Hi-end audio is a big zero

This is no knock on dealers, It's just how hi-end audio is.

I go listen to some speakers. He has them set up like crap - jammed between 3 other pair. Running on electronics I would never choose so I have to try and compensate for what I imagine they are contributing to the sound. Then after 30 minutes, I am expected to shell out the $4,500.00.

I narrowed it down to two transports from an online retailer. And who knows if those 2 are even a good choice?  Told point blank, I am not allowed to buy both and return the one I don''t want. Just pick one and buy it. Shell out $1,000-$3,500 based on what?

One e-tailer will allow purchase 3 speakers totally $12K and return the two I don't want. Sorry, i have a conscience and can't do it to him.

Read all you want. Talk all you want. Listen at dealers all you want. But unless you listen in your own room, it's all meaningless. I'm talking even just 5 to 30 minutes can be all it takes. But that is basically impossible.

Sure you can buy and sell on A-gon or Ebay if you find what you want have the time to go through the process.

If the prices weren't so high or I did not care about sound quality maybe it would not matter.


It's not just about the equipment, just listen to music and enjoy it. I enjoy music whether it's on $30 airpods off my phone or on my system or on a friends $100,000 system. What you mentioned is just noise. Focus on the music, your ears will tell you everything you need to know. Just an opinion, not a debate, in fact I agree with you. Sure it can help if you can audition equipment, but only so much.  I've also had really crappy demos, dealers that don't deal, given bad advice, one dealer even wanted me to pay for his advice before he would even talk to me much less listen to what equipment he had!, But I learned if you focus on the music, trust your ears, you can ignore the other stuff.

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There used to be more amazing dealers who did single-speaker private demos and would even let you take something home to demo, depending on circumstances of course. There are still some around. But the audiophiles’ ability to shop on the internet caused many to close or change their business model. From a strictly audio standpoint, I think the old school was better. I had some great demos back in the day. 

I agree that the current environment just isn’t conducive to wanting to make expensive purchases.  It is like being asked to buy an automobile without a test drive.  Younger people being asked to do this I imagine will be more reluctant than us older enthusiasts, and it can’t be good for the long term industry outlook 

There are still some good dealers out there . Audio Visual Therapy in Nashua NH, Natural Sound in Framingham, Goodwin’s Waltham....

When I was young there was an audio dealer on every corner in Boston it seemed. Now they are few and far between.

I agree , demos are important and I always try to demo before buying. There are a few things I have purchased, total leap of faith that turned out to be some of the best bear I’ve ever owned.

Most of my gear is purchased locally, not really a fan of internet buying. I did have a great transaction with The Music Room. They made it easy to buy an Aurender with my trade. I’d definitely consider dealing with them again.

When shopping for audio, I go to my usual dealers and listen to their stock set up.  After I have narrowed down some choices, I schedule an appointment during off peak time requesting a certain combination of equipment to be auditioned more closely.  In my experience, retailers are receptive of this approach, especially if you are taking up some of their down time retail hours.  

There still are @chayro and that is how I have purchased the last 5 pieces of gear in the past 2 years. You just need to find them.  Last 2 pieces were in my system for 2 weeks before I made the decision and dealer never bothered me once while I was auditioning. 

 There used to be more amazing dealers who did single-speaker private demos and would even let you take something home to demo

With High End Audio(HEA) you need patience and knowledge. HEA is NOT a plug and play hobby. With experience you can eliminate 4/5 brands due to build quality, reliability and house sound. My advice is if your new to HEA take 2 years to research attend audio shows/dealer demos and as many unamplified concerts as possible before investing a large sum of money. Audio dealers are not there to babysit or provide entertainment, do you expect this from a car salesman? The way you present yourself will determine 99% how a HEA salesman will treat you. As a casual observer a guy was arguing about the slew rate of an amplifier or the DIY guy can build this or that for pennies on the dollar. Dealers/salesman have to put up with a fair share of a**clowns!

IDK what you are talking about. I bought a Parasound Zamp/Dac/Pre for my desktop system from an online etailer with a 30 day return. The sales people spent about 30 min on the phone answering questions. I wanted to use paypal not a CC. They weren’t setup for PP and still accommodated me. After I got the gear I had questions about setup, break in and speaker matching. I called parasound and got the OWNER on the phone, Richard Schram. The Z components are entry level products, not the flagship. He took all the time I wanted on the phone and genuinely wanted to help me "enjoy the ride". I asked for speaker advice and he shared how they pair that gear with Kef LS50’s and he owned a pair. He talked about how he used the Zpre with his TV in a 2 channel setup. When I called back in the future he remembered me and answered another question.

If you aren’t getting treatment like this find another dealer/manufacturer.

Thanks for the sensible responses. My experience with B&M dealers has overall been positive and it really is the most practical way to make a decision. They do the best they can working with what we've got. Trying to balance customer service with also making a profit

ebm Interesting you mention that. That what got me going on this subject. Had to get a new boombox for work as mine died after 24 years. Being pretty cheap, I've bought about 10 boomboxes and mini-systems so far. It's been an enlightening experience. Sure it's not hi-end but the same concepts apply. I've been accurate at least half the time on what to expect. Like, a bigger driver gives more bass. But even that doesn't really describe how it will sound.

kota1I agree about Parasound service. Another one, Soundapproach in VA is exemplary.

Maybe the best way to do this is narrow it down with budget and performance to 2-3 products and then try to audition those? Then as deadhead1000 said, just focus on the music

To the OP, Read all you want. Talk all you want. Listen at dealers all you want. But unless your listening room is acoustically treated, expecting a good sound from a decently put together system is all meaningless and waste of your money.

I always start with reading reviews -- professional reviewers like magazines with a grain of salt and a microscope to read between the lines, and user opinions on sites like Agon.  That all gets me a short list before I go to the dealers.

I listen at dealers to find if something sounds bad.  I don't expect it to sound good unless the dealer is exceptional in his demo setup.

If something does sound bad, I figure out whether it is a product issue or a demo setup issue.  Obviously, if it is a product issue, I'm on to the next candidate.

I appreciate the time, effort, and financial commitment the dealers have devoted to providing the demo experience.  And it's good to talk to experienced salespersonnel who have listening experience.

Most successful hifi dealers these days offer useful personalized purchase advice and also have some kind of reasonable return policy. I would not buy expensive hifi gear otherwise. It’s not as bad as buying a car and having no ability to return it for a reasonable cost if not satisfied.  I suspect even buying jewelry and most other luxury items is similarly worse. 

Things have changed big time in the last 10 years 

when I was operating my Audiostore until 2010 you came over had drinks pastries 

and we sat down and listened ,then spent at least 4-6 hours trying to put together a synergistic system  and buy whatever you could afford ,and even let you try out cables .

Bought my Tannoys from Scotland sight/sound unseen/ unheard. They sound wonderful in my room.

Years ago I was deciding between Focal speakers and B+W speakers of equivalent price.  A dealer in Monterey CA had both plus the identical McIntosh integrated amp that I owned.  Made an appointment and drove from San Jose to Monterey.  When I got there, his feet were on his desk and he hadn’t set anything up. After he did, I was allowed to listen to my “test CD” on both speakers for a little while and then after 45 minutes, he stopped the demo and wanted me to make a purchase decision.  I asked if I could purchase the Focals on approval. He refused.  I had fully intended to pay the (then) full retail price of $8,000 rather than buy online for less. He was a jerk so I bought the Focals online for $5,000 from Canada.

Recently I called a high-end dealer and asked if the $8,000 Raidho XT-1’s were on demo. They weren’t and he would not bother to set up a demonstration for me.  He expected me to make a purchase decision for an $8,000 pair of bookshelf speakers “sound-unheard”. No sale there either.  Good, reputable dealers are a vanishing species.

@audioguy85 I’d by Tanny’s too but as for the rest some pain mixed in (but mostly fun and a learning process) for the gain. So msny of us don’t think as the room as equipment. Granted that’s not always possible. Buy lottery tickets





+1 @ acoustically treated room.

Finished building mine end of 2019. My music experience has evolved 10 fold ever since. However it is a tough sale for a lot of audiophiles, specially married ones, since they have to be worried about messing up the looks of their rooms to do so.

Hence the never ending equipment upgrades. And that's great for the audio business, room treatment, not so much. With about 50k in gear total, I have come to the realization that it is already well above any expectations I ever had about sound quality. It is a blessing to be at peace with sound in only 3 years and I would never have achieved that in a lifetime without building the house of stereo, even so it obviously came at a high cost. I always thought the systems I had in various homes through the years were excellent. I could not have been more wrong. A properly built and treated room is essential if you are serious about sound.

On the other end, if you are strictly a music lover, a boom box will do, I have one.


I've been on both sides of this discussion, and they're both difficult. As a B&M business owner you have to worry about margins, revenue per ft2, and gross profit per hour. Even if your sales staff is not commission, you still have to make the math work, on top of inventory, you have to cover rent, utilities, taxes, wages & benefits.

As a customer you want service and time without obligation. A good sales person needs to generate about $250 per hour in gross profit to make about $50k a year. Given overall margins (Video is as low as 10 points, Speakers up to 50 points; cables typically even higher) you can do the math and see that stores can only afford so much time for demos. 

Time isn't just money, time is rent, groceries and the light bill. Respect their time and you'll get good service. Waste their time and , well, don't expect much in return for your .... Nothing. 


Out of curiosity, what speakers and transports were you interested in and what do you have now?

We like to have local dealers that have all the greatest stuff, and we can go in and give it a listen. Hopefully they are conscientious enough to discern if you are there to spend money and therefore spend the time to set things up for you properly in the space they have. Mind you, it will never match our space but it should give you a hint, right? Well, there you go! You have a mortgage or a lease. But then we want to hear them in our homes to make sure. It's not unreasonable but here's the thing. It is costly! Either in shipping or in delivering there are cost. Think about it, vehicle cost and maintenance, insurance, fuel, and don't forget tribute to the state in licensing and taxes. Shipping is fraught with costs as well. Is that on them or you?

Don't forget labor!

What's the answer? Only you can choose. A brick and mortar that you can visit and understand it will cost more because of these things or online and cheaper with less actual exposure to the product or poor customer service.

And the part that no one is talking about - the dealer has thousands of dollars of gear in someone's home, and it may not be saleable as new when he gets it back. It's a big risk.

i can relate to those sentiments. look, i can go to the hifi shop and hear a $1500 pair of speakers driven by a $7k tube amp, i can take em home and drive em with my adcom. u know...eh...cmon. theres a much better way to do this. ive heard the dealers concerns and understand those, but so many manucfacturers have that 30-60 day no strings attached satisfaction guarantee. some a 5% return fee. not bad. 



I am the same I have my favorites but will also take music any way I can get it.

Impossible? Not in 2022. There are enough builders that allow cheap or free returns to make good choices. If you want the best of all grow into a reviewer. You probably have to do more work than just visiting but that's not working for you anyway.

HiFi audio is a hobby with difficult expensive choices to make. Also expensive mistakes and buyers remorse. HiFi is all about listening and experiencing a music piece with its all details. You will hear same piece from different system with different details pleasing your ears. The difference is all about listening music with all those details as musician intended and recording revealed. When you listen same song on an ordinary speaker feels like looking at Mona Lisa behind a dirty glass. More expensive the system not necessarily is a better experience.  As prices goes up definitely returns are very diminishing. So everyone settles with a system that please them, some with deep pocket goes through a journey of constant changes and updating of these systems. 
Buying process can be very very frustrating due to complexity of putting an entire system in one store. Sales people, a lot of time reluctant and lazy to create ideal listening conditions during buying process. It is nearly impossible to experience to try and audition different systems at one HiFi store. That is why attending few HiFi conventions like Axpona can be excellent opportunity to audition all these gears at one place by focusing mainly on gear within budget. It really feels like a candy shop for HiFi enthusiast. Also you meet many very knowledgeable people from industry to improve understanding of different gear. I built my system after a such experience. I had many other preferences before, and ended up with completely different systems which I never imagined. Today I am very happy with choices I made, I think I created amazingly good sounding system with in my budget. Today when I go to these conventions, I don’t feel like missing much from other more expensive systems. So my glass is clear enough to experience the art in details.

A new hifi store recently started up in my nearest city.  I ventured to have a look, they had advertised special opening deals. I noticed an amplifier I didn't know much about, the assistant asked if I was interested, I said yes, "how many watts is it? "how many do you think you need, 5 watts will drive any speaker". He then wandered away and looked on the net, "x watts he replied".  I asked "is that into 4 or 8 ohms" again I got the question back, "does it matter?". Well clearly it does to me, the customer. It became clear the assistant knew rather less about the product than they should, and after 10 more minutes it was obvious they knew very little at all. Now this amplifier is approaching $10,000. Unfortunately today this behaviour is common. Having been involved in this hobby for over 40 years it is clear that many dealers today seem to think all their clients are millionaires and idiots. Most people spending $10,000 on amplifiers are likely both reasonably well-off and knowledgable about hifi, yet many stores don't seem to have the faintest idea of how to communicate with them.

Equipment doesn’t matter? Bringing a piece of equipment home to demo in your system doesn’t matter? Just listen to whatever you have?

This is crazy talk! What plays music is the equipment you are playing it on. 
You can go over to your friends house, go to 50 dealers, or 10 audio shows, the ONLY way you are going to know if that piece of equipment will sound good in your system and in your room is to actually use it in your room and in your system. Your room and system synergy are 2 of the highest areas you need to concentrate on.

I also like AirPods, HomePods and other cheaper speakers, but if I want the best I can afford, they will be demoed in my room and in my system land if I can’t, I would just put them up for sale

I agree that the room is very important... even if not officially "acoustically treated" and just couch and rug.  And, the important thing is to match the speakers w the room, which is a situation I'm struggling w right now; the speakers I "really" want do not go well in the room setup that I have, so I have to wait and get smaller speakers that work.  These facts do lead to the importance of being able to hear the gear in your room, with return privileges.  

Luckily, there are numerous online retailers that are fine w accepting returns 30 or 60 days in... that should be enough to assess.  I mean, don't abuse the privilege, but it's a nice "insurance policy" against an instantly regrettable decision.

It's not just Hi Fi... with the demise of BM stores, it's hard to know if what you're looking at is going to "work" or not.  I'm going crazy about this right now w bathroom vanities; I have a project that needs to be done once and right, but I cannot find any BM anywhere near me that actually carry the products, and it's hard to ultimately judge until they arrive and can see them in their intended place (even if not fully installed).  I've already sent one back; couldn't even find the proper measurements of the product... it was gorgeous and high quality, but didn't work in the space, functionally... so it was returned. What a hassle!   

Likewise w Hi Fi... it's gotta work IN YOUR SPACE.  

"Laugh about it, talk about it....when you've got to choose, anyway you look at it, you lose...."

The 'golden age' has gone brittle, and rarified...

Learned long ago that I wasn't equiped to 'fight the Good Fight' and withdrew from the card, retired into making the tattered ear into the faux purse, as best I might.

Still at it, after all these years, buying the Lotto tix only when astronomical odds get thinner yet.  If you can't have it now, may as well shoot the rubber band at the moon...

Christine McVie just passed on to the venue beyond.

The Legendary Christine Perfect is truly a legend, now...RIP, play for the cosmos and memory imperfect...😔


The silence at the end....:(

 In recent years I've sent back or sold some well regarded speakers when they didn't have the mojo I seem to require from them in my listening space...just the way it goes. I've been much luckier with my amp and front end choices but would never blame the sellers for my sonic failures...that's kind of like whining. Of course nothing makes the cut in audio unless you get close to it for many hours as you have to drive the car to feel how it works. 

@cdc      $4,500 ain't hi-end.  Just about into mid-fi.

But you're quite correct; your dealer was crummy.  Chuck him/her.  Go to a dealer who lets you do a trial of a piece in your system and room for at least a week.  And don't then go and buy the piece from a web-site.  Form a lasting relationship with a decent dealer.

Natural sound I went there there were not willing to discount and there was no audio room just rows of speakers ,they have been around for decades ,sand own the property you would think maybe to add a few rooms ,

Goodwin is better setup .  You now though need to make a appointment  to hear a specific item  speakers like the Magico A5 , or Rockport  entry level  solid speakers little risk .

speaker companies like Spatial Audio Labs ,very nice open baffle speakers with the 

excellent Beyma midrange-tweeter  is very efficient and built in powered bass a great buy at under $10 k and have a 45 day home trial still ,I Believe.

The owner Clayton Shaw has been pretty sick ,I hope he gets well soon ,he is one of the good guys in the Audio industry.

I gave up on B&M years ago when I realized I was just wasting both our times. I wanted at home demos of a variety of equipment, listening to just the one brand they carried on my list just didn't cut it. At this point I realized I was going to have to become a complete diy in regard to assembling systems.


I was lucky in that I was old enough that I had lived through the golden age of B&M when dealers spent lots of time with me educating and allowing home demos, I also attended many shows and spent much time researching all things audio.


From this background, I began assembling a number of systems over the years, made mistakes, discovered my preferences. Over time I was able to assemble increasingly satisfying systems to point I may have my end game system.


With today's situation I'd have hard time relying on B&M for gaining knowledge and doing home demos. I'd have to do shows, do much research on line for educating myself and demo via used marketplace, keeping what I like, selling the rest. It's really golden age for diy system builder, not so good for those relying on dealers. The good thing is there are a lot of experienced audiophiles out there willing and able to help with system building, great resource, use them.

Don't know where you live, but I have at least 4 very good audio dealers near me that set up decently and allow long listening sessions. In addition, there's Crutchfield -- 60 day trials -- and Audio Advisor 30 day trials -- and Music Direct 60 day trials.

So, if you do not have any good stores near you, then I cannot fathom why one or two month trials from e-tailers is not sufficient for you.


The logic of your premise is a bit like saying: "I’ll never own a smart phone because Steve Jobs was a mean boss and a terrible father." It’s a little bit complicated, and you have to weigh the pluses and minuses and how they affect your life. It seems as though your waiting for all the stars to line up and present THE ideal scenario before you’re going to be satisfied.

It appears that the dealer you mentioned is leading more towards a mid-fi approach, and not an audio salon. This is neither a good thing or a bad thing. But, don’t go to a fast food restaurant and expect them to tend to your water glass or brush the bread crums off your table mat. "Service on demand" has it’s challenges as a public servant and it’s not easy when you’re required to be spontaneous one moment, then nurturing the next.

I would make the following recommendation in handing your dealer. IF they check any of the boxes where they have something of value to offer you, then proceed as follows:

Call/text/email ahead and define the experience you are looking for and set up a time to make it happen. If you get a "yes" then try this: Ask the dealer/saleman why they got into the business. Then, ask them about their favorite concert. When you turn the conversation around to THEM, you might just open up some avenues of respect, humanize the experience and develop a relationship built on trust. A professional level of commitment to a fair exchange will insue where the dealer feels a level of moral obligation to take care of you, his customer.

I live in a smaller market (major cites 2 hours north and 3 hours south) and find myself dealing with, lets say, fairly unsophisticated merchants. To get what I want, I often have to train THEM on how to sell to ME. It’s well worth the effort. It not only saves me a 4-6 hour round trip, but maybe pushes them a long just a tab in their careers?

If you love this hobby as much as it appears that you do, be prepared to do some of the heavy lifting yourself -- even when others let you down.

-- from a retired audio dealer

I suppose I was spoiled in that I had local dealers that were willing to give much time to a young fella trying to learn and without the money to purchase much of the equipment I was listening to. I also had local dealer who sold new and took used on consignment, this inventory extremely large. I developed friendships with some, got to hear personal setups. All in all this was golden age of B&M for me.


Local B&M today mostly about home theater, and the audiophile brands they carry mainstream brands, over priced, don't interest me. I was kicked out of one local emporium for the mere mention of internet sales, loudly berated in front of other customers, that was final straw for me.

Seems to me, the companies should invest in their dealers by providing one unit that is only for demos in the store or customer's home.  Paint it purple as a not-for-sale unit.  If the purple people pleaser satisfies the customer, they can order a non-purple unit through the dealer.  

@electroslacker ,

There are 27 cities over 1 million people in North America. Let's say you have 3 products with an average price of $4,000. That is $300,000 in inventory. Many of these companies are small.

There has never been a better time in history to get into this hobby. Every song in existance practically can be streamed in seconds. Technology continues to bring down the price of semiconductor chips which go into everything digital (Moores law). A DAC that cost $5000 5 years ago probably costs $900 or less today. You can have an entire system by buying a pair of active speakers like the Kef LS60 and plugging them in and connecting your CDP, turntable whatever. You have any component in the world you want online, most with in home auditions, on your doorstep by clicking a mouse and banging plastic. Then you got this forum to get feedback from fellow hobbyists before you pull the trigger.

This is better than I would have ever dreamed 20 years ago when I bought ny first pair of speakers that weren't a POS.

You also have automated room correction, and a much better understanding of acoustics, so unless you are stuck in being a failed purest, you can get way more out of the equipment you have than you could in the past.