I wonder if some manufacturers know just how much some salesmen can make their products look substandard.
Here is a quick reflection on a recent studio gear shopping experience. I was auditing active monitors at a SamAsh store, where–for full disclosure–the staff was generally great, helpful and knowledgeable. I asked the salesman about the Yamaha HS M80s. Yamaha, manufacturer of the legendary (and sometimes debated) NS-10 monitors, released a solid product with the M80. However, I raised an eyebrow when the salesman pulled out an iPod Touch and commenced to “show-off” the M80s with MP3 tracks from the player. Talking about blowing a sale. Here are my problems:
1. The MP3 files were not even 320kbps, and an audible flutter in the high end was present. I mean clearly noticeable. Of course, the song was ripped with standard iTunes MP3 conversion, which is definitely not Lame quality. Lame at 320kbps may not fool every musician, but it would still provide a better listening experience than what I encountered.
2. I am sure some engineers or producers would question in the first place the use of MP3 (or any lossy format for that matter) as an evaluation audio source.
3. The iPod touch is an impressive piece of entertainment electronics, but its headphone output is certainly not studio quality, and the SNR and frequency output are more in line with generic consumer electronics, instead of pro, or even “pro-sumer” equipment.
4. 1/8″ mini to 1/4″unbalanced connection. By itself is not the end of the world, but a balanced source could still have made a better impression.
5. Noticeable hiss of the iPod Touch, which disappears when the device is disconnected from the monitors.
Overall, if someone is just trying to upgrade from lower-end monitors, he or she may not see the purpose of spending hundreds of dollars on something that perceivably sounds less impressive than his or her current, yet still cheaper equipment that is run from a quality source.
Lessons learned? Shop around, know the sound source of your demo, use multiple sources, and ask for better demo equipment if not satisfied. It is your hard-earned money. Get the best show and deal for it.