One of the biggest yet strangest problems with high-performance audiophile and videophile components is that they have in some ways become too good and last too long. I know this sounds a little bit crazy, but consider how other high-end luxury goods products are bought and sold and you see a specifically different pattern than you see in specialty AV.
For example, a pair of top speakers bought from any one of the brands that we review here
at HomeTheaterReview.com represents an audio component that can perform for decades on end at high levels and with little to no degradation of performance. Unlike other "and" products like wine, watches, guitars, pens or even women's shoes, audiophile products tend to be more of an "or" product, meaning if you were going to upgrade from, say, a pair of relatively entry-level THIEL speakers
to perhaps a pair of 800 series Bowers & Wilkins
, you'd very likely have to sell the THIELs to move up the food chain. In the world of luxury watches, as an example, it's possible that you could trade in a steel Rolex for a more complicated Patek Philippe, but more often than not, the enthusiast collector would keep both, thus building his collection. While video products like projectors
and flat HDTVs
change and are updated more often, audiophile products don't sell the same way. A guy with a smaller Krell amp
who wants to upgrade to a reference Audio Research product
is likely to sell the Krell to get the ARC. This cycle of life keeps the pages of Audiogon.com populated with more and more excellent gear, as audiophile components rarely crash or age the way a sports or luxury car might. A 30-year-old Mark Levinson power amp isn't state of the art nowadays, but it's still a good amp if it's working, which keeps a potential customer for new gear sticking with his tried-and-trusted old amp.
and industry pundits call this phenomenon a problem, and perhaps they are right, but this could also be viewed as an opportunity for the creative AV company. Transparent Audio, makers of some of the best and most respected audio cables in the business, has one of the most aggressive trade-up programs, which allows customers to buy used and then upgrade to new products through the dealer, thus making Audiogon.com and Ebay.com a pool of potential new clients - not a draw on their traditional brick and mortar dealers. Krell often offers a summer upgrade program through which current customers can swap out products like old AV preamps for new ones while retailing excellent trade in values towards state of the art new products.
Years and years ago, when I was in high-end AV retail at Cello Music and Film Los Angeles
, we had a program that dealers should consider today. The program was designed so that people looking to upgrade to more expensive Cello systems could trade their older but highly trusted audiophile gear in on Cello gear for exactly what they paid for it. We needed them to bring in their invoices, which they often did, and we gave them what they paid back towards retail-priced Cello. Considering this was a world before Audiogon.com, we had a broker who would buy the used gear and sell it on the Internet bulletin boards and or to overseas markets, while paying us a fraction of the price of the components. Additionally, we offered clients converting to the religion of Cello to have 100 percent trade up to our reference-level products for their first year, and many people did just that. Going from a Cello Duet 350 to Cello Performance II amps
(class-A dual chassis monoblocks) was a tempting offer when you retained every penny of your initial investment.
The world of cell phones and mobile devices is aggressively recycling products these days. I recently sold a broken Apple iPad to Gazelle.com
for $48 and they paid for the shipping of the unit. One could surmise that they are looking to recycle rare-Earth materials like Neodymium from the broken or old products. Guess what - most speakers today use neo for their driver magnets, as it is one of the lightest magnetic materials known to man, but its price has skyrocketed in recent years as it is also used in high-tech products ranging from military components to tablets to transducers.A lot of lip service
is rightfully given to finding the next generation of audiophile customers, as this will be no small task. What I am suggesting is that there is a pool of customers, wallowing in the world of used components, who could be brought back to the dealers and into a world of higher-end new components if they were enticed with the right offer. Transparent, Krell and others are doing it already. Dealers and other AV manufacturers should seriously consider the same plan, as there are people with the enthusiast AV bug spending good money and trading in gear that has been sold years ago by the companies that lead the hobby. They are waiting to hear from you and are ready to spend their significant sums of money with your dealers and/or you directly if they are given the right offer.