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Right To Repair

Discussion in 'audio' started by Tony L, Dec 15, 2020.

  1. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    For the first time in pfm history I’m actually going to stick a ‘political’ thread right in the middle of the audio room!


    The picture above contains a few typical examples of the documentation that was supplied by manufacturers back in the ‘golden age’ of audio. You will notice full schematics for vintage Quad and Leak amps, an exploded view and bill of materials for a Garrard 301, and I’ve also included a schematic for my JC Verdier Control B just to prove current companies can certainly still offer this should they choose to.

    The accepted position in this past era was you had bought the product, you owned it outright, you had the absolute right to fix and maintain it and the onus of responsibility to provide that information lay firmly with the equipment manufacturer. It was just part of what you were buying. This applied to radical new technology such as say the Quad 303 and 405 which held patents, i.e. the excuse of ‘not giving trade secrets away’ was not used, or was trumped by the core requirement that a product be serviceable long term.

    Over the past 40 years, largely coinciding with the computer revolution, we have all but lost this right to independently fix our own equipment. By denying essential documentation to the end user high-tech manufacture has all but moved to a ‘lease’ model where the customer really only has the ‘right’ to request a repair from the manufacturer, and is bound entirely by their answer, assuming of course the company even exists at the point the repair is required. There is clearly a ‘green’ aspect to this too as if a manufacturer charges a high price (i.e. really they want to sell you a new improved model) then the equipment is pretty much guaranteed landfill which is a disaster for our environment.

    The reason I’m dedicating a thread to this is the wider ‘Right To Repair’ movement is gaining some real traction at present in the USA and many are even fighting in courts and state government level to overturn copyright protections etc in order to demand documentation to fix their products. The key areas at present are smartphones, computers, cars, tractors, farming goods etc, but I’d like to do my small bit and shine a spotlight on the audio industry too and at least contrast the extent to which the mindset here has changed over my lifetime. I very much want to align pfm as being a green and sustainable site, and this is all part of that picture.

    For further reading googling ‘right to repair’ will bring up a lot, plus YouTube channels such as Louis Rossmann, iFixIt etc will certainly find a lot (miles) of content relating to the IT industry, Apple etc, but it is far bigger than that and I know a lot here will have run up against it with their computer-controlled car technology etc.

    A couple of examples:

    I really do think this whole thing applies to us. We need to at least think about it.

    PS This shouldn’t be seen as a rant against modern technology and processes. It is a rant against a lack of documentation and available spares. A rant against a mindset. Surface mount stuff etc is unquestionably fixable, there are techs out there who actually prefer working on it to traditional through hole. What can’t be done is fault diagnosis without schematics, documentation, or the ability to buy spares.
    GavinA, Quad74, Andrew.B and 82 others like this.
  2. Jim Audiomisc

    Jim Audiomisc pfm Member

    I've been banging on about this for years. So has Barry Fox. The EU (remember them?) did pass laws requiring consumer items to be repairable for X years. But when I tried to get to get something fixed the 'makers' simply told me I could buy a replacement unit - at their wholesale price. Like most people it made no sense for me to try legal action, so I simply vowed to never buy anything from 'them' again. The snag being that by then the "maker's" name was just a badge.
    Swann36, klfrs, busb and 3 others like this.
  3. Jim Audiomisc

    Jim Audiomisc pfm Member

    Also the way many items are made in a way that makes is 'difficult' to take apart without damaging the item. In effect you have to break it to find out if you can repair it!
    klfrs, busb, tuga and 2 others like this.
  4. awkwardbydesign

    awkwardbydesign Officially Awesome

    Is this part of the problem? The "makers" don't even have the relevant information?
  5. djftw

    djftw Heterodox Member

    The expansion of the concept of intellectual property has strayed firmly into completely criminal crony-corporatist nonsense. Post Brexit perhaps we will revert to having to petition the Monarch to grant a Royal Monopoly? :rolleyes:

    But more seriously, I can't go quite as far as placing a positive duty on manufacturers to provide documentation and spare parts; but I automatically think more of manufacturers who do and think as consumers we should be a bit more savvy. I'm not sure it is always necessarily practicable for them to do so, and I dare say it is something of a niche concern. However, the way IP law has progressed there are real threats to not just end-users who would fix their own property, but to independent garages and other repairers. Some vehicle manufacturers have tried to make it illegal to have your car repaired by anyone but them and I wouldn't be surprised if new technologies, especially with the apparent pending demise of internal combustion will help them to convince regulators that this is essential for safety...

    Meanwhile the Chinese will only protect your IP rights if you work with them, otherwise they will copy your product and dump it into the market anyway, which is one of the reasons I can understand some companies being somewhat clandestine with their designs! But natural properly rights to do what you damn well please with your own purchases need guarding jealously, much as I might be tempted to make some of the body kits you see on Citron Saxos punishable by summary execution.
    Johnny72 and jimbot2.0 like this.
  6. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    The huge advantage we have as audio equipment consumers is it is 95% a mature technology, the vast majority of design having been nailed down decades, even lifetimes ago. As such in most cases we can just vote with our wallet and simply refuse to buy products we suspect have little life before an eternity in landfill poisoning our environment. It is our choice entirely and by applying a little pressure here and there it may help sort the good from the bad. Ours is a very small industry, we are a comparatively wealthy customer base, so we do have some real power here.

    The areas I feel far more helpless and frustrated by are IT and things like TVs, microwaves etc. I buy Apple computer kit as whilst their attitude to Right To Repair stinks to high hell their products still retain value years after obsolescence, even broken as donor machines. They stand a far better chance of largely ending up out of landfill than some cheap off-brand shite from PC World or wherever. It is infinitely better than say my 50” Sony TV that will likely end up in landfill as soon as the first capacitor fails as it is basically a non-fix unit. It annoys me as I would happily pay more for a modular serviceable design with documentation.

    These days I do always try and buy stuff I can fix wherever I can, e.g. after far too long putting up with a series of randomly failing cheap toasters I now have a £150 Dualit as I know I can fix that myself as spares are widely available and it is easy to work on. Hopefully it is the last one I will ever need to buy and will work out far cheaper long term than dropping £25 in the wheelie bin every few years. The Quad 303 of toasters. Similarly my guitar amp is a hard-wired valve job made in the UK to a well documented vintage Fender design. It will always be fixable, just as a 1960s Vox or whatever is. I feel we have a responsibility to think about purchases from a green perspective and to grasp disposal is by far the least green thing one can do.

    Well made desirable and serviceable kit has a pretty much infinite life. I see no point in buying anything else where that option exists. There is also a huge satisfaction in rebuilding/restoring high quality vintage kit and giving it a new life for future generations. Again I view that as a huge part of what this site is built upon.
    Johnny72, Swann36, Peter Leo and 11 others like this.
  7. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    One other point that needs to be made is that providing schematics, parts and service documentation is absolutely not the same thing as providing access to firmware source code etc. It is perfectly possible to facilitate end-user serviceability without subscribing to an Open Source model even if it involves re-flashing a chip or whatever from a download. I am arguing for the right to fix, nothing more.
  8. Darren L

    Darren L pfm Member

    Excellent post, probably the best this year and something I agree on 100% , though to be totally honest I've always thought that in motorcycle terms rather than audio, though I've always considered disposable technology a rip off and this is definitely a very worthwhile consideration for me in any future purchases of Audio equipment.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2020
    gryphongryph and Johnny72 like this.
  9. Jono_13

    Jono_13 Duffer

    Interesting thread, one of my friends ran a mobile disco using 405 based amps that he built from scratch himself. He never paid anything to Quad but also never asked for support so kind of evens out.

    The right to repair also sits nicely along side the push to reduce, reuse, recycle, particularly goods that contain difficult to manage end of life materials. A repaired thing is one less item in a landfill for future generations to have to deal with.
    Discopants and cctaylor like this.
  10. awkwardbydesign

    awkwardbydesign Officially Awesome

    Likewise a la Pavoni espresso machine, Ascaso grinder, Kirby vacuum cleaner, etc. And they look good too!
    Bettisdad likes this.
  11. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    That’s exactly it. I do think as a wider audiophile community we are in a position to gradually change minds. Ours is a small and well-connected industry and I suspect in time companies will see a commercial advantage in targeting green and sustainably minded consumers. So far any legislation has been entirely wrong-headed as it only sees a spreadsheet with running energy use, it doesn’t see the wider consumer to landfill picture. Throwing away broken digital crap every few years is exponentially more destructive than say running a 60 year old valve amp for a couple of hours a night. It is the throwing broken stuff away only to make more stuff that breaks that is the problem.

    I’d like to see this mindset gradually spread through the hi-fi community across similar forums and user-groups right over the world and lets get some sort of dialogue going. I know the vast majority of the UK audio industry is aware of this site (some like it, some hate it!), so this thread will at least be read by manufacturers and dealers who are placed to maybe think creatively and actually start changing the game a little.

    It also needs to be pointed out/underscored that many audio companies have a truly superb attitude to servicing and will happily keep real vintage classics right through to their current product running. Many of the older brands do so even after the business changing hands several times over the years, i.e. they support both their brand legacy and their long-term customers. As such I don’t want this thread to be viewed as any kind of generalised attack, it really isn’t. The aim is merely to suggest people consider the topic on all things they buy. Just to at least be aware of it.
    lAmBoY, earlofsodbury, Mike P and 7 others like this.
  12. musicman56

    musicman56 50 years hifi & vinyl junkie

    Whilst I agree with all the above, I can't help feeling that in today's world the spectre of 'Elf 'n' Safety allied with the propensity for everyone and his wife to sue everyone else are the real drivers behind non-fix goods. Unless boxes are permanently sealed, anybody can stick a screwdriver in and die of electrocution. This is what terrifies today's corporates. Not that someone will fix a faulty product (hence avoiding buying a new one) but that people will get injured resulting in a tsunami of lawsuits. Better to not let the customer get anywhere near it.

    Of course, the customer is not entirely blameless. We are bred these days to think that everything is someone's fault and to sue accordingly. Until this attitude changes I fear that the right to repair will sadly struggle.
  13. windhoek

    windhoek The Phoolosopher

    Perhaps we need a new sub-forum: Repairs
    Swann36 likes this.
  14. Dowser

    Dowser Learning to bodge again..

    you never been in DIY? It’s not just about building stuff :)
    Swann36 and Vinny like this.
  15. Jim Audiomisc

    Jim Audiomisc pfm Member

    As you tacitly admit, it can be impossible for the buying customer to tell in advance if they might need to repair something, etc, at the point of initial purchase. Frankly, we might not buy something if we knew when it was going to fail. You can't be 'savvy' when denied relevant information.

    I can't see any reason for makers to refuse detailed schematics, etc. And it has already been their *legal responsiblity* under the EU regs to ensure items can be repaired for a number of years after purchase. However they may dodge that in the way I was treated, and then you'd have to take them to court. Which is effectively impossible for most of us when faced with a company based out of the UK of any size.

    It's a parallel with the patent/IPR behaviour elsewhere. Big company has the lawyers and the money.
  16. SwapShop

    SwapShop Member

    This is all a bit worrying when you spend £,000's on expensive hifi
    I read the other day about one guy who had a 10 year old Leema amp and couldn't get it repaired / serviced !
    And I am waiting for a response from the Leema service email address currently !
    allthingsanalog likes this.
  17. Vinny

    Vinny pfm Member

    The real enemy of repairability is surface mount, pick and place, and the consequent density of components on a board, for larger electronic circuits. For smaller circuits, it is simply the fact that bespoke chips are the norm, with few discretes.
    earlofsodbury likes this.
  18. Jim Audiomisc

    Jim Audiomisc pfm Member

    But in both cases it is possible for a maker to ensure adequate stock to repair or replace boards, supply the required details, etc.
  19. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    I don’t agree with this as we are “allowed” to do so many other things. As examples I built both my bicycles from parts. My word that they are ‘roadworthy’ is enough to ride in busy traffic. A more extreme example is that you are allowed to change the brake pads or fuel lines on your own car. That’s a ton plus of heavy machinery capable of 70+ mph where one slip or error of judgment could wipe out a bus stop full of people. The logic of auto manufacturers is not to stop you changing the brake pads, it is more about denying access to energy management computers purely to lock you into extremely expensive service centres and ultimately make your car non-viable so you can be ‘upsold’ to buying a new one rather than fixing what you have.

    I do think Louis Rossmann has the corporate politics of this pretty much banged to rights in the video I link in the first post. None of this is about safety, it is all about locking-in customers and ensuring repeat business, and even defining when that repeat business should occur. His analogy of boiling a frog is perfect, it is just a gradual stage where we shift from a fully documented modular and serviceable product to a single locked-in system where Apple or whoever actually tell you whether you are allowed to service it and at what point you must buy another new one from them. I find the trajectory from say 1967 Quad 303 to say 2020 iPad (I’m “typing” this post on one) really interesting as it is in effect an enforced social/cultural change dictated entirely by corporate behaviour. Nothing is about safety, it is all about controlling purchasing behaviour and denying access to things you actually own. The thing that makes me gag is when companies guilty of this locked-in replace/re-buy culture attempt to brag about green credentials.
    TLS, earlofsodbury, bluefish and 3 others like this.
  20. Yank

    Yank Bulbous Also Tapered

    Audio Research Corporation still provides a schematic with the owner's manual.

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