One of the ugly truths of consumer electronics is that stuff breaks. When we’re lucky, a malfunction occurs while the product is still under warranty. But what do those warranties actually cover, practically speaking? The following stories draw from my own personal experiences of how warranty repair in this modern world currently works. It isn’t quite as simple as it used to be, and sometimes you have to resort to non-traditional channels to get stuff fixed.
Tale One: The Topping EH5 Electrostatic Headphone Amplifier
I was sufficiently impressed with the pre-release information on the Topping EH5 electrostatic headphone amplifier that I ordered one as soon as it was announced on Apos Audio’s website. After two months of anxiously waiting, my unit arrived. It was among the first batch sent to customers and I was excited to have one in my hand. The component worked fine for about a month, being on 24/7… then one morning it was dead.
I contacted Apos Audio, and after a few emails back and forth that involved sending Apos a copy of my invoice along with a photo of the unit, the company sent me a USPS mailing label to return the Topping EH5 to their California warranty and replacement site. After a week a new EH5 arrived along with a bill for $9.95 for shipping. That outcome was, without question, acceptable and is something that most people likely could live with. This was, in my eyes, a total win.
Tale Two: The Topping A90 Discrete
I reviewed the Topping A90 Discrete recently here at FutureAudiophile.com. Since then, it had been in my reference, nearfield system serving as a preamplifier and headphone amplifier. As is my way, the Topping A90 Discrete remained on 24/7, nestled between a pair of Topping LA-90 amplifiers and Topping D-90SE DAC. One morning it displayed -5 or -S (impossible to tell from the front panel display’s LED configuration) and no longer responded to the remote control. I turned the component on and off several times, removed it from the system as well as let it sit overnight unplugged. The next day I tried it again and it was still broken. So I contacted Apos Audio’s customer service page on their website and filled out all the information required. After a couple of hours, I received a return email from Bob in customer service. He asked me to “Please try the following troubleshooting steps – Turn the device off, unplug the power cable for one minute, plug the power cable back in, and turn the device back on. Try the device using a different set of cables. Try the device with different input or output devices.” I responded that I had tried all those things, which resulted in quite a bit of silence from Bob.
Five days later, I resent my last response and also sent a copy of the email chain to my primary connection at Apos and waited on a response from someone. My contact told me he would try to expedite the process. After another five days I received a response from Bob: “I’d like to apologize for the late response. I’ve gone ahead and forwarded your warranty request with our Returns Team for assistance. Please bear with me and kindly wait for an email update as soon as I receive feedback.”
Finally, after another two days the Return Team sent me an email titled “Your return request has been approved,” along with a return postage label. I sent the unit back, and a three days later a new one arrived at my door. While in the end Apos made good on their warranty replacement, I hope that most Apos warranty repair experiences are more like the Topping EH5 replacement than this one. It should not require this amount of effort to be recognized and handled expeditiously by a manufacturer’s warranty system, but this was not my worst recent warranty experience.
Tale Three: Alogic Clarity 27-Inch 4K HDR Monitor
Alogic’s 4K monitor garnered glowing reviews from multiple trusted sources, so when my old Samsung monitor needed replacing, I bought one without much concern. My new window-on-the-world arrived in a well-designed box where all the components were isolated and partitioned in a hard-cell foam enclosures inside a sturdy clamshell shipping case. The owner experience was starting off quite nicely.
I set up the monitor and it looked great except for one nagging issue: there was a one pixel-wide green line running vertically near the center of the screen. Was it awful? No, but it was the sort of thing that once you see it, you can’t unsee. I expected better from a new monitor, so I contacted Alogic’s customer service via their website, explained the problem, and waited for a reply.
After a week of silence from Alogic, I reconnected with their website and sent a second customer service request. Once more the inquiry was met with silence. I was beginning to get mildly perturbed.
Two months later, programmatic ads for Alogic and Clarity products started to appear on my Facebook feed. Whenever I saw an Alogic ad I would add a comment that “Buying an Alogic product is just like buying used” (meaning no warranty support).
One day, out of the blue, I was Facebook messaged by Alogic after one of my comments inquiring as to what my issues were. I explained the problem and they put me in contact with their customer support Help Desk.
At first Alogic wanted me to send back my monitor before they would release a replacement. My response to that was, “That will not work for me. Here is what I want: I want to do it like Apple does. I will pay you for another monitor. Send me the new monitor. I will pack the defective on in the packaging and then you can have it picked up. When you receive it, you can credit me for the payment of the second monitor. That is how Apple does it. That is the way to do it and not leave the customer without a monitor.”
The email I received back said, “We understand your concern. We will provide you with an advance replacement of the Clarity Monitor. There is one small request, please send us detailed images of the monitor from all sides for warranty and replacement procedure. We are already readying the fresh unit dispatch, but these are needed urgently.” I sent them the pictures, and two weeks later a new monitor arrived. I swapped monitors, made sure the new one had no lines, packed the defective monitor in the box I just received, fished the return label out of the shipping pouch, applied it, and gave it to the next mail-carrier I saw. Repair completed, but did I really have to be such a nuisance to get support?
Never Forget That When It Comes to Consumer Electronics Warranty Repairs, Persistence Always Wins
My takeaway from my recent warranty repair experiences is that there is no substitute for relentless persistence. If you do not get the level of support that is needed to solve your warranty repair issues, the solution is to become a squeaky wheel. Email the company again and again. Call the company again and again. And if you get no satisfaction, a last resort is you can become the troll who always adds negative comments to all the ads or discussions about the manufacturer’s products. If you are a big enough pain in the ass, you will get a response. I draw inspiration from a story about the writer Harlan Ellison, who when a publisher did not respond to his multiple requests that cigarette ads be removed from his paperback reissues (as per his contract), he kept at it with letters, phone calls (this was an era that was pre-Internet), and eventually mailed a dead possum to the publisher. That finally got results.
While I don’t recommend sending dead marsupials to consumer electronics manufacturers, I do suggest that you stay all over them if you don’t get your fair value. Your ability to write a non-hyperbolic review (or two or three or four) that comes packing a well-earned one-star ranking will get their attention. Not every company views customer service like Apple or Lexus. Value the ones who do and hold the ones that are looking to dump questionably reliable product into the marketplace accountable. You will win either way.