Written by 4:20 am High End Audio

Tale of Two Reviewers – A Story About Industry Accommodations

Steven Stone Looks at the economics of high-end audio reviews…

Our story begins with two audio reviewers. Let’s call them reviewer A and reviewer B. They both specialize in high-performance audio products and both buy their “reference” components at accommodation prices. 

AR-ransomm copy.jpgNow for those of you unfamiliar with how industry accommodation works – when someone from within the industry wants to acquire a component, if they are in the industry, they have the option of buying it for the same price that the manufacturer would sell it to a retailer. And yes that is a substantial discount from the MSRP. But as far as the manufacturer is concerned it is almost exactly the same as selling to any of their other wholesale customers. It costs a manufacturer nothing and they gain another marketing tool – a presence in a reviewer’s reference system. 

About two years later reviewer A and B learn from an early PR release that their component is about to be discontinued and replaced by another, newer, design. Reviewer A sells his reference piece before the new one is released and gets $500 more than he paid for it. Reviewer B holds off selling the component until it can be compared with the new model. When reviewer B does finally sell the component the sale price is 15% less than the original accommodation price since it is now a used AND discontinued. 

AR-banks-in-india.jpgI have, for the last thirty-five years, followed reviewer B’s methodology. And as you might expect I have rarely broken even on the sale of a reference component. In essence, during those years I have subsidized my audio career (and manufacturers’ marketing) because I feel strongly that you can’t compare the old version with the new version (aural memory does not count) if you do not have both components available for an A/B. Unless you compare with matched-level comparisons you don’t really know what the differences and/or improvements might be. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve become less and less motivated to buy any of the gear I review because I’m tired of subsidizing manufacturers, who don’t even know, or if they do know, don’t acknowledge, that I have done so. 

For several years I owned a digital component that needed to be upgraded almost every year. And since I owned it, every time it needed to be brought to current specs I had to pay for the privilege. After the third time, it got old, and when the manufacturer could not get it to work successfully with Apple’s Yosemite OS I sold it, at a substantial loss. That was the last time I will buy anything from a small manufacturer that is not old, well-established, and stable technology. My days of playing reviewer with deep pockets are over – if a manufacturer wants me to use a component as a reference it will be a loan. I have also discovered that I am less biased (and more critical) when I do not own a component than when I do. 

AR-920x920.jpgThe last question I pose to you, dear readers, is two-fold. Is reviewer A gaming the system or is he just smart. And reviewer B – is he more trustworthy than reviewer A because he doesn’t try to stay ahead of the curve and protect his investment or is he just a dumb schmuck who doesn’t know how to make money in audio? 

What do you think?

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