Communities and sellers.

tumblr_inline_mlaiu3hvfk1qz4rgpOne of these days I was visiting a Brazilian headphone community at Facebook when someone asked if his motherboard was compatible with a pair of headphones and if he needed a external DAC.
Now, this is normal on that community thus I went and read some of the replies until my eyes gazed at so much bullshit that I had to reply to the apparent intelligent user who wrote it.

His reply to the question was something along the lines of telling the person to change the power cord of the PSU and also change the SATA cable for a special audio one, he followed all of this bullshit by giving a link to a very known Brazilian audiophile community that has some really nice members but also a lot of pseudo-science bullshit. Sadly this link was of the last type.

My reply was simple, all elements inside a computer case are made to tolerate a lot of interference, if that wasn’t the case CPUs would not process data, power cables are important for their amperage and will not change the audio or affect the DACs of the motherboard. SATA cables are made for data not audio, and adhere to specifications which are on paper.

Things went down hill from there, after the guy laughed at my reply I dismissed him as the typical audiophile which believes in voodoo and went my way.
That was until someone in the group told me he was a seller of audiophile gear, after a fast Google search I found his site and BEHOLD, he sold very expensive audiophile cables, with prices high enough for me to raise my eyebrow.

I was looking at a snake oil seller, just my luck. Everybody knows I love them!
I went back and told everyone that I didn’t know the guy was a seller and that I would have not interact with him had I known it beforehand. I avoid this type of people like the plague because they go against everything the audiophile hobby represents.
Anyway, another group member called him out as a charlatan and the seller actually left the community after that.
I must admit I had a little fun with his departure comment and shown him the way out, just like a good internet gentleman. Maybe I was a bit out of line but I hate snake oil sellers.
To be sincere the guy could have stayed because nobody would have cared anyway.

Now I’m sure this was not the last time a seller tried to sneak in to a community to guide future costumers. A nudge there, a push right or left and voila new primed costumer in the horizon.
I believe people who sell or are related to manufacture companies should always disclose where they work before interacting in a community.
In this case the seller could have put a visible link to his site on his Facebook profile but he didn’t do it. Clearly the idea is to sweet talk less informed people in to believing bullshit.

This is another fine example why one should be careful with reviews, opinion makers and hype. Bullshit is just around the corner and it will jump at you when you least expect it.

China, the new audiophile superpower.

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Photo by WillSpirit SBLN on Unsplash

I could write a full article about the massive Chinese audiophile community, but I won’t go there for the sake of my sanity. Lets just say they are very enthusiastic about Hi-Fi.
In one point I think most occidental audiophiles agree, the Chinese are very serious about their Hi-Fi and they have the power of numbers on their side.
Those numbers are in fact their biggest strength when it comes to demand accessible high quality High-Fidelity gear, and Chinese companies are more than happy to deliver the goods usually at the expense of quality and originality.

During the 80’s Japan was in the forefront of everything Hi-Fi and the American and European companies struggled with the fierce Japanese competition.
That came to be because the occidental companies lacked courage to release new radical products on the market. Sure some companies had great products but their fear to fail on their shareholders crippled their imagination.
Today ironically that very same problem plagues Sony, a company that in the 80’s was the perfect example of a Japanese giant with amazing research and development (R&D), factories, distribution and marketing.
Japanese Hi-Fi companies like Sony had great quality assurance (QA) when they entered the international markets, mostly because they had very aggressive competition towards them and also because it’s was expensive to send the parts overseas to service the products.
Sure some Japanese companies built factories in the US and Europe but quality was and still is their best weapon to fight competition. That attention to detail and quality still stands today, as “Made in Japan” still means high quality workmanship, QA and a heavy price tag.

The problem with quality is that you have to pay for it, that premium even if well received by most audiophiles is the weak point of companies that need to uphold their brand name, after all it would be beyond awful if a batch of Sennheiser or Beyerdynamic headphones failed unexpectedly after 6 months.
When buying a product from a established Hi-Fi company the consumer pays R&D, production, distribution, marketing and of course QA, this is to name a few because it’s a complex subject which I didn’t study too deep.
With all that system in place for the established Hi-Fi makers, it’s normal that Chinese companies are now in a position to actually compete with cheaper prices because:
They can literally copy designs without legal issues and have the equipment and materials available, because most established companies make their stuff in China, thus no R&D.
Production is cheap for various social-economic reasons I won’t explain here.
Distribution is supported by the government and various local and international commercial agreements. Chinese companies help each other at least from my point of view, but as in all things I can be wrong.
Marketing is not really necessary because word-of-month between enthusiasts is enough, in fact word-of-mouth is so strong it can actually inflate the prices of products praised by the community.
QA focus in making the product work at a short term, because after all most of these Chinese companies don’t really worry about servicing their cheap gear,  they can always send a replacement unit.
Sure not all Chinese Hi-Fi companies are like the above, but let’s be sincere most of them are and they face no competition besides their own.

Having a massive enthusiast base and small companies that only need to worry on the short term makes China the new audiophile superpower.
The large community gives their opinion about the gear and factories almost in real time adapt to their requests. Very few established companies can actually do that and in my opinion some of them should actually start taking notes from their Chinese competition.

I still believe Chinese brands will have a hard time competing against established higher priced gear, after a certain price point enthusiasts will bash any company that doesn’t do serious QA on their products, plus legal problems will arise as soon as some companies setup offices outside China.

I must admit it’s a great time to be a audiophile, thanks to the Chinese enthusiasts and companies anyone in the world can enjoy a good song.

 

My rules for ebay.

This is my way of buying stuff on ebay. It works for me, so maybe it works for others. I don’t sell stuff so I’ll not touch that topic.

  • Before buying stuff check the import rules of your country. When buying from outside Europe I never ever go above 22€, mostly because above that I’ll have to pay taxes in Portugal.
  • Be polite on your ratings and comments. If the seller is serious try to understand his/her point of view. Before going for a negative review, just request your money back. Most Sellers will return it. If they refuse ebay will try to solve the problem.
  • Always return if you found a serious shop, it’s better than getting ripped off just because the price was 5 cents cheaper.
  • Always pay attention to how many sales and negative feedback a shop has,  lots of complains are usually a no go for me.
  •  Pay attention to the shipping price, some things might look cheap but they aren’t.
  • Always read the description of the product, twice.
  • If it’s too amazing to be true, it’s not true. Scammers love eBay
  • Test the seller before committing too much money on a parcel.  When I buy in Europe I try to know a seller and only after some cheap buys will I risk buying expensive stuff.
  • Avoid bids if you can, and be prepared to lose sometimes if you bid on ebay.
  • Some things are just too expensive on ebay, I once saw four tuna cans selling on ebay for about 25€ plus shipping, in Portugal you can buy them for 6€. Enough said.
  • Last but most important, use common sense when buying stuff on ebay, always pay with paypal and never ever pay money outside the ebay system our you’ll probably lose it all for scammers.

This list is by no means a complete one, but it covers my basics of buying safely on ebay.

Consumerism gone bad.

In 2012 Charles Duhigg  wrote an amazing article in the NYT called “How Companies Learn Your Secrets“. The article is still fresh after all these years and depicts a consumer society gone bad.

Sadly these days consumer data is the new gold for corporations, social networks, search engines, online markets and other corporations will go to great lengths to acquire information about us.

Users are not forced to use said services and I understand that corporations need to make a living from selling services and goods, what I dislike is the fact most users and consumers think they can easily control what they share with corporations.

The fact some corporations have enough data to predict with confidence a pregnancy is enough to make me wonder what other things they can predict.

Ebay the Chinatown of the world.

chinatownDon’t get me wrong from the title because I love China, it has a beautiful culture, amazing views outside the urban areas, and pretty badass Ebay shops.

The Chinese I know are very hard workers, they take their work and income very seriously and thus Ebay is the perfect window to sell stuff to a compulsive consumer world.
People might complain about the time it takes to receive stuff from Shanghai and give bad reviews when they don’t receive their goods but they’ll keep coming back for more cheap stuff, let’s be sincere everybody loves free shipping.

I don’t like all made in China products, some have poor quality and very little user safety, but if you know what to buy and find a decent Ebay store, Chinese clones are amazing ways to save money. Sure I don’t enjoy all imitations but in some cases they actually improve the design of some products from the feedback they receive from customers.
I dare to say some factories in China are more open source than some GNU/Linux operating systems.

Some stuff I won’t buy from Chinese Ebay stores, mostly anything that is a intimation of a known brand or pirated media goods. Those I will never buy on Ebay!
One thing is to buy a multi-tool card imitation, or a cheap USB dust cover, the other is buying a clone of a swiss brand watch. Besides the massive headaches one might get because of legal issues of importing stuff like that, the quality of complex cheap goods is never a good one.

Ebay these days is in fact a Chinatown with all the good and bad things that brings.

One thing most American and European consumers don’t understand is the fact cheap stuff will often be made of cheap materials, be it of Chinese, Portuguese or American origin. Plus cheap stuff comes at a high social price but that’s a boring detail because free shipping is so nice isn’t it?

Ebay is an amazing tool, if consumers know what they want to buy, if sellers are actually serious, if you don’t have bad luck when receiving your parcels and if your country doesn’t have draconian import laws, in Portugal anything above 22€ (Product + Shipping) will be taxed and most people don’t try going around it because papers will be requested and the legal outcome will not be pretty. To be sincere I wouldn’t spend more than 20€ in one parcel from China anyway, the risk of losing money would be too high.

Be it in a true Chinatown or a online one be careful with your purchases, always use paypal and never ever go for any other type of payment especially if the seller requests it.
Remember there always be bad sellers, best way is to report them to Ebay and be safe.