by John Sciacca
(OK, this story might take a little bit to get going…but really like the end part. So, if you find yourself starting to slack off or start to get all glaucoma’d or feel like you’ve met your daily quote of vowels and consonants, do me this…just skip down to the paragraph that starts, “But when it comes to subwoofers…” OK? Deal? Thanks.)
Since the dawn of man, people have loved a good story. And then hucksters very quickly learned to use that story to come up with some enticing bit of “hook” to spice up their spiel with a good yarn to sell more wares. Seriously, LITERALLY since the dawn of man; that apple didn’t go selling itself; it came with the “story” of being able to know Good and Bad!
And while performance is certainly crucial – especially when selling a high-end product – there are often only minor differences that separate many products at similar price points. What can differentiate these items is – you guessed it – a good product story. Because, when you can get people emotionally involved and attached, it is far easier to sell *anything*.
Sometimes that story only has to be as interesting as, “Well, you see, I like this one because it is the one that I own and in my house and blah-blah-blah…” I previously discussed this in the “this is what I own power selling strategy.”
I first discovered its true power when I was a golf pro years ago. People would watch me hitting balls and then sheepishly come up like the sweet, innocent, full-walleted lemmings that they were, careful to stand just close enough to bask in my awesome and say, “Oh, my starry heavens! Aren’t you hitting the ball splendidly! I wonder what clubs you’re using?” (That’s how I imagine remembering it at least. In truth, there was probably a lot of them just rooting through my golf back with all the greasy pawed, delicacy of a marauding Saxon.) Now, of course, that I had a modicum of natural skill that had been pulverized into talent on the fiery anvil of hitting balls for hours a day didn’t matter, no! What mattered is that they could buy the same clubs I was using.
Then they’d have a story. (Though they’d probably also still suck, because a good set of clubs can really only do so much. But, I digress…)
(And I digress further… Here’s another quick little golf equipment aside. Back in 1986 there was a putter called the Response ZT which sold for $89 that they could barely give away. It had a huge head and a homely shape that only a yip-filled mother could love. Except, Nicklaus used it to win the Masters that year, his sixth green jacket and 18th and final Major, And then they sold 350,000. Yeah, a good story. Still a damn ugly putter though.)
Now, there are some products in the audio industry that have great stories. Bang & Olufsen (B&O)? Super cool products that ooze style and are featured in tons of movies and TV shows. Even me, a grizzled, jaded industry insider, was all a-gush when I saw that our hotel in Venice, Italy was decked out in B&O gear. (Sadly, even then the Italians couldn’t master the subtle genius which is the $1.99 shower curtain.) B&O stuff looks gorgeous and usually has some kind of power on animation like a tilt or a swivel or something. Cool? Absolutely. And a great story. Lutron? Their company founder, Joel Spira, LITERALLY invented the frickin’dimmer for heaven’s sake. THE LIGHTING DIMMER! You ever just say, “Hmmm, I wonder who invented the modern light dimmer. It’s just so handy. Oh well…” Wonder no more; he’s THAT guy! Every time you aren’t watching TV under interrogation lighting or feel the need to conceal your shameful body in the warm glows and boudoir shadows of barely lit incandescence, you should be on your knees – well, put some clothes on first – and be thanking Joel Spira. Plus, he’s been inducted into the Smithsonian right alongside other electrical engineering giants like Thomas Alva Edison, uh, Ben Franklin and his lightning key, uh, the Tesla coil guy, um, Daniel Faraday from Lost, Captain Electric and, you know, all the others.
If you can’t make build a good story around that, then you need to go back to mowing lawns. Sadly, They Who Shall Not Be Named made products that had a wonderful consumer appeal and made it SO easy to tell a great and compelling consumer product story. That story usually involved talking about exotic materials like Kevlar and diamonds, amazing cabinetry construction hewn from rare woods by bad-teethed artisans using a method dating back to Stonehenge, how they made products from $20,000 a piece on down to $100, and how they sounded SO good that George Lucas himself chose to use them to monitor the main mix room – Mix A – at Skywalker Sound. Even though they aren’t THX certified! Or full of midichlorians. But, alas, even as good of a story as that it is, it is not a story I tell any further.
But a when it comes to subwoofers, there’s generally not a whole lot to get excited about. In fact, most times people don’t even want them and even Stephen King would struggle to come up with some gripping and persuasive story to get people excited. “It’s a black cube. With an amp. Ayuh.”
Wife: “What does it do?”
“Well, it sits on the floor. And plays bass.”
Husband: “Bass? Like what. The guitar?”
“No, more like borderline subsonic frequencies when things blow-up. Like that dinosaur, impact tremor foot stomp in Jurassic Park.”
(Simultaneously). Husband: “I love that.”
Wife: “I hate that.”
Wife: “Well, that thing is just dreadful looking. I can’t imagine having it in our home.”
“It’s actually only about a 12-inch cube and can hide under…”
Wife: “No. I just…I can’t even… Do we have to have it?”
“Well, the system won’t sound as good without it and you’ll lose a lot of the impact and emo…”
Wife: “So it will still work without it, is that what you’re saying?”
“Technically, it will but it won’t…”
Wife: “OK, so we don’t need that.” Tucking husband’s shriveled and emasculated man parts safely back into her purse, “What’s next?”
Now, I’m not saying that NO subwoofer has a good story; I’m just saying that other than, “FEEL HOW LOUD THAT BASS IS? IT’S LIKE YOU CAN ACTUALLY FEEL YOUR ORGANS SHRINKING AWAY FROM IT AND THAT STONE DYING BEFORE IT WAS EVEN A TWINKLE IN YOUR KIDNEY’S EYE! AWESOME, RIGHT?!” there often isn’t a bunch to say.
One sub that DOES have a great story is Definitive Technology’s Super Cube Trinity Signature Reference Maximus Gigantor. (Most of those words are right, I’m pretty sure.) Beyond the brilliance of, “This is the sub I own and my system will totally Pwn yours!” (true story) there is actually a real-deal, great story that goes with this sub. One that I’ve personally used to sell a few of these bad girls.
You see, there was this church in New York called the Trinity Wall Street, and it happened to be VERY close — 600 feet — to Ground Zero in New York. On September 11, when the Towers fell, all of that dust and debris and toxic horribleness swept through the church and totally decimated the church’s elaborate pipe organ system. Corroding the leather gussets on the bellows and clogging and eating up the pipes and just doing nothing good for any future music production needs. Now, you might think that you just head on down to your Super Wal-Mart and pick up a pipe organ set along with your jars of peaches and various lotions and creams, but the truth is, actual pipe organs – the real, full-on, giant cathedral church type with 100s of stops/notes – take YEARS to build, and the people of Trinity Wall Street wanted their organ back up and running. So, they did something rather risky and daring and cavalier and smacking in the face of conventional pipe organ world thinking: they went digital.
So now instead of actual pipes, each organ note in the Trinity organ corresponds to a single Definitive Technology Bipolar tower. There are like 76 tower speakers, each playing one organ stop. But, pipe organs are known for their mighty-mighty bass tones, and when it came to reproducing the lowest, loudest, deepest 30-foot tall pipe note, they found that the current Definitive sub – built for playing loud in a living room not a full-on church – wasn’t up to the challenge. According to the church’s music director, “We kept blowing them up.” (I’ve not doubt that Chet was steadily repairing them, wondering why all of these Signature Reference subs were suddenly coming back with vaporized voice coils.)
So, Definitive went back to the drawing board, cut this, pasted that, super-high-strength adhesived this, twice the drivers’d that, and voila! The Super Cube Trinity Signature whatchamacallit is born! The sub stands like a stalwart black mini-fridged bass sentinel, dolling out merciless bass to the tune of 128 dB at 20 Hz and 116 dB at 16 Hz. (That is tech-speak for frickin’ loud, bowel-liquefying output levels. But you know, in a good way. Can you say you’ve actually enjoyed any home theater presentation until it has brought you to the verge of nearly pooping yourself? I think not.)
And when you tell someone that story, I can assure you that they will listen with rapt attention. But, while you tell it, make sure that you let them just stand there; staring at it all imposing over in the corner – oh, yeah, that’s right, you’re wife is NEVER gonna be able to hide that thing, buddy! How’s got the frickin’ balls now, am I right?! – they look at it, captivated, their respect growing. Because, it IS a great story.
And then you throw in another little anecdote. About how the first one that you installed, when you went to demo the system for the owner, and you put on the end, big gunfight scene from Open Range in DTS, how he watched the whole like 10 minute scene without saying a word, and then when it was over, you tentatively turned to him and asked, “Well…?”
And he turns to you with a big, slow smile and says, “I go hunting. A lot. And I know what a shotgun sounds like. And THAT is what a shotgun sounds like. And I’ve never heard anything like that on anyone else’s system.”
Well, by this point, you barely even need to turn it on at all. Because it has reached mythical subwoofer proportions, and you’ve already validated it by owning it yourself, and your house isn’t as big as an entire church cathedral is it? But, of course, you do. Just ‘cause it’s so much fun.
Are there better subs in the world? Probably. I mean, you want to lend me your Black Card, I’ll buy either a JL Gotham (around $12 grand each) or that freakishly large, bass-death battle-in-the-octagon Paradigm Sub 2 beast that needs a dedicated 240-volt power line (around $9 grand). Sure those are probably better. Maybe a little quicker, little tighter, a nicer cabinet, less looking like a giant black-sock covered lump of rectangular mass. But at the $3000 that the Trinity costs, I challenge you to find a better performing sub. Plus, if you need more, just add another one; at $6000 you’ll still have money left over. And beyond that, I challenge you to find one with a better story…at ANY price.