Schiit Happened: The Story of the World's Most Improbable Start-Up
Feb 19, 2015 at 12:58 PM Post #5,386 of 83,377

shpmdr

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I've been interested in audio for a long time.  My first job in high school (1986) was selling equipment in a high end shop.  We had Threshold, KEF, Revox, NAD, Carver, etc.  During a change in management, no adults were minding the shop, leaving the proverbial kid in the candy store in charge.  I brought in Sumo (Andromeda, Athena and Polaris on display), Monitor Audio and Cambridge Audio.  
 
From current my day job, I can tell you that experience is a major factoring in determining brand success.  Give the customer a great experience, you can charge a premium.  Give the customer a poor experience and you invite competition.  
 
So let's look at Jason's post from the point of view of experience.  
 
1. Whole Foods created the greatest food retailing experience in the country.  It is so good that when a friend's mother visitor from Russia, the thing she liked the most was Whole Foods.  It's inspired songs (search YouTube for Whole Foods Parking Lot if you haven't heard it).  And while in St. Petersburg, Russia, my tour guide asked me about the track (I live where they shot the video).  Now consider the typical hi-fi shopping experience.  The stores that are around are often by appointment only (at least in LA), a sure way to kill the curiosity of a cat newly-interested in hi-fi.  Most stores can't afford to display much of the entry level stuff, so it's mostly sold online as commodity products.  As Jason noted, the buying decision is now influenced by forums and flame wars rather than thoughtful expertise.  And it's really hard to buy "because it sounds better" if you can't even hear the stuff; 30-day home trials only help so much.
 
2. Apple created the most innovative device of the 21st century (so far...Tesla might overtake it).  They created a retail experience that has the energy of a casino.  The only hi-fi manufacturers who seriously attempt Apple's level of innovation and user experience charge a lot (e.g., Meridian, Devialet) or kind of dropped out of hi-fi (B&O).  If hi-fi's greatest innovation right now is hi-rez streaming, consider the prices for some of these devices and tell me those firms would survive if Apple wanted to enter the market: "Siri, play Kind of Blue in the living room."  There is no reason any "streaming media server" should cost more than a Mac, and yet that's all the industry makes.  
 
As a long-time fan of Jason's work (remember, I brought Sumo into that shop, Franklin Lakes Stereo, all those years ago), my question for him is what could Schiit do in this innovation (rather than value) space?  I'm happy to help (seriously, DM me if you want to talk...digital innovation is a focus of my job.).
 
3. Want to know why Pono specifically is struggling (and being attacked in a way A&K aren't)?  Think about the experience.  They've got an old geezer fighting the wrong battle.  (I mention this because I suspect the young audience who cares about Neil Young wants vinyl.)  You don't win hearts & minds telling people they've been wrong this whole time.  You win them by creating a great experience.  Beats didn't convince anyone of anything other than "this is a cool experience." Whole Foods didn't win shoppers by telling them they were killing themselves with the food they bought at Safeway (even if some of their suppliers do).  Whole Foods created the greatest food retail shopping experience around and people pay a premium for it.  Apple "just works" and is always at the leading edge of user experience design.  Pono went up against one of the greatest industrial design firms of all time (market cap is approaching $1 trillion at $750 billion) to help me "regain my soul" and launched a slightly kludgy store to go with a slightly kludgy device (from what I've read...I haven't used one).  Hell, Pono is using the Force platform from Salesforce and didn't even design a browser icon (it's Salesforce's) or own the own domain name.  Apple can squash them like a bug.
 
Just my two cents.
 
Scott
 
Feb 19, 2015 at 3:52 PM Post #5,387 of 83,377

Delerium

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  Would purely love to see it, but any research protocol involving humans would likely have to go through multiple layers of bureaucracy to be approved, and equipment that can really explore the boundaries of human hearing is *expensive*, as I'm sure you know. 

 
It depends on what (and how!) exactly you want to research I suppose. You could approach it from a theoretical / physiological standpoint to "explore the boundaries of human hearing" and then the FDA (or some other three-letter-agency) will probably have a word with you.
 
On the other hand, when the research is whether or not people will reliably detect differences between off the shelf audio components using a ABX comparison, then who is to object?
 
In my opinion the industry can gain credibility if it can say "80% of our testpanel of 200 people was able to distinguish the $100 amplifier from the $1000 one", and "5% of our testpanel could tell the difference between the $1000 and the $5000 one". And don't hesitate to publish when (barely) no-one could tell a difference between A and B. Yes, the market for snake oil will plummet, but I'm sure it will have a positive effect altogether (and some people will continue to buy snake oil regardless).
 
Feb 19, 2015 at 4:12 PM Post #5,388 of 83,377

barondla

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 I have been reading this story from the beginning. Thanks to Jason, Mike, Alex and everyone else at Schiit for all the information and entertainment. A great story.
 
 The Pono chapter is awesome . I pledged for a Pono Player on Kickstarter. It is a lovely sounding machine. Charles Hansen, Ayre, and Pono did a great job. Pono experienced some growing pains. They are working the bugs out, and are doing a much better job communicating with customers. The store is improving. Pono is a very small company and they are learning every day.
 
 I am sickened to see how poorly Pono is treated be some writers. They seem to enjoy blasting the product and company. Pono has made mistakes, and it is fine to point them out, but the glee these writers exhibit is unprofessional and scary. Pono doesn't deserve this treatment. They have tried to offer a fine performing product at a very good price. They don't deserve the evil villain reputation.
 
 I think the man on the street will be interested in Pono. It will take a while. Many people don't trust the tech writers, after being told how much better CD sounded vs vinyl. Many of those writers are wrong about hi res, and people will find out. Is hi res for everyone? Of course not.
 
 Maybe we will see a Pono player made by Jason and company. It would be so cool to buy a reasonably priced hi res player player made in America.
 
 Keep writing Jason.
 
Feb 19, 2015 at 4:18 PM Post #5,389 of 83,377

Colgin

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NOW, since you bring up Wine - the exact same situation exists there (I used to write wine reviews).  In fact, most people think a $10 wine tastes better than a $10,000 wine.   BUT somehow the Wine industry has managed to get people to accept that Chateau Lafite Rothschild tastes better than box wine - even if they themselves do not want to drink it.

 
I don't get the whole wine analogy when it comes to audio gear, in general, but I am a little mystified by your statement.  You write: "In fact, most people think a $10 wine tastes better than a $10,000 wine."  Seriously, who are these "most people" that have compared $10 wines to $10,000 per bottle wines and have consistently chosen the $10 wine. I would be very interested in reading about those taste tests and the generous benefactor of them. If you are speculating that most people would like the cheaper wine then that is fine, but you state this as a fact. Very few people get to taste $10,000 bottles period. And you can buy Chateau Lafite's and other first growths from more recent vintages for far less than $10K (but they are still stupid expensive by any sane measures IMHO). $10K bottles are more likely historical vintages bottles that are unlikely to be opened (but rather traded). And if opened, they may have turned, so in that sense (and in that sense only IMO) the box wine could be better.
 
Sticking to more sensible comparisons, like $100 or even $1,000 bottles versus $10 bottles (and let's say bottled wine and not wine in a box), then people can like whatever they want and I have certainly seen people and have myself often preferred the less expensive wine in both sighted and blind tastings.  That said, IME, even neophyte wine drinkers will tend to prefer on balance what I will just refer to broadly as "better made" wines within a particular style (whether that be geographic, varietal, other or some combination). And also those "better made" wines (e.g., restricting production to using the best grapes from a well-regarded terroir as opposed to whatever crush is available and cheapest at the moment) tend to be more expensive, although not always.  Those wines are more expensive for a number of reasons, and although some of it is just premium for a certain label name, there are also increased production costs with harvesting the "better" grapes, barreling them longer in better casks, etc. Also, who are these people who wouldn't want to at least try Lafite if given the chance. Not willing to pay for it is one thing; but most drinkers I know would jump at a chance to try a premium wine or any premium alcoholic beverage if given the chance.
 
The other thing about the audio/wine comparison is that for some there is the question of whether one can even hear any (or much of any) difference between a cheap DAC, amp or music player versus cheaper versions. In wine, or food, we can clearly taste the difference (sighted or blind); but whether we even like the more expensive version or think that difference is worth the cost differential it is a totally individual and subjective question that is going to be different for each person.
 
I do agree that Chateau Lafite has cultivated an image that it is a "better" wine.  IME, they have earned that reputation though that by producing great wines for quite a long time now.
 
OK, apologies for the OT response. Back to audio.
 
Feb 19, 2015 at 4:32 PM Post #5,390 of 83,377

kstuart

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedant
 
* I did not mean a wine between $9,990 and $10,010 - I was merely using the same price as the often mentioned " $10,000 amplifier ".  Yes, a superb Lafite can be had for $3,000 - but that is a detail that has nothing to do with the point.
 
* When referring to my judgement that many/most people prefer a cheap wine to a great wine, I use my experience - which includes acquaintances putting ice cubes (made from tap water) in $20 wine.
 
* A common aspect between high-end wine and high-end audio, is that both require many hours of practice - in tasting for the former, and listening for the latter.  In both cases, there are many people who think " I already know what is good without any training " and they are wrong in both cases.  People's egos give them the impression that they do know, and that was reinforced by many hours spent on this site in a fruitless discussion trying to get a newbie to not buy top-of-the-line gear to start with.
 
Feb 19, 2015 at 4:55 PM Post #5,391 of 83,377

dogbait

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Passively, it’s a huge shock to pick up many audiophile magazines and see 5-figure price tags and a cult of personality referencing many, many different people and companies that a new listener may have never heard of. Stereophile tries to cover some budget gear, but if a newbie’s sole meaningful content is ghettoized in one column per magazine otherwise filled with megabuck gear, it’s not likely they’ll continue.

Excellent post as always Jason, it reminds me me of Stephen Mejias' column in Stereophile April 2012. Where he questions the whole point behind CES, super expensive systems and whether there's a better way than the current arms race of boosting specs and turning audio into jewellery.
 
I think the AV press and manufacturer's are aware (some of them) of the sad state of affairs with venerable audio companies turning themselves into purveyors of audio jewellery. Hopefully it's a blip and they'll see reason, either that or go bust since the article doesn't seem to suggest that they're making very much money catering to a niche, high paying clientele.
 
Feb 19, 2015 at 5:23 PM Post #5,392 of 83,377

Ableza

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In my experience, as long as the wine is drunk the correlation between it and audio is that ALL systems sound better after a few bottles no matter their price point.  Oh, and one should drink the entire $1000 bottle BEFORE the $10 bottle, which really makes the $10 bottle taste much better.
 
Feb 19, 2015 at 5:29 PM Post #5,393 of 83,377

jacal01

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    Maybe we will see a Pono player made by Jason and company. It would be so cool to buy a reasonably priced hi res player player made in America.

 
If Schitt ever came out with a R2R DAP, it would be a game changer IMO.  Hopefully the DSP/DAC/OPA could be small packaged.
 
Feb 19, 2015 at 5:39 PM Post #5,394 of 83,377

Colgin

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  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedant
 
* I did not mean a wine between $9,990 and $10,010 - I was merely using the same price as the often mentioned " $10,000 amplifier ".  Yes, a superb Lafite can be had for $3,000 - but that is a detail that has nothing to do with the point.
 
* When referring to my judgement that many/most people prefer a cheap wine to a great wine, I use my experience - which includes acquaintances putting ice cubes (made from tap water) in $20 wine.
 
* A common aspect between high-end wine and high-end audio, is that both require many hours of practice - in tasting for the former, and listening for the latter.  In both cases, there are many people who think " I already know what is good without any training " and they are wrong in both cases.  People's egos give them the impression that they do know, and that was reinforced by many hours spent on this site in a fruitless discussion trying to get a newbie to not buy top-of-the-line gear to start with.


Thanks. I know what "pedant" means, but, of course, a pedant would.
normal_smile .gif
 No offense was meant by my post and none is taken by your response.
 
I guess my experience with wine and wine drinkers both experienced and inexperienced is very different from yours. Not questioning yours at all; just that mine is different.  Putting aside the $10 v. $10,000, as I said I find that most people quickly come to appreciate the difference between even a good $10 wine and a good $100 wine. I do agree that like any specialty it takes a lot of time to become genuinely knowledgeable about wine and audio; but I do find that people tend to "get" better wines quickly even if they are not necessarily knowledgeable about them or able to discuss them at length. Again, YMMV.
 
I guess a fair comparison in audio would be with respect to transducers. We can all agree different speakers and cans sound different; question is whether the more expensive ones are better than the cheaper ones or better enough to justify the cost; similar with wines. But vis a vis DACs and amps, there is a question to how different experientially those pieces of equipment are regardless of cost (not wading into that debate, just noting it exists), which is not really the issue with wine (or speakers, I guess).
 
Feb 19, 2015 at 5:47 PM Post #5,395 of 83,377

Byronb

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  MP3 compression and Audio (level) Compression are two different things,
Music compressed in the studio has it's dynamic range compressed,
MP3 compression is a means of data compression that takes into account what we "can't or shouldn't be able to hear." This is a lossy compression using a technique referred to as "Perceptual Coding."

I am well aware of the differences, I guess I missed the mark on making my point. The point was if the engineers and producers don't take the time to make the master sound good, then all the rest of the steps are pointless.
 
Feb 19, 2015 at 5:48 PM Post #5,396 of 83,377

StanD

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  I am well aware of the differences, I guess I missed the mark on making my point. The point was if the engineers and producers don't take the time to make the master sound good, then all the rest of the steps are pointless.

Garbage in garbage out.
 
Feb 19, 2015 at 6:50 PM Post #5,397 of 83,377

Byronb

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Feb 19, 2015 at 10:15 PM Post #5,398 of 83,377

barondla

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Just saw a trade magazine write up on the dissing of Pono. The author asks if the problem isn't the industry itself? Anytime a company brings out new technology, it gets attacked by the other companies. Or the same tech is explained differently by all the companies. Sometimes there are even competing formats introduced (SACD vs DVD-A).

He notes that the recent big audio hits have originated outside the audio realm. Apple Ipod, Beats headphones, Pandora, and Spotify. They didn't need the main audio companies or tech writers help or approval. So the establishment fights back. In other words not invented here syndrome. Very interesting.
 
Feb 20, 2015 at 4:57 AM Post #5,400 of 83,377

Ham Sandwich

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  we need more of these articles in the general public: http://www.cnet.com/news/this-just-in-most-audiophiles-arent-rich/

 
No we don't need any more articles by that idiot.  He's part of the problem that Jason was talking about.  The audio industry eating its own.
Read his review of the PonoPlayer: http://www.cnet.com/news/the-ponoplayer-whats-up-with-that/
 
A very poorly done review that trashes the Pono because Stevie was upset because he didn't get special superstar reviewer treatment from Pono and had to borrow a friends player to do the review instead of getting a special reviewers box and gratuities from Pono.  He's the problem. And his review was a total amateur job.  He tried the HD580 headphones with it single-ended and complained it didn't drive them well.  Didn't bother to try them balanced when it was well known that the HD580 significantly improves when driven balanced on the Pono.  A professional reviewer wouldn't make that mistake.
 
He says audiophiles aren't rich.  And just a month ago trashed a $400 player that is delivering performance way above its price.  I'm listening to it right now driving LCD-2 in balanced mode.  It has a wonderful enveloping soundstage listening experience that you'd normally have to spend thousands to achieve with select tube amps.  If you aren't rich and want a taste of what high-end can sound like the PonoPlayer will give you a taste of that style of sound for just $400.  This month he says most audiophiles aren't rich.  Last month he trashed one of the most promising inexpensive high-end component available.  He needs to make up his mind and stay consistent.  Which is it?
 

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