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US vs. UK Audio Experience

npoguy

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Apr 22, 2011
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I'm in the US and visit this site several times a day (though rarely post). Over the last few months I've grown increasingly frustrated because of what I believe to be a huge difference in access to high quality audio equipment (versus simply high priced) between the US and UK. I live in a mid-size city (about 2 million in the metro area), but there is only one audio store, other than the ubiqitous Best Buys or other mass market store. And, because there is only one, the prices are high and the selection limited to popular brands they know they can move.

A few US cities are lucky to have a mulitple stores, but if I want to hear most of the UK brands (Naim, KEF, Arcam, etc), I'm lucky if there is a vendor within a few hours and, even then, it's likely to be someone's house where they have limited inventory versus a real store. I guess I have two questions for my virtual friends on the site...1) In general, we've got plenty of discretionary money over here, so why aren't there more audio stores or am I wrong about the perception of more access in the UK? and 2) if you were in the US, are there any US brands that you would consider alongside the brands that I'm drawn to like Creek, Naim, KEF, etc.?
 

BigH

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Dec 29, 2012
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I did not realise the US market was so bad, seems we are lucky over here but some brands are still hard to track down like Creek, Spendor and Harbeth. US brands a few spring to mind like Krell, Carvin and Maggies. I think part of the problem is your mags tend to promote the more high end gear? The other problem is UK gear is more expensive in USA than over here, for a change. As flights are quite cheap it maybe worth your while going to a large city to try some out.
 

npoguy

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Apr 22, 2011
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Thanks--I've tried to go to a few shows and visit stores when I travel (btw, flights over here are relatively expensive due to a lack of low end carriers), but it's not the same as having a local shop. Especially when I see something recommended here and want to go out and try it! :grin: You're also right about our magazines, most either focus on high end equipment or use "audio" as a synonym for "home theater".
 

CnoEvil

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Aug 21, 2009
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Some Classic US / Canada brands (follow up the dealers to see what is near to you):

Mark Levinson

Conrad Johnson

McIntosh

Acoustic Research

Klipsch

JBL

Magnepan

Polk

Thiel

Advent

Avalon Acoustics

JL Audio

Martin Logan

Revel

Snell

Moon (Canada)

Bryston (Canada)

Totem (Canada)

Paradigm (Canada)
 

skippy

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Mar 11, 2012
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Npoguy,

I'm up in Canada so I understand about the premium on buying UK gear.

If you're interested in 2nd hand gear you have Audiogon which is run from the States and has pretty much everything on there...
 

npoguy

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Apr 22, 2011
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Thanks--really appreciate the thoughtful replies! I'll check out the brands and keep looking on Audiogon! I still think there is a bigger philosophical issue at the heart of this and it might not be a US vs. UK thing. It's sad when I look at the photos of the Munich High End show and compare them to the photos of the Newport Show going on right now http://www.stereophile.com/home?page=1. Shows over here are generally in dumpy hotels with terrible acoustics and attended by a predictable crowd. Oh well, possibly enough on this topic.
 

CnoEvil

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Aug 21, 2009
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You have some wonderful stuff in USA / Canada which is well worth sniffing out.....UK brands can be very expensive over with you.

I agree with the Audiogon suggestion.....a font of knowledge, info and good used kit.
 

lindsayt

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Apr 8, 2011
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npoguy, it's mildly ironic that you're looking for UK manufactured hi-fi equipment, whilst I have imported a number of items from the US to the UK.

So far I have imported: an Ashly adjustable active crossover, Coincident amplifier, EV speakers plus I bought a pair of Bozak speakers which the previous owner had imported from the States. I have also imported an EMT turntable from Austria, a Lightspeed pre-amp from Australia.

I prefer my Bozak and EV speakers to my Linn Sara and Isobarik speakers. I prefer the EMT to my Linn LP12. In the midrange I prefer the Coincident to every solid state amp I've compared them against, including amps from Linn and Naim.

When it comes to speakers I love American speakers from the 1950's to 1980's. The ones I've heard offer a room filling natural ease, with a joyful sense of dynamics, plus good bass, making the UK speakers I've compared them against sound compromised in the bass and too polite and restrained without any compensations such as better detail or midrange clarity. There's one exception to that: Quad Elctrostatics - which have magical midrange.

The big US names for speakers from the 1950's to the 1980's are: Altec, JBL, Klispch, Bozak, EV.

For modern valve amps look for names like Coincident from Canada and Jeff Korneff from the States.

US ebay also has lots of really great 2nd hand Japanese kit at affordable prices. Japanese top of the range battleship amps and top of the range direct drive turntables. Mains voltage issues have prevented me from importing some of these from the States.

Check out the US based hi-fi forums.

And your description of US based hi-fi shows sounds like the Wigwam Scalford Hall hi-fi show we have here in the UK. Hotel rooms with highly compromised acoustics. Mostly the same people turning up year after year. This still doesn't stop it from being a great show with a great range of kit and very high standards in sound quality.
 

npoguy

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Apr 22, 2011
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Yes, it's interesting that one can be drawn to the nationality of a brand. Another hi-fi fan in my neighborhood and I always joke about our strange fascination with UK brands--he's a big Harbeth guy and I've always loved KEF and Naim.
 

CnoEvil

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Aug 21, 2009
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npoguy said:
Yes, it's interesting that one can be drawn to the nationality of a brand. Another hi-fi fan in my neighborhood and I always joke about our strange fascination with UK brands--he's a big Harbeth guy and I've always loved KEF and Naim.
I generally prefer American Amps to their speakers.
 

matthewpiano

Well-known member
Nov 23, 2007
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18,970
There are plenty of brands that are hard to pick up over here as well. Harman Kardon are pretty hit and miss in terms of what you can find for a start off, as are JBL speakers (part of Harman), and also PSB speakers. NAD isn't always the easiest of brands to pick up either with Audio T, Richer Sounds and some Superfi shops not stocking them.

Even so, I'm not sure how long some towns can continue to support more than one dealer, or even any dealers at all in some cases. You often go into different dealers and most of them have the same things. I've noticed Superfi seem to be diversifying quite a bit in their stores now - much bigger headphone range, lots of micro systems, and kit like Sonos, with less of the traditional kit that they used to stock.
 

lindsayt

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Apr 8, 2011
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Cnoevil, I think you'd find it interesting to hear: Altec Model 19's, Bozak Concert Grands, EV Patricians, JBL Hartsfields, Klipschorns.
 

CnoEvil

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Aug 21, 2009
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lindsayt said:
Cnoevil, I think you'd find it interesting to hear: Altec Model 19's, Bozak Concert Grands, EV Patricians, JBL Hartsfields, Klipschorns.
I think you may be right.
 

Chewy

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Feb 10, 2010
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npoguy said:
I'm in the US and visit this site several times a day (though rarely post). Over the last few months I've grown increasingly frustrated because of what I believe to be a huge difference in access to high quality audio equipment (versus simply high priced) between the US and UK. I live in a mid-size city (about 2 million in the metro area), but there is only one audio store, other than the ubiqitous Best Buys or other mass market store. And, because there is only one, the prices are high and the selection limited to popular brands they know they can move.

A few US cities are lucky to have a mulitple stores, but if I want to hear most of the UK brands (Naim, KEF, Arcam, etc), I'm lucky if there is a vendor within a few hours and, even then, it's likely to be someone's house where they have limited inventory versus a real store. I guess I have two questions for my virtual friends on the site...1) In general, we've got plenty of discretionary money over here, so why aren't there more audio stores or am I wrong about the perception of more access in the UK? and 2) if you were in the US, are there any US brands that you would consider alongside the brands that I'm drawn to like Creek, Naim, KEF, etc.?
Interesting post. We have a saying in the UK - "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence".

It is quite amusing that while you covet audio gear from the UK, I search out gear from the US! We are both very lucky to live in countries that produce some simply excellent and beautiful audio equipment.

From my perspective you are incredibly lucky to have access to some of the best gear at hugely lower prices than we get in the UK. In particular I love Aerial Acoustics speakers, their models are about twice the price over here. Plus all the great brands that Cno has listed, particular favs of mine being Revels (I have to get some Salon 2's one day they are simply extraordinary), McIntosh, plus Audio Research which Cno hasn't listed make some of the best preamps available.

When I look at my own audio gear, well over half is from the US and in common with Lindsayt I have imported quite a few bits from the US into the UK - thank goodness for Audiogon!!
 

Frank Harvey

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Jun 27, 2008
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npoguy said:
A few US cities are lucky to have a mulitple stores, but if I want to hear most of the UK brands (Naim, KEF, Arcam, etc), I'm lucky if there is a vendor within a few hours and, even then, it's likely to be someone's house where they have limited inventory versus a real store. I guess I have two questions for my virtual friends on the site...1) In general, we've got plenty of discretionary money over here, so why aren't there more audio stores or am I wrong about the perception of more access in the UK? and 2) if you were in the US, are there any US brands that you would consider alongside the brands that I'm drawn to like Creek, Naim, KEF, etc.?
A few US citizens have been in touch with me for advice over the years, and we've usually got into conversations about the state of the market and its differences either side of the pond. Do tell me if it is different in your "neck of the woods" (wherever that may be).

From what I've gathered, both of our countries have 'high end boutiques', the sort of places that you can buy some real no holds barred excess. Below this is where the differences seem to lie. At the budget end of the market, both countries are finding it tough. Stores have to compete with internet sellers, so prices are low, margins are low, and while sales are many they're shared out among everyone who stocks budget stuff - in your case, I believe that to be places like Best Buy and other 'pile it high, sell it cheap type' electrical stores. The middle part of the market seems to be non existent over there, but over here that 'inbetween' is fairly heavily populated with stores like ours that just wouldn't survive over there, in much the same way that Best Buy didn't survive over here.

Some of what I have gathered hasn't actually come from those conversations with people in the US, it has been through watching films and TV programmes! You can see the brands and products in some of these 'budget' stores, and one of them had products from a British speaker manufacturer who is very particular about where their products are sold, and how they're presented to the public (over here anyway), but in one particular programme, there was a bunch of their popular subs just stacked on top of each other in their boxes with a sale price on them - you would never see that over here!

My prediction is that our market will follow yours to an extent - the number of dealers like us is dropping, and I think it will continue to do so until it reaches a point where things will level out, leaving us in pretty much the same position as you now find yourself - plenty of places to find the entry level stuff, but very few places to buy something decent, which will mean a bit of a journey for those that want to find exactly what they want. To an extent, this is already happening.
 

skippy

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Mar 11, 2012
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Noticed Sherlock has a Macintosh system in the TV series elementary, perhaps you could ask him where he got that :grin:
 

npoguy

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Apr 22, 2011
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David@FrankHarvey said:
!

My prediction is that our market will follow yours to an extent - the number of dealers like us is dropping, and I think it will continue to do so until it reaches a point where things will level out, leaving us in pretty much the same position as you now find yourself - plenty of places to find the entry level stuff, but very few places to buy something decent, which will mean a bit of a journey for those that want to find exactly what they want. To an extent, this is already happening.
thanks for the thoughtful reply--reading references about your store (and others on this site) was actually an example of what made me start this thread! That kind of shop is virtually nonexistent over here--especially if you live outside places like NYC, Chicago, LA, etc. I hate to keep referencing my neighbor, but he lived in the UK for a short period due to work and validates your opinion. He was amazed at how often he saw mid-priced, great quality equipment in "regular", nonaudiophile homes--Arcam, Rega, etc. Over here, you mostly see big TVs flanked by HTIB setups or a few super expensive set-ups. If you do happen to find a place that sells something like an Arcam A19, they treat it like it's something exotic and charge accordingly. And, I'm not exaggerating when I say that in my area, if i want anything other than Yamaha, Denon or Pioneer, I typically have to go to a vendor who sells out of his home!

I appreciate everyone allowing me to vent a little and for the replies. In fact, some of the posts even renewed my interest in a few homegrown brands!
 

Benedict_Arnold

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Jan 16, 2013
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American hifi is divided into two camps - Bestbuy and Boutique. But given most people are used to listening to flattened off FM signals (shudder) and ipods (shudder shudder), so it comes as no surprise Bestbuy stuff sounds "good". "Not as bad" would be how I would put it, however.

Hifi mags are sh*t scared of slagging off anyone's kit, or even saying "Brand A in our one on one test was far better than brand B" lest Brand B sues them, they really aren't worth reading - lots of scientific looking, utterly pointless frequency response cuves and b*gger all about how the thing sounds. I don't even bother flicking through them for free any more.

As an ex-pat Brit I pine for my Cyrus gear and ProAc speakers and if it wasn't for a dealer in a certain city in Scotchland being used to dealing with international jetsetters of the oil industry like me, I'd have to get on a 747, buy the stuff, fly back, pay the horrific import duties, and be content to run it off a 230 to 110 volt stepdown transformer and live with it.
 

GSB

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BenLaw said:
Although 'a bit of a journey' is a rather different concept in this country than the US.
Not so much as a day out but rather a holiday :grin:
 

npoguy

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Apr 22, 2011
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BenLaw said:
Although 'a bit of a journey' is a rather different concept in this country than the US.
Just to give you an example...when I bought my first set of KEF speakers a few years ago, I had to drive 170 miles each way to hear them in person. It was a great day and it also gave me a chance to hear some other wonderful equipment. But, I felt like I had to make a decision that day or it would be months before I could get back. When the LS50's came out, I went against my instinct and bought them online. I love them, so everything worked out, but there were some anxious moments before I hit the "buy" button.
 

Frank Harvey

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BenLaw said:
Although 'a bit of a journey' is a rather different concept in this country than the US.
True, people are travelling though, as we're seeing people from all round the country, even from overseas. Those that can't or won't are using mail order. I suppose if you're in the US and the dealer you need is 1,000 miles away, you're going to think twice, especially if you're looking at an £800 amplifier.
 

Benedict_Arnold

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David@FrankHarvey said:
BenLaw said:
Although 'a bit of a journey' is a rather different concept in this country than the US.
True, people are travelling though, as we're seeing people from all round the country, even from overseas. Those that can't or won't are using mail order. I suppose if you're in the US and the dealer you need is 1,000 miles away, you're going to think twice, especially if you're looking at an £800 amplifier.
We are lucky to have a decent hifi dealer in Aberdeen. Otherwise anyone in the North of Scotchland would have to drive down to Edinburgh or Glasgow, and Aberdeen to Edinburgh is a good 130 miles so you can imagine what it would be like if you lived in Fort William, Wick or Thurso, let alone on Shetland....
 

Benedict_Arnold

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David@FrankHarvey said:
BenLaw said:
Although 'a bit of a journey' is a rather different concept in this country than the US.
True, people are travelling though, as we're seeing people from all round the country, even from overseas. Those that can't or won't are using mail order. I suppose if you're in the US and the dealer you need is 1,000 miles away, you're going to think twice, especially if you're looking at an £800 amplifier.
800 quid amplifiers are still in the Bestbuy category.

Prices here jump from one thousand to ten thousand quid rather quickly beyond that unless you are lucky enough to find someone who actually has some British stuff to sell.

And when they do expect to pay at least 50% higher than UK prices.

Case in point. ProAc Studio 140 Mark 2s are, what GBP1650 including VAT (GBP1375 before VAT - or about USD2200 a pair). Over here the same speakers will set you back over USD3500 a pair.
 

Jame5

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Jun 10, 2010
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One thing is just that we're all squashed onto a little island. Most of us can drive to several large cities within a couple of hours.
 

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