The Internet has made the world a lot smaller. A wealth of information is at your fingertips and for those of us interested in hifi, a new shopping opportunity from our homes. Many people have purchased items online and have had no problems but there are a growing number that do have problems and have seen their hard-earned money go down the drain.
So what are the sorts of problems that can occur? One main issue is that of supply voltage. In Australia we have 240V and in most other parts of the world it is either 220V or 110V. Now virtually everyone would be aware that plugging an 110V device into 240V is a recipe for disaster so they take the route of buying a voltage down-converter. But you have to ask yourself, why are you buying high-end equipment only to run it at a lower performance level with a double power supply stage? This will not allow the unit to run at it’s full potential; you could have been better off buying a lower end model locally!
220V devices aren’t always smooth-sailing either. This is especially true for amplifiers and valve based equipment. Amps often run their power supplies near the maximum to obtain the most power possible, so any increase can cause damage; the same is true for valves, their high voltage supplies and heater elements are often not regulated, so increases in supply voltage can cause damage.
Radio tuning in both AM and FM bands are different in various countries, Japan has a reduced FM scale while the USA for example has different de-emphasis (resulting in a different tone) and FM/AM have different tuning steps that can make tuning stations difficult if not impossible. Watch out for new digital broadcasting standards as well, these can vary around the world.
DVD’s and computer games are not the same everywhere. Zones have been setup to protect copyright and now with Australia’s free-trade association with the USA, this may be more actively pursued in the future. DVD’s from other zones can have issues playing on local “Zone 4” DVD players. You would have to check with the manufacturer to see what the zone limitations are.
Online shops are a great way to buy products but be sure you know what you are getting. Many people have purchased products thinking they were new, however upon receiving the goods discovered they were reconditioned or used. Often accessories that are supplied locally are not in the box. I have heard stories of cameras without chargers or computer connections cables, these then had to be bought which then resulted in no cost saving at all, just a waste of time. Will the box you receive actually have anything in it at all?
Customs have been getting stricter on private imports over the last few years as well. They are well aware of the real cost of a product and can often spot a fake invoice, resulting in much wasted time and extra costs as you will have to pay the import duty, GST, handling fees and any fine yourself. You may even need to employ a customs agent to do the clearance for you.
Warranty is a common issue; many local agents will not cover warranty on products not purchased via their authorised channels. This is fair enough, quite often the manufacturers do not pay for warranty repairs, it is up to the importer to handle it, so why should they repair something for free when they never sold the unit in the first place? This means that if there is a problem you will have to pay to have it fixed or send it back to where you bought it from, both could be troublesome. Don’t forget that if a model is not a local version, spare parts may not be available!
Of course before you buy anything, you usually want to have a listen to it. Bit hard to do if nobody has the product in Australia. Well this is what will happen to some brands if people keep buying from overseas. Local importers and stockists just wont bother with a brand anymore and you will miss out completely. It is extremely unfair to spend a time in a store listening and evaluating a product, implying to the store that you will buy from them, then only to say thanks and buy it elsewhere.
So what makes hifi generally more expensive here in Australia anyway? A number of factors... Australia simply does not have the buying power as the USA or Europe does so the importers do not get as a big discount for buying in bulk. Shipping charges per unit will be higher as again there are less units sold here than in other countries. Our laws are stricter; more compliance is needed with local rules, adding an extra cost layer. Compared to the USA in particular, we have the GST.
Our stores in Australia tend to give a much better level of support, many are willing to do proper demos, offer customers units for in-home testing before they commit and very good product knowledge. They know what products work well with each other; compatibility is becoming an issue these days. This coupled with the ability to help locally with any issues or problems and system compatibility, you should really reconsider buy any hifi overseas.
Written by Leon Gross, originally published in Audio & Video Lifestyle magazine.
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