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A new way to buy high-end speakers

Brick and mortar dealers are fading away, but factory-direct outlets lack the expertise to fully serve their customers. Now there's a third option.

American speaker manufacturer Magnepan has just launched a program to reach potential customers who would like to test out their speakers, but don't live near enough to a store to hear them in person.

The program, "Maggie Dealer-Direct," relies on dealer expertise to advise customers, but Magnepan ships directly to the customer for a 30-day home trial (in the U.S. only). You might say Magnepan will be acting as the dealer's shipping department.

The Mini Maggies are just 14 inches high Magnepan

Some might wonder why Magnepan doesn't just eliminate the dealers and sell speakers factory direct, but they value the depth of knowledge dealers bring to the buying experience. High-end audio, when it's at its best, is all about getting the details right, and dealer know how can be a huge asset for helping customers achieve optimum sound quality. As a manufacturer Magnepan doesn't have the time to provide that level of customer service.

I sold high-end audio for 16 years in New York City, so I know first hand the sort of problems customers face when dealing with unfamiliar gear. If salespeople just hands over a box to a customer, they're not doing their job. I was always available to help my customers get the best out of their new components. I had personal, hands-on experience not only with the products I sold, but I also worked with the gear customers brought in to compare it with what I had on hand. So questions about speaker placement, amplifier matching, cables, etc. are best handled by a salesperson with years of experience with Magnepan speakers, used with a vast array of electronics and room settings. No phone clerk at a direct sales outlet has anywhere near that much experience.

In the initial stages of the Magnepan home trial program, only one model is being offered, the Mini Maggie System ($1,490), which I raved about a few months ago (other models may be added at a later date). The little system was designed for near-field/desktop listening, the Mini Maggie System will perform best in places where Magnepan's larger 1.7 or 3.7 speakers wouldn't be appropriate.

I still believe buyers should always try to get to a brick and mortar dealer and audition products before they buy them. But that's just not possible for many potential high-end customers. Magnepan's new program addresses the shrinking dealer base problem and provides an alternative route. I hope other high-end manufacturers follow Magnepan's lead with similar programs.

Interested parties can check the Magnepan Web site to locate a dealer.