Listening #36 Page 2

And under the best of circumstances, I come away richer, too (not literally, of course—although it's fun to mess with the heads of the pathetic old hens who revel in thinking we're all on the take). I can learn a lot about the product I'm reviewing straight from the horse's mouth, and some of that information may carry over to other things. What's not to like?

Well, for one thing, there's serious potential for unfairness. If I open my home to Company A, then I'll have to do the same for Companies B through Z as well. I've heard complaints about this more than once from manufacturers who either felt uninvited, or who suggested that they couldn't afford the expense of traveling here. While I can't help but wrinkle my nose at anyone who'd clutch at that straw, I've had to admit that they have a point. Hate the whine, love the whiner.

A personal installation and setup can also work to a company's disadvantage. I recently had a visit from a manufacturer that did not go at all well, and by the time it was over, I came close to letting my resentment—at what appeared to be an effort to involve me in the development and promotion of an unfinished product, although there were other issues at work—color my review findings for the worse.

So I shipped the gear back. That done, I sat down with a pen and paper in an effort to amplify, clarify, and deep-fry my own reviewing policies, which may not necessarily represent the views of my colleagues at Stereophile and Primedia Enthusiast Media:

1) Any manufacturer who loans me a product for review in Stereophile's pages (I don't accept equipment loans for any other reason—ie, I don't run a consultation service) is welcome to visit me and my family here in Cherry Valley, New York. I guarantee you clean linens and at least one good meal, but I expect you to put the towels back on the rack when you're done with them, and at the very least you should help clear the table after dinner.

If you do stay for dinner, it would be nice if you brought flowers for the table or a bottle of wine: simple good manners when you're accepting someone's hospitality. Note also that while Janet and I are people of humble tastes and less than extravagant means, bringing us cheap or even no wine while bragging about the cost of the vintage you've got in the car for your trip down to Sea Cliff is, in fact, a shitty thing to do. Outrageous though that sounds, it has happened. Twice.

If, on the other hand, we go out for a meal, I expect you to make at least a token effort to reach for the check—and rest assured that if you grab it this time, I'll pick it up next time. Again, it's not gifts but graciousness that I'm after.

2) I'm aware that in-home installation and setup are built into the price of some high-ticket items, so I don't object to having you visit us for that reason—but only if any reader of Stereophile will have access to the same level of "after-sale" service. In any event, keep in mind that professional visits to our house now carry a one-day maximum. If you can't install a domestic audio component in my home and get it performing to your satisfaction in one day or less, then it isn't a real product. Period.

3) I can review only one thing at a time—if I put more than one unfamiliar component into my system at once, I'll have no way of knowing what's what. So I must insist that you bring or ship only one product, please. I'll consider exceptions where a special cable or adapter is required for something to function in my system, or where spare tubes are required as insurance against breakage or contamination by evil spirits (footnote 1). But if your amplifier requires some other extra-cost accessory in order to function properly, then that product is either broken or incomplete: It can't do the job that any reasonable, average consumer would expect of it.

As long as I've raised the subject, here's a reminder of the equipment and conditions you'll find at my house:

Linn LP12 turntable with Naim Aro tonearm and Naim Armageddon power supply
Linn LP12 turntable with Linn Ekos tonearm and Linn Akiva, Supex 900 Super, Lyra Helikon Mono, and Rega Exact
• Tamura TKS-83 step-up transformers
Naim CD5X CD player with Naim Flatcap 2X power supply
Linn Unidisk SC DVD/SACD/CD player
• Fi preamplifier
• Fi 2A3 power amplifier
Lamm ML2.1 power amplifiers
• Lowther PM2A and PM6A drivers (both 14-ohm) in modified Medallion horns
Quad ESL-989 loudspeakers
• Two Mana platforms (for turntables, although I suppose they could be used for something else)
• One 12' by 18' by 8' listening room, slightly underdamped

If you're submitting a product for review and this isn't the sort of room or gear that you feel would allow it to perform at its best, I'm not the least bit offended: You might be right, and consequently I'm not the Stereophile contributor for you, any more than Peter Egan is the right man to review American muscle cars for Road & Track, or a good film critic such as Andrew Sarris or Armond White should be assigned to write about, say, Spy Kids 2.


Wedding bells are breaking up that old gang of mine
Remember the first time someone stole money from you under the pretense of commerce? For me it was 1962, when I sent away for some "fossils" I'd seen advertised in the back of a comic book. (I know, I know...). The ad was illustrated with a picture of an enormous Tyrannosaurus rex skull, and my dollar bill went into the mail so fast it probably got singed by the friction.

Three weeks later, I received a parcel that made my heart sink: This can't be right: It's so...small! Inside was a quarter-inch-square plaster-of-Paris seashell imprint and a lump of coal—the latter trumpeted as gen-yoo-wine fossilized plant matter. I was eight years old, and I still get mad when I think about it.

I also remember the last time someone at least tried to take my money, because it happened just last week.

Some background: I've been passing through one of my let's-clean-out-the-guest-room-closet-and-dispense-with-everything-we-find phases lately, and I've taken to selling off the audio components I no longer wish to keep (footnote 2) by advertising them on, an Internet classified that's worked well for me in the past. One of the things I advertised was a product I offered for $425, expecting, as always, to have to haggle a little. But I was astounded when, just minutes after the posting, I got a response from a fellow who called himself Tommy Lee (footnote 3), offering me full price—but there was a hitch:

I will like to know the name in which the funds are to be made out in, the address it is to be mailed to, and a phone number where you could be easily reached.

When I have the information, I will ensure that the payment is made available to you from one of my clients who is owing me as I am currently away on honeymoon. I just got married...

A flag went up: Married? An audiophile? To a woman? And she's letting him play on Audiogon during their honeymoon? Not impossible, but highly unlikely. I was probably being messed with—but I couldn't be 100% sure, so I responded in a polite and neutral manner. Three days later I received this message:

How are you doing today? I got the payment details and I got in touch with one of my clients who happen to be owing me an amount and asked him to ensure that the payment went out to you as soon as possible. However, I have just been notified by my client that the entire amount which he owes me was sent to you.

I instructed him to make out a payment for the sum $425.00 USD to you and not the whole amount he owes me. He owes me the sum of $3,000.00 USD.

I will need you to be honest and sincere. I need you to assure me that immediately you receive the funds, you will cash it, withdraw your own payment and the excess, I will provide you all the information required in refunding the excess via wire, preferably via MoneyGram Money Transfer. I am aware of the wire charges. They are to be deducted from the excess funds...

Do you believe that? "How are you doing today?" What the hell business is it of his? I wrote back:

I'm fine! Thank you for asking! I started the day with a big bowl of Alpen, with milk and sugar on it. I also had a glass of orange juice, and then two cups of coffee. With milk AND sugar! And then...

About 1200 words later, I had finished telling him about my day. This time he wrote back immediately:

Hey, I stole some time away from my wife to send you this message!

I must say that what I understand is that I have your word on this and I am pleased. We are having our honeymoon outside the US, we made a promise not to tell anyone where we are going. I don't thinks I want to break that promise. You know how it is.

Heavens—an audiophile is honeymooning outside the US. Alert the paparazzi.

Anyway, I could see this fellow's own patience was wearing thin, so I wrote back one more time—and this time I just happened to mention the New York State Attorney General's office. That was all it took: I never heard from him again.

If you've never encountered this scam or its variants—people write about it all the time on, especially on their Shady Lane forum—do tread carefully. This particular thief had a legitimate-sounding e-mail address (more than one, actually), but that meant nothing: he went through a third-party "mailbox." He offered me a certified money order, but that didn't mean anything, either: They're easy to fake—and even if I'd taken it to my local bank and they'd accepted it for deposit, I'd have had to relinquish every cent a few days later, plus a bank charge on top of that. My teller is a sweet girl, but she was raised on a farm. While she may know what the inside of a cow's uterus is supposed to feel like, I'm afraid a faked financial instrument could slip right past her.

There's not much else you can do. Just keep your eyes open, resist flattery, and remember that private commerce is like pinpoint imaging: If it sounds too good to be real, then it is too good to be real.

Footnote 1: I patently refuse either to put a picture of myself in the freezer in expectation of better sound reproduction or to let go of the notion that anyone who would do so is, in fact, a bit foolish.

Footnote 2: But which I'd already bought and paid for, in case you're wondering.

Footnote 3: I read of a similar scam not long ago in which the perpetrator actually used the name Heywood Jablome—and got away with it.