The Ups and Downs of Being an Audiophile Whale Customer

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Las Vegas is the undisputed gambling mecca in the United States and perhaps the world. Home to casinos galore, breathtaking hotels, entertainment of all varieties and even a surprising amount of debauchery, Vegas is a gambler’s paradise. Catering to all manner of client wealth, there is a term for that rare breed of visitor who casually tosses around hundreds of thousands of dollars as if it were throwing a quarter in a wishing well. They are treated basically as royalty receiving private jets for round trip travel. They get gigantic penthouse suites, limos at their beckon call for local sojourns, in-room or gourmet dining at any location they desire (including the strip-mall based Lotus of Siam which our publisher says is the best Thai restaurant with foodies in North America). Almost any luxury is provided and almost always, at no charge, so long as high stakes gambling is taking place on any given “hosted” Vegas trip. The book Whale Hunt In The Desert: Secrets of a Vegas Super Host (buy at Amazon) is a great look and a very fun read into this gaudy world of high rollers in the city of sin from the perspective of Steve Cyr, who is the pioneering casino host who brought the concept of modern casino hosting to The Mirage Hotel (wikiwhen it opened in the late 1980s. 

Lotus of Siam for a CES Vegas trip
Lotus of Siam is considered to be the best Northern Thai restaurant in North America and it attracts many Las Vegas “whales” despite its original strip mall location

While being a Vegas whale sounds glamourous, it really isn’t – nor is being a Casino Host. As a best friend of mine and Vegas resident notes “multi-billion dollar hotels are not being built out here because people win money.” There is always a price for being a whale and he is right. 

The audiophile world has its own version of a whale. While not afforded the same, glorious perks of a Las Vegas high roller, such audiophile clientele do receive an additional level of customer service not always afforded to the standard client who might not have a six-figure spending track record with the AV retailer

One thing that whales get out of the box are discounts on audiophile gear. Because of the volume of money being spent and level/volume of equipment purchased, audiophile whales will very likely receive a bigger percentage discount than someone making a one-time, audio component purchase. They will also receive a more hands-on attention from said dealer. Accommodations like free loaner gear, free delivery and setup, first crack at new, hard-to-get components and in general, a level of service before and after the sale not afforded to all customers.

Such luxuries do seem fair and reasonable if I’m going to spend $500,000, $750,000 or even the unfathomable seven-figure sum of money on a stereo system. Believe it or not, there are more half million dollar and up systems out there than one might realize. These clients can pay the overhead, floor audiophile products and make your year in terms of sales goals with your key brands sold in any given audiophile store. The whale benefits but so does the retailer. 

Bowers & Wilkins 801s
Bowers & Wilkins 801 Diamond S4 in a sweet, minimalist installation – very suitable for an audiophile whale…

One pitfall that I have experienced is when an audiophile dealer who purports to be your friend really isn’t.They may call and invite you to tasty meals, special events or even to their home for social gatherings. They may buy you a birthday present or a nice-something for your significant other during the holidays. Sales 101 teaches us such practices are called customer entertainment (and are limited to a write off of $75 by the IRS but these gifts rarely fall into that low standard). Much like a casino host isn’t your friend, be weary of the dealer who acts that way. He or she needs to make their monthly number just like a Vegas Casino Host needs to justify the fuel cost on the G-650. While it is easy to forget, these relationships are business ones first. Perhaps, they can morph into a personal friendship but be weary of that concept to avoid a personal disappointment.  

Because such buyers possess the rare ability to write large checks, some dealers will be constantly calling with enticing upgrades and other services perhaps not especially needed or wanted. An audiophile whale should expect to be flooded with offers for the services of various industry professionals who (can and do) come to your home to zero-in speaker placement and room acoustics. This type of dealer will reserve their most dedicated efforts to separate you from your money for new audio related purchases. 

Suppose your amplifier is made in some foreign country by a company claiming to be the world’s best. For this amp you paid upwards of say $150,000 to purchase and you have been fabulously marveling at its performance for several years. Suddenly, this manufacture in this foreign land predictably introduces a new, better and upgraded version. This new amp has more bells and whistles, better performance specs and the dealer is calling you constantly extoling the new amp’s virtues – oh my, the sound, you’re frequently told. You keep telling the dealer you are happy with your current amp but to no avail. The calls for you to upgrade continue. 

Is this a dealer with whom you really want to do business with? Are they motivated to improve your system’s performance and quality of sonics, as you are likely told, or are they after you to write yet another large check? And if you enjoyed a recent meal or some other social outing with this purported friend/dealer, was that free lunch really free? 

The Las Vegas Skyline
Many in the audiophile industry miss the start-the-year excitement of CES which no longer hosts the audiophile community.

There is a perceptibly noticeable difference in a good dealer and one who does not have your best interest at heart. A good audiophile dealer is one who works with you, answers questions, makes reasonable recommendations and if you are asking for something that doesn’t make good sonic or financial sense, will tell you so. A good dealer will tell you your system sounds fantastic and if or when you become interested in an upgrade, by all means call them – and then mostly leave you alone. No audiophile should be constantly berated with pressure to upgrade because of financial wherewithal. 

There is also an end of the journey in all of this audio gear for even the most advanced, well-heeled audiophile. At some point, every one of us will find that undeniable sound, the one that really speaks to us personally. When we settle into the listening chair, either alone or with someone to share music with, we are captivated, enthralled and perfectly content. There is no rule stating you have to spend all of your money for the rest of your life chasing audio perfection mainly because there is no such thing. If you love your audiophile system, then it is good. Period. 

In my view, a dealer should be a trusted voice of professionalism. Someone who will further your audio journey and fairly and honestly endeavor to improve this hobby you have chosen. It needs to be also said this is a hobby. From a customer perspective, high performance audio should be about having FUN!

Very high dollar customer/dealer relationships are tenuous at best. Most consumers will contact a variety of dealers in the inestimable search for better pricing. It should also be noted loyalty is a two way street. In order to be treated as a preferred customer, one needs to conduct their business affairs as a preferred customer. Doing so, however, may lead to the consumer being perceived as an unending source of income and not a friend to be taken care of because of personal relationships. It is completely fair to set a dealer’s expectations for what you are interested in buying as well as the things that you are not going to spend on. Clear communications with them is very important to keep the relationship healthy. 

Being an audiophile whale has certain, indisputable advantages that I have benefited from in my decades in the hobby but know said perks are not always free. As an audiophile, as a customer, as the person writing the check, it is important to know where you stand. If you aren’t a whale, having some level of a spend at one of your local dealers will get you perks too. If you bought a nice amp from one dealer and your speakers from another, both will likely treat you quite well. If you are the audiophile who kicks tires and says “I need to ask my wife” before he buys a new pair of speakers, expect less than VIP benefits. 

In the end and just like in Vegas, you need to know your limitations as at the very high end of the hobby (just like at a premium Vegas casino) you are going to get some pretty amazing perks for spending like a player. They also come with a price and as long as both parties know the rules of engagement, things will work out just fine for you, for the dealer and most importantly – for your audiophile system. 


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Michael Zisserson

Sounds like money brings some very real problems. Must be extremely difficult. Those poor, poor whales. On the flip-side, my filthy-unwashed behind has always been very welcome by dealers, even if I am spending but a pittance.

Mark Alfson

I drive a Honda Accord. I’m clearly not a whale. But I can see how a relationship between a whale and a salesperson could easily go wrong.

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