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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Martin Logan now on the $1 menu

Posted on May 9, 2010 at 3:35 PM

The Bible has a verse in Ecclesiastes that says that the day of one’s death is better than the day of his birth, meaning that when you die, you have built a name for yourself and that people truly know what sort of person you were.


It’s really no different for a company. It takes *years* to build and establish your name, brand and reputation. For example, Lamborghini used to by synonymous with “that Italian guy that makes tractors.” He didn’t just build one or two race cars and suddenly become known as that Lamborghini. And Apple didn’t just become Apple. It took years, and many, many products (and Steve Jobs firm but fair and awesome sense of design and style) for the name Apple to mean what it does. If the Astros or Padres should win the World Series this year (and the world doesn’t stop spinning in shock) that one victory will not suddenly give them Yankee-like cred. One watch does not make you the next Rolex, one good wine not the next Chateau Petrus, one hit song not the next U2.


So, when a company that has spent so much time developing themselves as a luxury brand decides to basically reverse direction and come out with something that is just another product, it is always a little surprisingly. Now a little swimming downstream is normal in this economy, but I’m not talking about just a little swimming, say like BMW coming out with a 1-series or Bowers & Wilkins starting a headphone line. I’m talking about shaving down your body, kicking with a vigor that would shame Michael Phelps and then getting out of the water, putting on running shoes, and *sprinting* downstream to go from luxury to economy.


This is exactly what I thought when I read about Martin Logan’s new Motion Series loudspeakers.


Now, if you’ve never heard of Martin Logan, they are (were?) a luxury speaker manufacturer that made electrostatic loudspeakers that sold for upwards of $30,000 a pair. These speakers not only sounded magical – especially when listening to complex jazz, classical piano or any female vocals – they also looked beautiful, more resembling pieces of modern art than loudspeakers. The speakers usually stand about 5-feet tall, and are about 2-inches thin, with the electrostat’s translucent diaphragm encased in a perforated metal grill and surrounded by rare and exotic woods. An attorney friend of mine had a pair of Statements that sat on either side of some original Andy Warhol art, and I couldn’t say which was more interesting. To say that I’m a big fan of Martin wouldn't be an understatement.


These speakers are normally sold in small, boutique shops in parts of town where one could easily purchase from a generous selection of $1000 fountain pens or $300 pairs of cufflinks. Martin speakers are generally auditioned alongside equipment of similar caliber like Krell, Conrad Johnson, Classe, etc. in a store where you are typically led to a private listening salon, sat into baby-skin smooth Italian leather furniture, and then played music on a rig that probably cost more than your first home. A place where it is not only acceptable but expected that you will bring your own vinyl to demo and then sit quietly with your eyes closed appreciating the entire movement.


(My favorite Martin Logan dealer experience is at Reed Brothers in Charleston, SC. This store is SO unusual, that the first time I went in, I told my wife that if I didn’t come out in 20 minutes to call the police. The only way to describe Reed Brothers is to picture a father on his deathbed talking to his sons. “I want you to work together.” “But dad, you know that I love carpets and rugs and fabrics.” “And dad, you know how I love high-end audio.” “Enough! I don’t care what it is that you boys do, but you will do it together! Now promise me!” So, you enter Reed Brothers and you are instantly transported into a Middle Eastern carpet bazaar. There are rugs and tapestries hanging everywhere, and bolts of fabric you wind around. Then on the wall over a door is a very tacky hand drawn cardboard sign that says “To Audio” with an arrow pointing to the left. Follow that, and you eventually make your way to the audio demo room, where you find quite a few Martin Logan electrostats on display.)


So, when a company that has an air of exclusivity and performance and luxury comes out with a traditional-looking, micro-bookshelf speaker that is sold at for $199, I find it more than just a little surprising. Like Rolex making a $50 watch to compete with Swatch. Or Brioni coming out with a line of $25 khakis that you can pick up at Target or the new Prada flip-flops at Wal-mart. Or Chateau Lafitte producing a “very drinkable” box wine.


Now, I’m not saying that these might not be *great* speakers. In fact they actually have a VERY favorable review that you can read here. I’m just saying that doing this totally dilutes the main brand. Why not create a new division? Something cool and hip like “ML” or just “Logan” but *anything* that differentiates the new cheaper, widely available product from the main line you’ve worked so hard to establish.


A luxury brand has a marquee value to ownership that comes in large part to the exclusivity. Ferraris are so cool partly because you don’t see them that often and because *every* Ferrari is something awesome. Thus when someone says “I own a Ferrari” you instantly know that he’s talking about something that is exotic and somewhat rare, and you’re not wondering, “Hmmm, I wonder if he means that 4-door econo-commuter Ferrari?” A big part of the allure to owning a luxury product is that it grants membership into an exclusive club. And when club entrance is affordable and attainable by everyone, being a member becomes significantly less desirable.

Categories: May 2010, Electronics, Rants

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