Knock It Off!

by Baker Lee
in FOH at Large
Illustration by Andy Au
Illustration by Andy Au

Recently, I was approached by one of the better audio engineers with whom I work, and he was excitedly and earnestly trying to interest me in some Chinese knock-off audio gear. He informed me that he received the information from another reliable and well known engineer who has used the gear and wholeheartedly vouches for the same. He showed me photographs of amps and speakers that appeared to be from top name brand producers that looked just like the real thing. Lab.gruppen amps, L-Acoustics and d&b speaker knock-offs were all on display at a fraction of the cost of the real brand name gear. For a mere seven thousand dollars I could be the proud owner of four brand new L-Acoustics ARC knock-off speakers with Lab.gruppen knock-off power amps and, as everyone knows, this is a deal, considering what the real gear sells for new.

 

Of course, my curiosity was aroused, but I let the engineer know that I needed to think about the proposition. After all, the price might be right, but then said gear needs to be shipped from China and, despite the good looks of the equipment, there would be no warranty to guarantee any of the pieces. Okay, maybe I’m being overly skeptical and, in the best-case scenario, let’s assume there would be a warranty. Even if the company offers the insurance for the equipment, there would be no tech support or replacement parts closer than 10,000 miles away, unless the company in question has opened a knock-off store in the U.S. Persisting in his pitch for the gear, the engineer let me know that there are companies in Miami using full knock-off rigs from China who swear by the equipment that they have received. While I am of the mindset to never use knock-off equipment, I let the engineer know that I would give the idea some thought since I am intrigued by the idea that there might be companies competing in the market with a leg up on gear.

‡‡         A Genuine Downside

Just a few thoughts regarding knock-off gear. Some time ago, I did an event for a well-known country star and, while the event was on the small side, considering the performer’s stature in the industry, it was imperative that the artist sound great. The artist’s engineer requested Meyer UM1 boxes, so I made a call to fairly well-known audio vendor and ordered the equipment. Everything was fine until the engineer, who was also a Meyer representative, fired up the boxes and complained to me that they did not sound like any Meyer boxes with which he was familiar.

I called the company that rented me the gear and quizzed them about the speakers and processor. In our conversation they finally admitted that the boxes and the processor were indeed made by Meyer, but that they had changed the speakers and internal processing to their own “proprietary” brand. Being that it was too late to get a real Meyer system in place, the show went on with the proprietary system, but it was embarrassing, to say the least, and the client certainly did not want to pay genuine Meyer prices for a “proprietary” system.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that the technology has improved and, for all intents and purposes, the knock-offs made in China sound exactly like the real equipment they are modeled after. As a reputable company, how can you then advertise your inventory? If the equipment is advertised as the real brand name, it would then be considered fraud, which would then leave the company open to lawsuits from clients and from the manufacturers as well. False advertising would also be considered theft of an intellectual property, which is a serious problem, since each brand name carries with it a certain association with quality and performance.

Would it work to advertise the gear as “just as good as the real thing?” I think not. Granted, while most clients who are looking for specific gear would not settle for a knock-off piece, there are those people that either don’t know or care about the ramifications who might invest in knock-off gear. This then affects the rest of the competing audio companies with large investments in brand name equipment, since the knock-off company can easily undersell them without the fear of losing on their investment or paying off a large lease.

‡‡         Counterfeiting = Theft

To be very clear on the matter; counterfeiting is stealing! One must consider that, while there is a high price to be paid for the most popular and efficient gear, it is a cost that includes such things as the research and advertising to build a successful brand. Counterfeit audio gear is no different than the bogus bags, CDs, DVDs or watches that are constantly hawked online and in tourist destinations. While it might be a financially tempting idea to get involved in the knock-off market, I would venture to say that, in the long run, it is a losing proposition, and a bad idea for individual companies and the live audio industry.

Counterfeiting audio gear is a very profitable business, and with the use of the internet, counterfeiters have created sophisticated distribution systems that have made it exceedingly difficult to trace the equipment back to the original source. While the top brand names in audio can be strong competitors in the marketplace they have also not hesitated to protect their properties and to band together in an effort to crack down on knock-off equipment and the people who make it.

In 2010, many top audio manufacturers stood together and effectively shut down a huge counterfeiting in Southern China. It was a start, but because of such a lucrative market, the shuttering of one plant only leads to two more factories opening elsewhere. Despite newer and more refined methods of going after the counterfeiters, it is still a daunting and almost impossible task to eradicate these imitations. It therefore becomes the responsibility of the consumer to be savvy enough to resist the temptation of the promised savings and to avoid supporting the knock-offs that are ultimately a detriment to all of us in the audio industry.

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