April 1, 2010

Warren Buffett an Audiophile?

Maybe, maybe not. But this statement by Buffett, or a version of it, is relevant to audiophiles: "It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price."

The same could be said of audio components. Too often, audiophiles look for the next "killer" bargain rather than the next great audio component. This can lead you down the wrong path. Whatever the product category, and regardless of your income bracket, the search for the best value is a worthwhile endeavor for anyone. But value is intrinsically related to worth, and so by definition it can’t be a great value if it isn’t worth what you paid for it to you. If an audio component is judged by how much long-term satisfaction it gives us while listening to music, it’s easy to conclude that we shouldn’t sacrifice that satisfaction just so we can revel in the fact that we got 40% off list price.

The bottom line: It’s far better to buy a wonderful audio component at a fair price than a fair component at a wonderful price. If only I’d said that before Buffett did . . .

Bad purchases can be made in a number of ways. One is to buy from a company that might not really be a company. While some excellent manufacturers -- ones that stand by their products regardless of where they’re sold -- are indeed based overseas, other companies amount to little more than a single person importing a container full of components, then rebranding them to make it appear that they manufacture them themselves. The problem arises because, in many instances, these products have not been thoroughly engineered, and their parts and build qualities are sub-par. When the thing breaks -- and an audio product that has not been thoroughly engineered and quality-tested will break -- no one at the importing company knows how to fix it, nor is there any way to get in touch with the designer, who’s probably on the other side of the globe. I’ve even seen instances in which, when enough warranty claims come in, the import company disappears altogether, leaving customers to fend for themselves. What looked like a great deal in the ad wasn’t a great deal at all.

I’ve also seen a number of sellers, particularly on eBay, who market products in auctions that look really good. I once ordered a specialized adapter cable that I found on eBay that looked to be of high quality. It was just what I needed, and at a great price -- or so I thought. But when it arrived, I quickly discovered that it was cheaply built, and didn’t even fit the output jack of the component I’d bought it for. When I tried to modify it slightly to get it to work, it fell apart in my hands. I thought I’d gotten a good deal; what I’d done was waste my money and my time.

Sometimes, to get the best value, you need to spend a little more. Although that might run counter to the bargain hunter inside each of us, it has been proven to me, time and again, that when the measure of value is my long-term satisfaction, I’ve never regretted spending what I needed to to get exactly what I want. I have, however, regretted buying things that appeared to be the best deal.

My advice is to buy products from good companies whose solid track records you can verify for yourself. Only buy products that you can first hear and see and touch, or that come with a money-back guarantee: If you’re not satisfied with it, you can return it for a full refund. Real companies can’t give products away, but they can offer good value by delivering wonderful components at fair prices.

Someone once said that dissatisfaction will be with you long after you forgot what you paid. The same can be said for satisfaction. Sometimes, you just have to spend a little more for it.

. . . Jeff Fritz


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