Is the juice worth the squeeze? A metaphor turned literal question this week for Srajan Ebaen over at 6moons. “Thought you’d appreciate this“, read his one-line email.
Srajan and his wife Ivette had found themselves on the hunt for a new fruit juicer, which caused them to hopscotch through a series of YouTube videos to locate their destination product. This is what PR folk call ‘the customer journey’. Videos more than written coverage make it easier to see a product in use and IRL (“in real life”) where a camera in motion can cover more angles than a manufacturer’s single-angle, studio-lit, static press shot.
Why aren’t more hi-fi manufacturers making their own videos to showcase their wares and/or tell their story? This was the pointy end of Srajan’s piece. After all, what better way to take a potential customer on a deep dive on some of your product’s lesser-known features or verse them in (possibly associated) company philosophy? And if a manufacturer doesn’t know which of its product’s finer points or features will clinch the deal, why not run us through them all in a series of videos?
But the details are also where the devil puts his feet up. Deep dives could also uncover unwelcome gotchas that might stop a customer’s journey dead in its tracks. For Srajan and Ivette, that’d be pomegranate seeds. For those looking at music streaming products, there are gotchas at every turn, threatening to turn the purchase of even the finest-sounding piece into a case of buyer’s remorse.
As an end-user honing in on audio streaming products, these are some of the software issues I’d want to know about before parting with my cash.
In the broadest sense…
Does the streaming app crash unexpectedly?
Is the app’s user interface intuitive to use?
Does it respond in a timely manner to screen touches?
How swiftly and smoothly does it load search results read from large libraries?
Getting into the weeds…
- Does the streaming product play incoming audio streams gaplessly (per CDs, vinyl and cassettes)?
- Does the audio stream travel through the remote control app on its way to the network streamer?
- Does the front panel display always show album art?
- Does the stream stutter at the start?
- Does the streaming product’s Roon (Ready) mode force Spotify Connect or other streaming protocols to shut down?
- Is a dongle DAC’s promise of hi-res audio playback knee-capped at 48kHz by the smartphone OS?
- Is a streaming service’s promise of hi-res audio playback on Sonos hardware decapitated by the internal DAC’s 48kHz ceiling?
- Does the streaming product’s Tidal Connect implementation also stream MQA Masters content?
- Is the host OS bit-perfect or does it re/upsample all incoming streams to a single (lower!) bitrate?
- Has the app or portable player that advertises Tidal/Qobuz/Spotify streaming support had its offline content capabilities red-carded by the record labels?
- Which high/er-level Bluetooth codecs have been loaded into the product and how many of them tally with the smartphone OS in play?
And it’s not only on Streaming Straße that we need to watch our step…
- Does the turntable require a complete platter lift and a belt pulley adjustment to switch between 33rpm and 45rpm?
- Does the turntable offer user-adjustable VTA?
- Does the phono stage offer the exact impedance loading demanded by our MC pick-up?
- Is the headphone socket on the DAC’s front or rear panel?
- How smooth to turn does the volume control feel?
- How solid are the clicks on the source selector switch?
- Does your preferred playback format cover no more than 5-10% of all available music?
- Does the loudspeaker come with an unexpected 3 Ohm impedance dip to challenge amplifiers rated stable only down 4 Ohms?
- Does the headphone socket offer an output impedance low enough not to cause trouble to low-impedance IEMs?
These are the potential gotchas upon which we at Darko.Audio and Srajan and his team at 6moons report in our work. I wonder if manufacturers shooting their own deep dives would do likewise? HEDD Audio and its founder Klaus Heinz show us just how well it can be done:
As does Schiit Audio’s Jason Stoddard:
The question then becomes: who else?