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  • Component Updates and New Product Releases: Good, Bad or Otherwise?

    There was a time in high-end audio when companies updated their products at a dizzying pace. Every six months was certainly not unbeknownst in the industry. Yet other companies were more conservative only offering an improved product every five years. Some products were updateable, others not. In retrospect, it is clear that the ability to update a consumer's product or have a predetermined update path--such as Linn or VPI for instance--builds brand loyalty. Yet that flies in the face of planned obsolescence. (in fact, was just reading a story about companies fighting planned obsolescence.)

    But there's always two sides to a story and what should a manufacturer do when they come up with a better sounding product? Or a better sounding version of an existing product? Certainly high-end audio, just like many areas, is technology driven. And technology nowadays doesn't stand still. Better materials.Better and less expensive ways of manufacturing. Tighter machining tolerances. Better models for predicting behavior of circuits and speaker cabinet performance.

    It's also a fact that some products are easier to update than others. Speakers: not so much so (speakers are in many cases more complex to update and updates could markedly cut into the building of new product or companies might be forced to expand their capabilities. Plus shipping costs!). Electronics: moreso. Digital: depends upon the product. Turntables: much more so. Cables: sometimes (though many companies offer trade-ins).

    So what should determine when a manufacturer updates their products since the state-of-the art (or just the audio art) such as digital audio and speakers seems to be ever changing? What if a manufacturer (with speakers coming to mind) released a speaker say two years ago, yet comes upon a new driver material, technology, parts, construction technique that markedly improves the sound of their product? How much of a difference is necessary to justify updating a component? Should manufacturers immediately release a Mk. 2, series 2, etc?
    Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
    Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
    ________________________________________

    -Zellaton Plural Evo speakers
    -Goldmund Telos 300 stereo amp
    -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
    -Doshi EVO and Goldmund PH3.8 phonostage
    -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
    -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
    -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, Fuuga Mk. 2, vdh Colibri Master Signature, MutechHayabusa, MOFI Master Tracker, Sumiko Songbird cartridges
    -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
    -Assorted cables including Transparent XL Gen. 6, Skogrand, Viero, Kubala-Sosna, Audience Au24SX, Genesis Advanced Technologies and Ensemble Power Cords
    -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz 3 racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA OHIO Class 2.1+ platforms.

  • #2
    These are cases where i would hate to be a manufacturer. I think it is a very tricky balance as far as the market is concerned. On one end where updates are rolled out quickly and regularly, you might end up being accused of a bunch of nasty things. This could range from not doing your job right the first time to preying on your customers. If you wait too long you might lose relevance and get left behind.

    Comment


    • #3
      Another thing that needs to be considered is that when a mark II product comes out, it immediately lowers the resale value of the mark I version, which may greatly upset the loyal customer who bought that product.
      Magnepan 1.6 QR Loudspeakers, Amherst A-2000 MOSFET 150 WPC Amp, Conrad Johnson PV-10A Modded Tube Line & Phono Stage, Electrocompaniet MC II Class A Head Amp, Audio Technica AT-OC9XML Cart (Stereo) , Graham Engineering 2.2 Tonearm (Stereo) , VPI Aries-1 Turntable (Stereo) , VPI Clamp, Denon DL-102 Cart, (Mono) , Luxman Tonearm (Mono) , Kenwood KD-500 Turntable (Mpmp) , Michell Clamp, Marantz 20B Analog FM Tuner, Pioneer SACD, Onkyo DX-6800 CD Transport, DIY 24B/192K DAC, Sennheiser HD-650 Headphones, Headroom Max Balanced Headphone Amp, DIY Silver Interconnects

      Comment


      • #4
        This is a great topic for Gary Koh to opine on.
        Dynavector DV20x2L MC cartridge - Genesis G7.1f speakers - Marantz Reference PM-KI-Pearl Int. Amp. - Oracle Audio Paris MkV turntable - Various Morrow & Valab/King cables

        Comment


        • #5
          Myles you you mentioned "Good, Bad or Otherwise", the first thing that comes to mind is Windows/Apple. Software updates well they fall into the position of "trust me" from the manufacturers and as consumers we hope the manufacturer did their due diligence during testing. Some of these software updates, fix one thing while breaking or changing the functionally of another program.. Hardware updates, it all depends on who is doing the update or version modification. Some manufactures want you to send your item back to them while others mention take the item back to your dealer. Which leaves the consumer in a pickle since some dealers have difficulties updating a new pair of shoe strings. Now the comment about a change of components in a speaker, well, Magico is not going to give you those new drivers for free or that DAC manufacturer is not going to give you a MQA updated DAC for free. Nope, they are going to charge you. It would be nice as far as audio is concerned for the manufacturer to actually tell you what is this new update going to give you over what you already have, some will ask, will there be measurements to support a hardware modification, or will I hear a more open soundstage, mid-range clarity, etc.. Releasing a update on a "He Said So ", MQA comes to mind, well that's another trust me position. But I think what gets a lot of people is these NEW cost for these updates or version updates can be unreasonable for what you actually get. Now modular components, now that's a whole new ball game, you add what you need.

          I agree with JC, when a new product revision comes out, lower the price of the earlier version.
          Chris
          ----------------------------------------------------------------
          Kef 201/2, Pass xa30.5, W4S STP-SE, Manley Chinook, VPI Classic, Dynavector DV20x2L, ExaSound e32, Acoustic Zen cables. (Office): Vincent SP331 Mkll, Quicksilver Pre, Lumin D1, (Ken Lau Signiture Edition PSU), Bryston BCD-1, Vapor Audio Breeze, WooAudio W6se,Questyle Audio CMA800R LCD-3,HD800s, HD600, Mr Speaker Ether C Flow,

          Comment


          • #6
            MylesBAstor The answer to your question obviously IMO depends on one's relationship to the audio industry. Are we talking business strategy for the good people who sell audio gear? "New and improved" type marketing is rife in all marketing fields ("new iPhone", "new Coke", "new VW Beetle", etc.). That's not going to change, either in audio or in other sales endeavors. And there are plenty of folks on Audionirvana who are part of the industry in one way or another, so your question is relevant for that reason, of course.

            But others of us --- those of us who don't sell equipment (unless we are upgrading) are most interested in clear-headed reviews of products that cut through the "latest-and-greatest" marketing to ascertain best value, highest quality, and real innovation. An example further afield: In wine reviewing, Robert Parker originally earned himself a lofty position among reviewers because he was able to persuade oenophiles that he was NOT on the take from wine vendors: that he was providing unbiased, non-marketing-driven evaluations. The high price of fine audio equipment suggests a role for a Robert Parker-style reviewer in the world of high-end audio, but I'm not sure there is one right now.
            Lyra Kleos SL, Dynavector XX-2MKII, VPI JMW 10.5i, VPI Aries, VPI SDS, ModWright PH-150 Reference Phono, Sony HAP-Z1ES server, McIntosh MR80, McIntosh C2300, McIntosh MC352, Vandersteen 5A, PS Audio P10, Bright Star Audio Rack of Gibraltar. Cables: Shunyata Cobra Ztron IC, PS Audio Statement AC, Synergistic Research AC, Harmonic Tech Silver Phono, Cable Research Labs Silver IC, Audioquest Gibraltar bi-wire.

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            • Guest's Avatar
              Guest commented
              Editing a comment
              I'll push back on your implication that reviewers (all reviewers is the way I read you) are "on the take" from audio manufacturers.

            • Goheelz
              Goheelz commented
              Editing a comment
              tima As I'm sure we're all aware, conflict of interest is a challenge for enthusiast publications, which thrive thanks to support from advertisers (who purchase visibility in those publications) and personal relationships with manufacturers (which allows for loan or purchase of fine equipment at reduced prices). As a practical person, I see no reason to wish away these arrangements. Business is business. But since these arrangements are an obvious part of the practical business world, one must read between the lines of certain audio equipment reviews, and other reviews must be rejected entirely. The anecdote about Robert Parker and wine reviewing, which I mentioned in my previous post, was meant not as accusation but as parable.

          • #7
            Myles

            As manufacturers are sure to read this thread I think it is a good topic
            I like the way Ayre does upgrades when they happen there is no chance you are going to say it sounds the same. They give you a price and a time to take it to your dealer it is back in good time it is better than when it left. Once my boxes stored in a garage had been lived in by mice when they came back new boxes and slip covers and Ayre does not have cheap packing material all new no cost. found a better place to store them. Ayre does it right is it worth it no one can say what is right for another but I have been happy every time.

            The companies have different customer bases which may drive the up date a company with only one type of product say only a turntable has less brand loyalty than say a system brand . The AR guys buy AR and seldom stray Macintosh the same hell the build a clock and it sold. They can up grade on their time table. Companies in the lower price point are watching competitors closer change is driven a bit more by the market. A few driven by change for the sake of change, to stop Walker from making changes you would need to lock him up.
            You are right speakers most times hard to up grade and I would think the most often traded in .

            I think a upgrade should be big change to the sound small steps are not worth the shipping costs and trouble of doing it.
            Up grades should be fairly priced.
            As far as devaluing the mark 1 buy audio as a investment is like buying a burning house I never expect to get anything back.
            For guys like me who are buy and hold upgrades make sense .
            in a up grade when it comes back it fits in the same self and the cords still reach a big plus in the price of wire these days.
            Down side it looks the same you spent thousands and it looks the same sounds better but it looks the same no new gear buzz

            It is a company thing some will do it to often or for the wrong reasons or to small a change IMO it is like face plates on gear some go the extra mile like Burmester others pride them selfs on the 1950 sheet metal with corners made from old razor blades. The we spent all the money on the inside not the outside. There is a Balance not sure what it is upgrades are a good thing even if it does look the same .

            Better sound is Better sound, what is better sound that is another whole thread and half

            Comment


            • #8
              This is a thorny subject. I'm not so sure that more than a few "upgrades" were really corrections to bad designs. You get a few products out in the marketplace and find out they weren't designed correctly and they are breaking down as a result. Voila, the MKII or Rev 1 is born.
              Micro Seiki SX-8000 table with flywheel, SME 3012R arm, SME 312S arm, Lyra Etna SL and Dynavector XV-1S cartridges, ARC Ref 3 phono stage, Otari MX-55 tape deck, Ampex 350 repros, Roon Nucleus Plus server, PS Audio DSJ DAC, ARC Ref 6 pre, ARC Ref 75 amp, JBL 4345 speakers, and Def Tech Ref subs.

              Comment


              • Garth
                Garth commented
                Editing a comment
                good point we replaced the power supply for better sound and it almost never starts a fire now upgrade 2 thousand dollars honesty in upgrades is maybe too much honesty LOL

              • MylesBAstor
                MylesBAstor commented
                Editing a comment
                I would agree that in the beginning of high-end audio, the end user was often the beta tester. Go back and reread some of the old magazines and some products had near 100 pct failure rates. But I think the industry has matured, realized that reliability is essential (especially say in the case of tube equipment) and that rarely happens. When it does, many times it's not the manufacturer's fault ie a specialized teflon cap failing only after 500 hours of use. No way to test for that.

              • longbowbbs
                longbowbbs commented
                Editing a comment
                Some of those teflon caps take 500 hours just to break in!

            • #9
              Originally posted by cpp View Post
              Myles you you mentioned "Good, Bad or Otherwise", the first thing that comes to mind is Windows/Apple. Software updates well they fall into the position of "trust me" from the manufacturers and as consumers we hope the manufacturer did their due diligence during testing. Some of these software updates, fix one thing while breaking or changing the functionally of another program. ...
              Of late software updates are showing a tendency toward greater monetization. Unless there is a fix to a known problem, I've become more sceptical of software updates, particularly from Apple.

              Comment


              • #10
                I think sometimes the situation is a little more complicated than at first blush! Permit me to make an analogy. When all the investigators involved in the Human Genome Project met and designed the inter-institutional and international project, they knew what they wanted and needed but the technology needed to accomplish this feat simply didn't exist. At that time, it took years to sequence one human genome (and of course the discussion was who's genome would be sequenced); but the experts in the field (s) [molecular biology, robotics, etc.] knew and envisioned that with changes in technology, that time would drop from years to days or even a day. So the grand plan envisioned where would they be in ten years, not the moment.

                The same thing holds true for an audio designer. A designer has a product in mind and an idea of how to get the end result. But in many cases, the same thing is true. Either the technology or other factors don't exist to design that product yet. And as these materials, machining ability, etc. come to market (some envisioned, others not), it allows designers to improve their products.

                Also, high-end is an interesting balance between science and business. There comes a point, however, where the designers and company have to bring their product to market. Otherwise, they would never have the capitalization to continue making that product, component, speaker, etc. That doesn't necessarily mean the product completely represents what the designer envisioned or that the designer is done working on that component. Then again, other factors enter into the picture, and a company may feel that what they want to do is so "revolutionary" for lack of a better term, that they need to design a completely new product (that's where some digital components are nice where software updates can't be downloaded for the component!). Or sometimes, some experiments lead you in completely unexpected directions.
                Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
                Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
                ________________________________________

                -Zellaton Plural Evo speakers
                -Goldmund Telos 300 stereo amp
                -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
                -Doshi EVO and Goldmund PH3.8 phonostage
                -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
                -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
                -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, Fuuga Mk. 2, vdh Colibri Master Signature, MutechHayabusa, MOFI Master Tracker, Sumiko Songbird cartridges
                -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
                -Assorted cables including Transparent XL Gen. 6, Skogrand, Viero, Kubala-Sosna, Audience Au24SX, Genesis Advanced Technologies and Ensemble Power Cords
                -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz 3 racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA OHIO Class 2.1+ platforms.

                Comment


                • #11
                  Unorganized thoughts:

                  Then again, there are manufacturers who slip-stream one or more updates (typically smaller ones) into their products without changing model numbers or raising prices.

                  I'm inclined to agree with JackD, above. None of us will feel the impact that a manufacturer does when he chooses the wrong approach. Those (manufacturers) that have been around for several years have a decent handle on what's in their best long-term interest. Newcomers may more likely face the trade-offs of integrity and building their customer base versus the necessity of sheer survival. Lots of good points covered in the posts here; I don't think there is a formula with timing, context, product type and competition as shifting variables.

                  Also, I suspect manufacturers respond to how the marketplace responds. Look at the players who've been at it for a while and how they handle upgrades and new models. It may be worthwhile to research the cycle time of a brand you're considering. Remember that buying a new model and selling your old unit feeds the upgrade churn on the backside as that old unit becomes an upgrade for someone else.

                  But there will always be some buyers - particularly those who buy within a year of a new model - who will be disappointed. On the other hand those with the patience to wait a few cycles (many cycles for some) before upgrading may reap satisfaction beyond the reward of their patience. On the third(?) hand, when I use my Lamm M1.2 Ref amps which have not been updated since their release in 2003 and remain a current model, I can only smile. :-)

                  Comment


                  • #12
                    I hated getting blindsided by a V2 when I had products in stock. As a distributor, I believe that the manufacturer must inform us of their impending press release before hand so we can liquidate our stock. It caused a big fight once. Thankfully it has never happened again. Typically upon notification we discount the outgoing version and offer it to specific customers at the projected post announcement drop. That way there are no hard feelings anywhere and everybody is happy, We get hit by some opportunity costs but at least get our capital back and don't have to sell at a loss or take up storage and we get to use that capital for V2 to be on display.

                    Comment


                    • #13
                      broadly speaking, the most fertile cos. don't come out with mk II or III or whatever versions of their products they create altogether new ones (i'm thinking Krell in their heyday and presently, Magico). i cozy up with the designer to get the real scoop on why a change was made and whether they think its a 5, 10 or whatever percent improvement. If you ask 'smart' questions upfront you're likely not to get BS responses but earnest ones.

                      I for one don't loose sleep on a specific model upgrades because I simply replace the unit with something different when it comes time to change. I would also add the greatest waste of resources have been the few times I've paid for an upgrade and didn't find the expense and hassle were worth it. forget resale on upgrades, in most cases you're lucky to recover 30 cents on the dollar..
                      TechDAS | Graham Eng | ZYX | B.M.C. | Boulder | Magico

                      "Listening to Analogue music is an act of rebellion in a digital gulag" - Simon Yorke

                      Comment


                      • #14
                        Originally posted by tima View Post
                        Unorganized thoughts:

                        Then again, there are manufacturers who slip-stream one or more updates (typically smaller ones) into their products without changing model numbers or raising prices.

                        I'm inclined to agree with JackD, above. None of us will feel the impact that a manufacturer does when he chooses the wrong approach. Those (manufacturers) that have been around for several years have a decent handle on what's in their best long-term interest. Newcomers may more likely face the trade-offs of integrity and building their customer base versus the necessity of sheer survival. Lots of good points covered in the posts here; I don't think there is a formula with timing, context, product type and competition as shifting variables.

                        Also, I suspect manufacturers respond to how the marketplace responds. Look at the players who've been at it for a while and how they handle upgrades and new models. It may be worthwhile to research the cycle time of a brand you're considering. Remember that buying a new model and selling your old unit feeds the upgrade churn on the backside as that old unit becomes an upgrade for someone else.

                        But there will always be some buyers - particularly those who buy within a year of a new model - who will be disappointed. On the other hand those with the patience to wait a few cycles (many cycles for some) before upgrading may reap satisfaction beyond the reward of their patience. On the third(?) hand, when I use my Lamm M1.2 Ref amps which have not been updated since their release in 2003 and remain a current model, I can only smile. :-)
                        I would also add that this is where the dealer has a role. Some dealers understand this and take the previous model in on trade-in toward the new gear too. Then the dealer resells the old gear and it helps all.

                        I think what has been happening is that several companies have been revamping their product lines too. Some in response to the market (take Magico for instance) or the next generation has taken over the company (take Wilson or VPI for example). In the former case, it seems that Alon has been moving away from the Q-series speakers and putting more time into the S-series (that has seen a better response?) as well as the new M-series. Though Alon still stands by the Q7 Mk. 2 as the companies' gold standard.

                        In regards to the latter, it would seem the Daryl Wilson is putting his mark on the Wilson Audio speaker line with the Alexx, The Alexx is the first WA speaker completely designed by Daryl. Same holds true with VPI. Mat is putting his mark on the company and simplifying the product line with the Scout, Prime and Avenger table lines. I think we can also see shift in other companies lines too such as ARC.
                        Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
                        Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
                        ________________________________________

                        -Zellaton Plural Evo speakers
                        -Goldmund Telos 300 stereo amp
                        -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
                        -Doshi EVO and Goldmund PH3.8 phonostage
                        -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
                        -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
                        -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, Fuuga Mk. 2, vdh Colibri Master Signature, MutechHayabusa, MOFI Master Tracker, Sumiko Songbird cartridges
                        -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
                        -Assorted cables including Transparent XL Gen. 6, Skogrand, Viero, Kubala-Sosna, Audience Au24SX, Genesis Advanced Technologies and Ensemble Power Cords
                        -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz 3 racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA OHIO Class 2.1+ platforms.

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                        • Guest's Avatar
                          Guest commented
                          Editing a comment
                          I agree about dealers and often they are the spark that leads to upgrades, updates and new models. Presumably their influence reflects, at least to some degree, what they hear from their customer base. Manufacturer's who are able to accommodate upgrades to existing (send us your unit and $3000...) are, imo, most likely to please the greatest number.

                          In the case of ARC, their being moved under the Fine Sounds group and then under whatever the McIntosh Monolith is called led to their new masters wanting to make their imprint. (my opinion, apologies to Plymouth) Thus we saw the design of their G-series by Livio Cucuzza in Italy and now the new Ref 6 linestage and Ref 3 phono, which seem an effort at convergence of their Reference series with Cucuzza's updated exterior. This reflects what you're saying but comes from merger and acquisition. While the G-series kinda came out of nowhere, their update timeline for the Ref series adheres to what they've done in the past.

                      • #15
                        Would it be safe to say that high-end audio has become more about technology and less as in the beginning of the industry about changes say in circuit design (or another example might be output transformer design in tube amplifiers)? New driver materials. New cabinet materials. New materials for tonearms. Or is say like in speaker where changes in drivers allow the designer to better design and optimize the speaker crossover? Or is it a little bit of both.
                        Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
                        Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
                        ________________________________________

                        -Zellaton Plural Evo speakers
                        -Goldmund Telos 300 stereo amp
                        -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
                        -Doshi EVO and Goldmund PH3.8 phonostage
                        -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
                        -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
                        -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, Fuuga Mk. 2, vdh Colibri Master Signature, MutechHayabusa, MOFI Master Tracker, Sumiko Songbird cartridges
                        -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
                        -Assorted cables including Transparent XL Gen. 6, Skogrand, Viero, Kubala-Sosna, Audience Au24SX, Genesis Advanced Technologies and Ensemble Power Cords
                        -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz 3 racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA OHIO Class 2.1+ platforms.

                        Comment


                        • longbowbbs
                          longbowbbs commented
                          Editing a comment
                          Materials seem to grab a lot of headlines. The Graphene for example in the Magico's. However there have been some newer circuit design's such as the approach to current mode amplification from Questyle.
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