Tuesday, September 04, 2007

On Sheep

I am either a salesperson's wet dream or worst nightmare, depending on their perspective. Before I make just about any purchase, I research products and alternatives as much as reasonably possible. This has led to one large conclusion. Consumers are sheep.

iPods, Bose, Sony, Monster - all inferior products at inflated prices, and my examples. But they're well-marketed and look cool, so they get bought. Then when less expensive and superior quality alternatives are pointed out to people, they fight tooth and nail that their overpriced, underachieving purchases are actually the best, because they're too proud to admit they got ripped off. So the cycle continues.

They also tend to get locked-in to the product lines after their first purchase. You buy and iPod, and install iTunes. Maybe you buy a Mac for your next computer (not a bad product depending on your needs). A few years pass, or you battery dies, and its time to buy a new music player. Well, you already have all your iTunes playlists and purchases, and maybe that Mac, so you buy another iPod because it's easier than converting to a format another player can use.

What amazes me though, is the ferocity of the brand-defenders. Tone-deaf myopic sheep who will insist their Bose system is the greatest sound experience ever, their Bravia was worth the premium price, and that the $1000 on Monster cables and surge protectors makes it all fantastic.

I'll grant that iPods look great and are easy to use, but they have some serious shortcomings that prevent me from ever wanting one. They're well-documented out there. Why pay a higher price for something that looks cool when I'll be keeping in my pocket? Especially when the lower-priced alternatives have far more features and less of those annoyances. Are they garbage? Nope, but their dominance blinds people from what else is out there.

Sony isn't a terrible company. It's arrogant, short-sighted, and greedy though. Their audio/video lineup is perfectly acceptable. But NOT at the price point they have set. They sell themselves as a high-end product, but they offer mid-range equipment. For the same price as any Sony product, you can get FAR better quality, without being tied to their propietary formats and interfaces. If you want the same quality (and sometimes still better), you can definitely find it for much less.

Bose is where things take a steep turn downhill. This is a company that's all about marketing. Controlled in-store experiences that could never be duplicated in the real world, a bombardment of impressive-sounding ads, and a premium price all contribute to making Joe Consumer think they're buying the absolute best. In the audio world, BOSE = Buy Other Sound Equipment. $500 for what is essentially a clock radio? $2000 for a home-theatre-in-a-box? You won't find a single reputable expert out there that thinks Bose is worth 1/2 that much. Cheap build quality, acoustically retarded technology choices, and zero industry credibility, yet they still survive and flourish. I cringe whenever I walk into a friend's place that has a Bose system. Spend 20 minutes doing some research online and you'll discover a whole new world of affordable, QUALITY audio equipment.

Finally, there's Monster Cable. If Bose is all about marketing, Monster is all about bullshit. A cable is simple - a copper wire (be it single or multi-core) surrounded by insulation and a cover, terminating in metal connectors. Gauge, length, and quality of metal all make differences in how well it transmits the signal, but over the distances found in 99% of homes, they are generally minor. Monster claims things like amazing dielectrics, top-quality materials, an a ton of technology that has no bearing on a wire. Assuming you're a modern kind of person and have a wide, big screen HDTV, a DVD (or even HD-DVD/Blu-Ray) player, amplifier, 5.1 or better sound, and digital/satellite cable... Monster is useless to you. Unless your family room happens to be 200ft long, and all the equipement is at the back while the TV is at the front. Then you might benefit from a high-end cable. One might think that your DVD player and amp are about 2ft away from your TV, and your rear speakers are maybe 15-25ft away from the amp. Trust me, spend no more than $100 total on your cables, you'll be fine. If you're going to invest in a high-end cable anywhere in that system, then it should be between your 1080p player and the 1080p TV. If you don't have either of these, you won't notice a difference. But when you buy anything for that setup, the salesperson WILL try and sell you the Monster cables - tell them where they can shove them.


lj said...

i mostly agree with you, especially about ipods, where i am most definitely a sheep. my first one busted about two weeks after applecare protection ended, and i just ponied up for another one, even though i was so pissed at apple.

that said, my parents swear by the bose noise-cancelling headphones.

Alan aka RecessRampage said...

I agree on all except ipod. Maybe I don't know all the other products out there but for a while, I was a iRiver user before, then switched to Creative Zen... ultimately, I made the switch to ipod and never looked back. Those other two brands are the supposedly better with more features. But some things, simple is best. The creative zen I had does videos (again, this was before video ipod), games, etc etc. Most of features I did not use and a BIG PAIN in the arse to use and to bring stuff in, etc. Honestly, just from the simplicity side, I'm a big fan of the ipod. Has nothing to do with price, brand, etc. For me, I felt that it was the most user friendly in terms of downloading songs (not only from itunes but many different music download sites), sorting and maintaining, and importing from CDs, file formats it accepts without converting files to different types, etc. I guess it depends on what you are looking for. If you're looking for ones with all sorts of capabilities at lesser price, there are plenty of options. And that sounds like a nobrainer but again, sometimes, simple is best. Just depends.

alan said...

I tend to agree with you for the most part, but those products and companies generally have that reputation for a reason. I love my ipod, and will probably replace it with another one. Of course, I bought my first when it was really the only thing available, and got my second (and current one) for free. I don't use itunes, don't have a Mac, and don't have any apple-only-DRM'd music, so there's nothing tying me to it.

I personally hate Sony as a company, and generally won't buy anything from them anymore, but that has nothing to do with the quality of their products. I'm sure some of them are worth the money, but many are also overpriced.

Most Bose stuff is also probably overpriced, but I, too, swear by their noise canceling headphones. They make plane rides bearable, and while there are probably some cheaper ones that do a decent job, every review rates the Bose as the best.

As for Monster cables, I absolutely agree. I'm running some audio over regular cat5, and it sounds just fine. :)

Astin said...

My Bose rant was mostly against their home theatre systems and those idiotic Wave radios. The noise-cancelling headphones DO review well, although I question the price of them. There are also plenty of other options coming to the market these days. Personally, I have a pair of Shure e3c noise-isolating earbuds. No active cancelling, but they do a hell of a job and I got 'em cheap.

As for the iPods, it's more the annoyances than the lack of features. The lack of a replaceable batter annoys me, even though I realize chances are pretty good the thing will be obsolete before the battery runs out (although that hasn't been the case thus far). iTunes DRM annoys me, etc.. But I understand the appeal and the ease-of-use. SanDisk and Samsung are making some pretty solid players now to compete with the nano, and I LOVE my Archos 604 wifi for travelling, especially since it lets me get online as long as there's a wifi connection.

Alan aka RecessRampage said...

I have BOSE noise cancelling head phones but I can't imagine that to be any different than other noise cancelling headphones. But at the time, that was the only ones that I knew of that I could actually try on so no gripes there.

Sony is more like a one stop shop. They are definitely overpriced and ok quality. If you are looking for different things, you don't have to get the whole package from Sony. In other words, you could get better quality TVs from somewhere else, better quality surround sound system from another company, etc. But if you just want a simple coordinated system, going with a brand name is easy. I don't recommend it but I understand the appeal.

I posted in your comments long time ago about the alternatives to Monster Cables. For some of the higher sounds or deep bass, I do agree that better cables are in order than those flimsy ones that come with your stereo system. But again, bluejeans cable is one that comes to mind and I know I mentioned another lower cost, just as good as Monster cable quality cable company.

But then again, I am just like you where I research something to death... many times, I end up not getting it because I find that there is no perfect solution...

platkat said...

It makes me cringe to say this, but I like my little iPod shuffle more than my old 40G Creative Nomad Zen mp3 player. The Nomad worked okay for awhile, but I could only use it on stationary exercise equipment because it had moving parts (which would be the same for a larger iPod even though they marketed it as something you can take with you on a run). Even though I babied the damn thing, it broke in less than two years. For something that costs a few hundred dollars, that lifespan isn't cool with me. I've beaten my iPod to shit, the USB is covered in rust, but it still works. I guess it always depends what your needs are, and what you consider to be a good value.

Astin said...

Agreed Plat (btw - long time no see). The shuffles are durable little things that serve a specific purpose.

I'm all for Apple's mantra of making sure "it just works", and I, like most of the world, love their aesthetic.

But my main problem with them is their dependence. When they first came out, they didn't work with anything but Macs. If your battery dies (be it due to faulty construction, overuse, or the fact you're able to resist temptation and keep using yours for years), you need to pay Apple to replace it, or find some other place to do it and void the warranty. Throw in the fact iTunes is tied to the iPods, so it only works with their device unless you jump through a couple hoops, and the DRM, and it's annoying. Granted, they have alleviated the DRM issue a little recently.

Me? I love my Archos. It's not small or easily portable, but it's got a large screen, touchscreen, wifi, web access, plays a bunch of codecs, DVR functionality, and a bunch of other features I love. But then, I don't go to the gym, and my commute to work is about 7 minutes, so I'm not in the market for a tiny player that can take some rattling.

Alan aka RecessRampage said...

"Me? I love my Archos. It's not small or easily portable, but it's got a large screen, touchscreen, wifi, web access, plays a bunch of codecs, DVR functionality, and a bunch of other features I love. But then, I don't go to the gym, and my commute to work is about 7 minutes, so I'm not in the market for a tiny player that can take some rattling."

Exactly. I think at this point, we're not really comparing apples to apples (no pun intended). I mean they're both "MP3 players" but the functionality is so different so thus the uses too. Like if we're talking long flights and how to kill time, ipod sucks. But if you just want something small, simple and portable, ipod rocks.

Ok, ok. I'll stop now. And no, I don't work for Apple... BUT have you seen the iphone???

Yours truly,
Apple sheep

Astin said...

Aye, I think I've gotten away from the original point - there are better players than iPods out there, but most people just WANT an iPod. That's fine, at least it's not a Bose system (headphones are fine), or Monster cable, which is just retarded. Apple makes a good product, it just bugs me,

That said, if you're comparing iPods to others - there's the SanDisk lineup (the e2xx series is decent), Samsung has some cool options, and then there's the Zune and Zen, all of which offer some features I'd like to see on an iPod.

Strangely enough, the reason I got my Archo was because I was flying to Israel and I knew an iPod wasn't going to cut it :). It came down to that and the Creative Zen Vision W, the Archos' extra features won out in a big way.

Ah the iPhone. I was all gaga when Jobs announced it. Then I took a few minutes and came up with a list possible issues - battery life, the Cingular exclusivity, inability to download songs directly to the phone or use WiFi or Bluetooth to transfer from your computer, etc, etc, and I got sad.

What Apple has done is take a bunch of existing technologies and combined them very impressively. Again, my Archos does 80% of what the iPhone does, but it isn't a phone and doesn't have accelerometers on it to know when it's turned sideways. That said, my Canon IS700 does, and my Rebel XTi turns off the screen when I look through the viewfinder. In other words, I'm curious where the 200 patents in the phone are found.

What I really want to see is Apple drop the phone portion and bring out their new iPods with all those nifty features, and USEABLE wireless functionality. Then they might sucker me in :).

alan said...

"What I really want to see is Apple drop the phone portion and bring out their new iPods with all those nifty features, and USEABLE wireless functionality. Then they might sucker me in :)."

They just did this today.

The iPod touch.

Astin said...

See the power I wield? :)

Anonymous said...

for anyone prepared to spend this much money on audio / visual equipment i highly recommend upgrading your kvm cables and switches in order to get the most out of your purchase!