The recent problems that Outlaw Audio has had with their 978 processor brings up a critical issue in high-performance audio - trust. What happens when a manufacturer can't trust a supplier? And what happens when customers don't trust a manufacturer?
While top-echelon audio companies with high-end offerings often point to their manufacturing quality and leading-edge technologies as primary sales points, in actuality the most powerful sales tool a high-end manufacturer has is their customer's trust.
I play the mandolin. Among contemporary mandolin builders Stephen Gilchrist stands out head and shoulders above other builders. Why? Because he's built over 500 mandolins (all from a one-man shop) and his instruments have been remarkably consistent in build quality and sound since the first one came off his bench in 1977. Because of his reputation, his instruments command consistently high prices, even to the point that during a period of several years ago when Gilchrist wasn't accepting new orders because his waiting list had gotten too long, used examples were going for as much as 250% more their new price. This was all because potential buyers trusted the quality and consistency of his instruments.
High-performance audio manufacturers also rely on their reputation to keep them running in the black. The reason someone buys a premium processor or preamp instead of a similarly spec'd high-value model is often because that customer expects a higher level of support based upon the dealer and manufacturer's reputation. This purchase is based on a certain level of trust - that the salesperson is telling the truth about the product's capabilities, that the product is better made than the less expensive competition, and that the manufacturer and dealer will be there to support the product for its entire life-cycle.
The reason that more of us don't buy no-name DACs and other audio gear from Chinese sellers via EBAY is because we don't trust them to operate as described, and because the seller AND the product have no positive reputation to inspire trust. And without trust there's no commerce.
For high-performance audio consumers there's really no way to avoid the leap of faith that a product will deliver on its promises. Also there's no way to insure that they will receive adequate customer support in case of a problem. But many audiophiles try to improve their odds by purchasing only top-tier audio gear from well-established companies. And while this is great news for the top ten companies in each product category, it's tough on newer value-based firms. Because in the end the question will always be, "Who do you trust?" Because that's who gets the money...