Client needs and preferences [Installing Hi-Fi Systems (1960)]

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SEVERAL factors are involved in determining an individual client's needs and preferences concerning his hi-fi system. You may be able to sell him on something he doesn't need, but you'll have a terrible time selling him something he doesn't want. That his taste with regard to the sound he wants is primary, goes without saying. But almost as important is his taste regarding the appearance of the finished installation. Function and esthetics will not often mesh well without some careful fitting, and here is where your ingenuity will be required. You've got to come up with the answers within the limitations of the client's budget, space and taste. This is not always easy to accomplish.

Esthetics of appearance

The tremendous importance of styling and eye appeal to the salability of any product today is obvious to anyone dealing with the general public. That an item like a woman's blouse is sold primarily on the basis of style is news to no one. But for those of us in technical fields, it is still easy to forget the extent to which the purchaser of such a utilitarian object as an automobile is influenced by "sculptured metal" and "decorator-styled upholstery." Manufacturers of every household item from a toaster to an automatic washer spend millions on the superficial appearance of their products.

It is a safe bet that they do not do this capriciously, or with an altruistic desire to make the world a prettier place in which to live. They do it because they've found it sells merchandise. It turns out that a product that functions adequately and also looks attractive is easier to sell than one that functions just as well or even better, but lacks the attractive appearance (Fig. 201).

It is wise for anyone handling hi-fi installations to take serious note of this fact; many, perhaps most clients, will be just as concerned with the final appearance of the installation as with its performance. Since the enjoyment of hi-fi reproduction is primarily a recreational activity, the equipment is usually installed in living or recreational areas, where appearance counts heavily, whether the installation is commercial or residential. The operators of a restaurant, hotel or country club, in contracting for a commercial hi-fi installation, will be just as finicky about how the thing looks as the individual home owner.

That the total system presents a pleasing appearance becomes doubly important in view of its durability. It is going to be around far too long to be tolerated if it is ugly.

Understanding the client's tastes

People differ widely as to what they find pleasing to look at.

On the one hand, it would be pretty dull if they didn't, but on the other, this presents the installer with a considerable problem.

He already has a number of technical considerations to contend with to get optimum performance from the system. In addition, he's got to handle these questions within the framework of the client's taste as to appearance of the finished product.

So you've got to start by finding out how the client wants things to look. Your first tipoff will be the general type and style of furnishings he already has. You're certainly not going to suggest a French Provincial breakfront to house a system in an otherwise Modern room, or vice versa. Certainly, you also don't want to make the slightly less obvious mistake of recommending a Hepplewhite cabinet to go in a Directoire room. You are going to need at least a nodding familiarity with the more important furniture styles (these will be discussed in Section 10).

The client (and his wife), are likely to have a good bit to say as to what they want. The problem won't be getting them to talk--it will be to decipher what they mean from what they say.

The public, bless them, are our customers, and we are not going to knock them. However, many times, they don't entirely know what they are talking about. Just because somebody says he has American Colonial furniture, don't be sure it's not Georgian until you've seen it. His understanding of blonde color and yours may be quite different. His identification of cabinet woods may or may not be accurate.

Fig. 201. The bare speaker system (a). and its finished counter part (b). It is easy to see which one will have more sales appeal. (Stromberg-Carlson Co.)

It is wise to build up a small file of photographs or drawings of different furniture styles and designs to have handy when discussing this aspect with a client. You can save both yourself and the client much time and avoid misunderstanding if you're able to pull out a picture and ask him, "Is it like this?" It won't take a huge file to do the job. Two or three pictures each, of eight or ten major styles correctly identified, will pay you many times over for the slight expenditure of time it will take to assemble them.

From time to time, you'll come across timid souls who are afraid to tell you what they want or, perhaps, are unable to decide.

When you do, you have a problem because, obviously, you cannot find out what a person wants before he himself knows.

The best you can do with timid types is try to reassure them that they have a perfect right to like whatever they do, regardless of what you or anyone else thinks. And you are not fooling them one bit.

As for the chap who really doesn't know what he wants, if you can't get anywhere by showing him various things (trying to find one he likes), take the opposite approach. Try to find out what he does not like, and narrow the field that way. In any event, don't let this foggy fellow discourage you unduly. He's really the most difficult customer to deal with. Don't waste too much time on him until he has started to clear the haze in his own mind by himself.

Esthetics, and all that

Here we've been blithely using the word esthetics as if we knew it had the same meaning for both of us. More than likely, this isn't so. Therefore, it's up to us to clarify what we mean by it, at least for purposes of the present discussion. In the philosophical sense, of course, esthetics is the general study of the science of the beautiful in any or all situations or manifestations. Obviously, this is too broad a meaning for our immediate purposes. In the present instance, we use the word esthetics to mean the sum of the aspects of style, design and individual taste that add up to make a particular installation visually pleasing in its surroundings and to its owner.

To understand the esthetic preferences of your prospective clients well enough to work with them, you are going to need at least a smattering of design theory and to be on a first-name basis with at least a few styles of furniture and interior decor. You can work with someone whose taste agrees with your own, by feeling.

But the only way you can work with someone of differing taste is by applying knowledge.

Sections 10 and 11 provide the necessary basic information in the esthetic area, as well as some practical hints to its application.


It is not just difficult, it is impossible, to divorce esthetics and functionality in the case of a hi-fi installation. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the installation is placed in a living or recreational area where appearance is paramount, while at the same time the equipment being installed imposes certain requirements to function properly.

It is inevitable, then, that conflicts will arise between functional and esthetic considerations. The manner in which the installer handles these conflicts is critical to the client's eventual satisfaction and, therefore, requires careful judgment.

Fig. 202. Large speaker systems may require extensive furniture rearrangement. Bookshelf-size enclosures avoid this problem. (Allied Radio Corp.)

If you have a client who wants the sound of a pair of 15-inch woofers to emanate from a space the size of a water glass, you're in an impossible situation, and that's that. But fortunately, most esthetic vs. functional conflicts are susceptible to some sort of compromise solution that will be satisfactory all around, if you have the wit to think of it.

This brings us back again to your understanding of your client.

If you have asked him the right questions about how he wants to use his system, you will not only have a good deal of information to help you in suggesting solutions 'to conflicts of interest, but you should also be able to avoid a lot of problems before they ever get started.

For example, if a client has just redecorated at considerable expense, does a great deal of business entertaining and will use the system largely for background music to the clinking of high ball glasses, you'll likely suggest one of the more compact speakers rather than a bulky one (Figs. 202 and 203) that would be difficult to locate in the room without disturbing existing arrangements.

If he inquires about a larger reproducer, tell him that you aren't recommending one because there is no place to put it without upsetting the room, and he doesn't need anything bigger anyway.

Your conscience should be clear. Of course, you should be sure you haven't overlooked any possibility before making the recommendation.

Unfortunately, the function-vs-esthetic conflicts often cannot be entirely avoided. Then you have to sit down with the client and try to solve them.

Perhaps madam cannot understand why that big piece of cloth in front of the speaker cabinet can't be the same material as her drapes. The need for high-frequency transmission gives you a good answer -- use it; tactfully, of course. If she's still adamant, perhaps you can add a finished panel on the upper part of the baffle board, and bring the tweeter through that directly. Or maybe she will countenance some way of mounting the tweeter separately (Fig. 204).

You probably will not do yourself any good in the long run if you go along with an arrangement that is functionally really bad merely to make one sale, but don't try to be a complete purist about the sound, either. Remember, that unless this is strictly a music room, these folks are going to be using it for other purposes, too. After you've done your installation and gone, they have to live with it, so set things up to interfere as little as possible with other activities that go on in the room.

Here again, ask enough questions to get a reasonably clear idea of how the room is used and by whom before you make recommendations. If there are going to be small children toddling about the place a good deal, you may want to recommend that all controls be made inaccessible enough to discourage their interest completely. If teenagers will frequently roll up the rug and use the system for dance music, keep the system off the rug. If the lady of the house is totally uninterested in technical matters but will be the one who uses the system most, keep the controls as simple as possible. If one of the children likes to play rock-and-roll after dinner while Dad sits in his favorite chair to read the paper, see to it that the main speaker system is a good deal more than 6 inches from his left ear.

Fig. 203. Bookshelf-size enclosures can be incorporated in custom cabinet installations. (Acoustic Research, Inc.)

Another matter that occasionally requires attention is :he functional consideration of the client's physical condition. We once had an installation for a man who, while in good physical condition, happened to be both tall and heavy. It was a considerable effort for him to bend down to reach low controls. We set things up so that he could see and operate everything from a standing position. We'd hate to have to operate his system very much, it's too high for us, but it's fine for him. If we hadn't done it that way, he would have had a legitimate gripe.

------------- The grille cloth that is used may clash with the enclosure style or with the type of wood that is used. Also, it may not be in harmony with the style of adjacent decorative pieces or other furnishings. Finally, and possibly most important, the grille cloth may interfere with the high-frequency part of the sound. One solution is to mount the tweeter behind a small finished panel. Only the woofer is behind the cloth.

------------ Using a separately-mounted tweeter may reconcile the conflicting demands for good high-frequency transmission from the speaker and the decorative scheme of the room.

Fig. 204. If the grille cloth is acoustically bad, find a way to get the tweeter clear of it.

Very often, people of advanced years have the same trouble when it comes to bending over to reach controls. There is seldom good reason for them to have to, and it is up to you to see that they don't.

You'll be a lot less likely to overlook this consideration in the case of a person with a visible physical disability. It may take a bit of ingenuity to work things out so that he can operate his equipment with a minimum of inconvenience or discomfort (Fig. 205) but, if you don't have a little ingenuity, you should have stuck with servicing crystal sets, anyway.

Another fellow who needs special attention (and he'll ask for it), is the one who has no problem except a personal crochet of some sort. He insists on being able to operate his set from his easy chair, or he wants his controls on a panel that slants back because he is convinced this will somehow simplify his life. His whims may not seem particularly vital to you at first, but be assured--they are. The reasons he gives for wanting things a specific way may not have a basis in anything that remotely resembles logic, but again remember he's the one who will live with the installation. You cannot go along with something that will seriously detract from performance without endangering your own integrity and reputation, but other than that, he is entitled to whatever he wants.

Flexibility for future modification

Fairly often, the client contemplates some sort of future modification to his system at the time of the initial installation. If so, he is hardly likely to be in a position to specify to the installer the necessary technical provisions that should be made to facilitate these later modifications.

Whether specific later changes are in mind or not at the time of initial installation, it is up to the installer to suggest (in the light of his knowledge of equipment) such steps as seem advisable to protect the client from unnecessary complications if and when he decides to make changes.

More often than not, the installer who gives adequate thought to this question not only does his client a favor, but also himself.

If the purchaser is happy with the results of his original installation, you are likely to be called back to make any modifications he might want. At this point, you'll have to pick up where you left off.

Most modifications of earlier installations are going to be in the direction of expansion. This means additional components and is, therefore, not the sort of business you'll want to discourage.

Types of modifications

At the moment, the monophonic-to-stereo conversion is among the most important forms of system expansion, and will undoubtedly continue for some time. As of this writing, the most ...

Fig. 205. Arranging equipment for use by a prison zeal, a physical liability will require a little extra thought. (Heath Co.)

... commonly available stereo is in the form of discs. However, the rate of research and development in FM multiplex indicates that in a fairly short time, stereo broadcasts of this type will be regularly available.

An increasingly comprehensive library of stereo tapes is appearing, and a high percentage of the newer tape machines are equipped to play back stereo, if not record it. Thus, a thorough going stereo conversion can be a job of decidedly interesting magnitude.

The addition of signal sources that were not part of the original installation is another very common modification. Here, you're most likely to run into things such as adding radio to a phono only system, or adding tape to a radio-phono. On occasion, you'll get the job of piping TV audio into the system, or even arranging for audio to accompany home movies.

You can convert a monophonic system to stereo by adding the second channel--another preamp, amplifier and speaker system.

Then by this time you know the disadvantages. You have two of everything to adjust. You have to move leads around to reverse channels or phase, play mono material or play one channel through both amplifiers. Time you started looking for a way out! You won't have to look far. To cut down on the handling problem, try a stereo adapter. Several of these units are on the market.

Their cost--and what they can do--varies considerably, so decide which one gives you what you want commensurate with what you (or your customer) can afford to spend before you make any choice.

With any of these units hooked up the control problem is greatly simplified. Now you have but one volume control, and it regulates both amplifiers simultaneously and equally. You also get a balance control for matching the outputs so the output from both speakers is equal.

Some units (Fig. 206) provide for channel reversal, while others also include phase reversal. Best of all, some can be used as remote controls (attached by wire leads) that can be kept by the arm of a chair so you can adjust volume and balance from your favorite listening position.

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Well a little bad comes with the good. It bears an ugly name--insertion loss. Most adapters are passive units and resistances in these units can reduce the level of the signal passing through them--usually as much as 3 to 9 db. If the adapter you get cuts the signal level too much, you may have to keep your amplifiers' gain unreasonably high, introducing additional and unwanted distortion as well as lowering the signal-to noise ratio. Be sure the adapter you get is suited to the amplifiers.

Adapters come in many forms. Some are adapters and nothing more. Others are remote-control units as well, and one incorporates a preamp that is used for the second channel.

The enlargement of speaker systems can involve anything from the addition of a single tweeter to a complete replacement. Enlarged speaker systems, in most instances, involve enlarged cabinetry, and this in turn often raises space and placement problems.

You're not likely to get a 7-cubic-foot box in a space formerly occupied by a 2-footer. Or have you noticed this?

Fig. 206. Various stereo adapters can be used in different ways. A single adapter cannot be used in all the arrangements illustrated.

They are limited to one or two of those shown. (a) Between the cartridge and the preamps. (b) Between the preamps and the amplifiers. (c) With combinations (preamp and amplifier in one unit). Tape-output jack connects to tape-monitor jack. (d) Between the amplifiers and the speakers.

Running remote speakers to other rooms is a refinement that is becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason. Why not have your music follow you around the house if you choose? In most cases, the remote speaker systems will be considerably smaller than the main system. This is logical since they are not intended for the same kind of listening.

Advance electronic provisions for modification

Spare inputs on amplifier, preamplifier or tuner (whichever is the main control center for the system) are a must in providing in advance for future expansion of the system. This is seldom a problem, since these components are normally manufactured with enough spare inputs to accommodate any additional signal sources you're likely to want.

Reserve amplifier power to provide for future enlargement of the speaker system or the addition of remotes is not as easy. First, you have to decide how much reserve power you should provide, and then, you have the job of convincing the client that he ought to buy something that is bigger (and therefore more expensive) than what he needs at the moment. The mere suggestion of such an idea requires diplomacy, if he is not to get the idea that you are trying to raise the cost on him, and thus start to mistrust you entirely.

Straight AM-FM tuners do not differ in cost very much from the stereo models, so here you shouldn't have too much trouble.

In fact, soon you probably won't be able to find a new non-stereo AM-FM tuner, even if you want one. A majority of the current tuners also have inputs for FM multiplex.

With regard to changers, or turntables and arms, it is foolish to handle any equipment that isn't adaptable for stereo, whether it is going into an installation that is stereo initially or not.

Perhaps you should not give a man a stereo cartridge until he is ready for it, but give him a changer or transcription arm that is already wired for stereo. On tape machines, too, stick with the ones that offer a stereo playback, at least.

Fig. 207. If stereo installation is imminent, make things easier for yourself (and your customer) by placing the main monophonic speaker system in the position it will ultimately occupy as a stereo speaker. Placement of stereo speakers will vary with room shape and size and types of speakers used.

In connection with future modifications, there is another thing that many tend to forget when making an installation. If at some point you've got a nasty place to fish wiring through-a floor, a wall, or a ceiling perhaps--why not fish a spare pair through while you're at it? Then, if you ever have to come back again, you won't have that rotten job to do twice. There's more on this subject in Section 5.

Advance cabinet provisions for modification

First and foremost, the provision to make in a cabinet in allowing for future system expansion is some spare space. Empty space as such, however, is of no value unless it is placed and shaped so as to be usable.

The shape, location and access to a space intended for a future stereo tuner will not be the same as that required for a tape machine. Suppose your original installation includes stereo phono, tuner, preamplifier and amplifier. What is the next most likely step? Tape, of course! So, if you have left a full square yard of 1/4-inch control panel space, what earthly use is it going to be? As our British cousins would say, ruddy little.

By the same token, if you have enough space to garage a car, but it's at the bottom or the back, with nothing left on the control panel, what happens if the next logical step is to put in a tuner? No great acuity is required to see this kind of thing. The only trick is to remember it at the right time.

Another good thing to remember: never glue in control panels, record-player mounting boards or even internal mounting shelves for tuners or amplifiers. It's a devil of a job to get such things out once they've been glued in. You can very readily make a hopeless mess of the cabinet trying to do so, and it's unnecessary.

Screws will hold such parts admirably and are easy to remove.

Don't glue baffle boards or backs in speaker cabinets, either.

If you have a revision in the speaker system, chances are you'll have to make some new holes in the baffle board (try doing this without taking it out!). Even if there are no changes of the speaker system, grille cloth gets tired after a while. Try merely changing the grille cloth on a baffle board you've glued in. You'll never glue one again!

Advance room provisions for modification

As the installer of a hi-fi, there is not a great deal you can do in this department, but there is a little. How much you can do is largely dependent on how imminent modifications are at the time of original installation.

If at the time of installation of a monophonic setup, a stereo conversion is clearly intended within a few months, you might as well plan your stereo speaker placement now (Fig. 207) and put the speaker system that goes in initially as one side of the stereo arrangement. But if a stereo conversion is planned only for some vague and remote future time, you may as well arrange the best monophonic setup you can and not worry about the stereo. By the time you get back for the conversion, the room may well have been completely redecorated. Accessibility of controls is partly a matter of cabinet design and room placement.

When suggesting possible room locations for the operational parts, try to think ahead to what will happen to the convenience of operation as that control panel later gets filled up, or the storage compartment at the bottom of the cabinet becomes great with tape machine.

Explaining factors to the client

This is transparently one of the most important parts of any installation job for a simple reason. If the client does not under stand the various factors we've been discussing, then he doesn't understand what you are selling. If he doesn't understand what you're selling, he's not likely to buy.

Adequate explanations are particularly important in dealing with people who have never before had true hi-fi. They will have heard about hi-fi from a variety of sources. But without any first hand experience, they are bound to have a mixed bag of information and misinformation that will have to be sorted out and the waste matter disposed of.

You'll probably never get light on all of the curious dark superstitions held by some of your clients, but most of the more important ones will readily show themselves, like "Why do you have to play it so loud all the time?" or "I don't ever have to change a diamond needle?" Some of these superstitions are going to seem pretty ludicrous to the trained technician, but don't let the client know this. They are still a serious business to him until they have been dispelled and, you've been elected to do the job.

If he's been asking some particularly naive questions and seems inordinately blockheaded about understanding the answers, try thinking how unintelligent you might appear if asked to grapple with the technicalities of his field. This usually helps you to find a bit more patience.

There are also a few other questions you might usefully ask yourself. One is, have you adequately and correctly analyzed the client's situation? You should have checked this carefully before you opened your mouth in the first place. It is vitally important that he feel confident you know what you are talking about. Be sure you have taken all factors into account before you make recommendations, because nothing will shake his confidence faster than catching you seriously off base.

Have you sized up your man properly? Are you telling him about the things that interest him in a manner he can understand? Suppose you've got a fellow who knows nothing whatever about electronics, and cares even less? But he happens to know and appreciate music well. A big pitch about the difference in frequency response and distortion between hi-fi and non-hi-fi will pass by him. However, if you can show him that reeds will sound reedier, brasses brassier and strings stringier, he's more likely to be interested.

The fellow who will use a system primarily for background music while entertaining, and who neither knows nor cares about either the electronic or the artistic aspects of the performance, won't be impressed by either approach. But he might possibly he interested in its being simple to operate, that it requires little attention while running, and that he can expect a lot of running time before he'll need any servicing.

When you are proposing compromises with what you would consider an ideal system because of space, usage or esthetic reasons, be sure to tell him why. You don't want him to talk with a friend and get the idea that either you don't know what you are about, or are giving him a fast shuffle.

Again, the fellow whose system will be used to provide background music should have a changer, and it should not be difficult to show him why. For equally good reasons, the golden-eared musicologist should be strongly steered away from the changer. The installation decision When your explanations are completed and all questions answered, it is time for the decision. Bring him to it. As many sales have been lost by too much talking as by too little. There is certainly no rule you can go by as to when to stop the talk and close the deal. This is something that only experience can teach you, if you don't already know.

It is a good idea to sit down periodically and go over in your mind the jobs you got and the ones you didn't, and try to figure out why the results were as they were in each case. Gradually, you'll find that you are handling potential customers better and better, and what's more important, getting a higher percentage of the jobs you go after.

We will have more to say in Section 3 about the form the paperwork should take when completing a sale, but this will be from the point of view of avoiding legal problems. Regardless of the legal considerations of terms and conditions, you don't want any later confusions or misunderstandings about details and specifications, so get them all written down, dated and signed.

It's awfully easy to just plain forget, a month later, an exact detail like the color of a wood finish. It may seem so simple at the time as to be impossible to confuse, but don't you believe it. Both of you will have a lot of other things on your minds in the mean while. Play safe. Refer to a specific sample in writing, and both of you keep a copy. If any subsequent changes are made, write them down and attach them to the original specs. Nine times out of ten, these precautions will have been unnecessary but the tenth one could be a real bone-crusher.

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Updated: Saturday, 2022-04-23 19:47 PST