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.


@cd318, Spot on comments by @mheinze!

Magico speakers are so amazing if everything upstream is worthy of them.

The problem may be that some people stretch to obtain Magico but find out that they may not match that well with their existing components. Typical rules you hear about spending the most on speakers in your system doesn’t apply to Magicos. You need absolutely incredible gear upstream to let Magico speakers reach their potential. That may take some time and a lot of additional funds to get it right. Besides going through three amps after getting the A3's, I also upgraded my preamplifier and added a phono preamplifier. I suspect that people that aren’t satisfied weren’t committed to seeking proper component synergy and give up leaving with a bad feeling about Magico.


Problems? Magico loudspeakers are a precision tool. More so than any other loudspeaker on the market. A clear window to your upstream (the clearest).
You need to have your ducks in a row. Everything counts. They will reward you if you do that. If you are not willing/able to do that, or if you like your system colored and/or bombastic, Magico is not for you. Nothing wrong with that. 
Magico is not for everyone.


What is the problem with Magico speakers?

I've never heard a pair yet I often read about dissatisfied listeners when it comes to Magico speakers.

On paper it looks as if Alon Wolf has spared no expense in building the very best that current technology will allow him to. Apparently the very best cabinets, the best very drivers etc

So where exactly do things sometimes go wrong?

And why?

I'm sure that's a question that Mr Wolf himself might be interested in as well.

High end audio can be tricky. I got in over my head when I bought Magico A3 speakers. I ended up going through a couple of amps: Yamaha A-S3000 and Prima Luna EVO400. I still wasn’t satisfied with the sonics and didn’t want to keep throwing darts and wasting money.

I drove halfway across the country and back to work with an expert who gave me a money back guarantee with no questions asked! Mike Powell in Atlanta.

I’ve been very satisfied and will go back for a DAC and other things in the future!

antialiased's avatar    
13 posts
12-02-2022 at 04:26pm 
@orgillian197 They charge a 20% restocking fee. How is that exemplary?

I don't judge a business by its return policy.

I've been buying from them since the mid 80s and they've handled any problems I've had. Good enough for me.

My favorite dealer experience was at George Merrills Underground Sound in Memphis Tenn. in the 80’s. Incredible room, incredible customer interaction and incredible hand built Merrill turntables. No dig room correction then, all manual. I hope that room is still there, it was underground btw… in an awesome basement area. 

So many great responses. Interesting to read them all. I think more people would be interested in audio and spending the money if they could feel confident about what they are buying. It would be a benefit to the industry if we could figure out how this can be done better.

lalitk Agreed about room treatments. You know something is up when move the stereo to three different rooms and sound is great in one, just bad in another. It is a lot of work moving speakers / acoustic treatments to get things to sound their best.

Good idea. Maybe DIRAC or similar would make it easier? Other options I've considered are 1) omni speakers 2) listen in near-field 3) listen in mono.

classdstreamer Thanks. I was also thinking about hi-end food industry. It is the one that comes to mind where, like audio, it is largely invisible.


gents "What would the OP expect? The dealer recreate his living room? As Sounds a little like making exuses for being a little bit of a tire kicker."

Guilty tire kicker as charged. But no, as stated earlier, I empathize with dealers as they try to balanced excellent customer service with also making a profit. I do not go to dealers often. Unless I do the research first and also serious about what I want to buy.

winnardt"And the first sentence is: "This is no knock on dealers." and then you go on to spend the rest of the post knocking on dealers."

I did not mean to come across as knocking dealers. I am knocking the dynamics of buying a satisfying stereo system.

Years ago, Wyred4sound had a circulating DAC that went around for home audition. Just put your name on the list if you wanted to give it a listen.

Another way is, as people have said before, "That is what Audiogon is for". Buy used and if you don't like it, sell it for about what you paid for it.

Five minutes! It's so frustrating because of the effort to get that 5 minutes! There are always exceptions but five minutes at home is about all I need to get a handle on on a new component dropped into my familiar home set-up. Then there is the long-term which is off and on hours for a few weeks.

The boom-box experiment which got me started on this thread has been very interesting. I still want to try about 5 more. For me, having an overview of what's out there is the best way to feel confident in my decision. I'd estimate to do this with my Stereophile class B / C system would; cost about $40,000. at which point I could buy an "A" system.





While this is all fun & games hobby for many of us, for a retailer, this is how they MAKE A LIVING. They aren’t trying to make sales just for the sport of it. And every time they open a box, the next customer is going to expect and "open-box" discount of 5-10%. So really, the dealer is potentially losing money on every box he opens to do a demo. Even worse if that unit comes back with fingerprints, or gosh forbid, the tiniest of a scratch! Do you charge for that, or give the next buyer a discount??

My first encounter with a high-end dealer in 1984, I was in college, and they let me home demo an NAD 3020 amp. Well.... we all know what happened next, right? I was properly blown away, and bitten for life by the high-end bug. But their 3020 was already a showroom unit, and had probably been demoed in many homes. I was not asking the guy to loan me a ReVox integrated.

To finish the story.... I returned the 3020, and purchased a 3150, and soon after, a pair of Boston Acoustics A400 speakers. I’d never heard 30Hz until then!

cdc (love your Moniker)


Thank You for sharing your Dealer/Retailer experience. Great comments and suggestions as above. Agreed- Music loving B&M Audio shops are vanishing.


My best auditions took place with Audio salon(s), where the Proprietor was a music fan, first and foremost. Passion and Zest goes a long way with me. The rest are Flakes and none of your business. Take your time and seek out premier Operations.


Happy Listening!


Half the fun of this hobby is reading reviews... Seems odd that a dealer does not want to demo a product. Simply expects the customer to purchase the item. That being the case, what is the point of a dealer? Go direct like AVA, Schiit, Ps Audio, etc.

  • "Still great" family owned group is Listen Up A/v of Colorado.
  • Listen Up has nice demo rooms and a better educated and experienced staff than big box stores
  • They pride themselves on customer satisfaction

I apologize for not being able to get past the title and first sentence of this post without being critical. The title is "High End Audio is a Big Zero" when what you meant is "High End Audio Dealers are a Big Zero". High end audio by itself is just fine and every once in a while (but not often), worth the high prices that are paid for it.

And the first sentence is: "This is no knock on dealers." and then you go on to spend the rest of the post knocking on dealers. The dealers may very well deserve to be knocked on but don't try to obfuscate what you're doing by starting with a counterclaim. Be bold and knock away.

Not a total zero but not always what it appears for sure.  Has as much to do with glitz and bling as it does the sound quality.   It does not cost much to get top notch sound these days in most folks rooms at home.  These are luxury items that appeal to people for various reasons like any luxury item.   If you pay well above and beyond it had better at least sound good.  After that what sounds better or best becomes pretty much a totally subjective determination.  There may be something quantifiable to justify high cost in some cases but often not.   So high end is pretty much anything a vendor can get someone to pay for that most would not.  

WHAT YOU NEED to get you-are-there sound is MONEY (start saving up) and TIME. Start with an inexpensive pair of speakers and an integrated amp, free wire, etc. and music that you like. The finest recordings can transform the final result more than any other single thing so start there. THEN spend most of your free time going to as many shops as possible. When you're ready to spend much more money than you swore at 1st you wouldn't do, you become an official audiophile. Does this sound crazy? Absolutely!  It's all a very irrational and supremely expensive endeavor. But (as in my case) once I got out of mid-fi and bought a Levinson amplifier, the difference was worth the extra money because my ears were better able to discern the subtle textures and details in the recordings that came from living breathing musicians. If this doesn't sound like fun, that's fine. Once upon a time I asked a college friend if he could at least move his bookshelf speakers off of the floor so they weren't pointed at my shoes, and he immediately resented my suggestion. But he had some good music in his collection, so I just never mentioned it again. Dorm-room music is a genre all its own...

@cd318 , that is a BIG claim when you group every "magazine and dealer" into a pile of myth propagators. If you are telling me that I can get champagne on a beer budget, I am happy to partake, please post a link to the oasis of sweet deals.

If it is just the term "high end" I suppose you could substitute "luxury" or "reference class". I think one component where it is easy to spot "high end" is home theater.

Its the total package, the experience, it isn’t a turntable or a dac or speakers. Luxury baby, all the way. I really enjoy going through the Virtual Systems here to see what other members are doing. I like and aspire to "high end", why else would we all have OCD about this hobby? Low end?


'High End' is a term that can only be useful to gauge price.

It has very little relationship to high performance.

We've seen time and time again that performance and price have a very tenuous relationship at best.

Go to a show and hear it for yourself.

It's only magazines and dealers that want to propagate the myth that performance and price are closely linked.

I suspect almost all of us would think our systems are high performance but would any of us want to claim that our systems were High End?

High-end is indeed a big zero.

It’s high end in name only if the customer service is poor. Plain and simple

I wanted SET sound with Magnapan speakers (0.7 with DWMs are the biggest I can fit into my little 26-foot-diameter house.) I could not bring my amplifier to audition it because it has too many separate components: twin KV power supplies, cathode heaters that are filtered with 4 Farad capacitors, and two more chassis for drivers of the radio station transmitter triodes it would take to drive Magnepans. When I brought the speakers home, I got a better sound than the solid-state amplifier available at the store. Later Wendell Dillard and his wife came to the store and gave a seminar on the Magnepan speakers. I brought photographs of my SET with triodes the size of quart jars and he and his wife laughed their asses off calling it wild. His wife said that such a setup would have terrible wife acceptance factor. Fortunately, my wife let me get away with the Jules Verne style of stereo gear I build.

I think the most difficult to project is the speakers.  My other components are highly adaptable (Peachtree Grand X-1 hybrid integrated with Sabre DAC on board) and turntables and other digital sources are easy to blend.  But not speakers.  And the shipping challenges, including the cost.  Even a local needs a fork lift and big truck to move some of these and 3 heafty movers to pick them up.  

Not for an audition!  After decades of chasing the sound and too much money spent on commercial speakers, I learned to build my own.  I began with 4 foot high cabinets sold as Inter-Audio A-4s.  These were built from the late 50s and into the '80s by Bose Corp and before 'direct-reflecting' sound.  They came with 2 tweeters crossed for a 'super tweeter'; a 6" mid and a 10" woofer.  A highlight was a second cutout below the woofer for a passive radiator that absorbes excess pressure.

I began by stripping all but the box and worked from there.  The turning point (Hey Archimedes, what's ypur point?)  was moving 3 sets of tweeters out and in, 3 different mids and 2 woofers and these in various combination.

I knew what I wanted to hear and built them to fit my smaller but open space.  And when I got the final set of tweeters (B & C with sensitivty at 108)  I put Mondorf hollow core silver foil resistors in to bring them down to the 95 sensitivity of the other drivers.

Anyway, I had a great time.  I learned a lot and proceeded with more certainty to build 3 sets of fine speakers for my adult chldren.  And I am mostly very happy with this system.  Sometimes I sit and think I should get all pure silver wire and take them apart once again.  Then I put on some vinyl jazz and pour 2-fingers and wait for the urge to go away.  

Close to $10,000 spent on components and then, 'home made speakers'.  And I could not be happier.  This one is too hot, this one is too cold, and this porrige is just right.

@cdc - this is exactly why as a manufacturer of audio components, we set-up our own Listening Room.  We encourage people to come here our systems and also to bring their own equipment so that they can hear what things could sound like in their own system.  We also get to hear things also.  We enjoy meeting new people and learning form each other.

We are in Northern New Jersey if anyone wants to come by and enjoy music.


"There has never been a better time in history to get into this hobby."

Well stated, sir.  Couldn't agree more.

I purchased my first stereo system as soon as graduating from college with an engineering degree in 1974.   I decided I needed a cassette player and I thought as long as it had Dolby who cares about the rest of it.    The salesman at now defunct Pacific Stereo convinced me to buy a dated but quality Wallensack cassette player.   He was correct.   Later, I excitedly purchased an early CD player, harsh and unpleasant from the start.  I would rather listen  to old tube radios,   My conclusion, our sensory perceptions are still beyond what can be measured.   Why fight it and listen to what we find pleasing    

@jerryg123 , if you have time can you please post your virtual system in your profile? Thanks

@antiaudio often manufacturers will put restriction on e-retailer (we call fulfillment) and if there are territorial/geographical restrictions, they can qualify the customer.

This is done to be respectful of brick-and-mortar stores that may be in your area.  Nothing nefarious. 

Ha, I just laugh at everything ELSE. Prices - not given in ads, for example. You have to call in to learn the price of a component on the dealer's website.

@kota1 +1

@thespeakerdude  +1

If you spend the time and do your homework, on what to buy, where to buy, you eliminate many of the problems. Forums like this one is a good starting point. Of course the pocketbook helps in making the decision also.

I went to one dealer. I heard 50K speakers on a 30K system.My 45yr old equipment at home blew it away for sound. It was not matched and in a bad room. I went to a different dealer, listened to several  integrated amps on $4500 speakers and all was great. I brought my new integrated home and it sounded even better. There is no place like home!  I had the option to return it within a week if not happy.  I was very happy. So one dealer can suck, the next wonderful! That is my experience.

@cdc Nice topic. Here's my $0.02. 

(1) The sales norms of this hobby have/are changing from a home-demo norm to a pay-to-play norm. Just like a price hike for a product, this change elicits a painful emotional response from consumers. But, the market is changing, we can't do anything about it. The auto market is also now shifting away from a retailer/dealership model. Our auto retailers are disappearing. 

(2) The whiskey market is largely a pay-to-play hobby. In this area, the consumer is confronted with single barrels and special release bottles that can often cost ~$100-$1000, depending. Many times, these bottles are complete duds, and it's painful to spend $300 on a bottle that falls flat. Other times, we get lucky when we take a chance on a bottle and find something truly amazing, but which we will never find another bottle of. There are at least a couple things I do as a whisky consumer in this pay-to-play market:

(a) I can purchase the affordable staple bends from a distiller to survey the landscape. The good affordable bottles are going to be the distillers where I am willing to spend more the next bottles up their lines. Going this route, I've found that I've missed some great higher-end bottles from distillers that had poor affordable bottles--but by and large, I'm doing a better job buying whiskeys that I have a higher chance of liking with this method. This method applies to Hifi--we can buy the entry level components from manufactures we're interested in. With the components we like most, we can start to climb their lines. One downside to this method is the amount we'll spend over time. For the same amount of money we would spend sampling the offerings of various manufacturers, and maybe climbing the lines of a few of them, we could spend that money once on higher end components. 

(b) We're entering the era of influencers/reviewers. With whiskey, I've found one reviewer in particular whose palette matches mine. If he recommends something, I know I'm going to enjoy it as well. This applies to Hifi as well. We can find the reviewers whose preferences match ours, and we can even engage with them in our audio journeys. The benefit to following a professional reviewer is that they will have the ability to review higher quantities of components than we would be able to alone. But one downside is that no reviewer will be able to get to many of the components on the market, so we may not get good intel on a product we would like to explore but don't have the funds or time to get to ourselves. 

So, while we're moving into an era of direct-to-consumer businesses and may have more limited home demo options, the two methods above become some of the better ways to explore a hobby. 

@dayglow so you are an audiosnob not an audiophile. 

My mother thought me at a young age that “one man’s garbage is another man’s gold” .

All the years I spent riding motorcycles and we would do group rides (HSTA) we would get new member, they may have been riding a 15 year old VFR and they look at my BMW and say “we’ll my ride is not a nice as yours” and I would respond with “don’t matter at least you’re riding”.

So what if a person has a $4500.00 system and is here trying to learn. It’s about listening to music in the end, not what you spend. 

Unless they're a total failure, a person can build a KILLER system for 4500.

@jerryg123 My comment was not directed at the OP but to @grislybutter "People build incredible systems for $4500". Correction $3k in Eastern Europe(lol)!

you can still get great opinions from people on here but the bottom line is you could put that equipment in your room and it could sound awful so it still comes down to be able to audition stuff in your own room which a lot of dealers won't do anymore.

@dayglow the OP said $4500.00 for a component not an entire system. The rest of us got it why not you? 

Go back and read it. 



wow, that’s the lamest, most self-defeating argument in the book :)

You could maybe top it with: "EVERYBODY KNOWS IT!"


for the factsy side of things: I have a lot of friends in Eastern Europe who do have incredible sounding systems for under 3K.

This is a 1st World problem.  Y'all are buying your hi-fi gear the same way you buy your luxury cars.  I suppose a sense of entitlement goes with the crazy prices being spent on this stuff.

Years ago I went into an audio salon in Berkeley to audition DACs.  After about an hour of listening there, I settled on one.  They gave me a loaner for an overnight listen to confirm what I thought I was hearing and I made my purchase the next day.  What more does anyone need?  I'm still running that same DAC today and have no intention of changing it out.

The truth is that the audible differences are not huge, but the price tags are.  Instead of dropping thousands on minor differences, get something solid and reliable, and then spend the savings on concert tickets.

@gents  +1 Spot on!                                                                                                

@grislybutter  -1  Never heard an "incredible" complete system for $4500.

I have no problem with those whose wealth is in fact hard earned, but so much of the wealth in this world attained through luck of having been born into it. Unequal opportunity is the fundamental issue.


When I add up the cost of my system, and all the systems I've built over nearly 30 years, it sometimes makes me think how many people may not make that much over a lifetime of work. This hobby is sheer indulgence, $4500 for an entire system is not something to be ashamed of!



My comment was not a dismissal of cheaper systems, nor a pretence that there are not many who cannot afford costly systems.  It was a correction of a descriptive.

@jerryg123 good for you!

Perspective is key, no one in the US should feel guilty for their hard-earned wealth, just have the wisdom not to take it for granted and dismiss cheaper systems.

I agree with @grislybutter opinion of @clearthinker comment on mid fi vs high end. Yes I have been blessed and have a system that cost more than my first 5 cars combined.

Today many people are struggling to make ends meet, if you have $4500.00 to blow on gear, count your blessings most do not. 

Quick story, I needed a new remote for my Marantz processor, went to my local dealer and he GAVE one to me. I'd never even been there before and he just gave me one. I immediately bought some nice speaker wire I needed for the man cave. I will go back there again and again when I need something. 


"$4,500 ain't hi-end"

what are you talking about???????????

It absolutely is, aside from a small, delusional bubble in the US.

In 98% of the world, $4500 is a fortune, a result of saving for a decade. People build incredible hi-fi systems from $4500. But for some sad and cynical reason, for people in the US, who only care about 0s, it's not hi enough until the 5-6 figures territory   

Over the weekend, I was nearby the fanciest audio dealer in town and wanted to take a peak, There was no hours listed on their web site so I called to find out if they were open.

I got so much info, questions, my head was spinning:

"we are only open by appointment, weeks ahead, but we have a slot RIGHT NOW if you are serious and you know what you want and ready to buy....., what’s your name, phone #, how soon would you purchase, what are you looking for?"

I froze and never went, my intention to just browsing/listening politely seemed inappropriate

I always have a hard time believing the posters who tell us improbable stories about dickish dealers who refuse to audition equipment unless they’re pre-committing to buy. I’m pretty sure there’s something about them or their approach that makes a dealer who’s paying a lot of rent and day-to-day overhead to sell stuff get standoffish when dealing with them. People very much want to sell you but they don’t want to be treated rudely or be your slave or your dad on a transaction. And as a guy who’s been in customer service to one extent or another my entire life, I guarantee there’s something unreasonable or unsavory about a customer who inspires such a reaction. If you want to be the magnanimous big shot with your money, do all the requisite research, buy the equipment at the most affordable price you can to audition all you like in your special listening room and if you don’t like it you sell it like a desperate hooker to the first guy waving cash in your face.

Wasting someone's time or getting to use their stuff for your purposes will always require a little commitment on your part. That's just a fact of life.

What would the OP expect? The dealer recreate his living room? As if in 2023 there’s a lot of realistic alternatives in actually hearing a pair of speakers you’ve been researching.

Sounds a little like making exuses for being a little bit of a tire kicker.