Talk Box(4)

DO YOU REALLY GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR?Used to be that if one device cost X dollars, and one that did the same basic functions cost 2X dollars, odds were that the second one had perhaps more features, better construction, or some other element that justified the cost. After all, markets are competitive: If the higher-priced option wasn’t better, people would go for the less expensive model and be happy to have money left over for other goodies.

But times have changed. It’s amazing what gets factored into pricing these days: Interest on big loans that propped up a company during tough times, a mandatory contribution to a parent company’s bottom line, currency fluctuations, offshore vs. onshore manufacturing . . . the list goes on. As a result, we can end up in the paradoxical situation where an American company that doesn’t have piles of debt may be able to afford to sell products for less than a multinational company that makes its products in China.

And speaking of which, not all Chinese products are the same, either. I’ve visited some factories that might give OSHA pause, but by Chinese standards are indeed the proverbial “workers’ paradise.” Some companies have found that with high-tech products, it’s best to offer incentives to keep workers around so they don’t have to be re-trained. So they invest money into better facilities and employee incentives . . . which of course has to be reflected in the bottom line somewhere. Yes, China is still a very economical place to build products. But Japan used to be, too. Indeed, the future is always in motion.

Bottom line: The name on the box and the price on the package means less than ever; it’s the backstory that counts. It’s never been more important to judge a piece of gear based solely on performance and real-world results. There are plenty of cases where the high-priced gear is significantly better, and the low-priced products are significantly worse. But there’s also high-priced gear that may not deliver value received, and bargains that far outperform expectations. Check out the reviews in EQ, solicit opinions on the web, and investigate carefully to make sure you really do get what you pay for.