If we get the government we deserve, why not audio dealers?

Like any number of readers, I've received my fair share of poor treatment at the hands of audio dealers. On one occasion, I walked out shaking my head at the treatment I allowed myself to receive after I'd driven 2.5 hours to see the most prominent dealer in Delaware. I swore to myself then never again to turn the other cheek in silence. I'll never forget the time I drove quite a distance to a dealer to audition a speaker not available locally. I walked into a demo in a strange town with a salesman I'd never met before. Without putting a single question to me, I was informed that "of course, these won't sound the same in your home, we're using XYZ amplification" - a sensible qualification in general if it hadn't been delivered with that snide superiority to suggest that whatever I might own was clearly not up to snuff.

On another occasion I brought a buddy of mine into a local store. He was simply looking to collect information to share with his father while I'd purchased from this store previously what for me was a fairly expensive turntable; my first Sony ES CD player (I was an early adopter so you can imagine the price); a Velodyne ULD 15 subwoofer; and a pair of Martin Logan speakers among others products. My friend and I walked into the store where 4 customers were mated to 4 salesmen. We walked around the store for 45 minutes without a single "We'll be right with you, have a look around!" I'm used to attitude even if I'll never understand it. But sometimes problems go further than just attitudinally challenged salesmen.

A few years ago this same dealer moved into what are some of the fanciest digs I've ever encountered. I finally saddled up, swallowed my pride and went back because I wanted to hear Martin Logan's flagship speaker, at the time selling for nine or ten grand. While they were in the room, they couldn't be hooked up. After enquiring which Martin Logans I could hear, I was taken to the model a rung or two down the line. Now this place is basically set up like a very high-end home. There's the family room, the kitchen, the living room, the study, the theater room - you get the idea. These Logans were set up in the study without chairs. I was offered a seat in the living room. If the speakers were spaced 10 feet apart, I was offered a seat some 20 feet away. Hopefully my seat was centered between the speakers, you say? No such luck. That would have been too much to hope for. But that's okay, I'm easy and electrostatic speakers are notorious for their wide dispersion and anywhere should have been just fine, right? Wrong, obviously - but not to them.

All that's ancient history now because over the course of the last 10 years or so, I've been writing about gear and my trips to dealers have become relatively few and far between. I just don't get out like I used to. Over those same ten years, the nature of the industry has changed as well. AudiogoN, the Internet - brick and mortar shops are taking it on the chin. Or so I keep reading. But surely they're adapting. Are they?

Recent events have taken me into the realm of low-powered amps and hornloaded speakers. My backloaded Hørning Perikles loudspeakers are great as are the recently auditioned RL Acoustique Lamhorn 1.8s. They've got me curious about other new and some not so new designs. I found myself insatiably curious about the granddaddy of all horns, the Klipsch Heritage line. I'd love to own something as retro as the big Kipschorns but my room won't easily accommodate them. So the object of my fixation has been the new La Scala II. My research didn't turn up much useful information about them except to discover that Stereophile's Sam Tellig had reviewed them last fall, fell in love and got them a Class A rating to boot. I found myself more rabid than ever. For the last several weeks, I've been positively fixated on them. So today, after a grueling 28-day non-stop work schedule, I had my first day off and decided to take an almost hour-and-a-half drive to the one and only Klipsch dealer in the region stocking anything from the Heritage line at all. I knew that they didn't have the La Scala IIs on the floor but they did have the corner horns. I figured they'd give me at least a taste of the La Scalas. So a drive to the DC suburb it was.

I entered the store and very quickly spotted the Klipschorns. As it was a slow post-holiday Tuesday morning, I was the only customer in the store. Hence I was quickly spotted by one of the two sales clerks. He followed me into the room. I told him I'd come to hear the only pair of Heritage Series Klipsch speakers around and he asked me who I'd talked to. He wanted to make sure he didn't step on another salesman's feet. Or perhaps he wanted to know how hard to work to close someone else's sale. I can't know. He did oblige me almost without a word -- certainly without any meaningful dialog -- and within moments, my choice of music was emerging from the speakers. "Come upfront when you're ready to talk" were his parting words as he left the room.

Now, I'm a big boy and ordinarily, I'd appreciate the lack of sales pressure. But there was no handing over of a remote for starters. Though a universal one sat before me, I couldn't figure out how to make it work the CD player nor could I find a dedicated CD remote. That wasn't the biggest problem. What really busted my hump was once again the choice of available seating positions. You see, the room was set up for video demonstrations, with the most beautiful Sony wide-screen I'd ever laid eyes on right between the speakers. Before the screen and the speakers were two lovely leather loungers - actually quite comfortable. Unfortunately, sitting between them and enjoying the sweet spot all to itself was a lovely table adorned with two lamps. Be it to the right or left, my choice of chairs would put me just about half the distance between the sweet spot and the right or left speaker.

Certainly we all understand the issues dealers have with providing the best possible setup for so many speakers within a room. I've heard dealer setup after dealer setup that couldn't touch the carefully orchestrated positioning within my own room. Getting good demos at dealers is tough under the best of circumstances. But is it too much to ask for a chair placed between the speakers? Have these dealers become so disinterested in two-channel sales that the absolute minimum requirements of a demo can't be acknowledged? And what of the manufacturers? Does Klipsch know or even care how their products are being shown? Mind you, the Klipschorns were not part of the multi-channel system - that was composed of another brand.

I'm not even certain I'm to the worst part yet. Did I mention that these 105dB efficient loudspeakers were connected to a 400-watt solid-state McIntosh? Stop laughing, I kid you not. If we can't get center seating, I guess a synergistic mating of components is out of the question. That there's a limited market for esoteric flea-powered amps I'll have to accept but this type of gross mismatch I shouldn't have to.

The straw that broke the camel's back was trying to reconcile what I was listening to there with how a pair of La Scala IIs might sound in my room because I noticed one more thing. When I looked a little harder at the Klipschorns, I realized that they weren't seated in the corners as they should have been. If you know the Klipschorns, you know that they're intended for corner placement and in anticipation of some large rooms and the necessarily wide placements, the speaker's components are positioned such that they naturally get a lot of toe-in, I'm guessing right about 45 degrees if parked snugly into the corners. But these speakers were toed in even more. They were toed in such that, spaced an incredible distance apart, they could accommodate an even closer seated position without falling beyond the radiation pattern of the hornloaded tweeter, imaging be damned. I paced off sixteen of my size 11 steps and judged my seating position 12 or less feet from the front wall. Had the speakers been positioned as required by their design, my seating position would have moved me so far back, I'd be smack in the middle of the other multi-channel system set up within the same room. Did I mention that its volume was not muted as my salesman left the room?

Here we sit as members of the press and wonder why we can't get the word out. Whenever someone sits down in my music room, the very first thing they do is point straight ahead and exclaim in surprise, "It sounds like someone's standing there!" Nobody walking into that showroom will get the benefit of even that, the most rudimentary part of the stereo experience.

I'm not saying these guys have an easy job. I once had a conversation with my favorite audio sales guy at the only decent dealership in town and told him he had the coolest job around. "That's because you think everyone's like you." Point taken. As a chef, I can tell you that dealing with the public is tough. I'm also aware that it doesn't always pay to try to educate the public. I get that. But good grief, in no other instance or industry have I encountered such apathy, such unwillingness to just meet the minimum requirements of presenting the goods, forget going the extra mile! After sitting through an unattended one-hour demo and spending almost four hours on the road, as I sit here I cannot tell you any more about those speakers than I could before the trip. I'll be amazed if this place sells two pairs this year. Who loses? I lost, that's for sure. Klipsch lost and will continue to lose. But I'll guess this shop can make it up in iPod sales.

It was disheartening after all these years to realize just how little the brick and mortars have done to stave off the onslaught of Internet sales. It's surprising how little action has been taken to perk up the denizens of the sales floor. In what other industry would such lackluster slip-shod apathy be tolerated? It isn't in my industry but I sure as hell wouldn't eat a meal in this place nor allow them to work on my car or even my vacuum cleaner. But it's in hands like these that we have placed the future of the audio industry. Heaven help us all. Wake up, guys. From where I sit, you have nobody to blame for the position in which you find yourselves than yourselves. And to you, dear reader, I can only wish that if you're fortunate enough to have a good dealer, you'll support him. Otherwise, we really do get the dealers we deserve.

And no, I've not yet given up on trying to hear these potentially wonderful speakers. I was able to glean enough to wonder in amazement what it must have been like when people first heard them back in 1946. What stirs they must have caused. Those must have been exciting times. The industry needs to get them back.