How Much Value Do You Place In Name Brands?

For years most of my friends have teased me about my proclivity for name brands. I just don't want a something, I want a something made by a specific company. When my cordless drill gave up the ghost a few weeks ago, off to the home center I went, dedicated to the purchase of something with all the bells and whistles. Of the brands from which I could choose, I went with a DeWalt combination kit with both a regular variable speed drill and a hammer drill. Other manufacturers products were arguably just as well-made, had similar features and cost the same, if not less. So why a DeWalt? Simple, name recognition - in my view anyway. 

AR-BrandNameSmallFormat.jpgName brands exist in all facets of our purchased product lives. If I'm talking cars and the name Aston Martin comes up, I think three things - expensive, performance and quality. Pick any product we may ever purchase and dollars to doughnuts, there's a name brand that exudes a feeling of "yeah, that's the good stuff." 

High performance audio is no exception. Think about any of our more popular name brands. In speakers it might be, among others, brands like Magico or Focal, in electronics possibly Constellation or Dan D'Agostino, in  cables maybe Nordost, MIT or Transparent. This list goes on and on and other names could be added as well. Yet, when I look through online forums I see so many brands I've either never heard of or barely heard of. I sometimes questioningly wonder where these brands are even found, much less why anyone would ever buy them. Despite my own personal bias, people do buy these brands and I have no doubt enjoy them and happily get years of sustained use from them. 

AR-BuiltLikeATank.jpgThere are, obviously, various and varied methodologies into how an audio component might be chosen. Common sense and conventional wisdom tells us the wisest method is by listening - pick several components in a price range, demo them, and buy the one that is best suited to a system and sonic flavor. Sounds good on paper, but in real life? Probably not so much. 

In the real world, many of us choose a component because the price is right, because we read about it in a forum or a product review, and sometimes, wait for it, because of name brand recognition. The whatever we choose was chosen because the name is one that reflects quality, performance and possibly even a small dose of making others a tad impressed. Let's face it, how many of us do not take at least a small measure of satisfaction imagining friends and contemporaries praising our system and component choices behind our back? "Have you seen Joe's new speakers?" Justification for money sometimes well, sometimes foolishly spent comes from ways other than just listening to music. 

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"Built like a tank." "Museum quality." These descriptions and more often accompany the reputation of certain manufacturers. In my case, the choice of my amp, preamp and DAC all manufactured by Esoteric was made not only because I thought them excellent in every way, but also because the term "museum quality" has long been associated with the products they make. And while I am completely happy with my decision to buy them, and I am spellbound by the sonic excellence they provide, I do wonder if I could have not found each component with equal performance, equal quality, equal build characteristics and equal "wow" factor from a brand that was considerably less in cost. Possibly so. Then again, the person I want to impress most is myself, both from a sonic standpoint and also brand recognition standpoint. 

I have been long toying with the idea of mono blocks to replace my stereo amp. I hesitate because of several reasons. One, I believe in system synergy. With my amp, preamp and DAC all made by one manufacturer and all having likewise technology and design, there is a certain symmetry and the probability in "playing nicely together." Another is that I am worried I might possibly upset what for me is complete and total satisfaction in what I hear today, right now. I question why I would ever even consider making such a change, let alone a change the magnitude of what I would like to make. 

AR-TransparentMagnumOpus.jpgChoices. We have and make them. Sometimes our choices are predominately guided by a well-reasoned and informed outlook on our purchase decisions, sometimes we select a component because of a competitive or attractive price, sometimes because we like what we hear and oddly enough because of what's in a name. Name recognition and brand appreciation does not happen without reason. Mostly, it happens because the company or designer has a history of creating some of the finest products in the industry. Perhaps they might likewise have a reputation for quality at an affordable price. Whatever metric may be applied, sometimes name brands secure new business simply and pervasively because they are who they are. Such reputations are hard won with years of many satisfied customers. 

AR-NordostOdin2.jpgHowever we may decide on the new whatever, be it by price, quality, and yes, even what's in a name, the salient point is that we should be uniquely guided by common sense and intelligent buying decisions. Playing the name brand game can be both rewarding, and regrettably, have less than the desired effect. Manufacturers work very diligently to effect a valued and impressive reputation in the marketplace. And regardless if that reputation is because of build quality, engineering excellence, price to performance, all-out assault on the best money can buy, or any reputation one might choose, in most cases, the name says it all.

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