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The Lexicon Oppo Fiasco

January 16th, 2010

In light of the recent podcast and the Audioholics article on the Lexicon/Oppo debacle, I can’t help but think back on some of things I expected to find in this business when I got into it. Let’s be honest, it’s easy to demonize a lot of the people you read (or watch, or hear about). They become caricatures of real people. They are malicious or stupid or conniving or nefarious… the list goes on. But when you meet them, they tend to be just like you – humans trying to do their best with what they have. There are always extenuating circumstances, always reasons, always a bunch of behind the scene stuff you don’t know. That if you only knew, you’d understand.

I’m wondering what those are at Lexicon and THX.

Those two are in serious damage control mode right now. They both messed up. They know they did and they know they got caught. It is moments like these that I’m proud I work at Audioholics. There have been reviews out there of the Lexicon BD-30 where they obviously didn’t open the chassis. The didn’t compare it to the Oppo. They suggest they had both units in at the same time but if that’s true, how could they NOT notice that they are the same player? It is literally just a few screws before you figure it out. So either they are liars and they didn’t have both units or they are incompetent.

But do consumers of Lexicon products really care? I’m sure they would if then knew but most of them probably never will. They are too busy with their high power and high dollar jobs to research home theater equipment (sure, a generalization but probably an apt one). They have people to do that for them. And they really are getting a good player – it’s just not $3000 better than the Oppo BDP-83.

Who is really on the hot seat here is THX. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for THX. They’ve done a lot for the industry and while I don’t necessarily like paying more for THX branded products, I do think certification is a good thing. It guarantees performance. It gives consumers confidence that the product will perform as advertised.

That’s in jeopardy now.

Regardless of their protestations, THX passed a player that didn’t live up to their own bass management specs. We noted that when we reviewed the Oppo BDP-83. And thank goodness for us that it didn’t because that was like a thumbprint for the player. When the Lexicon BD-30 measured exactly the same, it was very easy for us to say, “Not only does it look like the same player – it IS the same player!”

THX is not a manufacturer. They can’t put out another product and say, “See, we did better this time.” They are a reputation. They live and die on it. And on this occasion, they’ve fallen on their own petard. While this will not, in any way, sink THX, it is a blemish. You need to look no further than the redaction of any mention of the Lexicon player from their site to know they feel the same.

From a personal standpoint, I want to congratulate Gene and Clint. Not for finding out that Lexicon dropped an Oppo into a Lexicon chassis – you could practically see that from the pictures. But for having the courage to bring it to the world. In this economy, every potential advertiser has to be cultivated. Every possible revenue stream has to be explored. The last thing anyone wants to do is to alienate two of the better known names in the industry (THX is probably one of the best known names).

But that’s exactly what they did.

That takes courage. The question is, what will Lexicon and THX do now? My guess – not much of anything. THX will retract the certification or make Lexicon resubmit. Depending on how the certification process/legalese works, they may be stuck and will simply downplay it from their side. Lexicon probably has little to worry about overall for reasons I’ve already stated. But it is times like these that revitalizes us at Audioholics. We love this stuff. The Skype’s have been flying, we’ve been on the phone with each other all day, and we’re giddy as schoolgirls before the prom. Today was a good day. I’m almost sorry it had to come at the expense of another. Nah, not really. I know there are more than a few that have had a good day at my expense. Karma’s a bitch and today it was my turn.

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  1. Rob
    January 16th, 2010 at 15:17 | #1

    I think it’s very telling that this article is getting so much attention and what I would call “gleeful” reactions from A/V enthusiasts. I think the reason we’re gleeful is because we all know (or at least suspect) that a great many “high end” products are nothing more than rip-offs, but it’s somewhat rare that we can definitively PROVE it.

    But putting the inards of a mass market product into a fancier shell and jacking up the price is certainly nothing new. I clearly remember the Classe DVD player that was literally nothing more than an off-the-shelf Pioneer DVD player stuffed (Pioneer case and all!) into a gold-coloured Classe shell. And let us not forget Denon’s old $2500 DVD player that was internally identical to Panasonic’s RP-56 DVD player!

    The worst part of this all-too-common practice though is not the blatant rip-off. It’s the damage that is done to the entire A/V industry. People begin to suspect that ALL expensive products are nothing more than rip-offs – and that is not the case.

  2. cynan
    January 16th, 2010 at 15:29 | #2

    Though I am largely ignorant about how THX sets and measures audio/video reproduction standards, I’ve always wondered what criteria warranted the coveted THX badge. I always thought this originated te serve as an indication that a certain piece of equipment, if used with other similarly THX approved products, could replicate an experience achieved in a professional venue and/or to the standards media developers produced it to achieve?

    If so, then how did some prodcuts ever ever get THX approved? For example, computer spkeakers. Sure the Klipsch promedia 2.1 and logitech z680s were great – for comptuer speakers – but they could never replicate a properly calibrated theatrical audio experience. Do THX have certain criteria for different classes of products (ie computer speakers vs home theater systems)?

  3. January 17th, 2010 at 09:25 | #3

    I was involved in a comments altercation at hometheaterreview regarding the Lexicon / Oppo drama.. A reviewer had claimed huge quality differences between the two devices in question.. when he was called on it (i was involved in the thread discussion as “m” the abuse started flying in.. my posts were a “conspiracy” to discredit Lexicon, HTR, the reviiewer.. you name it..

    The site owner deleted posts a few times before shutting down the thread.. I have some transcripts at http://www.stabbingpixies.com for anyone thats interested.. it makes for interesting reading, and gives insifght into Toms post about extenuating circumstances.. Personally I like to think that no matter what situations we may find ourselves in… of our own making or otherwise… integrity comes into the equation when we are asked to come clean about it.. HTR behaved axactly the wrong way when the details came clear..

  4. cynan
    January 17th, 2010 at 17:26 | #4

    Wow. There goes the credability of that site.

    Recap of Jan 16 2010 events on Hometheaterreview.com Lexicon BD-30 Review comments board:

    Majority of Readers: Oooh, looks like some fairly incontrovertible evidence has been uncovered which identifies the Lexicon BD-30 as merely a rebagged Oppo BDP-83.

    Jerry Del Colliano (Site Editor): No it’s not the same. The Lexicon is only based on the Oppo, but is clearly a more “upmarket device”.

    Majority of Readers: Uh, Jerry, no it’s not. It’s the same device with a different face plate, buttons, feet and chassis.

    Jerry Del Colliano (Site Editor): No, guys it’s better! It’s better! The reviewer said it was quieter and had better black levels!

    Majority of Readers: Uh, Jerry, Seriously? Just call a spade a spade already. You’re about to hit China…

    Jerry Del Colliano (Site Editor): [Fingers in ears] La La La La – I can’t hear you – La La La La – I know you are but what am I – La La La La.

    Majority of Readers: …

    All comments miraculously deleted. Jerry Del Colliano (Site Editor) takes his ball and goes home.

  5. January 17th, 2010 at 18:57 | #5

    I LOVE Audioholics. This kind of honesty and integrity, even at the risk of future loss, is inspiring and builds a kind of loyalty that nothing else can.

    Tom, what are the most effective ways for us to keep Audioholics kicking? Buy from the store, click on ads?

  6. January 18th, 2010 at 15:31 | #6

    It’s like the review won’t die… Gene was prompted by a guy from Widescreen Review to check all channels of bass management and found that the unit has a glitch and distorts when channels other than the mains are set to Small. As a result, the Oppo actually tests much better than the Lexicon.

    This is likely due to the frequent firmware updates form Oppo. Lexicon currently provides no Internet firmware updates to the player.

  7. Rob
    January 19th, 2010 at 02:35 | #7

    Well that’s another thing, isn’t it, Clint? Oppo is famous for having excellent support – especially when it comes to releasing fixes and firmware updates. Given that Blu-ray releases all too frequently require players to download new firmware, I wonder whether Lexicon is really prepared for the after-purchase support!

    My guess? IF Lexicon provides firmware updates, I expect only the slightest bit of URL digging will be necessary to track the Lexicon updates back to an Oppo update. I further suspect that the Lexicon updates will come out at least a month after the Oppo update 😉

  8. wesley63
    January 19th, 2010 at 09:56 | #8

    Clint:

    Did Gene try to update the Lexicon firmware with the latest OPPO release?

    Jim

  9. January 19th, 2010 at 18:04 | #9

    [quote]I LOVE Audioholics. This kind of honesty and integrity, even at the risk of future loss, is inspiring and builds a kind of loyalty that nothing else can.[/quote]

    Now if only we could find a way to make our honesty profitable. We aren’t making any friends in the industry with this type of reporting but I can’t change who I am.

  10. Rob
    January 21st, 2010 at 01:31 | #10

    Gene, if I might offer a suggestion:

    I certainly believe that a site such as Audioholics works best when it is widely available to the public without charge, but I am also a fan of the “free + premium” model.

    I’ve long believed that the majority of, shall we call them, “casual” readers are mostly interested in “quick” information. Things like headlines, blog-style posts and short, to-the-point reviews that basically just say “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”.

    But enthusiasts are the ones who are after the really detailed stuff and I honestly believe that most enthusiasts are willing to pay a reasonable fee for genuinely detailed, accurate and “meaty” content.

    As such, one way that Audioholics could generate more revenue would be to offer a subscription service for a premium version of Audioholics that includes more detailed measurements, higher res photos, lots more video and fully expanded reviews that really delve into every detail of the products. The free version of Audioholics could be trimmed back substantially so that it becomes much less of a burden for things like bandwidth. Reviews, news, first looks and editorials should all still be available on the free site, but free reviews could be substantially shorter and include only lower res photos and basically just be the sort of “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” easy-to-read style that I mentioned.

    Naturally, the hope will be to attract lots of people to the free version and then convert as many of them as possible to paying “premium” customers. And to do so, the free articles should mention that there is far more detailed information available with a paid subscription. Naturally, things like 3-day free trials or “Free Premium Weekends” would make great promotional options. But the bottom line is that I really do not think there is anything wrong with charging readers for access. It’s just that it shouldn’t be an “all or nothing” choice. I know a ton of people just want to get their A/V fix as quickly as possible and they’re really not interested in detailed measurements and in-depth reviews and they also do not want to pay. But there are also many enthusiasts who want even more in the way of measurements, photos, videos and in-depth writing and they are also willing to pay a reasonable price to access for those features.

    Just my 2 cents 🙂

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