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Positive Feedback ISSUE 45
september/october 2009


Belly Up to the Sidebar: Usher in the speakers
by Mike Rodman


In the main story to this sidebar, I wrote that I spent more than a decade in the electronics business; I also said it doesn't make my opinion more valuable than yours. But it's not like I worked all those years and learned nothing. And my particular area of expertise? Predicting the success or failure of new product categories in the general marketplace. I've written enough in these pages about my own failures in life, so hopefully you won't doubt a few examples of what I just claimed:

a) It took me 30 seconds of listening to the first Walkman I ever saw (initially called a Round-About, or something like that), until I looked at the sales rep and asked how many I could order.

b) When I first heard about SACD and DVD-A early this decade, I couldn't stop rolling my eyes. I'm not talking about quality here—I'm sure they sound great, but that has nothing to do with a general marketplace the Japanese have never fully understood. For instance, seen any Betamax VCRs lately? It was the far better format compared to VHS, but again, Sony didn't understand the marketplace and gave away their inferior design, which other companies used for a market penetration in the millions, while Beta went the way of the Lindy. In a near-parallel proposition was SACD and DVD-A—but worse: Instead of just competing against each other, they also had to compete with other established formats too. If I added some inside-baseball about how Japanese factories mesh with the marketing side (they're just boxes, folks) and why nobody I knew was going to duplicate their CD collection, having done that once from LPs, I'd have enough for a decent piece. So I wrote a "query" (writing lingo for a story proposal... please don't ask me why) to the editor of a magazine that rhymes with "Stereophile." I included my background in both writing and electronics, and figured they'd love to print an informed opinion that might save a hobbyist or two some money. But for the first time in my writing life, I never heard back—not even with follow-up phone calls. My take? The magazine was more interested in leading cheers for a new way readers could waste their money. But that doesn't change what I knew would happen—and has.

c) When I first heard about satellite radio, I flipped (well, flip insofar as it applies to an overweight guy in his 50s with enough anatomical problems that an orthopedic surgeon could retire on my body alone). My only hesitation was the competing companies, XM and Sirius. So this one got a thumbs-up with an asterisk—and the jury is still out. But it was this particular product that leads us to the Usher speakers I was able to buy brand, spanking new.

I was talking to my wife, Nancy, during satellite radio's infancy (pre-dating iPods) and saying what a great product this could be; how it could appeal to nearly everyone. She asked a variety of questions in the following days, which was a little strange because she had never shown any interest in gear—interest in music, yes; but gear, not at all. What she really wanted to know was which one I thought would be the first to succeed: XM or Sirius. So I made a call to a friend in the car stereo business and asked which company had the leg-up on deals with auto manufacturers. He said XM, so I felt pretty comfortable predicting XM as the leader out-of-the-gate. And when my birthday came the next month, I finally realized why she was so interested: My present was 100 shares of XM stock.

Nancy knows a lot more about the stock market than I do (not a giant compliment—so does an armadillo), but she bought that stock at $4/share and watched my shock as it climbed to $28/share in virtually no time. After it seemed to level-off at that price, I asked her if I could sell it, to buy the Usher speakers. She said it was mine to do as I wish. (How I got to deserve this woman is absolutely beyond both me and those who know me... but Pluto's not a planet anymore either).

And that's how a long-time audiophile determined to get something good on the cheap wound up with new speakers that cost somewhere north of $2,000. And you know what? I could live with them the rest of my life—and likewise for the person who made obtaining them possible.

Mike Rodman, an Associate Editor for Positive Feedback Online, is a free-lance writer and author who lives in Fayetteville, Ark. He can be reached at: