and wise. 

Bottom line, be careful and think before you buy. Don't waste hard earned money on a white van.

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