It's no secret. There's a discrepancy between direct sales and retail pricing. Many are the companies who secretly dream of serving both markets. Simultaneously. The requirement is clear. It'd take two different lines, preferably under different names, to avoid infringing on each other's respective market and audience.

Cary Audio has long since operated a kit division. It spawned a line of assembled products with its very own website, available only direct or through two specialized outlets in the US. Sakura Systems, importer of 47lab product, recently signed on Kore-eda as their exclusive worldwide direct-sales agent. It's a product that seems conceptually similar to the chip-amp topology pioneered by 47labs. Adding it to the Sakura Systems lineup could be viewed as having your cake and eating it too.

Mind you, it's not just the pricing difference that makes such efforts relevant. A dealer network in a country like America with its stretched-out distances can never hope to cover everything. Especially newer lines have no chance at even marginally fair distribution in today's oversaturated climate. Certainly not in the first few -- or many -- years. Reaching customers directly regardless of where they live is a far more - um, direct solution. With extended try-before-you-buy privileges like Zu offers for their speakers for example, this process in particular serves decisive audiophiles; those who trust their own ears, don't rely on dealer expertise and merely need to experience something in their own homes to know whether it'll do or not.

The latest have-it-both-ways scheme we became aware of occurred at the hands of a circulated press release. It announced a $699 Fostex-based miniature horn speaker dubbed The First Horn. Certain design elements -- the footers and dragonfly brass ring around the driver -- echoed Gemme Audio's Model 108 which our own Paul Candy currently has under review. A bit of research on his part showed that Atelier Audio, the company authoring the affordable horn, is indeed a spin-off from Gemme Audio.

This is a new wrinkle. Gemme itself is brand new. They offer a similar speaker with more upscale cosmetics and far more complex inner cabinet work. But at the end of the day and where it counts, at the ear ... how much better is it really? The price difference is significant. $699/pr vs. more than $3,000/pr. With Ed Schilling's The Horn Shoppe Horn setting a precedent for a rear-loaded small Fostex speaker at $800/pr delivered, the new First Horn is uncannily targeted. But can the Model 108 fly? It seems grotesquely overpriced by comparison.

Were Gemme Audio fully established already to enjoy its own cachet and desirability factor, the New Horn would ride its coat tails just like Cary's Super Amp and other kit
offerings ride the coat tails of the glitzier Cary Audio wares. Such a customer knows that he sacrifices cosmetics and perhaps a bit of performance from cheaper parts. Yet knowing that his affordable stuff comes from an established design house, the math works out. 75 or 80% of a well-reviewed, well-received performance standard for half or less the bread is a very sound proposition after all.

In the case of Gemme and Atelier Audio, one wonders, however. Has the imminent launch of the First Horn already undermined any chances for the far more expensive sibling to take off? Won't most consumers wonder how both compare before feeling comfortable to plunk down three large for a fancy cabinet with a solitary FE108e Sigma driver that Madisound sells for $85 retail to DIYers? Only time will tell. If we have a case of audiophile fratricide on our hands, with The First Horn killing off the Model 108 in its cradle, someone at Gemme Audio won't be too thrilled. It's not that the concept itself is flawed. It's been successfully done before. It's a matter of timing. Introduce one brand first to establish an identity. Then follow up with either a more upscale or downscale version that captures those who couldn't afford the first or those who wanted something just a little more exclusive and uncompromised than the initial spread.

Who knows though. Perhaps we're witnessing the launch of a clever strategy that'll prove -- again -- just how wrong audiophile pundits can be about predicting the future. For the Model 108's sake and that of Gemme Audio's principal or investors, I certainly hope so...