The Quality Deficit

I grew up with a healthy disrespect—almost a dislike—for rich people. Though my home town, Winchester, Mass., is one of Boston's wealthier suburbs, and my father and grandfather were officers in a Boston-area company, my father grew up on a farm and I seemed to inherit his farm-grown distrust for those who have money.

It's ironic, then, that I've spent most of my professional life working for customers most of whom come from the upper third of society, economically—and a good deal are in the top couple of percent, as our recent subscriber survey shows. (My first 16 working years were spent as an auto mechanic, with a specialty in Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Porsche; for the last ten I've published Stereophile.)

In spite of my prejudice, I've come to admire the taste of well-to-do people. If you have to charge more for a superior product or service, wealthy people will buy it. Not-so-wealthy people will also scrimp and save to have the best even though it means much more sacrifice than it does for the wealthy. The not-so-wealthy frequently have better taste because the sacrifice is commensurately greater than for the wealthy.

These thoughts were my reaction to a discussion on "Sunday Morning With David Brinkley" this January 5th. The subject was President Bush's visit to the Far East, in which he lobbied the Japanese to buy more American cars. No matter your political philosophy, this was a foolish objective; taking along a herd of Detroit auto executives underscored the foolishness.

The thorny subject of our enormous trade deficit with Japan has many ins and outs, but some of the things being said on the "pro-American" side are downright nuts. The representatives of the US auto industry particularly are acting as if Japan has had a huge head start in making quality goods, and the poor old US should be given a chance to catch up. They seem to forget that people like me (and them, even more) grew up in an America where "Made in Japan" was a stigma. Japan came out of World War II stone broke and got where they are through tremendous hard work and sacrifice—sort of like the US during the first part of the 20th century.

When Toyota was launched in the US they had nothing like an automatic toehold. In fact, the cars weren't that great: not nearly as reliable as they are now, and not particularly well suited to Americans' needs. So what did those sneaky Japanese auto executives do? They changed the cars to better appeal to the customers! And they adopted a fanatical attitude toward automotive reliability that had never been tried by anyone—not (especially) the English, not the French, not the Americans, certainly not the Italians, and not the Germans, either.

The Japanese auto industry has accomplished a modern industrial miracle. It's damned hard to make cars that don't break at all for 60 or 70 thousand miles; for all the different companies of an entire country to have virtually the same standard is amazing. Say what you want about cheap capital, government-organized industry, and cartel buying arrangements; Japanese cars sell so well in Japan and the US because they're good cars and they don't break. The reason that US cars hardly sell in Japan, and sell with increasing difficulty in their own domestic market, is that they're not so good, and they break much more often.

What's this got to do with high-end audio? Well, American high-end audio sells with no difficulty in Japan, closed markets or no. In fact, the stuff to own in Japan, and most of the Far East, is American, with significant popularity also enjoyed by British, French, Italian, and German designs. Followed closely by the Swiss, Germans, Italians, and French, the Japanese are now the rich people of the world, and will be for the foreseeable future. And like the rich people whose cars I fixed, the Japanese appreciate quality when they see it. The US auto executives wasted their time going to Japan; they should be looking at the kinds of inspired and energetic people who run businesses like Audio Research, Martin-Logan, Krell, Vandersteen, Madrigal, Thiel, Jeff Rowland Design, Apogee, B&K, Classé, Mondial, Hales, Magnepan, and AudioQuest if they want some lessons on how to sell to the Japanese. It would help them more than President Bush will be able to.—Larry Archibald


corrective_unconscious's picture

I think he expresses right wing (by Dudley standards, for example,) in his Sphile column, but he usually encodes it.

When he used to burn up on re-entry, I mean, participate at audioasylum he would be more direct about his beliefs.

remlab's picture

I personally think Sam Tellig is a Russian spy who uses conservatism as a cover.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

for bringing so much traffic to this site, instead of deleting my posts.

Usual traffic is no more than 2-3 posts per article.

remlab's picture

..requires that their reviewers also be musicians, they're going to run into this kind of problem...Unless, of course, they can somehow figure out how to recruit Pat Boone, Kid Rock and Ted Nugent..

corrective_unconscious's picture

For some reason (with this, my old browser) hitting "Reply" either does not put my post under what I'm replying to, or after processing my post it does not write the page to show my post under what I'm replying to.

luvmusic1945's picture

I agree with catch22; we are seeing better and better quality, as far as equipment is concerned and more garbage that passes for music or movies. Sorry dudes, but rap is not music and should not receive Grammy's. As far as the tube goes, aside from news and some odd sporting event, i find the whole thing, a waste of time. Special effects are everywhere trying to woo us with cartoon characters; it's fucking Disney with real people altered by special effects.

usernamophile's picture

This thread is disturbing but perhaps representative of society as a whole. If an entity puts forth an idea that does not align with an individual's beliefs, the individual wants to pack up his/her toys and not play anymore. The US should not be comprised of two teams that refuse to cooperate. Conservatism in not a bad word. Neither is Liberalism or Socialism. All theories bring valid ideas to the plate. This thread merely reinforces that the two party system is broken. Dude wrote an opinion article in 1992 and I want to cancel my subscription in 2014 - yeah, that's a rational thought.

remlab's picture

..things would be running profoundly smoother. Any Republican that cooperates in any way whatsoever with the "opposing side"is lambasted round the clock by Fox and, for all intents and purposes, shooting his career in foot.


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