Planning on starting a HI-FI audio business. Need advice.

Thread Starter

coinmaster

Joined Dec 24, 2015
502
Long story short I've spent the last few years designing HI-FI audio equipment and the end result is that I have product that sound better than anything I've ever heard at any price that won't cost an arm and a leg to make.

The extent of my R&D extends between amps, dacs, and driver technologies. Everything I design is conceptually unique and I have several patentable designs.
The entire reason I decided to go down this path of R&D is because I noticed after modding some amps I had that they sounded better than anything on the market that I heard at the time, vastly better. Then I went all out and spent years learning and developing to create the "ultimate" system.

It was originally just about my own end-enjoyment but after attending some Canjam events I realized my stuff was laughably better and that it would be a crime if I did not make a business out of it.

Now onto the problems, I've been in poverty for over a decade. Someone in New York was so impressed by my designs that he has been partially sponsoring my R&D and in return I would make him my best design, but I reached a point where I felt I could not take his money any longer without feeling like I was going to owe this guy forever.
His assistance has allowed me to jump start things to where I could not have done previously, now I have a fighting chance.

I have been avoiding things like kickstarter and similar investor type approaches because I fear it will work too well. I don't need to be pressured by outside sources when I haven't finished R&D yet. Theoretically, as soon as I start my business I will no longer be able to continue R&D, I have no connections to anyone interested in helping and therefore I am alone. This means I have to finish R&D first, at this rate if I'm lucky it will be another year, if I'm not several years. There shear amount of variables I have to take in every day is overwhelming considering that I have somewhere over 2 dozen designs and subcircuits to optimize, the thought process has been nearly a full time job in itself.

I would kill for an engineering partner but obviously I cannot pay them and I'm afraid of them stealing my ideas, there's nothing normal about my designs, it took countless hours and a lot of creativity to come up with them, the last thing I need is some guy ripping me off.

Inviting someone trustworthy to assist me for free that is genuinely interested in an audio design would be ideal but...yeah.
Through this journey I've been learning electronic theory as needed, not as an academic whole in order to increase efficiency. There are a lot of holes in my knowledge which slows down the whole process when I step outside my bubble of expertise and my knowledge of digital electronics is laughable even though I 100% need to learn it (not likely) or find someone who is competent in it because dac design has become an integral part of my design system.
I'm currently using third party DACs with my own analog stages but that can't last.

I haven't even gotten into the business challenges yet but that is something I won't even think too much about yet, I've got my hands full as it is.
Got any advice for me?
Anyone near Farmington, Connecticut want to join up and not rip me off? :)
 

Papabravo

Joined Feb 24, 2006
12,702
As a solo practitioner you are worried about certain things that are common to your situation. Problem is you are not worried about the things that will affect a startup business. I see zero chances of success until you stop thinking like an inventor and start thinking like a businessman. I know you are strongly tempted to do this, but trust me -- you do not have the skillset or the mindset to succeed.
 

Thread Starter

coinmaster

Joined Dec 24, 2015
502
Nonsense, product design is my only advantage. I can't just abandon the only thing that makes me better than the competition.
I mean sure my stuff already sounds better but there's so much more to be done. The more of a bang I make when I come out the more attention I will garner.
I understand I can't start a business until I start thinking like a business man, but I'm simply not ready to shift into "business" mode yet. I'm so confident in my designs that I have no concern about garnering funds and attention when I do enter "business" mode.
I guess what I really should be asking is, what is a practical way to find an engineering partner, because that is really what I need.
 

bogosort

Joined Sep 24, 2011
428
I totally agree with Papabravo. Furthermore, I have no doubt that you honestly believe your audio designs are revolutionary and truly superior sounding, but how seriously have you challenged this notion? You need to think about this like a business person. Audio is one of the oldest applications in electronics -- there are no more low-hanging fruits. Even if your designs are somehow unique enough to be patent-worthy, you won't have the capital to actively defend the patents. If they truly do sound as good as you think they do, the minute they hit the market they will be reverse-engineered and stolen. (Potting and other such obfuscations won't stop IP theft.)

Consider manufacturing and distribution costs. How much will it cost you to manufacture these golden circuits with carefully matched components? Will you be hand-assembling a hundred of these a year, or outsourcing production to a Chinese factory? Who's your target market, and how many do you need to sell before you lose your shirt? What are you going to do about stocking inventory? Who is going to distribute the products? Who is going to handle customer support, returns, lost shipments, etc.?

Audio is a brutal business if you have the infrastructure; it's misery if you don't.

Maybe you just want to be a micro-boutique shop, and sell a couple dozen units a year at exorbitant prices to the most demanding audiophiles. That's do-able without much infrastructure, but even then, are your designs truly that much better? Have you ABX tested with friends whose ears you trust? Do other people agree with you? Have you performed serious analysis that definitively shows superior performance (lower noise, lower THD, etc.)? If not, why should anyone take a chance on your expensive product line?

Here's an alternative, take it for what you will. Instead of trying to start a company from scratch, start a blog about audio design. Throw in some of your design ideas and let the world have them for free. Write often and convincingly about what's good and what's bad about various design choices. Maybe even sell kits. If your ideas are indeed that good, you'll become known as an expert. You can become a consultant, or get hired outright by a big name company in the biz.

In either case, best of luck.
 

crutschow

Joined Mar 14, 2008
23,798
I have serious doubts that you audio amplifier design is that much better than the best that's out there.
The best are essentially devoid of any appreciable distortion or noise so how can you improve on that?
What is your criteria?
Any objective measurements or just your "Golden Ear"?
You need to do some blind (no one listening knows which amp is powering the speakers) A-B testing of your design against the best and see how many think yours is the better one.
 

takao21203

Joined Apr 28, 2012
3,696
There is a market for parts, you need to research them properly, describe them, import them, pack them up.
People need quite expensive capacitors and other parts, transformers, tubes, and all that.

If you just want to R&D some exotic pieces you maybe only sell a few over some months.

You might be good at R&D but not so good at logistics or even so, not really enjoying it doing it some hours every day.
Also you may not like to have parts around you all the time for months or even years, boxes everywhere. Or you need to hire storage
which adds fixed costs you need to make as profits just to break even.

Most specialized business after some time find it difficult. You may experience problems you havent been thinking of, like
others start selling same thing cheaper, returns and customer fraud, quality issues with parts, inventory piling up and not selling or too slow.
You make some projection but then theres additional costs of sales, this could be 10 or 20 percent, you may depend on exchange rates which may progress the one way or the other. If you take overdrafts and credit consider you may be stuck with several thousands and paying just the interest on the sum for some years after that still same debt.

I have been processing and trading hundreds of kilogram old parts from decommissioned production lines, its just too expensive for them to describe itemize and ship these old parts. They dont have the infrastructure for it. From my experience with these parts, including kinds of capacitors used for audio, I gathered a lot of knowledge, and researched. And started to purchase some parts off shelf + distributing them.

So I have many parts and cashflow every day but it is an awful lot of work just on the laptop to itemize all the stuff. To check pricing on the market, to source parts. Ive found I need to work on each item very hard or they just dont sell, typically theres always some not selling, which then need to be cleared out.

Economy these days is bad, stagnant in many countries, people dont have so much money.

Do a good research of the market first, knowledge of items, pricing, how many sellers, how much is sold over a period of time, sources to buy.

I would kill for an engineering partner but obviously I cannot pay them and I'm afraid of them stealing my ideas, there's nothing normal about my designs, it took countless hours and a lot of creativity to come up with them, the last thing I need is some guy ripping me off
pretty much you line it out already.

Can not pay them - there will not be people lining up for this
Stealing your ideas - this is inevitable
Nothing normal about my designs - Are there buyers or potential buyers?
some guy ripping me off - Theres hostile takeovers even for large companies how can you expect immunity

From my experience, I sell DIY kits for soldering, theres good demand for all kinds of them if the price is not inflated. Almost everything will sell, even the most simple LED blink and LM317 tiny boards. Since I correct quality issues, supply missing parts, add own parts to some, I am able to keep selling them for some years.

Consider what is your product or products at first. Is it new and nobody has them or a variation what they already sell or just resale from distributor/import to end customer.

Also I can tell you if you just have one product line and demand drops you get a problem. Not sure if you can think of or maintain several product lines.

To get advice you should give more information here on the forum. It is not full of vultures just waiting to rip you off but if theres some novelty idea sooner or later it will be copied. Thats normal.

Recently I sold some amount of 600 grams connector parts plastic shells and obscure pieces in bags, someone bought them for model making! They have been around for 2 years or so and too much work to look up and describe. Sure many things could be marketed differently and again or for the first time start to sell.

Online it is mostly keywords how people find your items. So if they find a supermarket where they can shop many things they need this is good for sales, if you have some obscure search term with a few hits every once in a while, the click through is 2% and from that, maybe 2% sales, so 2500 exposures give you one sale.
 

Thread Starter

coinmaster

Joined Dec 24, 2015
502
but how seriously have you challenged this notion?
Other than the night and day difference, I've consulted with others to make sure I'm not crazy. I'm still in a bit of disbelief.
I went to canjam in NY not long ago and me and a buddy couldn't stop laughing at how bad all of the "latest" audio tech sounded compared to my stuff. I've never been so blown away in my life, I couldn't believe this is really all the industry had to offer.
you won't have the capital to actively defend the patents. If they truly do sound as good as you think they do, the minute they hit the market they will be reverse-engineered and stolen. (Potting and other such obfuscations won't stop IP theft.)
This is my biggest concern.
Consider manufacturing and distribution costs. How much will it cost you to manufacture these golden circuits with carefully matched components?
I've done some rough number crunching and factory assembled PCBs for my designs should be around a few grand for a batch of 100 but that could increase by the time I'm done.
Will you be hand-assembling a hundred of these a year, or outsourcing production to a Chinese factory?
Outsourcing has been a strong consideration but IP and cost is a concern. With factory assembled PCBs I only need to worry about testing and final assembly.
Who's your target market,
I don't know yet, my 2 dozen dac/amp designs and subcircuits will eventually merge to be 3-4 fully optimized designs, I also have 2 speaker drivers using never before seen technologies that I will be coming out with. At the end of the day my target market will depend on the end cost of the product, compromise is not something I'm known for.
What are you going to do about stocking inventory? Who is going to distribute the products? Who is going to handle customer support, returns, lost shipments, etc.?
Not I, I can't even afford a car and customer service is not something I'd have time for, at least not at a full scale. No way around that fact that I'll need help on this front.
Maybe you just want to be a micro-boutique shop, and sell a couple dozen units a year at exorbitant prices to the most demanding audiophiles
Haha wouldn't that be nice. I don't see how anyone is going to buy a super expensive amp from a company nobody knows.
are your designs truly that much better? Have you ABX tested with friends whose ears you trust? Do other people agree with you?
Yes, the difference between my stuff and 99% of the stuff on the market that I've heard is like the difference between a toys r us car and a real one. There's no mistaking it.
why should anyone take a chance on your expensive product line?
Marketing is 99% BS, take Schiit audio for example. Their stuff is probably among the worst stuff that I've heard and yet they have fooled the masses into thinking they are among the best. I don't like this kind of deceivery, I am perfectly okay with making less money if it means not making bold claims and twisting my words around. My current plan is mostly to go off of word of mouth and attending trade shows.
Luckily with audio stuff the proof is in the pudding. If my designs aren't better than the other stuff then people won't talk about it, it's really that simple.
Here's an alternative, take it for what you will. Instead of trying to start a company from scratch, start a blog about audio design. Throw in some of your design ideas and let the world have them for free
You don't know how much I'd love to have my R&D be open source, but unfortunately I want to leave poverty, I need this money.
If your ideas are indeed that good, you'll become known as an expert. You can become a consultant, or get hired outright by a big name company in the biz.
I am not an expert, far from it. My advantage comes from my ability to be creative and think outside the box, certainly not from my electronics knowledge.
I also think you greatly overestimate the creativity of the standard audio engineer. Lazy and uncreative design is rampant, I suspected this for a long time but only confirmed it recently after speaking to the engineers at the last canjam.

The best are essentially devoid of any appreciable distortion or noise so how can you improve on that?
First of all, some of the best and most realistic amps I've heard are not low distortion designs, second of all THD means almost entirely nothing to how an amp will actually sound, anyone who actually designs this stuff knows this. Harmonic structure is the only meaningful takaway from how a distortion measurement will affect the sound, and even then it is a relatively small factor.
As an example actually recently made a change to a dac stage I've been working on and didn't realize the distortion went from below the measurable threshhold of my distortion analyzer to nearly 1% distortion until I measured it. There are other things going on that affect the sound that is not related to distortion.
Even aside from that the theoretical distortion my gain/power buffer stage should be 0.000000000225% @1khz and something similar @20khz under any load condition that it can handle. By design the distortion does not change with load or signal size. The DAC stage I've designed is theoretically similar to the above design in terms of the output distortion. I cannot confirm either of these because they are both below my analyzers capability to measure. It shows flat down to 140db noise floor.
Note I don't use gNFB at all and restrict local NFB to only when it's required to function. The Idea of NFB in general does not sit well with me, I mainly use open loop.

Ultra low distortion is only the first phase of my design methodology. After that comes distortion introduction. That's where the real magic happens.
Euphony is the true goal of audio on my opinion. So little people experience audio euphony because designing an amp that has this is rare. Euphony is when you get a literal "high" in your brain from the music, typically relating to some form of distortion in the sound. It's addicting just like an actual high too.
My standard of reference in terms of sound is two fold. How does it sound compared to real life? If I cannot be fooled into thinking I am at a concert or in a room with the singer it does not get a pass. The other half is euphony, if it does not have euphony it does not get a pass.
 
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takao21203

Joined Apr 28, 2012
3,696
from your new reply, my concerns are your products are too specialized and you dont have good knowledge or experience with logistics.

Of course they sell crap + people buy it all the time, I had to learn about they want expensive capacitors (for audio) and they want LM317 regulators and stuff like that. Obsolete technology but simply because these are widely known, you get so and such exposure from them.

Thats also something you should avoid any exxaggerate, strong, wild, accusing or negative language.

couldn't stop laughing at how bad all of the "latest" audio tech sounded compared to my stuff. I've never been so blown away in my life

For instance korean people before the internet older generation, have almost non existant DIY skill reportedly they would not be capable to change a light bulb. Hard to believe but true.

Basically your attitudes and how you talk, could be a barrier for sales. If you sell online it is just strangers they dont know you or all you know and they dont neccessarily know the truth. They dont know what they want to buy is crap or obsolete. Or they maybe even want some cheap electronics. Many are alienated by complicate explanations or technical details. In the 60s 70s and 80s adverts explained technology with great detail, schematics inside old radios and stuff but lately, this is all absent.

So my opinion RD a specialized amplifier, you are poor, a good chance to fail after two years with debts.

And FIY theres many kinds of distortion amplifiers built on purpose for instance guitar effect and tube amps distortion is well known and used. Theres DOLBY and they have graphic equalizers since the 1980s even on cheap stereos. The also cheap IC inside wont distort so much but the cheap plastic does. And every amplifier does distort when cranked up sufficiently.
 

Thread Starter

coinmaster

Joined Dec 24, 2015
502
Basically your attitudes and how you talk, could be a barrier for sales
I'm only being honest. Once I start selling I won't impress any opinions at all, in fact I will strongly suppress any urge to make a verbal opinion. I want my stuff to run off of its own merit. Like I said I hate lying and deceit, it's one of my pet peeves. Between sending my stuff to established audio reviewers, attending trade shows, and online forums, I think I should be able to garner enough attention.
And FIY theres many kinds of distortion amplifiers built on purpose for instance guitar effect and tube amps distortion is well known and used. Theres DOLBY and they have graphic equalizers since the 1980s even on cheap stereos. The also cheap IC inside wont distort so much but the cheap plastic does. And every amplifier does distort when cranked up sufficiently.
I know, the foundation of my research is based on tubes. I've never heard a solid state amp even touch their level of sound until I made my own stuff.
That being said, almost all tube amps I've heard are garbage. Mostly due to the fact that the designers tend to copy schematics from antiquity and put it in a shiny expensive chassis and call it a day. On the flip side all of the best amps I've heard have been tubes. I've recently managed to figure out how to make SS sound like tubes but the conditions of the experiment weren't broad enough for me to be 100% certain, although based on the theory I think it is true. I have other things on my priority list to finish before I go back to my SS tube experiments.
 

crutschow

Joined Mar 14, 2008
23,798
ltra low distortion is only the first phase of my design methodology. After that comes distortion introduction. That's where the real magic happens.
The audiophile goal for listening to recorded music is make it sound like the live music without anything added or subtracted.
You obviously have a much different goal, if want to add distortion "to make it sound better".
That's an oxymoron as far as I'm concerned.

But good luck with you endeavor.
I think you will need it. :rolleyes:
 

Thread Starter

coinmaster

Joined Dec 24, 2015
502
The audiophile goal for listening to recorded music is make it sound like the live music without anything added or subtracted.
You obviously have a much different goal, if want to add distortion "to make it sound better".
That's an oxymoron as far as I'm concerned.
Not at all. As I've said if it doesn't sound like real life then it does not get considered for me.
You can have both euphony and realism, it's just really hard to do.
The brain is designed to ignore or enjoy lower order distortion because it is essentially equivalent to mechanical distortion present in real life sounds. Higher order distortion is much easier to hear because it is electrical distortion, we did not evolve to tune this out. This leaves it more susceptible to comodulation unmasking as well. Unless the distortion is exceptionally low you will be able to hear the higher order distortion, especially at higher listening levels. This is one of the advantages of tubes, they produce almost no higher order stuff.
Also as I said before under certain circumstances I was unable to tell the difference between practically 0% distortion and nearly 1% distortion(mainly comprised of 2nd, 3rd harmonic). I actually thought they were the same until I measured it.
High measured distortion has nothing to do with how realistic it sounds, that's just a fact. The only scarily realistic amps I've heard have all been "high distortion" designs.
It's as you said, most designs out there today have no appreciable measured distortion, then why aren't we showered by cheap, real-life sounding audio systems? It's because distortion is a marketing tactic, nothing more.
 
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Papabravo

Joined Feb 24, 2006
12,702
I worked for an audio company called Wadia for four years(2007-2011). I saw day in and day out what it took to be in this business. You are nowhere close to having the stones to do what they did which was to sell out at a high price to Sonos-Faber. The main guy in this enterprise was the marketing guy. He had contacts all over the audio business and was on the phone 24/7. He was lucky to have found me, to support production and debug the crap firmware he was "blessed" with from my predecessor. The main engineer was hardly ever there after his wife died and he spent most of his time overseas.
 

Thread Starter

coinmaster

Joined Dec 24, 2015
502
If I made minimum wage with this "business" I'd be happy. Ideally I'd rather be an audio research institution(?) that sells products than an audio company that worries about profit above quality. Sadly I know of no one who is interested in audio development.
 

BR-549

Joined Sep 22, 2013
4,938
I am interested in audio correction.

I could use a circuit that plugs into speaker terminals......and removes all processing effects....no matter the source or process......and then applies to speakers. A dsp remover.

And until that is designed......how about just a plain old agc circuit. AGC has been impossible since DSP.

As far as I am concerned, the only true audio left is a pipe organ. Professional Audio is in a pitiful state.

I want more.
 

Thread Starter

coinmaster

Joined Dec 24, 2015
502
I could use a circuit that plugs into speaker terminals......and removes all processing effects....no matter the source or process......and then applies to speakers. A dsp remover.
I'm not sure what sort of DSP you are referring to. As far as dacs are concerned the signal processing errors created within the dac can be cancelled out at the load if the dac is internally balanced or if you use separate but closely matched dacs for balanced output. The dac doesn't know or care what phase the output signal is in relative to the original signal. The errors are always in the same phase, therefore they won't appear at the load.
Not sure why you would want an AGC, seems like it would just reduce dynamics.
 

Papabravo

Joined Feb 24, 2006
12,702
If I made minimum wage with this "business" I'd be happy. Ideally I'd rather be an audio research institution(?) that sells products than an audio company that worries about profit above quality. Sadly I know of no one who is interested in audio development.
There is little use in lamenting about things you cannot control. You need to work on the things you can control so that you make progress in your chosen direction. I agree that your circumstances are challenging, but that never seems to stop people that are happy with incremental progress. The best business advice I ever got was "build a few & sell a few". In practical terms this means don't put your own money out for someone else's promise to pay. That is surely the road to perdition.

You may think I have taken an unduly harsh tone with you. I assure you it is not personal. I am vitally interested in your well being and I hope to prevent you from making a colossal mistake.
 

JoeJester

Joined Apr 26, 2005
4,126
The TS could build a system and go to the flea market or whatever the audiophiles call their conferences. Open a stand there and allow the visitors to listen to his equipment. He could "give one away" as a door prize if he wanted to. Those that like his stuff can special order it.

That would keep his costs low and get his name out there as well. The market can decide if his product is worth the price he will be asking.

If he gets orders, he can let his customers know these are custom made, one by one, first come, first served. If they don't want to wait, they can cancel their order. If he hires on people to build, he needs to dedicate himself as Quality Assurance, inspecting and testing all systems built by others.

I wish him the best of luck in his endeavor. He certainly will be wearing many hats. He got some good advice here in the thread on what he is up against.
 

wayneh

Joined Sep 9, 2010
16,128
Not at all. As I've said if it doesn't sound like real life then it does not get considered for me.
You can have both euphony and realism, it's just really hard to do.
The brain is designed to ignore or enjoy lower order distortion because it is essentially equivalent to mechanical distortion present in real life sounds. Higher order distortion is much easier to hear because it is electrical distortion, we did not evolve to tune this out. This leaves it more susceptible to comodulation unmasking as well. Unless the distortion is exceptionally low you will be able to hear the higher order distortion, especially at higher listening levels. This is one of the advantages of tubes, they produce almost no higher order stuff.
Also as I said before under certain circumstances I was unable to tell the difference between practically 0% distortion and nearly 1% distortion(mainly comprised of 2nd, 3rd harmonic). I actually thought they were the same until I measured it.
High measured distortion has nothing to do with how realistic it sounds, that's just a fact. The only scarily realistic amps I've heard have all been "high distortion" designs.
It's as you said, most designs out there today have no appreciable measured distortion, then why aren't we showered by cheap, real-life sounding audio systems? It's because distortion is a marketing tactic, nothing more.
Buried in here might be what marketers call a USP, a unique selling proposition, a problem with most equipment that you've been able to solve. Maybe.

If you can succinctly describe the problem that your design solves for the customer, and better yet devise a way to measure and quantitate that claim, you MIGHT have a chance to attract some attention. The descriptions about it sounding better and all that, personally I value that at less than zero. It's no different than the "oxygen free copper" cables or whatever they're selling these days. (At least with that example, a technical 'explanation' is offered. ) Most of that stuff disappears in double-blind testing.

Testing audio equipment with something as puny as human hearing is for the last century. Modern equipment far exceeds human capacity, so you need something far better. If you're selling some unique way to create a sound field and fool the human brain, you're in a crowded field and you'll need to explain in detail why your DSP is better than the hundreds already out there. When is yours better, when does it fail, what content is especially 'improved', and so on. It is NOT good enough to say it sounds better. Nobody believes you, and worse yet it makes some of us especially suspicious.

“When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts advanced to the stage of science.” William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
 
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Thread Starter

coinmaster

Joined Dec 24, 2015
502
If you can succinctly describe the problem that your design solves for the customer, and better yet devise a way to measure and quantitate that claim, you MIGHT have a chance to attract some attention
No one knows what causes these things, there's endless literature about it but no one has been able to to really figure out what causes amps to sound better or worse in particular ways. Even audio legends like Nelson Pass and Bob Carver don't understand it. The best we can do is follow guidelines and queues with trial and error.
The descriptions about it sounding better and all that, personally I value that at less than zero.
As well you should, I'm the same way. Never believe the marketing, no matter who it's from. Thankfully I don't need marketing if it sounds good.
Testing audio equipment with something as puny as human hearing is for the last century. Modern equipment far exceeds human capacity, so you need something far better. If you're selling some unique way to create a sound field and fool the human brain, you're in a crowded field and you'll need to explain in detail why your DSP is better than the hundreds already out there. When is yours better, when does it fail, what content is especially 'improved', and so on. It is NOT good enough to say it sounds better. Nobody believes you, and worse yet it makes some of us especially suspicious.
Sounds like a big waste of time to me. If it sounds better it will sell, if it doesn't it won't. These types of arguments are the exact reason I have no interest in marketing. Arguing about theoreticals on the internet never got anyone anywhere.
 
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