In May of last year, I wrote about TRNTBL, a $420 record player that claimed to somehow interoperate with Sonos and modernize the vinyl experience. It was available for direct preorder, with a Kickstarter-style early-bird price, and was supposed to ship that summer.
Fast-forward more than a year later, and my DMs are being lit up by disappointed customers. VNYL, the company behind the device, says that it has started shipping TRNTBL to customers. But it has already been written off by some angry customers as a scam.
I spoke with two people who claimed they'd asked for a refund, but had not received one. They also told me negative comments on social media were being deleted or ignored.
"I never received a refund nor product and it's been over a year," wrote one customer. Another customer said he got a reply, but no refund: "They tell you they are 'forwarding the request to the accounts dept. and that you will get a refund and confirmation a in few days' and then nothing happens."
There was also this damning post on the Sonos forums with a similar story:
I am a customer who ordered your product in Sept. 2016. I have not been refunded any amount of money and have asked for it on numerous occasions via email and your site.
This wasn't the first trouble sign for VNYL. The company's original service — a sort of "Netflix for vinyl," launched back in 2015 — had some serious trouble living up to its promises, primarily because it's actually illegal to rent records in the US. VNYL ended up just giving records to subscribers, but many complained that they were getting random "50-cent bin" records instead of the taste-matched selection they were promised.
I did a quick look around and couldn't find any TRNTBL unboxings or other evidence of customers actually receiving the product, so I tweeted this out:
Has anyone who ordered from @trntbl_co actually received one?— Paul Miller (@futurepaul) August 4, 2017
Then I spoke to TRNTBL. It said it was not aware of customers having trouble getting refunds. I put the company in touch with these disgruntled customers (who had been emailing the company about wanting a refund) and they both received refunds soon thereafter. The person on the forums received a reply from the company as well.
Also, a few hours after my tweet, I started to receive a suspicious number of replies from self-described happy customers who had, in fact, received a TRNTBL and were pleased about it. To me, some of them seemed to be friends of the company (none of them followed me on Twitter, so I don't know how they saw my tweet), but maybe I'm just being overly skeptical.
In an email, VNYL says TRNTBL was delayed for all the usual reasons that hardware startups are delayed — plus a few creative complications. TRNTBL is being built in the United States by hand instead of at a traditional manufacturing plant. It's also integrating with Sonos in a new way, which allows the turntable to take over your Sonos speaker group when you turn on the platter, and that functionality took time to make it “as awesome as it could be.” The company also claimed in a recent email to customers that there are other reasons for the delay that it can’t disclose due to NDA — though I don’t know why the NDA is still ongoing now that TRNTBL is shipping. Add all that up, and it takes an extra year to ship your product.
That doesn't really excuse ignoring refund requests or leaving customers in the dark about the status of their preorders, or why VNYL actually thought it could have TRNTBL ready to ship last summer. Hopefully the company is going to improve on customer support. VNYL founder Nick Alt told me this in an email:
We recently made some changes to how our support for TRNTBL was being funneled to our support team, and while I don't have total clarity yet as to what may have happened with Friday's tweets, I'm confident some of these were misrouted which caused us to drop the ball.
The good news is that TRNTBL really does seem to be shipping. I was told a few hundred customers now have the product, and I've seen enough tweets from real-seeming human beings to believe it. I was told over email that it plans to be “completely caught up by October” on preorders, and right now on the TRNTBL website (where you can still pay money to preorder a TRNTBL) it says it’ll be 10 to 12 weeks until new orders ship. Hopefully VNYL can follow through on these new promises.
I guess the real moral of the story is: if you're having trouble getting a refund from TRNTBL, my DMs are always open.