What About Owner's Manuals?
Having problems deciding which manufacturer's piece of equipment you should buy next? Frankly, I'm not surprised. With the level of sophistication inherent in the majority of today's electronic instruments, everyone (including yours truly!) is finding it hard to assess equipment sufficiently before taking that final step and parting with the greenbacks.
I'm currently on the prowl for a new keyboard synthesizer and have spent hours gathering brochures, re-reading reviews, visiting music stores and friends in an unsatisfactory attempt at discovering everything about possible candidates before finally choosing one. Boy, is it hard work! The brochures, of course, only tell you the good and obvious things about the product in question, while being left alone for an afternoon or so to audition keyboards down at your local music store is the best most of us can hope for.
But even this is not enough to assess a product's features. There's no way you're gonna discover the MIDI-osyncracies of a certain synth or sampler from a brief 'play' with it. Magazine reviews can help, but there's never enough space to tell you about all the features. You really need to scour and digest the information in the MIDI implementation chart, which is usually hidden away in the back of the owner's manual (which is probably still in the box in the back of the shop!).
At worse, it would be a good idea if more music stores displayed the owner's manual alongside the product in question, so that anyone could browse through them at leisure. Even better, why not take the initiative and allow interested customers to take the owner's manual home with them? (Why don't lending libraries stock equipment manuals?) They could always leave a deposit and their name and address. In fact, if stores were to keep extra stocks of owner's manuals for the synths, drum machines, mixers, etc, that they sell, I'm sure some customers would even buy the manual outright for a product they were genuinely interested in - I know I would, provided it only cost one or two pounds maximum.
I mean, £2 is very little to invest if you are considering the purchase of any piece of gear over £500. Perhaps shops could set up a trade-in scheme so that customers could return the manual and swap it for that of another product if, having read it thoroughly, it turns out that the synth they thought they wanted can't actually do what they require it to?
I know some owner's manuals are so badly written and downright confusing that reading them would probably do more harm than good, but I feel the concept I've outlined is a sound one which, if implemented, could help everyone involved in the buying/selling chain - including the customer. Let me know what you all think.
Finally, having just returned from consecutive trips to Japan to visit the Roland and Yamaha headquarters and see how products are made, I'd like to thank all parties concerned at Roland and Yamaha for making it possible and for making the Sound On Sound staff welcome. There'll be a report on what we saw in our next issue.
Editorial by Ian Gilby
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