Way back when (actually, in the 1960's I think), a company called AR which stood for Acoustic Research came out with a turntable. As I remember it, their turntable was unique in that it had no automation. Other consumer turntables that were being marketed were full of features — you just needed to plop down the record, press a button, and everything moved automatically as the player spun up to speed. AR was completely manual. You needed to pick up the stylus arm and manually place it at the edge of the record. Instead of putting their money into fancy features, their selling point was the quality of the motor, belt, stylus arm, etc. I remember that there was great debate about whether this was a step backward or a step forward.

Recently, I was looking to buy a treadmill and I recalled the AR turntable. Treadmills these days come with an almost unimaginable host of features. Of course they are all computer driven and you can choose from 25 or 50 different workouts. The displays are snazzy and can hook up to both audio and video entertainment as you run. There are a myriad of programming options and treadmill manufacturers compete as to who can offer more features. Well, what I was looking for was none of that. The selling point for me was the quality of the build (the parts you can't see) and the simplicity of the interface. All I wanted was a speed and incline control that I could manage myself. Unfortunately for me, no such thing exists. High quality with minimal features at a decent price is not a selling point these days.

The values that I was looking for are simplicity and robustness. My ideals seem to be completely misaligned with those of the marketing folks. Today, products are filled with features that look great but that nobody will use. They are also commonly built, not to the highest quality, but to more or less self-destruct after the warranty period ends. This way, the consumer will have to buy a new one.

There is much to be argued on both sides. Most business people accept the orthodoxy of "loading it up with features" and of built-in obsolescence. I am on the other side of that argument. I believe there is a serious marketplace (yes it is a niche market) for those of us who put quality and simplicity first.  People will pay for something that just does what it is supposed to do and does it very well. The AR turntable, even though it lacked common features that were standard on other turntables at the time, was a great success. There is opportunity out there for manufacturers not to simply follow the herd, but be a little different. How about making simplicity and quality the selling points.

By the way, if anyone knows of a basic but high quality treadmill….

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!