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Buying Harbeth on-line: beware - your money is at risk

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  • Buying Harbeth on-line: beware - your money is at risk

    From time to time, Harbeth speakers appear on on-line trading sites. These can be described as "brand new", "as new condition", "in sealed cartons", "unused", "just tested and repacked" or similar.

    This post is to caution prospective bargain hunters that they are putting themselves at risk. There is no warranty outside the country of original export from Harbeth UK's factory*, and worse, there is a serious risk that the buyer will either receive substitute obsolete old-model Harbeth speakers, used speakers, competitor models or even home made speakers. A fancy colour photograph lifted from our marketing material of speakers or cartons is not a guarantee of what you will receive - it is a tease.

    In a recent tragic case, an unwise buyer handed over significant money to an on-line site who he knew was unconnected with the Harbeth Official Distribution Network and took a punt. He lost his money. The speakers he was promised have serial numbers which we were able to cross-check in our ISO logs with a pair the whereabouts of which we are certain in a far removed country. There was never a possibility that the buyer could be supplied with that pair, because they are not for sale. Their elderly owner is entirely delighted with his speakers and was horrified at the though that his beloved Harbeth serial numbers had been 'stolen'.

    Credible, long-term equipment manufacturers have formal distribution channels to protect the brand reputation. That translates to a standard of service which their customers demand and expect right through the ownership period, which in our case is decades. Fly-by-night backstreet or internet merchants have no loyalty to or investment in the brand whatsoever; their objective is to part the excited bargain hunter from his cash and then move on. We have no place in our Network for anything other than controlled distribution to protect you. You cannot buy a new Mercedes or genuine Rolex from a street market for the very same reason and only the most naieve consumer would be suckered into such a belief.

    The Harbeth factory in its nearly 40 year history have never made for stock, and are never likely to: orders are produced in sequence according to trade customer's exact requirements of model, specification, veneer and packing - some distant markets mandate additional carefully considered packing to protect the speakers in transit. It is inconceivable that there is fresh 'surplus' brand new, current model Harbeths floating about, unsold in dusty corners around the globe.

    *Harbeth UK is mandated by ISO to keep detailed records concerning every pair made. These include details of the customer, by invoice number and country. If we export to country A, we will honour any after care needs (should there be any) only in country A. Should a buyer in country B acquire the speakers, sealed or not, he will have to apply to the original seller in country A for service. No Authorised dealer in country B will support him, nor will the factory.

  • #2
    Being fair

    So even if there is a Canadian dealer closer to me than an American one, Harbeth will withhold customer support if I buy from the Canadian one?

    Itís nearly two hundred miles to the nearest American dealer.

    {Moderator's comment: I'm afraid so. Doesn't your American dealer have a right to eat? To run a store, he needs customers and income and to be there to serve audio enthusiasts in a shrinking global market. If you bought a car across the border, you'd face the same issues.}

    Comment


    • #3
      Ebay?

      I got my C7s used from ebay 2 or 3 years back, I haven't suspected anything suspicious, but is there any way I can double-check if anything is not as it should be? I

      I did go through the registration process on the Harbeth site at the time and didn't hear back that anything was amiss.

      {moderator's comment: I'm sorry but we can't release item specific information. We allow all registrations, and take action if needed later with database cross-validation.}

      Comment


      • #4
        Go-on, purify yourself

        Originally posted by PVKvt View Post
        So even if there is a Canadian dealer closer to me than an American one, Harbeth will withhold customer support if I buy from the Canadian one?

        Itís nearly two hundred miles to the nearest American dealer.

        {Moderator's comment: I'm afraid so. Doesn't your American dealer have a right to eat? To run a store, he needs customers and income and to be there to serve audio enthusiasts in a shrinking global market. If you bought a car across the border, you'd face the same issues.}
        When Tibetans go on pilgrimage to the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa they take one step forward, go down on both knees, prostrate themselves, say a prayer, stand up, take another step etc ... and they don't start this ritual when they get there, but when they leave home. Sometimes many hundreds of miles or more. And it's dusty and cold at 5,000m altitude, believe me. Think about it as you get in your car, drive down the freeway and arrive at your dealer in time for lunch. You will both have your soul raised to heaven, a life fulfilled, in your case with considerably less effort.

        And you will have a valid warranty, whereas said Tibetans have to rely on the teachings and mercy of Buddha.

        Comment


        • #5
          Good to know

          Thatís good to know. However, I donít think a dealer three hours away in another state could really be called Ďmyí dealer. Especially since Iíve never done business with them.

          Doesnít the Canadian dealer also have a right to make a living? In cars legally required safety and emissions equipment varies by country. So thatís not exactly a good analogy since the Harbeth speakers sold in Quebec are no different from those sold in New Hampshire.

          I am glad that I found out about this before I made the wrong decision. Thanks.

          {Moderator's comment: You deserve good dealers. Good dealers deserve support. We bend over beckwards to support all of them as fairly and honestly as we are able to do, in the interests of all.}

          Comment


          • #6
            Support

            Hang on a minute, if a pair is bought from the nearer Canadian dealer, then, if anything went wrong or service was needed, the speakers would go back to the supplying dealer surely, so no 'rules' broken?

            I still have nightmares of several UK manufacturers over the decades, where the still high UK prices went up, often out of all seeming proportion, to prevent rich Europeans (in the 80's) and far easterners (more recently I reckon) coming to the UK to buy their UK made Hifi at a lower price here than in their home market. I've seen some exalted confections all but double in price in the UK in the last few years, to maintain the perceived cachet in other markets (the more expensive it is, the more status bestowed on the owner I'm told).. Sorry everyone, I still don't get it...

            Comment


            • #7
              Just convenience

              Sure. I agree with all that. And I believe you have a right to set your warranty terms any way you like. Itís just a lot less convenient for me to go south than it is to go north. Thatís part of reason we are four times as likely to go to Montreal than we are to go to Boston, even though the distances are similar.

              I appreciate that youíve taken the time to explain. I will certainly take this information into account when the time comes to make a purchase.

              Comment


              • #8
                Longterm peace of mind

                Originally posted by PVKvt View Post
                Thatís good to know. However, I donít think a dealer three hours away in another state could really be called Ďmyí dealer. Especially since Iíve never done business with them.

                Doesnít the Canadian dealer also have a right to make a living? In cars legally required safety and emissions equipment varies by country. So thatís not exactly a good analogy since the Harbeth speakers sold in Quebec are no different from those sold in New Hampshire.

                I am glad that I found out about this before I made the wrong decision. Thanks.

                {Moderator's comment: You deserve good dealers. Good dealers deserve support. We bend over beckwards to support all of them as fairly and honestly as we are able to do, in the interests of all.}
                I suspect there's another factor at play here. The value of the Canadian dollar relative to the US dollar has declined sharply in the last couple of years, which would make a pair of Harbeths purchased in Canada a relative bargain for a US buyer purchasing in US dollars. If I could buy a new pair of Harbeths at a 25% discount with full warranty coverage, why wouldn't I?

                I suppose PVKvt could always just decide to take the risk, and treat it as akin to the purchase of a second-hand pair of speakers. I mean, if the speakers were opened at the dealer and connected to an amplifier, if they were physically unblemished and played properly at the time of purchase, what are the actual odds of something going wrong - absent accident, abuse or mishandling? Very low, I'd suspect. However, it's still a risk, and the purely economic calculation (leaving aside the morality of dealer support) would be whether the risk would be worth the money saved.

                A further factor to consider is that Harbeths imported into Canada will have been subject to Canadian import duties. Once those speakers are imported into the US, they are still technically subject to US import duties as well. Now, it may be possible to drive them across the border without a customs agent requiring payment of the duty, but that is yet another risk to factor in.

                Finally, one advantage of purchasing through official channels is longterm peace of mind. That has a value as well.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Chasos, deregulation and misery?

                  Let's roll the clock forward to some point in the future. Let's imagine that formal distribution channels as we know them, backed by formal distribution contracts (and plenty of case law), have all broken down in this future consumer utopia. Anyone can buy anything from anyone anywhere at any price. It's possible - it's the Amazon (et al) business model. Sounds great doesn't it.

                  Or does it? For high end audio equipment? What about the need to demonstrate? The fact is that the typical buyer visits the dealer an average of five times to settle on a particular purchase. The dealer has to entertain the visitor - which he is there to do, rewarded eventually by a sale - for perhaps 5-20 hours, maybe more. The dealer's overheads through that process have to be supported out of whatever margin he can make, and in his dreams, he would like to make a few percent clear profit at the end of the year. The minute the public step over his doorway, there is an unseen cost that the dealer is bearing. Until they purchase, they are getting that service for free. I don't know many professional people who would be so generous with their time. Would one visit an architect chum over five visits, soak his knowledge for 20 hours and then place a construction contract elsewhere? You'd be a hard man to do that.

                  I've said it before and I'll say it again: consumer may think that being an audio salesman working in a retail store fiddling with exotic equipment and playing great music whilst the rain lashes down on ordinary people outside is just about the best job going. That may well have been true - fifty years ago - when home hi-fi was a must-have. Now, fancy hifi is listed by market researchers as somewhere around 200 in a list of consumer aspirations, a commercial and sociological irrelevance. It's a global retail business under severe stress, perhaps not much different from the retail economic importance of selling silk handkerchiefs, ceremonial swords or bowler hats to the very few.

                  Bricks and mortar high street hifi dealers are a dwindling breed. To arrest the slide to extinction, they deserve our collective support. And that means following the basic, decent rules, even if a little inconvenient: buy from the authorised dealer in your own country, bonded by your own contractual laws - and even language. As for buying loudspeakers on-line: I would never do that myself.

                  Please use your local authorised dealer in your own country. When the last one closes, we will all be immesurable poorer, and the public completely isolated from equipment makers, the void filled by the media. Use them or lose them.
                  Alan A. Shaw
                  Designer, owner
                  Harbeth Audio UK

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Cheating (or beating) the system for advantage

                    I saw a great movie the other day called "The Big Short" in which some world-famous pop star with a big grin and a name I can't remember explained something about international finance, I forget what she said as my mind was still on the blonde in the bath sipping champagne explaining something about international finance. From what I read above, there are potentially opportunities for international arbitrage or forward selling of Harbeth speakers.

                    However, I have considered arbitraging audio, as my DAC is from the USA. It is a lot cheaper there. However, add in the VAT and Duty and it's almost the same price. And its back to the USA for warranty purposes. The same applies with most of the electronics on the web coming from Hong Kong and China. If there is any saving it is usually un-declared tax.

                    AS is dead right - the typical UK high street is now banks, coffee shops and charity shops and a few clothing retailers. London has over 10m people and about 4 or 5 hi-end audio retailers. I can think of more bowler hat shops that audio shops. I investigated the finances of one of the remaining audio businesses a few years back and it was grim reading. The only new ones - and there are very few - are out of town to keep the overheads down. The same has happened with camera stores and many other consumables. Where do you go these days to buy a light bulb? There always used to be a man down the road open all hours.

                    The other problem is the stagnation of middle income earnings in the US and Europe. This is the main reason for the anti-establishment popularity in the POTUS race and in parts of Europe. My kids are the first generation with lower income expectations than their parents. This does not bode well for unnecessary luxuries such as hi-end hifi.

                    The difference is that when you hear Harbeth speakers and see the modest price tag (relative to its peer group - if they have any peers) you don't start thinking second hand or can I get a better deal elsewhere. With a lot of other audio that could not be called "sensible" I think there is sometimes reluctance in buying a very expensive new item. The trend I see to counter this problem is hi-end manufacturers bringing out lower cost products. That doesn't help the high street retailer a lot. The one successful low-fi and mid-fi chain in the UK (over 600 stores) has no demo space and minuscule shops with super-friendly and helpful staff. Where does hi-fi fit into that?

                    As far as dealer hospitality and overheads are concerned, all I got was a cup of tea. Next time, some Chocolate Fingers please.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Convinced

                      Alan, thanks for your input. Youíve convinced me. Iím not one of those people thatís wastes a lot of the dealerís time only to make a purchase elsewhere. Thatís one reason I havenít even auditioned the speakers in Montreal even though I have walked right past the shop on several occasions.

                      The American dealer is quite out of the way for me, so it may be up to a year before I get a chance to check them out. I donít want to take the time to make a special trip when I could be hiking in the mountains instead. Perhaps Iíll be able to fit it in on a trip to see the Boston Symphony the next time there is a performance that I want to attend.

                      Let me add that I have a lot of respect for the work you do and I greatly appreciate the time and trouble you have taken to promote a common sense approach to dealing with audio. That you tube analogue/digital comparison with the oscilloscope is absolutely brilliant.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Australia

                        I'm happy to add that in Australia, we now have a dealer. Despite my purchase only a few months prior to that dealership becoming the official importer, thus, I bought direct from the UK via Harbeth, my issue with damaged tweeters (little children) meant I had to source a pair of replacement tweeters - which the new dealer, never having met me or my dollars kindly shipped me a new pair without charge!

                        Now that's service!

                        {Moderator's comment: That was aspecia case in that we had supplied you directly from the factory in the period before we appointed a distributor. In that special case we were responsible to you, and remain so.}

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Why is it so?

                          Originally posted by ssfas View Post
                          From what I read above, there are potentially opportunities for international arbitrage or forward selling of Harbeth speakers.

                          However, I have considered arbitraging audio, as my DAC is from the USA. It is a lot cheaper there. However, add in the VAT and Duty and it's almost the same price. And its back to the USA for warranty purposes. The same applies with most of the electronics on the web coming from Hong Kong and China. If there is any saving it is usually un-declared tax.
                          I agree with you, but I have also noticed that many home grown (UK made) products are cheaper in the USA. How can that be? I have little understanding of business, marketing and pricing. It obviously does not work how I imagine it should. If something cost X to get to the factory door after factoring in all costs like parts, wages, overheads etc. Then in my view it should sell for X + P in the home market where P is the profit. How can it be available for less than X+P after it has incurred additional transport costs to take it half way around the world?

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Basic economics

                            Originally posted by Jeff_C View Post
                            I agree with you, but I have also noticed that many home grown (UK made) products are cheaper in the USA. How can that be? I have little understanding of business, marketing and pricing. It obviously does not work how I imagine it should. If something cost X to get to the factory door after factoring in all costs like parts, wages, overheads etc. Then in my view it should sell for X + P in the home market where P is the profit. How can it be available for less than X+P after it has incurred additional transport costs to take it half way around the world?
                            As you indicate, the matter of international logistics is complicated indeed. Consider any other consumer durable, from cars to mobile phones to TVs to trainers and you will see that no matter how much the factory would like to have, in an ideal world, a global retail price list, that's simply not possible. There are too many factors that come into play.

                            One is related to bulk purchase. This relates to market capacity, which translates via its importer, into ordering in bulk. Correspondingly, all manufacturers have economies of scale related to bulk production. Plan to make one pair of speakers (or trainers or TVs or anything, actually) and there is management effort, paperwork, stores, production line stop-start, certification, label printing, carton packing, lorry-loading and accounts functions that have to be recovered for the manufacturer to make a profit. Plan to make 100 pairs, in the same veneer, to the same customer and there are savings to be made which may or may not be significant and may or may not be passed on.

                            This isn't a subject we can debate in public, but I'm sure anyone interested in the benefits of mass production and economies of scale could find plenty of reading material on-line. I, myself, have just loaded a handful of pairs onto a goods vehicle whilst colleagues were tied up with loading 55 pairs onto another. In handling time alone, one or two pairs is not an efficient use of time here, obviously, although it may be all that a particular market can absorb in a month. If our entire business was predicated on ones and twos, rather than hundreds of pairs a month, the retail prices would have to be greatly increased to make it a viable concern. We'd have moved from semi-mass production to bespoke.

                            It makes you appreciate the vital importance of retail dealers, in real stores in any industry, any country. They have the worst possible economies of scale - few customers, high overheads, many time wasters and bargain-hunters - and if only there was a certainty of sales flow they could take advantage of overheads spread over more sales transactions. Dream on.
                            Alan A. Shaw
                            Designer, owner
                            Harbeth Audio UK

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Market driven

                              There may also be an element of market driven prices and other issues such as dealer margins, which is a substantial element of what the retail customer pays.

                              A UK manufacturer with an export driven business, which is the only really viable way to run an audio business in the UK, may have to work on different margins to meet acceptable retail price points in overseas markets. Local distribution costs will differ*. There are then issues of different brand recognition. I remember looking at the clothing brand "Timberland" that the owners managed to market in the UK as a premium brand, where in the US it was considered a discount brand. Massively different pricing that was purely marketing driven.

                              For reasons relating to anther forum I looked up a much maligned UK manufacturer, generally perceived as over-priced, annual sales in the region of £15m. In their latest accounts, the strategic report of the directors said, and I quote:

                              "[Manufacturer] continues to lead the market with our premium positioning at retail and in the minds of customers."

                              You have to admire such honesty to admit that they price high and market to that price point. Sounds like a big confidence trick to me.

                              *{As will duties, taxes, certification, not to mention rampant corruption at the point of arrival, unseen by the manufacturer}

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