The recent closure (yet not, see bottom of this page for an update) of Canadian manufacturer Classé Audio, which had been owned by B&W since 2001, seems to have been the result of B&W having been purchased in 2016 by EVA Automation, whose founder and CEO—Gideon Yu—is a finance specialist rather than a hi-fi specialist (he was once Chief Financial Officer at Facebook).
I can’t say I was particularly surprised by this turn of events, because I had always thought that Classé was a strange purchase for B&W, even as far back as 2001. At the time, I thought that B&W was throwing a life-line to a struggling company partly because of the high quality of its products, but mostly because B&W’s then-president, Joe Atkins (who was Canadian), was trying to help out a fellow Canadian.
After having had two years to look at the books and investigate the hi-end audio market, Yu (who isn’t a Canadian!) obviously decided Classé was not a good fit for the organisation and pulled the plug. To his credit, Yu committed to honouring all existing warranties and has promised on-going service support for all owners of Classé products… but also, rather curiously, has not ruled out building further Classé products.
I was motivated to write about this as the result of a recent experience shared with me by one of Australian Hi-Fi magazine’s newest readers, who recently immigrated to Australia from Europe, bringing with him his high-end audio system. He’d made contact because his amplifier had ceased working and he was having problems getting it repaired because the European manufacturer (a boutique outfit whose products have never been available in Australia) not only refused to supply the schematics and circuit diagrams for the amplifier in question, but also advised that neither would it supply the parts necessary for the repair even if these were ordered. This made it impossible for the local firm tasked by our reader with repairing the amplifier (a very well-known repair firm, with more than 40 years of experience repairing high-end audio components) to repair it. The European manufacturer’s suggestion was that our reader should pay it to repair the amplifier, as well as all the freight costs of shipping the amplifier to Europe and back.
What was already a complicated issue was complicated further by the fact that the repair company had in good faith undertaken to repair the amplifier and had done considerable work on it, for which it quite understandably expected to be reimbursed.
I’d like to suggest that this is a rare occurrence, but unfortunately it’s not. My experience is that many small high-end audio manufacturers refuse to supply circuit diagrams and/or parts—not only to individual repairers, but also sometimes even to their official Australian distributors.
To make things even harder, manufacturers who do this often remove part numbers from internal components, so they can’t be identified. Why would they do this? One reason might be that they don’t want anyone to copy their designs. Another might be that they’ve copied someone else’s design and don’t want to be found out. Either way, it’s a problem.
The solution? The only practical one I can think of is that all high-end hi-fi manufacturers should offer extended warranty periods. After all, if Bryston (co-incidentally a Canadian manufacturer) can offer 20-year warranties on its amplifiers, why can’t everyone? And if you can think of another solution, I look forward to reading your email! # greg borrowman [firstname.lastname@example.org]
UPDATE: In 2018, months after this story was published, Sound United purchased Classé from EVA Automation and moved the company from the USA to Montreal, Canada. Sound United is the parent company for Denon, Marantz, Polk Audio, Definitive Technology, Polk BOOM, HEOS, and Boston Acoustics. You can find more information HERE