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What Motivates Gearheads?


kkantor

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I've been following the Xover vs. EQ thread, which seems to have bifurcated into separate discussions about loudspeaker theory on one hand, and customer motivations on the other. I'd like to propose the idea that human beings have complex relationships to most of the objects that they utilize. Consider, just for the fun of it, a pair of underwear as an extreme example.

- To one person, a pair of underwear is almost exclusively a functional item. Selecting it is all about value, comfort, durability and convenience. This person does not want to think about underwear unless they are required to purchase it. Perhaps, advertising will occasionally appeal to them, but not usually. Purchases will almost always be be need-driven, and based on price and availability. Rudimentary objective specifications such as material, style and size will guide the choice.

- To a different person, a pair of underwear is largely functional, but it is also associated with a sense of fashion, attractiveness and self-esteem. It will expected to be aesthetically pleasing both to the person and to others. Appearance and the approval of others will be at least as important than purely utilitarian factors. Established brands will be considered heavily during the purchase process, and advertised benefits will be weighed. The individual might even express allegiance with a technology-based peer group, (eg- briefs or boxers). Some objective specifications still matter, but subjective reactions are most important. Perceived value is also very relevant.

- To yet a different person, a pair of underwear is an inherently exciting item. The object is a source of arousal and fantasy: it is a fetish above and beyond the human it might or might not contain. Functionality is irrelevant; the object is highly valued for what it is, not for what it does. Specifications are purely idiosyncratic, if they are considered at all. This person is the type who is going to buy magazines and join internet groups related to underwear, and perhaps collect it at great cost. So they will have a disproportionate visibility to the casual observer. Their underwear obsession may interfere, not enhance, their social relationships, though it will bond them to like-minded fetishists.

- Finally, some people just try to make a living designing and selling underwear. Perhaps they run a specialty shop that caters to the middle case customer, above. Perhaps they run an Ebay shop for the underwear fetishist. Perhaps they work for a large corporation researching new fabrics, or ways to improve fit, durability and cost.

I trust the analogy, and its limitations, are clear? We are all on the spectrum, and are all capable of being aroused by items in ways that are partially disconnected from a rationale assessment of their basic functionality and performance.

-k

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I've been following the Xover vs. EQ thread, which seems to have bifurcated into separate discussions about loudspeaker theory on one hand, and customer motivations on the other......We are all on the spectrum, and are all capable of being aroused by items in ways that are partially disconnected from a rationale assessment of their basic functionality and performance.

-k

k,

I trust you are responding to my tongue-in-cheek characterization of the "Joe Playback" character. Joe is, as you say, "on the spectrum," but his ilk does represent a significant proportion of the audiophile population.

(I'll leave it to others to fill in the percentage implied by my phrase 'significant proportion.')

Surely, there are as many different ego/emotional/purchase motivations to audiophiles as there are to underwear buyers, car buyers, camera buyers, sports team/favorite player identifications, etc. Human behavior is a complex issue, and no one factor or trait determines any one specific human action.

Still, there are some generalities that can be observed and drawn upon, and all commercial enterprises attempt to cull these generalities into an actionable strategy.

That's how business is done. Nothing wrong with that, of course.

Steve F.

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- To one person, a pair of underwear is almost exclusively a functional item. Selecting it is all about value, comfort, durability and convenience. This person does not want to think about underwear unless they are required to purchase it. Perhaps, advertising will occasionally appeal to them, but not usually. Purchases will almost always be be need-driven, and based on price and availability. Rudimentary objective specifications such as material, style and size will guide the choice.

I think this one is mostly me, depending on what constitutes "required to purchase" for buying. Once I pick something I like, I never replace it unless it wears out, gets stolen, breaks down or gets damaged beyond repair. If something comes along that is clearly better (or if I become more sophisticated in its use and realize that I didn't make the best initial choice that I could have), the still-working original gets repurposed somehow. I'm also not a modder, and the only time I mod things is if I have to open them up to repair them anyway. I do find reading about other peoples' efforts interesting, though.

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If we can extend your analogy, the problem with the audio business today is the disappearance of the middle category of underwear buyers: those that wanted a better pair or u-trow but weren't crazy about it. We have plenty of comodity purchasers with computer speakers and stock earbuds, also a fairly healthy fringe of fetishists. But the masses in the middle that would pay a little more for something better and make this a viable industry aren't there.

Since the desires of the fethisists are so bizare it becomes a crazy, anything goes business, where flamboyance is valued over comfortable knickers (good engineering).

Actually sounds way more interesting than audio.

David

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k,

I trust you are responding to my tongue-in-cheek characterization of the "Joe Playback" character. Joe is, as you say, "on the spectrum," but his ilk does represent a significant proportion of the audiophile population.

(I'll leave it to others to fill in the percentage implied by my phrase 'significant proportion.')

Surely, there are as many different ego/emotional/purchase motivations to audiophiles as there are to underwear buyers, car buyers, camera buyers, sports team/favorite player identifications, etc. Human behavior is a complex issue, and no one factor or trait determines any one specific human action.

Still, there are some generalities that can be observed and drawn upon, and all commercial enterprises attempt to cull these generalities into an actionable strategy.

That's how business is done. Nothing wrong with that, of course.

Steve F.

Yes, Steve. You and I have pretty similar views of the marketplace, (for good reasons!). I was extending your thinking in order to comment on both fetishism, and the motivations peripheral to pure functionality, in general.

-k

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i guess i fit into the 3rd category. though i've never thought of it as a fetish, i do have some emotional attachment to my gear, and some of the extremes i've gone through could be viewed as, well, perverse.

Sure, its a fetish! That's good. Fetishes are fun, within the context of a generally well-rounded life, I believe. One might say music itself can be something of a fetish, or at least a paraphilia.

-k

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There is another segment of the market. It is a segment that is small and has dwindled over time. It is also insignificant in terms of the amount of money it spends. But its impact in the past has been enormous. I'm talking about the experimenters, the ones who are inquisitive and want to try new ideas to see what will happen. Some are musicians, some technicians, some like woodworking and some are engineers. They may not have the fancy laboratory equipment and funding large corporations do but they are equally determined, some are bright, have brains that still think in an era of dumbed down society, even knowledge, and they often have a very good pair of ears which can be more valuable than much test equipment. Some in this industry and in other industries started this way. Apple Computer was started by two guys working in their garage trying to build a computer for themselves. Villchur started this way. So did many others. The willingness to be unconventional, to think independently, try things other people who are experts will tell you must fail is the source of much innovation. As this idustry evolved from tinkerers who became small entrepreneurs with novel ideas to big business it became much more conservative. Mass market products are all me too and are so comoditized they have almost no profit in them. Those who produced so called high end audio equipment were no more innovative than their mass market counterparts, they merely had more hubris to make unfounded outrageous claims and charge rediculous prices for their product. Any industry that is based on technology that does not continue to innovate is usually doomed. This is one reason why this industry is in decline.

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