small companies making today's best products

i think the audio research, conrad johnson, rolamd, mcintosh, monster cable, esoteric, etc., are superseded in sound quality by many small independent companies which operate direct to the consumer.

most of the comments praising components of different types seem to mention small companies, who do not have dealer networks. why ?

perhaps innovation with out marketing or other constraints enables creativity and thinking outside the box to flourish.

when i consider my own system, i own cables from small companies, digital components from a medium sized and well known company, and an amplifier from a well known company as well as another amp and preamp designed by a retired professor from canada.
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I cannot concur with Elizabeths statement. I patronage companies such as Wavelength and Doshi. They offer ultra excellent personal service, as in getting back to you that day! Not to mentioning unsurpassed producting, IMO. Try getting Western Electric to call you back.....
Most brands in high-end two-channel audio are made by one to four-man outfits who often work out of their garages or basements after they get home from their day jobs. There are very few that sell $1 million in product a year. They may have a tech or two assembling gear and helping with repairs. Many hire consultants on a per-project (per-product) basis to design much of their gear. Some of the speaker companies are "real companies", like B&W and Focal. Wilson is a real company (albeit a small one). But most of these brands are basically one guy. This is especially true for cable companies - Transparent, Kimber and Cardas make their own products, but most of the others are a guy designing on his computer and outsourcing production to companies like Belden.

And that's perfectly fine - there is no correlation between size and level of service. "VAC" is Kevin Hayes and Brent, with Kevin's mother answering the phone when he's out - they make great gear and give the best service I've seen.
"i think those middle/large companies offer the best of innovation and technological superiority"
I could not disagree more with the above statement. I think the small guys can keep costs down by removing the distributor and dealer and to make a blanket statement that the larger companies are somehow more technically superior and more innovative is naive. Costs dictate the vast majority of the amount of superiority and innovation in larger companies you will ever see come to market.
Some of the small companies have as noted by posters on this site have better service and reliability than alot of the big guys.
If it sounds good , is built well , is reliable with good service who cares what the label says or if they dont have a huge name that you pay for with every purchase.
Elizabeth, I think that your statement borders on being an insult. It is also a complete bullshit. Maybe you got wired to music a little too much. Something to consider..
Mrtennis, thanks for taking note of the sound quality of (at least some) small companies.

We trade off economies of scale for the economy of direct marketing, and hope that we can build a better-enough mousetrap to generate some word-of-mouth to make up for our relative lack of advertising. The internet makes this feasible; it was much harder yesteryear because word-of-mouth didn't reach nearly as far. The price of entry into the market has come down.

But, this still doesn't answer the question of "why" a small company can build a product that excels in sound quality. My guess would be, in a small audio company, product development gets a lot of free "off the clock" engineering hours from its owner that would have to be paid for in a big company if done by an engineering department. This is true of small companies both with and without dealer networks... and, may be true of some big companies as well (I bet Jim Winey put in his fair share of off-the-clock R&D before he hit it out of the ballpark).

small company
Regarding the "technical superiority and innovation" of mid to large size companies, I'm not too convinced of that. There's not too much innovation going on in circuit design, most aspects of that part of the equation are pretty well established. Class D amplification and digital audio servers (and related products) are the only things that come to mind in the "innovation" realm of late. Larger companies have led the way in those areas I'd agree. With established products like amps, preamps, analog gear, etc., there are many smaller companies that give up nothing but the advantages of economy of scale in manufacturing to the big names Elizabeth mentions. One thing I do consider sometimes is whether a company is going to be around to provide service of replacement parts if needed. In that regard, bigger might be better. Seeing that digital players have been trouble prone in my experience, company longevity and staying power were factors in my decision to purchase a Marantz SACD player.
consider competition.

a small company, initially has the onus of convincing its patrons that it will be around and provide service.

if the small company can provide a superior product at an inexpensive price point, it might convince consumers to take a chance that, in absence of service in the future, the product can be repaired by an experienced technician.

also, small companies are under less constraints than large ones, especially if the income generated is not their main source.

certainly larger companies have produced fine products, as have small ones. i just think that a small company--designer and a couple of employees may have a certain ethic and pride which is missing in larger companies. the designer may be willing to experience failure and continue until the finished product satisfies his own (hopefully) high standards. however, one cannot generalize.

my own experience as a reviewer, motivates me to respect and admire the persistence of designers who own small companies. i have heard many products from small products which i consider fairly priced and offering a level of sound quality that is competitive with higher priced products from larger companies, some of which have been named by elizabeth. I think this is especially relevant to cable companies, where the initial investment may be less than that of a company which manufactures electronic equipment. although i am sure we can think of the names of designers of electronics which are representative of small companies, such as steve nugent, john tucker, dan modwright, gary dodd, jerry osman, gordon rankin etc., who produce fine products .

note i am using the term "small", in terms of number of employes, not sales revenue.
I would put Odyssey Audio up there with the best of the small companies. Great products, great customer service and run by a family that loves music.

harmon is big and makes good products. i enjoy buying from small companies tho.
I go the opposite direction as Elizabeth. I hardly own anything from larger companies, and have rarely invested in audio gear that comes from any of them throughout all my years in this hobby. Sure, there have been exceptions, but I tend to prefer to invest in the smaller companies as I do believe the products and customer service are superior - at least they have been in my experiences over the years. I also have had the great pleasure of providing services to a few small companies and have made some friends in the industry so have some outsider's sense of some of the factors at play there (not nearly as directly as Duke, of course). The aspect of engineering time that Duke touched upon is something I might suggest expanding upon. Smaller companies, in my experience, tend to run on a lower overhead that doesn't begin to approach what a large corporate entity might invest in the same things: Advertising, packaging, brochures, promotion, mailings, R&D, rent, employees, insurance....all of these are significantly lessened when compared to larger corporations. The latter, by economic necessity, must make up the additional investment in the markup of their product. If there are distributors involved there is an additional markup as opposed to buying direct from some manufacturers (though I think it's really difficult for a small manufacturer to deal entirely direct these days, there are still those that do sucessfully). Dealing with a large manufacturer does not guarantee longevity, or reliability or superiority (nor does dealing with a small manufacturer for that matter). For me it's also a personal decision; having been freelance and a business owner all my life, knowing what I can deliver for less $ than any corporate competition could offer, I have far more faith in the small business person over the large corporation. Also, the few times I've ventured out to CES or RMAF, I am far more impressed by what the smaller manufacturers are offering vs their corporate counterparts, and especially when you look at the comparative costs. Here's a list that I'd consider over any corporate counterpart, in no particular order, that offer far more for the $ in comparison IMO of course - this will be just fast off the top of my head, most of which I've had direct experience with and or owned at one time or other, but not all (some are confined to the headphone world):

First Sound
Apex Peak / TTVJ
Wright Sound (RIP George)
Eddie Current
Soliloquy (OOB)
DH Labs
Signal Cable

....I could go on...

Hey guys, I can give you both sides of the argument.

I am a dealer and when I stared my company I could not get many of the larger companies and so was forced to sell many of the smaller companies products.

Over the years I have had many companies that I replaced with bigger companies products:

I had DK Designs, Dehavilland, Butler, Acoustic Zen, Harmonic Tech, Edge, Cayin, to name a few.

I have moved into Chord, Cary, Conrad Johhson, Kubala Sosna,Dali, Kef, and many, many others.

I have found that the best sounding products are indeed coming from the bigger companies who have more money to spend on r&d, can purchase or design their own parts, and have the resources to design whatever products they wish, as well as being a retailer you don't have to worry about the longevity of the larger companies so service and support over time is almost guaranteed.

You also have to remember that many small companies over time may grow to become large well established companies,
take Wilson for example, and Magico and YG are becoming well established companies.

So is smaller necessarily better sometimes yes, sometimes no, I have found for me the best sound is coming from the larger companies, however in retrospect most of even the larger companies in audio are tiny, tiny companies this is especially true when you compare our favorite companies to most other industries.

Dave Lalin, President, Audio Doctor,
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Large or small, I would trade off a small amount of sound quality for superior build quality, long product life, good resale reputation, good dealer network, and reliable service (that hopefully will never be needed). Of course, it very hard to judge some of these when dealing with the new and small unknowns.I try to investigate and judge if a company is really doing anything original and worthwhile, or just another "me too"? I also look to see how much of the product they really build, or are they just another marketeer or importer? I too have noticed, over the years, that HE manufactures tend to have a life cycle that is somewhat typical, with the best products usally a few models before they sell off to someone like Harman or the orignal owner quites or loses financial control of his own company. I just wait until they get good and stop buying when they start to go downhill.
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Elizabeth, whatever you say is OK with me. You spent $12k on Bryston? You could've got used LAMMs instead. As I wrote once in another thread you don't allow youself to have the best possible sound for the same or even less money.
Anyway I appreciate your direct response to me. Isn't it a time for "Bitches Brew" ?
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Dear Elizabeth, I got from your answer, you don't like dealers. !

The fact that most of the guys on Audiogon, are ever changing equipment striving to get a good sounding system makes me disgusted with the bargain mentality that values price over knowledge and experience.

I have been in this business for over 25 years and I have sold thousands of components and assembled 100's of systems, to think that a hobbyist knows more than a good dealer is laughable.

The idea is to get off the equipment roller coaster and enjoy music! To that effect the hostility engendered against dealers on this site is a sad state of affairs, there are many good, caring, and helpful dealers that provide a real service a demonstration facility and the knowledge and experience to actually make someone's assembled bunch of stuff really work cohesively!

The problem with Audiogon is that it encourages this flea market mindset, instead of encouraging many users to seek the assistance of professional people that can really help them in their quest to make a real satisfying musical experience in their home.

Are there bad dealers yes, I used to work for SBS in the City where what the customer actually wanted came after profitability or moving what was in stock, with that said, there were a few great salespeople there.

When I started in the industry as a profession in 1989 there was a bond between the customer and the dealer, the dealer was their guide, and provided a real service.

What pisses me off mostly about Audiogon is that most of the posters have limited experience and many suggestions they make are wrong or laughable at best, I have read some excellent suggestions from some members that were right on the money, but the often dismissive and sometimes hostile comments directed at dealers is stupid.

How does a dealer know what he knows, why does he or she advocate the products they have, I would bet for most dealers it is the positive experiences that they have had in direct comparison to other products that they sell have forged their opinions and product lines, for most dealers, they have to purchase their equipment which puts them in the same boat as their prospective clients, we are both purchasers. I don't know of too many people who purchase stuff they themselves don't like.

If I was in it "just for the money" I would be selling loudspeakers from a certain company which makes very expensive and very particular loudspeakers which have come on very strongly over the last few years, after evaluating said product, I passed over it as I didn't think that this $25k loudspeaker was worth the money, I watched SBS pick up the line and make a mint with it!

The point I am making is that most dealers are purchasers just like their clients and as so they advocate the products they believe in and what sounds the best to them.

So instead of just thinking oh that is a dealer and he or she is just trying to "sell me stuff" think again, maybe that dealer is offering advice based on direct experience.

As a dealer, I am bared from selling many products across the States, and I encourage local patronage.

So next time you read a dealers post, and are dismissive think maybe this guy has walked the same path in different shoes.

I once talked to a guy who was looking to swap amps at a great expense when all he needed was a few grand in footers and tuning gear to get the results he wanted, no one who posted suggested that, it was equipment, equipment, equipment, not one word on tuning, and folks what makes magic isn't just gear it is the meticulous setup behind that gear, and for the record that guy never called me back or bought anything!
Dear Elizabeth, I got from your answer, you don't like dealers. !

Hmmm, I didn't get that at all. The only time she mentioned dealers was to thank one for chiming in. Where were you getting that she was criticizing dealers?

FWIW, with almost 30 years in this hobby my experience of dealers is a mixed bag. I've met as many good ones who know of what they are talking, as I have ones whose opinions I did not respect nor agree with, and some real a$$hats as well (fortunately few and far between, but they are out there, even among the most prominent dealers). Just like the variety of folks posting here on Audiogon - I agree with you there to some degree - you really need to ferret out those who aren't talking from very little or no experience, and or just blowing smoke. I do imagine that it's very frustrating being a dealer and having to deal with such a unique (being kind) bunch of characters as audiophiles. I suppose there are also rewards as well (one would hope so anyway). Good dealers may indeed be choosing components on the basis of how well they work together to offer their clients what they think performs best to their ears. But as we regularly see, different strokes for different folks - what sounds good to you, may not be my choice. If there were one single set of best components all dealers would be carrying the same stuff. The fact is there is any infinite number of permutations one can arrive at with all that's out there and none are quite the same. No one has a monopoly on the right answers, but it's certainly nice to have a good guide. That could be a dealer, a manufacturer, a friend, or someone offering suggestions here. The opposite could just as well be true for any of those resources.
I missed that one! Anywho... I imagine there is an unknown percentage here that just likes to keep trying different equipment, and not out of dissatisfaction. Tho, some may never be happy, period. In my case, not being ready to buy for some time, gave me an opportunity to investigate (read) many different options. I knew what I wanted when my time came to purchase. Now I'm VERY (!) happy just investigating many music options! A satisfying benefit of being a dealer would be in making VERY HAPPY costumers!
Regarding small vs. large companies and product quality - it depends upon the type of product and the number of products produced.

I can conceive of a person in their garage designing and making a near state of the art loudspeaker. It would be exponentially harder for that same person to do a 100 unit production run of that speaker. Quality control, crating and shipping cost, marketing and customer/dealer service would overwhelm a single person operation.

I don't imagine that a truly small manufacturer could make a SOTA CD player or even a D/A without the extensive use of off the shelf components. It's here that larger companies can afford the R&D costs that would sink a smaller entity. But even then, mid-sized companies such as MSB can consistently produce top quality products.

Most preamps and amps don't necessarily require sophisticated electronics and small companies can be as good as or even better than larger ones. The larger company could be more efficient and offer a better dollar value, but the small company could readily make a better sounding product.

Personally, I tend to lean towards larger companies because I want the company to be around ten years from now. Size is not a guarantee, but it does shift the odds. Above in this thread someone compared Bryston to Lamm. If a key player at Bryston were to disappear, Bryston would still continue to operate. I'm not sure that can be said of Lamm.

I know some people swear but the small company as somehow morally superior to larger businesses. Even if there were some truth in that assertion, at some point you have to draw a line for practicality. I find it inconceivable that anyone participating in this thread uses a "boutique" cellphone custom designed and made by a one/two man operation in their garage.
Small companies are for well educated adventurers with deep pockets. You never know what you might find, good or bad!

Larger established companies are safer if you want to hedge your bets and go with something that is more established and well known.

Truly innovative products generally start small, gain acceptance over time, and usually also become more affordable. You can be an early adapter (high risk, potentially high reward today) or a fast follower (low risk, also high reward, but you may have to wait a bit for the latest and greatest to establish itself better).

I'd advise against rookies being an early adapter...very high risk compared to likelihood of reward. You better really know what you are doing before testing these waters....

Most people will be better off as fast followers purchasing good products with a larger following from more well established vendors.

Audiogon can be a dangerous place to be if you allow your need for the greatest immediate gratification be your guide without being well versed in what goes into achieving your goals. You are at greater risk of spending a lot of money for little or no practical advantage than you might be going straight to a trustworthy and knowledgeable dealer who knows what they are doing.

If you must test the waters with a smaller companies product, I recommend doing it with less expensive products that appear to be good values to minimize risk.

Never jump into the deep waters if cannot swim. Rookies should avoid small companies touting the cost is no object best, unless you just want to throw money at the problem and nothing else matters.
large companies gave/pushed quad 4 channel, 8 tracks, elcassette, laserdisc, minidiscs, cds, sacds, hdcds,dvd/bluray 2.1 thru 11.1, various video formats, vhs vs beta vcrs, tiny satellite speakers theatre in a box systems, they gave no support to audio stores because circuit city type stores was the future. i could go on because i,m sure i left something out. to say i want gear from a big company because they will be around in 10 years is a reach. i want my gear from companies that make a value added product that perform. and just to be argumentative...there arn't many "big" companies on the lists on this thread or we would all get rid of our gear and buy sony, denon, hitachi,bose,panasonic etc.
Too bad. Impressing oneself makes no sense. And everyone knows that LAMM is better than Bryston; everyone including you.
The only thing that now seems clear is that Inna is better than Elizabeth. In Inna's mind.
Dear Mr. Dealer.

Unfortunately for many of us we have no access to a dealer even if we wanted to use one. I recently moved from Middle TN and just a few years ago was within a few hours of some good dealers in Memphis, Knoxville, and Nashville. Last I checked they were all closed. When markets this large can no longer support a dealer then the game is almost over.

Too many like me simply can't justify buying new when we can get it for half off barely used at places like this. Sad reality for you, but a reality none the less.

I sure didn't get that Elizabeth was anti-dealer. I do applaud her posts. Elizabeth makes good points about longevity as far as being able to get equipment fixed, replacement parts etc from a well established company. The fact a company is around for a long time IS NOT evidence that the company is bad or makes bad products, quite the contrary. To each their own. Fail to see how she insulted anyone, kind of the other way around.
"The larger companies I prefer once were small companies"

Now where would those companies be if the ones that did support their products from the begining be if they chose to all have Elizabeths Altitude on this and not support them till they were a large brand name. They would not be here to enjoy now.

To widen the scope of thought if many of these "once were small companies" and the innovative products they produced never materialized then with that loss would be the loss of all the inspiration it gave the ones that followed.

I agree that waiting till you feel safe that the brand has become large enough to ease ones fears may be prudent, but it certainly cannot support the very thing your waiting for if everyone shared that point of view.

That is where I see the insult. Let everyone else take the early adoption of the little guy, wait until they support and make a company grow then critisize the very people who support and build the new crop of little guys.

It should also be noted that some of the better gear out there came from small guys starting out who worked for years with the big companies and struck out on their own knowing they could build and design better products and did so with great success as the little guy.

It is not ones choice of equipment that is insulting at all. That is ones personal choice for their own reasons. However it cannot be taken as anything less than insulting with generalizations that the little guy lacks innovation and are technologically inferior. Then again maybe it is more blinded thought than insightfull insult or critisizm.
The first two paragraphs in response to Inna confirm you know why these larger companies you choose are here. Then a statement like "allow someone on the edge of buying a tinkers dream to think:"maybe i'll buy a real product with some actual engineering behind it that I can depend on the maker servicing it next stead of hoping a few word of mouth mentions in posts where no one can tell if it is just an info-mercial." Makes little sense thus the insult label.

Your choice for bryston gear certainly is no issue here. Properly matched with the right gear just like any other gear has to be, they deliver just like a hundred others will.

You need to get out more now that its getting nicer and sit in the sun. Might clear up that nose grease problem.

Well the best example I can think of a small company making todays best products is The David Berning Company in business since 1974. One might think that a company that has the owner's name is making a personal testament to the quality of the product he sells. David Berning takes it one step further, he designs and builds every single product he has ever sold himself, one at a time. Legendary reliability, cutting edge design and performance, efficient and user friendly designs, esoteric but simple at the same time. I can't think of a better example than this all hype aside. This guy is one of the true originals of high end audio.
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let me add another issue here. the advantage of a company, usually small, that does not depend upon the income generated from the sale of his products as the sole source of his income to pay his bills, is that he can take his time, search for the best parts and achieve the sound that pleases himself firts before placing it up for sale.

i'd say quality control is better, though it may seem counter intuitive and the deisgner is usually a "craftsman" and takes great "pains" and pride in his effort, producing on a smaller scale and not having to please reviewers, necessarily, can rely on other audiophiles for their opinion before releasing the product.

i think, with the exception of ps audio and vtl, which may not be considered large companies, but do rely on sales as their sole source of income, i find the smaller companies producing higher quality products. they are not bound by as many constraints as larger ones and can hand select those parts which may be more expensive and sound "better", without worrying about the bean counters who would tell thenm that using costly parts will multiply the retail price to a level greatly exceeding the price associated with an inferior part.

why are there so many modification companies out there ?

mainly because some designer chose less than ideal op amps, capacitors, wire and other parts.

as i previously mentioned gordon rankin of wavelebgth has produced many fine products, that can compete with any of the larger companies. admittedly his amplifiers are not high powered , but he along with david berning and the designer of the aria amps, the previous owner of counterpoint, mike elliot, are excellenet examples of small companies . many of these companies can customize their products bto the taste of their customers. lartge companies usually do not do that. decware is another example of a fine small company.

as far as audio dealers.

i will contest any dealer to configure a stereo system that i will like better than one i configure myself and put money on my stereo system over his/hers.

a dealer is limited by its product line, whereas i am not. i have a greater variety of products from which to select and i will always be more in tune with what i like than any audio dealer.

no audio dealer can get into the mind of a consumer. he can only be guided by what the consumer tells him or her.

configuring quality stereo systems is no great mystery and does not require a degree from harvard.

i'm not saying dealers are ignorant, but no dealer should have the attitude that they know better than their customers. that attitude is the surest way not to be successful.

taste is subjective and dealers should not inssult the preferences of customers. they should be subject to the wishes of the customer, not the other way around.

mr. dealer, are you up to the chanllenge ?
I'd like to comment on one thing Elizabeth said:

"[C]learly the small company is a risk for a 'small pockets' buyer. If one is spending money they cannot afford to just burn, then it behooves them to buy a product they can depend on."

Now I can't speak for all small companies, but obviously I share some of the same mentality. I use parts that have several times the power handling typically "needed" for the application. And in my home audio speakers, I use only off-the-shelf parts. So if I hit a moose on the way home from the bar the same night that you blow your tweeters, you can get on the internet and find replacements in five minutes. I don't "pot" my crossovers, so if a crossover component does fail, it's easy for your technician to find it and replace it.

In six years of building home audio speakers, I've had zero component failures. Well there was that pair of scortched crossover boards after a very heavy Pantera session (I use much bigger resistors now), and the time I failed to screw down a connection tightly (d'oh!), but neither was an actual component failure.

And if anyone were to have something fail, they'd get to talk to the company president/engineer/service department all at once... assuming he and the moose hadn't had their rendezvous with fate yet. Or worst-case scenario, there's nothing in there a local technician can't diagnose and replace.

A big company watching the bottom line may choose to specify parts that cut it a lot closer, as far as durability and longevity. I don't have the time & resources to figure out which part will be just barely adequate but allow me to save thousands in the long run. And since I don't have a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders, nor a controlling board of directors who can fire me for it, it's my call.

A big company can weather the storm of putting one or two unreliable products out there. We little guys cannot. And very few of us do.

Back to the small-pockets buyer. Actually, the hard-core audiophile who doesn't have the big bucks is the one most likely to put in the due diligence that can lead him to one of these small companies you've never heard of. Most of us are doing something better than the big guys, and if that something coincides with the person's priorities, the result can be more cost-effective.

Imho, ime, ymmv, and yes I have a dog in this fight!

Interesting thread to say the least!

I've owned equipment built by larger manufacturers and expensive equipment built by one person operations. I've bought from dealers and I've bought direct. I've never bought from Audiogon but wouldn't rule it out in the future.

As to buying from larger versus smaller companies, there are a lot of ways to get to heaven. I personally prefer smaller handmade items for the reasons Duke explained above. My one addition to Duke's excellent post is that IMO, the biggest advantage the small manufacturer has is at the extremes of price and performance. Trying to compete with the big boys in terms of performance, fit and finish in the middle range of the high end is a much tougher gig. However, I think that for many (?most) audiophiles, larger manufacturers are better bet.

On the subject of audio dealers, that's really a local issue. My approach is to always purchase from the local guy provided his equipment provides similar performance and reasonably similar price. At times, I have paid a higher cost to support a local audio dealer. Here in Seattle, Tim Ratcliffe at Experience Audio is terrific. Jeff Catalano of High Water Sound is another example of an exemplary audio dealer who works to develop a relationship.

IMO, the industry is taking the wrong cues from the disinter-mediation brought about by the internet. Yes, it does lead to some audiophiles to chase price, but unethical dealers violated sales territories long before the internet existed. Rather than bringing the necessary value added to cultivate the fledgling audiophile, most dealers have a 'transactional' model. The industry needs to spend more energy developing enthusiastic audiophiles and music lovers.

I do believe that for audio dealerships to remain relevant beyond home theater installations, they need to reinvent their model. In part that involves an explanation of what value the audio dealer will bring to a long term customer relationship that justifies paying a higher price than can be found from an unknown entity on the internet. I understand this won't prevent some potential customers from abusing the audio dealer's time nor will it prevent others from 'graduating' from the dealership model to pursue smaller, esoteric gear. I am concerned that absent a significant change, specialty hi-end brick and mortar stores are doomed.

End of rant...
many "big" companies ship containers full of product that they know will have a 15 percent failure rate. if anyone thinks there is security in this go buy some mass produced crap and hang onto your warranty papers linus. or go to a local warranty/repair shop and see the mountain of mass produced crap not worth fixing in the dumpster. many products made by small companies work, work for a long time and are fixeable. they also increase in value.
A couple of comments:

1) The wisdom of buying big-name products.

The history of high-end audio is mostly a story of well-known brands that are now dead, or, to the extent they still exist, are merely trademarks purchased out of liquidation proceedings that now have nothing to do with the companies/people that gave those trademarks their reputations, or, those brands have been sold so many times and the current iterations are so far removed from the glory years that they are now completely different companies. It doesn't always play out this way, but ...

CounterPoint? Toast.

Bozak? Sold to Chinese buyers years ago.

Advent? I think the mark is now with Jensen, and current products have nothing to do with legendary products like the Advent Loudspeaker. Advent was started by Henry Kloss (... who left KLH to start Advent).

Mark Levinson? The man Mark Levinson was pushed out of Madrigal, founded Cello, left Cello, founded Red Rose, left Red Rose, and then was left by now ex-wife and Sex and the City star Kim Cattral. The company Mark Levinson was sold to Harmon seven years ago, at which point many people, including key R&D people, in the Orange, Connecticut, facility were fired and the remainder transferred to Harmon's facilities in Massachusetts, and you are invited to peruse the threads here to see what has become of Levinson now (one clue - consumer audio makes up a tiny part of Harmon's revenues).

Phase Linear? Sold to Pioneer by Bob Carver in the 70's, and sold by Pioneer to Recoton - now it's a car audio line. Bob Carver founded Carver, until he founded Sunfire (not sure what became of "Carver" the brand).

Krell? Sold to a private equity firm (that means it will be sold again in four to five years when the P.E. firm "exits"). After litigation with Krell founder Dan D'Agostino resulted in D'Agostino's definitive exit from Krell, D'Agostino has introduced an eponymously named amplifier.

Audio Research and Sonus Faber? Both very recently sold to an Italian private equity firm (maybe Bill Johnson and Franco Serblin have consulting agreements and will be around for awhile, but Johnson is 150 years old and Serblin must now be rich, so don't count on it).

McIntosh? Sold to Clarion in 1990. Then sold again in 2003. At least the stuff is still made in Binghampton.

Yeah, the big, well-known hi-fi companies are the epitome of reliability.

2) AudioOracle vs. Hobbyists.

He is right to complain about hobbyists who provide uninformed opinions on Audiogon. Asking a question on this forum is like screaming out a question in the mall parking lot - it's a miracle that serious industry people like Ralph Karstens bother to post here.

I respectfully beg to differ with Brother MrTennis' statement that "configuring quality stereo systems is no great mystery and does not require a degree from harvard". It is a great mystery and any graduate of Harvard that would like to help is damn welcome.

3) Buying reliable gear.

It's counter-intuitive to the uninformed, but if you're really worried about buying something that will hold up and be "fixable" years from now, buy tube gear, and preferably, tube gear that is point-to-point wired. The circuit in tube equipment is the tubes, and when you retube tube equipment, you basically have a new piece of equipment. Most tube gear can be figured out by a good tech after the manufacturer is no longer around, even where there's no schematic, and if the piece is point-to-point wired (i.e., does not use circuit boards), then an untrained monkey can probably fix it. Solid-state amps sometimes use output transistors that go out of production and that therefore can't be replaced when they break - these amps have to be scrapped. This won't happen with much tube gear, as many use the same pentodes and small-signal tubes that are used in the million or so tubed guitar amps sold every year. Tubes are user-replaceable, while solid-state gear has to be shipped off for a tech to replace.
Best reason to "buy small": guys like Duke, designer-manufacturers who will take the time to work with you. Since everybody agrees that both the corporate and cottage models can produce good kit, why not work with an actual person? I've never spoken with Duke, but he's unfailingly humble and helpful on these boards, something more people might try. He also makes good speakers.

He won't be here forever, but as Raquel so effectively shouted in the parking lot, neither will the corporate entities. Neither will the dealers. We won't, either!


who is more likely to offer customized products, a large or small company, and in which case do you think a consumer will be better satisfied ?
Is'nt it true that there are good and bad examples in all levels of this industry, small manufacturers, middling and large and Dealers. I think certain areas are easier for small manufacturers to compete, cartridges, speakers and cables come to mind. Here, development is often painstaking trial and error of different components, looking for the best combination. Electronics are more difficult but possible for one man and his dog outfits, but there are exceptions, Berning, Tom Evans come to mind.
Large companies can provide excellent after sales, CJ, Macintosh and ARC seem in this category.

What are the Pros and cons:
Small companies:
May sell direct on sale or return, lowering cost
Probably waste less money on marketing etc, lowering cost.
More responsive to my needs, can build to my requirements. Thinking Of Daedalus Speakers here, each pair built to your needs
Avoids dealers, big plus for me. I know excellent ones, but I feel pressured to buy and that I'm wasting there time if I don't. just me I know.
Personal service from the boss with queries, tends in general to be better after sales than large companies

May go out of business, so no after sales support, but so can large companies.
May be more difficult to sell second hand, lack of brand awareness.
Component cost higher, cheaper to buy 1000 capacitors than 10

I am sure there are many more possibilities. In general I like the idea of encouraging start ups, helping the little guy, if you like.
The money large companies spend on R&D gives them a real advantage , Also the more units a company makes the cheaper it becomes .
When you see the Revel factory and how things are done it's easy to see why there a leader in the industry , very impressive .
I suspect if a reliable and comprehensive study were conducted by experts between small and larger high end audio companies, the results would be a draw in terms of which can deliver the best sounding solution and larger companies would win statistically in terms of providing higher quality and value overall and offering lower risk overall for most.

The caveat would be I think if small companies from the far east, like mhdt for example, were properly included, teh smaller companies would do better in terms of value but still present a risk in that finding the good smaller companies can be a challenge to find reliably.

Also I think results might skew somewhat more back towards smaller vendors if the scope were limited to those vendors who break the norm and deliver solutions geared around high efficiency speakers and smaller amps, often tube based.
the advantage of some small companies is that they are willing to modify their designs. try asking mcintosh, audio research or cj if they will replace a capacitor, or change the tube compliment.

small companies may be more oriented to pleasing the customer by altering the design slightly to suit the nedds and taste of their customers.
Why is it that audiophiles are perpetually striving to define and pidgeonhole everything in their midst. Company size has no certain impact on value or reliability.
My wooden horns have no moving parts and will likely prove to be heirlooms but they come from a one man shop with thirty plus years of experience designing these things.
By the same token, I have a $78 Sony HD tuner that works well enough but I suspect any day could be its last, even though it has never given me any trouble. OPPO is a company that might confuse these arguments. Jeff Rowland makes what are probably the best constructed products on the market out of a 5 person factory. His name is certainly big but the operation is not. Would anyone here shy away from Rowland gear because the company is small?
I think, in truth, that you have to consider every company and every product on its own merit and avoid the childish tendency to make categorical rules of acceptability. Amen!
I think, in truth, that you have to consider every company and every product on its own merit and avoid the childish tendency to make categorical rules of acceptability. Amen!

Well said, Macrojack.
you guys are still overlooking the one thing that separates small from big companies:

designing products from scracth for you.

ask a big co. to make an amp, preamp or speaker to your specs?

not going to happen.

some small cos will do just that.