Simon Carr: the kitchen capitalist

Open the box to a whole world of horrors
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The Independent Online

When opening the crucial package you have to monitor yourself with a cruel detachment. If your immediate reaction causes your stomach to sink you have to start everything again. But your second reaction (between a quarter and a third of a second later) is unreliable. Because you are driven by a pathological optimism you can persuade yourself of anything. So the first, undoctored, unadjusted reaction - even before the thing comes out of the bubble-wrap - is the only true guide to what you really need to know.

So... relief. The box is alright: white, like Chinese mail-order boxes are. The bubble-wrap is fine. The weight of the thing is good. It feels substantial. It has value. I've been warned about the colour: I can look at the thing without looking at the colour (that's the power of the mind).

Prototype Two looks perfectly alright, when you look at it without seeing the colour. And the buttons work. They feel very workable. It's neat. It's tight. It's... aargh! What's that terrible noise?! It's far too loud! And one of the channels just doesn't produce anything at all! Aargh! Aargh! Aargh! (Falls to ground, scrabbling at chest in the by-now familiar way.)

This was supposed to be the fully-functioning production prototype. This has been to and fro between China, Oxford and Wales for the best part of nine months. One thing gets fixed and another goes wrong. Now it's got to go to Wales. (Box, Duck tape, address, queue, lose the receipt; it all takes time.)

Wales explains: "They've put a much cheaper speaker in. That's why the volume is louder - the code was written for a specific speaker-gain, and they've changed the speaker without telling anyone, presumably for cost reasons. The dud channel isn't working because the soldering is useless. I took it to pieces and re-soldered it and it works. And there's adhesive all over the place because they haven't used screws. If any of that glue gets on the speaker-cone during mass-production it will rattle. There's no way this is going to last for a year, if that's what your guarantee is. The prototype build-quality is the best it's ever going to be. This is supposed to be the best they can do. To be honest, I'd be ashamed to send this out."

An hour later Wales rings back. It seems the volume isn't anything to do with the speaker quality. It's a resistor that China, trying to be helpful, has put in to beef up the level. Wales is going to give me three new volume levels to choose between and fix the extra channel, so you won't be surprised to hear that, when the package got back to me from Wales, there was only one new volume level on the switch and the extra channel still didn't work.

I'm going to spend the week in a cupboard under the stairs moaning lightly.