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Danny Kaey's Magnolia Thoughts

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by Danny Kaey on July 31 '06

Josh gave pretty much a good interpretation of what we saw on display at Magnolia, but I feel the need to opine some more…
The problem wasn’t so much the gear that was being displayed – for all I care, they could have had Wilson Audio, Von Schweikert, Von Gaylord, Von Dutch, you name it on display and it wouldn’t have made an iota of a difference. Why? Several reasons:

1. First and foremost, the room's acoustics were an absolute tragedy; the simple, yet most effective, “clap your hands and check for echo test” revealed a room I would more commonly associate with echos I hear in the Alps; standing in the room, speaking in clear voice proved to sound way too thin and edgy; whomever “designed” this room (and I wish to stress the term “designed” since having observed various room treatment elements proves someone’s intention to “woo” the CON-sumer (or is it the CON-SUMED?) into believing they “entered” an “expertly” treated acoustic chamber) didn’t know the first thing about acoustics and/or was instructed to simply make the room look “busy” with various treatments for the aforementioned net effect.

2. Second, the old “honey, just put these “ugly” things (speakers!) over there in that corner so I don’t have to see them” trick proves just that: MOST people, and I say that with sincerity, not in a vain attempt to provoke idiocy (or elitism on my part), don’t have a clue what a true STEREO image is, much less how you go about creating one with two equal loudspeakers. Somehow or another we managed to forget to teach that during 12 years of public indoctrination of impressionable minds, hence this “natural” contempt for one of the most basic elements of creating three dimensional sonic images with (drum rolls please!) ONLY two equal loudspeakers! Thus, this explains the exact formula for catastrophic sound in a supposedly controlled environment: the “expert” dealer down the street, or, as in our case, Magnolia A/V.

3. Third, you can’t have people giving you “expert” advice when they themselves have little to no knowledge of the very subject they are supposed to advise you on. Josh, in his ever charming ways, gave too much credit to the poor sales guy we met – a brief counter-conversation with him revealed his true identity and aspiration: a clever real estate broker disguised in perfect audio clads. The fact that his preference was towards Sonus Faber speakers did little in my highly liberating opinion (sarcastic emphasis added for your viewing pleasure) to sway me into believing that this young lad actually had a clue what he was talking about. Mind you, it wasn’t as though we were inquiring about his thoughts on DSD vs. PCM, or, 24/96 vs. 24/192, lest he of course knew what any of those acronyms stood for; no, simple questions such as “so, what’s your take on this room?” or, “do you even know what this is actually supposed to sound like properly setup?” provoked the proverbial dazed on confused look and perspiration (“God, I hope these guys wont be asking me any technical questions, as I’ll have to attempt to explain myself away with fancy gimmickery”). Needless to say, I really don’t blame our real-estate agent for his deficiencies in all things audio – no Sire, blame in this case goes fair and square to the depths of HQ of whatever enterprising soul thought of opening up this dealership. Why? Simple: if my tooth hurts, I typically seek the advice of my dentist, not Sam, my handy-man, turned real-estate agent mogul. Surly, you must catch that drift?! Presuming that my clientele doesn’t know a thing about audio playback I would certainly seek to employ people with necessary skills to educate my customers and consumers about the pleasures of two channel (or even multi-channel) audio playback. Whatever your musical interests are, you deserve to hear them at their best, wouldn’t you agree? Well, in theory that would be so of course, alas most of the guys working at these parlors get paid just a smidgen above minimum wage (plus perhaps some form of commission, though I doubt that); with such conditions what true expert would want to work there?

4. Yep, the “Bose” factor: absent any clear education and demonstration by sales professionals John Doe will ALWAYS go for that which is most publicized and marketed any and everywhere. I call it the “Oakley” factor. Having spent many years in the highly competitive sports sunglass industry, I can tell you that in effect, the name “Oakley” has become synonymous with sport sunglasses, much like Kleenex has become the de facto noun for paper tissues. So what’s the connection? Well, as in Oakley’s case, an annual marketing budget of around 160-180 million dollars buys you the function of being able to drop an “Oakley Tower” (ie. their fancy looking display case) into virtually any retail location and have consumers make purchases without any sales interaction. The fact that a) Oakley only has a handful of really good optically correct lenses, b) their quality is only so-so, has virtually no impact on this phenomenal sales model. The problem is that any manufacturer going up against Oakley either has to outspend them on their marketing efforts (not likely), or has to go through a grassroots oriented education and demonstration model, whereby consumers are being given the opportunity to see for themselves that Model B is indeed better then Oakley. Same thing with the audio industry: the only reason Bose is as successful as they are is because of the hundreds of millions they spend each year on TV, print and other ads and their illustrious retail locations. Again, as in the Oakley example, absent any proof to the contrary, the masses will simply flock to Bose as they do to Oakley, because they don’t know any better.

The moral of the story? No wonder hi-fi is drowning itself into oblivion – answers there are many… hang around and expect the unexpected.

Comments

The two posts about Magnolia today have, in my opinion, truly hurt the credibility of this site. I read SonicFlare because it doesn't have the same elitist air as many of the other "hi-fi" publications. I wholly appreciate that Magnolia represents itself as the top end but does not always have the on-hand expertise to properly sell the products it carries. This lack of competance is by far less damaging to the world of high quality audio then the above witch hunt and associated attitude.
I kind of agree with Chris. Magnolia is what Magnolia is, at least look at it as a gateway to HiFi. Hey you have to start somewhere, at least they have the names of good equipment. Hopefully people will do a google search on a product before they buy it and do some reading and get educated. Hey my first pair of ok speakers were the ole BOSE 701s, they were great for $200 bucks, it was 12 years ago, I was in college, and I have learned a bunch since then. I don't agree with that you guys were on a witch hunt though, don't think that was the intent at least. You just happen to have a certain expertise others don't have, and are voicing your opinion(s) on it. It's those damn opinions that get you into trouble!!!
Sorry fella's but I have to strongly disagree with you both: I think it's a sad state of affairs all things audio when I have to direct a genuinely interested audio person to the local LEXUS (yes, I am speaking of the luxury automobile maker) dealership for a good if not excellent audiophile demonstration and experience instead of directing him to Magnolia A/V. Why is it that Lexus marketing and management can put together a most convincing audio presentation that rivals most highend stores? Because they know how to tell a story, simple as that. Sales is all about story telling; whomever tells the most convincing story is who will sell most of the product, hence again, the success of Bose!
Hi Chris, I appreciate your thoughts and taking the time to respond. The goal of these articles and SonicFlare in general is, and always has been, to write about audio with a next-gen slant and look at the barriers that keep hi-fi in the dark. If we were an elitist publication, you would see a puff piece instead of an honest view. Far too many retail articles end up talking about the fluffy chairs and tasty coffee instead of the actual sound. In this case, it would be dishonest of me to publish anything but the truth. And I firmly believe exposing these problems is the only way to ever overcome them. The hope is, of course, Magnolia corporate, Martin Logan and Sumiko read these articles and demand better demos. I'd be more than happy to write a followup if the room is improved and I'd love to be able to trumpet Magnolia as a place to hear true high-end sound. As it is, customers are leaving Magnolia believing ML, Vienna and Sonus Faber sound bad. And the issue with ML being one of the most difficult speakers to properly setup is another huge problem that should not be ignored. Expecting average consumers to place their speakers 4 feet out from the back wall is insanity. We need to realize our industry must meet the needs of normal consumers instead of demanding people become audiophiles with tweaked out dedicated listening rooms. It's the only way our industry can grow.
Based on my own personal experience, I'd have to agree that Magnolia is not doing hi-fi any favors. It's funny how you get hooked onto this hobby. During college I had a chance to hear a pair of Martin Logan Sequel IIs and loved their incredible transparency. When the subject of hi-fi came up, invariably I'd say "Man, you gotta hear these Martin Logans...." Fast forward to the present, when I saw Magnolia had some reasonably price MLs (I believe the Mosaic). Now that I was making a living wage, I thought WOOHOO, this is it. If there was ever someone who wanted to dump a truckload of cash in the name of consumer electronics, you were looking at him. To my shock and horror, what I heard was downright irritating to the ears. Perhaps my expectations were too high but it was painfully clear even as a relative newbie, that these speakers were not set up properly. At this point my salesman started sounding like he was pushing a used car. "If I give you a good deal, will you walk away with these today?" Sadly, I left clutching $2000 which I would eventually spend elsewhere. If anything it taught me the value of a good hi-fi dealer. So in that respect Magnolia is good for newbies :)
The problem is that you are missing what Magnolia is. It is just a big box store. You were hoping for an intimate venue where you were made to feel important and everything was just perfect. Magnolia is Best Buy. Maybe three years ago Magnolia was something different but all it is now is a fancy name for Best Buy. Everyone that reads your site are not typical audio consumers; aka the masses. Magnolia needs to sell to the masses to pay the rent. If you want a good sales demo Magnolia is not that place to be. I know I poopooed on Tweeter before but there is another Tweeter I went into that was fantastic. Most of the employees actually seemed to care about what they were selling. I was told a story of a Magnolia employee showing an older couple a clip of Uma Thurman being buried alive from Kill Bill to demonstrate how well surround sound works. This kid had a slam dunk sale but because he turned there stomache he lost the sale. You can call a duck a monkey but it is still a duck. And as for the hiring of better employees, audio for most is a hobby. There aren't too many of us that can make a career out of audio, espcially from working at Best Buy. The worst thing Best Buy and Circuit City did in the past few years was to kill the commision and pay their employees straight time.
Just a guess, but you've been in sales, right, Fred F? I say that because you share the insights I would add from my sales experience. As for my own two cents, a little history might be helpful. In the beginning (of the audio biz; I'm not getting into a Creationism debate), to buy a stereo system, consumers had to go to, ya know, an actual stereo store. Some of these were regional chains (like Pacific Stereo, which was one of the biggest), but nearly all of them had salesmen who were up on their product knowledge. But as appliance and department stores added stereo lines, in the early 1980s, the quality of stereo salesmen descended. Then came the big-box electronics stores, like CC, BB, Rex, etc. and manufacturers responded to their "make-it-easy" desires with rack systems. Although most of the rack systems have disappeared (thank goodness), the mentality hasn't because rack systems were replaced by home theater and a new level of ignorance was born. My point? It didn't happen overnight. There was a time when even those looking for just a $500 system could get serviced by a salesman and a store that knew what they were doing. And with brick-and-mortar high-end stores dropping like flies, I'm not sure I know what this industry will look like in another 20 years. My suspicion is that high-end salespeople will become independent consultants and work much like interior decorators do today. And everybody else will go the mass-merchant route, where manufacturers who have pre-sold consumers with massive advertising, will win-out because minimum-wage "salespeople" take the simplest route in closing a sale. As said, just my two cents.
And what exactly are your acoustics qualifications?
Rods84, I have no retail experience just a whole lot of Operations and Management experience. You can't expect an 18 to 22 year old kid to learn all they have to about the wide diversity of audio equipment they offer in one of these stores. They park the kids in a room with a bunch of pamphlets and say read these, then unleash them to the masses. Do you think this kid is going to care especially if they know all they have to do is show up to get a paycheck. They need the paycheck not the audio education. That kid probably works there because they pay the best and he most likely got hired because he was semidependable, which is hard to come by these days. And it isn't just the 19 to 22 year olds. The part I am glad about is that Danny and Josh had the stones to report on what they saw instead of the usual rose colored glasses report you get from most audio sites. Even if I don't whole heartedly agree with it. Frank - I don't claim to know anything in audio, as proven by how much Josh and I am sure Danny know. I have a degree in engineering and am an Engineering Manager at an electronics manufacturing company. I had a part ownership in a startup speaker company but due to some differences in belives I removed myself from the company.
I found this site because of an article Google linked to, and was interested in what else you had to say. This is the most obtuse, holier-than-thou pile of bullshit I have ever seen. Get off your high horse and realize you walked into Best Buy expecting 24 karat glitter and pretty unicorns to come flying out of the walls.
Chris -- Personally, I can't ask for any more than what a person's honest impressions were. I don't have to agree with a perspective to enjoy reading it and readers here are provided an opportunity to respond or to never come back. From my standpoint, the "high horse" would belong to someone who scatalogically attacks the person instead of the opinion.
I see Chris' point - the author of this rant has no qualifications for judging acoustics (violating their own point #3), yet does a cursory analysis and then goes to print. This is web "journalism" at its worst.
Frank Pratt: making personal attacks whilst hiding behind the annonymous internet is not exactly a welcome tactic here.
Well, All I can say is this. We like it cheap, that's the real problem. We are not going to go to a stereo store and pay the $200-$900 price of admission to be properly adviced. Well as a matter of fact we may just have the nerve to go into a specialty store, ask all the questions and ten buy it from magnolia. We should be ashamed.