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How Not To Sell A Receiver

by December 08, 2010
You know what, forget the edits, just post it. Its close enough.

You know what, forget the edits, just post it. It's close enough.

Recently I completed a series of articles comparing entry level, $500, and $1000 receivers. This is the sort of article people around here dread. Oh, not you, the reader. You love them. They are helpful in making purchasing decisions, they cut down the time you have to spend just finding much less comparing different receivers, and they are usually good for water-cooler talk. But we, the staff, treat them like the proverbial hot potato. Usually, someone gets the bright idea to do the article and it ends up on the desk of the guy who forgets just how much of a pain they can be.

This year it was me.

I've actually done these in the past. They've been, for the most part, fine. But this year was different. The trickle down of features has become a near flood with even entry level receivers having a list as long as your arm. When you get into the $1k+ territory, it just gets silly. Stuff you haven't heard of and wouldn't probably wouldn't want are featured while the more common features are ignored.

Or are they?

How accurate are the specifications on the manufacturers websites? I'm not talking about the power ratings, we know those are mostly rubbish. I'm talking about the list of features. The number of inputs, the DSP modes, the compatibility, or even the chips used. Can you trust them? Are they accurate? Are they even complete?

In my recent experience - No.

Here's a short list of some of the things I found when trying to create a useful comparison document for our readers.

Poor formatting or access to information

It's sort of understandable that not everything a receiver can do is listed on the main page. Some of them do so much it's pretty overwhelming. But many manufacturers have a "Features" page separate from the Specifications. While companies like Onkyo use the former to list all the stuff it can do and the latter to list the measurements, most don't. Most Feature pages have written out highlights of the things that the marketing department thinks will sell the receiver. The Specification page includes (generally) everything on the Features page but in a lot more detail. Personally, I like the second way better than Onkyo's. But if you check out Denon's receiver pages recently you'll see that they are nearly an incomprehensible mess of features and checkmarks. Why exactly do they have a line with a feature and a dash indicating it doesn't have it? Completely wasted space. Denon isn't the only offender here, lots of manufacturers do that.

I believe it's sort of a double-edged sword. If you are larger (like Yamaha, Denon, Pioneer, etc) you'd expect them to have the budget to put together a flashy, well organized, and accurate website. But then they are managing multiple receiver lines with a slew of different features. Denon seemed to go for the "we'll have one list for every receiver" which is way to long and confusing. Smaller manufactures like Sherwood have a dedicated page for each receiver with nothing more than a bullet list of features. Of course, their website is an animated gif away from being straight out of the AOHell days of the '90s.

But really, Yamaha has to take the cake when it comes to making it hard to know what exactly their receivers do. If I was trying to find a feature and it wasn't listed, I'd do what you'd think - download the manual. But wait! At Yamaha, you have to have an EasyPass account. Guess what, Yamaha? I don't want an account. I don't want you to have my email (not that they don't already, but that's not the point). I don't want any more spam. In my case, I don't want to have yet another copy of your recent press release (I already get everything in at least duplicate, sometimes triplicate). What I want is to download a simple PDF. That's all. It isn't state secrets, it isn't proprietary information. It's a user manual. Just give it to me already.

Missing information

The fact that I need to occasionally download a user manual is proof enough of point number two. While looks alone might sell some products, your black receiver pitted up against a wall of black receivers needs a bit more to sway the consumer dollar. Simply put, that's features. Sure, there are some casual buyers that will look at your 736 watts total output made up specification and buy yours cause it's 5 watts higher than the competition, the rest of us are looking for a mix of features. We're looking for video upconversion, HDMI overlay, multizone support, specific DSPs like Dolby ProLogic IIz or Audyssey DSX, and much more. We're looking for HDMI Standy Pass-Thru, discrete amplifiers, and multiple subwoofer outputs with independent control. What we're not looking for is a bunch of marketing terms and made up stats. You want to list them? Fine, put them on the Features page. But on the Specifications page we want to know exactly what your receiver can do.

Literally within minutes of publishing some of the comparison articles we were getting emails from readers and manufactures with corrections. These weren't corrections because I'd written something incorrect, they were supplemental information that wasn't on the site or in the user manual. We're not talking about support for some obscure audio codec, we're talking about the brand new HDMI Standby Pass-Thru. This new feature allows you to pass audio and video up to your receiver while the receiver is powered off (standby mode) so that you can use your display's speakers instead of your full surround setup. This is great for night-time viewing when you don't want to wake up the house. But is it readily available? No. So I had to operate under the assumption that if if wasn't listed, they didn't support it. Of course, that wasn't correct. Why wouldn't they list a feature that could potentially make the difference in someone's purchasing decision? Beats me.

At times, I found entire websites missing. With Harmon Kardon, in particular, it seemed their website was down every other day. Now I wouldn't mention this if it had happened only once. I've actually experienced outages on the Harmon websites many times in the past.

Incorrect Information

It's one thing to leave off a popular feature, but it is completely another to mislead the consumer. I saw everything from incorrect weights listed on websites to claims of high quality upconverting chipsets being used where they weren't. How's a consumer to know? They won't. I've heard from a number of manufacturers that they've made changes to their website based on my articles but that doesn't really help out consumers that have already made purchasing decisions. Perhaps those that bought a receiver based on a faulty claim can complain to a manufacturer and get them to take their receiver back but who do you complain to when you bought a different receiver because of a missing or incorrect information? It isn't like you can tell Denon that Onkyo's website was wrong and if you'd known you'd have bought a Onkyo (or vice versa). That's a true out of luck situation.

Unfortunately when we point out the inaccuracies and the possible repercussions, we get a lot of blank looks and shrugs. The fact is that every website has some sort of legal disclaimer. I pulled this one from Yamaha but you can bet they all have something similar:


So, they don't have to be error free. I understand this. It's near impossible to be error free. I've seen third publishing of books that still have grammar or spelling mistakes. You shouldn't be sued every time a typo slips through. But at the same time there should be some sort of accountability. The consumers are relying on your website for purchasing decisions. If people spending money on your products isn't important to you... well, then I don't know why you're in this business. Get the correct information out there in a way we can understand.

What it means

Collectively, we're screwed. Frankly, that's the long and short of it. In order to keep on top of the feature curve manufacturers are usually two generations ahead of what is in the stores. That means to them, the "new" line is old news. They can't keep looking back and pass it off on marketing and other staff to populate the website. I'm guessing that the number of people that actually complain about being deceived by a website is very small. They can wait until they hear about it from their posts on forums like ours. My point is that if I do this all day long and have been for years and they can still trick me, what chance does Joe Consumer reading the side of a box have? Little to none. While we'll continue to try and get you the most accurate information in receivers and other products, just remember to really do your research when you are ready to make a purchase. Don't be afraid to ask questions from the manufacturer and get first hand confirmation from owners on forums or even go out to a store and test them yourself. If I've learned anything, you sure can't trust the manufacturers.


About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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