Does mfg's name/model affect your opinion of sound

Many years ago a local audio store (RIP) demoed several tube amps & pre-amps. Some were McIntosh, some were Audio Research, etc. all high end and expensive.

I couldn't help but think that the McIntosh to be "better" sounding than the others since it had the highest price tag and the sexiest front panel design (compare them with their original front panel: ugly!).

I naively assumed the reason they are so expensive is because they must sound better.

Having over 40 years of tube experience, I now judge them purely on the merits of sound as I perceive it.

Does the brand name and price of equipment influences your hearing judgement and buying decision?

Eg: more expensive, therefore must be better.

How many of us have the luxury of listening to a blind test and just hear the music without knowing who made the equipment?
Absolutely not. I constantly find lower priced stuff that I prefer (thank goodness). Even in the same manufacturers line. Older Classe preamp is a good example. I greatly prefered the DR4($1600.) to the big fancy dual chassis DR6($3500. or more I think). Sometimes I may let a builders circuit or design theory cloud my judgement if it jives with my own ideas. But that's just to decide what to consider for my system. Once listening starts, it is only the sound that matters. Even products that I expect to be great by their reputation can dissapoint, so I like to think I can be pretty unbiased while auditioning. It never hurts to like the lower priced component, puts a smile on my face. I will though place some weight on a manufacturers background and track record of service, etc. Unlikely to consider something from a far away land that doesn't have long term continuous support by a US based importer. So, brands DO matter to me, just not for the hype/bling reasons you mention.
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Isn't the whole idea of having a "brand" to affect people's opinion?

I have to think that any concept so universally applied must be fairly effective overall.

Of course, we are all smarter than to fall for all that brand malarky, right?
Back when I was too young to buy anything but was developing opinions, I always thought the Marantz components sounded better than the corresponding McIntosh products. Was I influenced by the faceplates? Possibly. But I was also influenced by the sound. In my "middle years', when I started to earn money but was still a technical moron, I am quite sure I was heavily influenced by chassis design and what I read in the audio press. Now that I have become a fairly experienced DIYer, I have no "respect" for any product based only on appearance or the word of a reviewer, most of whom know much less than I do about circuit design. I have come to find out that much of what we call "high end", meaning very expensive, gear is flawed, and I take some pleasure in knowing that I can do better, or at least as well, by modifying a less expensive and/or vintage piece, using information that's now available on the internet or the advice of one or another guru. It's a very liberating state of mind.
Of course it does. A manufacturer's name means something. To the knowledgeable audiophile the brand name carries a whole history filled with meaning. Whether or not that history and meaning is accurate is another question, but it clearly exists.

I think the influence of model number is even more important. Audiophiles are willing to spend $1,000s just because it says "Mk II", "Reference" or "Signature". Audiophiles are willing to spend $10,000s if it says "Anniversary".

In a few seconds I will hit the enter key and the above will become facts because you read them on the internet.
I just do not have the time or energy to listen to stuff and make personal judgments. It is much easier to buy the expensive stuff based on 'reviews' and buy the products with the greatest following. But just to make sure I take the precaution of buying replacement stuff anually. That way I can't be wrong for more than the year it takes me to find out the reviewers might not have understood my needs.

Uh huh! :-)
Personally, there are certain "gold standard" brands for good sound (or at least the companies behind the brand) that carry special weight with me based on personal experience over the years and the general knowledge base out there that I have read. I expect nothing bad sounding from these. It's more about which to like best and sometimes cost/value.

1) ARC
2) Bel Canto
3) OHM
4) Dynaudio
5) Linn

Maybe my views towards certain brands is just my inner chimp chasing after its favorite bananas, but I like to think there is more to it than just that.
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I think the influence of model number is even more important. Audiophiles are willing to spend $1,000s just because it says "Mk II", "Reference" or "Signature". Audiophiles are willing to spend $10,000s if it says "Anniversary".

Or Art For The Ear (Burmester) but some say it is Fart For ... in reality?
Just a rumor imo....
What has worked most effectively for me is listening.I attend live jazz venues frequently(most often unamplified). This really trains your hearing over time to appreciate the beauty of live trumpets,saxaphones,piano,guitar etc.

What ever components mimic this sound the closest the better they are IMO.Brand and price become irrelevant at this point, it`s simply how convincing/faithful the reproduced sound is.Simple I realize but it works very well for me.Some very exspensive components lack this natural sound and some inexspensive gear is very authentic.
I used to think that way, and always had a lot of respect for the Audio Research I bought one of their amps a long time ago...I think it was the D120...anyway, it was a poor performer at best. I probably would think that anything Ayre makes is excellent...but now I'd have to hear it first.
If there is any science to our hobby, and a designer is looking to address any deficiencies he feels are there, then you would think that components from a single manufacturer would have a similar sound, a "house sound" if you will. If they all sounded different, you would wonder what the designer's criteria was, or is it just random thoughts and lets see what happens. I would be suspect of such products. A manufacturer should put his sound where his mouth is.
Well, here is a perfect example:

Stereophile Page 16 Advertisement

= Rethink High End

A happy Listener sits smiling in front of that System, holding a CD Box in his
hand ---> obviously he likes it very much
Advertising Text:
"Love what your Hear
Go ahead. Sit back and relax. Pick that one track that mean everything to you.
And enjoy
It's time High End Audio returns to its roots.
In Music.
In Loving what you hear.
Rethink High End Audio at"
(Perfect connection between Picture & Text)

I was whining after reading these lines ( I am sensitive you know)

Now, let's go to Reality:
When we look at that picture we can see that the Preamp Display shows
"Phono Direct"
"Vol. 80.0"

But that is not all
On top of the Rack there is a Turntable with a Tonearm
but there is no cartridge to be seen (only the wires coming out from the Arm)

That's High End today :-)
So, startup company "A" designs and builds a preamp that exceeds all expectations. In fact, it practically becomes an instant legend. Over the years, the company produces a dozen other preamp models. By now, the first preamp has become a verified classic, but what about all those other models?

Are we to expect a given company to supersede the piece that made it famous? If so, how many times? How long is it before a brand becomes larger than life? Even if sales remain high, is it a given that the company remains faithful to a business model that adheres to sequential improvement and value, even when the outside appearance of the product line appears to advance with time?

I don't believe there is a concrete answer. Companies tend to change over time. That change can be in any direction, better, worse, or just different.

I try to keep an open mind because today's new startup company may have just introduced tomorrow's preamp classic, but like everybody else I do have certain expectations from some brands out there.

Manufacturers only matter to me to the extent that there are certain expectations of quality levels based on a manufacturer's track record. I don't expect mediocre sound from ARC, Herron Audio or VPI nor do I expect that high level of performance from brands that have not attained anything near that in the past. IMO, it's a matter of setting standards and the target market segment for each manufacturer.