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Tassie Devil

An Essay on The Challenges of Buying Hi-end Items

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We face two basic problems:

 

1.       What to buy

2.       Where to buy it.

 

Once upon a time many cities had one or more friendly local stores who would loan out gear to audition at home but those days are long gone so now our opinions and prejudices on what to buy for most of us are shaped by both reviews and hearsay.  My approach has been to glean as many opinions as possible off the net to see if a consistent pattern of praise for an item exists.  If there is a consistent positive opinion it is usually safe to give the item the thumbs up.

 

But caution about reviews is required because no item is reviewed for its sound quality by itself.  It is reviewed in a system and as such the result is the sound from that system and not just from the particular item under discussion.  No item in an audio chain is perfectly neutral so the ying of one item can be neutralized by the yang in another.  One can read of one review giving caution about e.g., the bass response of item A in a particular system yet find another review of item A praised for its bass response in a different system. And this explains why some audiophiles find item A brilliant yet others are more lukewarm about it.

 

And there is the further complication of individual subjectivity.  We might be 99.99% similar in out genome but that does not mean we look exactly the same or have the exactly same brain structure.  Add in musical environmental differences and experiences and it is unsurprising that responses to both the music itself and its reproduction varies.  There is no right or wrong, just what is right or wrong for an individual in the context of their experience and disposition.  The concept of “Absolute Sound” is a myth, particularly with recorded music.  The sound one hears at a live concert can vary according to position in a hall.  Add in the minute complexities of microphone quality and placement plus all changes made in mixers and other electronics and the result is anything but absolute.

 

However, despite all this the audio quality from most recordings is very satisfying and is outstanding from many.  How well it is reproduced then falls to the chosen hardware and we come to the problem of where to buy it.

 

Once upon a time, when exchange rates were better, importing or buying from overseas was attractive enough to overcome any lack of guarantee.  But the exchange rate is no longer attractive and freight costs have become prohibitively high for most hi-end gear.  Recently I purchased a pair of Sony anti noise headphones (excellent product BTW) when passing through Singapore but found they would have cost less purchased at Addicted to Audio. Not only would there have been cost savings but I would have had a local guarantee which would have been backed up with the excellent service Addicted give to their customers.  So, we are fortunate in having this service available.

 

The other buying alternative is to purchase from a fellow audiophile here, or on Gumtree or e-bay or Amazon.  None of these are without risk although one does have recourse with Amazon or e-bay and with individuals if using payment with PayPal. Buying used can be attractive as sadly, most items depreciate to 50% of retail pricing. 

 

“Investment” in audio gear is a contraction in terms!!  I have purchased both new and used from all of the above mentioned sources and have put together some nice sounding (to my ears) systems. I have been lucky with gear bought on Gumtree so far but will seriously consider using PayPal in future as I had a recent “near miss” experience.  I’ve never had problems buying/selling here but have heard of one audiophile who has had a problem so again, PayPal costing 3% more could be a safer proposition.

 

I keep announcing my audiophilia cured, but that is an illusion. There is no end to the audio rainbow but it is fun exploring in an attempt to find it.  Good luck in your hunting but beware, take care, as audio illusions are frequently just that!

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You raise some good points.  There is no doubt that retail has changed over the last 20yrs, and not just in audio.  Despite these changes, I still feel that the retail stores (that have survived) do offer a service for what we pay - we can audition the equipment (even if we can't borrow it), and benefit from the in-store comparisons and experience/expertise, and hopefully good after-sales service. 

 

HiFi not an investment?  It depends on how you look at it.  It does appear that a lot of equipment is now not built to last, and has little resale investment.  I would think it foolish to think of hifi as a financial investment (eg. for resale value).  However, I have made investments into hifi equipment that I see as a long-term proposition.  I have amps, speakers, and a tuner and turntable all from the 1980's which I expect to be running for many ears, and turntables from the 1960's.  These have lasted longer in my system than TVs, other appliances and my cars!  They have been a good investment for me - I have had excellent return for my money not needing to replace them regularly.  

 

I found your example of Sony noise-cancelling headphones being worth buying locally for the warranty interesting.  I have a different opinion.  MrsFeline bought a pair of Sony noise-cancelling headphones locally, which exploded during the warranty period.  Sony did everything they could to avoid honoring their consumer obligations, contemptuously blaming her for putting batteries in them (so they could be used), and after much stalling supplied a new replacement which didn't work after a few weeks.  The customer service and warranty supplied by Sony was essentially worthless.  And unfortunately, I read is typical of many companies.  I agree that getting a guarantee is important - especially when buying high-end equipment.  Given that many companies don't honour their legal obligations, we may as well buy from overseas, and factor the cost of any repairs into the (hopefully) discounted price.  But based on our personal experience, I'm not buying Sony again (after being a loyal customer for decades), and suggest that others don't buy their products as well. 

 

And finally, a correction.  You state "The concept of “Absolute Sound” is a myth".  Sorry, it exists.  Here is it's website: http://www.theabsolutesound.com/   🙂

 

 

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I still have your Esoteric UX1 bought 3rd hand still going strong..👍Stump

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4 hours ago, Stump said:

I still have your Esoteric UX1 bought 3rd hand still going strong..👍Stump

That would be the bargain of the decade you got there and the corollary - the item on which I  spent the most money for the least long term return. - the result of Audiophilia.

 

5 hours ago, audiofeline said:

 

And finally, a correction.  You state "The concept of “Absolute Sound” is a myth".  Sorry, it exists.  Here is it's website: http://www.theabsolutesound.com/   🙂

 

 

LOL.  I was one of the first subscribers to this magazine back in the days we worshipped founder Harry Pearson.  At one stage Harry invited me to listen to his gear in NY but later withdrew it as he was having personal problems, the details of which I'll not relate here.  And the audio industry benefited from me as a result of many of his glowing reviews.  The "good old days:"?

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I’ve always viewed hifi as a subject of diminishing returns. Much like wine - is an $800 bottle of wine 10 times better than an $80 bottle of wine? Not likely. Is an $80 bottle of wine 10 times better than an $8 bottle - possibly. So my hifi purchases have sat in the middle range, there’s no chance I  will spend >30k on a WAVAC amp but hell yes I will spend 5k on a Weston Time Machine. Similarly, I haven’t bought a single piece new, all has been bought from SNA members or other market places, this probably reaffirms your point that unless new equipment is entering the market place, all used equipment will be harder to source, but I think this is the manufacturers problem, the mid-range has been eaten out by cost cutting and the value just isn’t there anymore. 

Edited by Yarrum78

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Agree whole heartily and is my philosophy for many years.  However in the past 6 months and being bored and locked down I have experimented and found that increasing the component spend from $2-5k (2nd hand), to between $5-10k (2nd hand) has rewarded me with good improvements, which has surprised me, as I thought the gap would have been a lot smaller.  I also found listening to some more expensive systems in my travels recently has shown me the gap is not that great to keep on spending from where I am now.   Hopefully my Audiophilia has reached its peak 😶😶  and i can just be content to play around the edges with cartridges, valves and the odd cables ☺️ 😙

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8 minutes ago, Rosco8 said:

Hopefully my Audiophilia has reached its peak 😶😶  and i can just be content to play around the edges with cartridges, valves and the odd cables ☺️ 😙

One can but live in hope...

I don't know you at all so wish you the best in that enterprise however if I were a betting man... : )

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What to buy
This can be influenced by what's hot...

If you are a frequent changer of kit, sometimes the item we buy can be influenced by trend.

Eg, processors don't keep their value as well as AVR amps. 

Power amps and Dacs tend to depreciate less.

 

Certain speakers are also easier to sell, especially if they are in a certain price range. The fancy ones are the hardest to sell.

Usually reliability is less of a concern, but the rubber surrounds of some speakers don't do too well in dry climates and others nearer the sea may find mold more easily

The foam surround of some B&W models also deteriorate more quickly... 

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In my estimation, the further you go above $2k purchase price the less likely you can flip it without significant loss. Significance being defined by your circumstances.

 

Where to buy is simple. Here.

What to buy... is why we all are here, as we cannot hear each other's systems we wonder endlessly if we get what the others claim to get. We ask "if I get this, do that, etc will improve my system? "

 

Or we nurse each other and give sage advice about listening to music rather than gear. Then sell them a gizmo to play with.

 

When it comes down to it hi fi are just toys. If someone else wants to play with your toy you can sell it. I like having new audio toys and the thought that there are others who want to play too, so if I  don't get too expensive then it won't go pear shaped. Bad outcome is when you get stuck with something you paid a lot for, but the market now abhors, and you want to move it on but can't.  

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3 hours ago, Aperalim said:

One can but live in hope...

I don't know you at all so wish you the best in that enterprise however if I were a betting man... : )

So true ... so true ...  and yes, it would need to be really special and price wise a bargain at this point.   

 

Now in audiophilia I easily recognize all the symptoms I had with GAS (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome) ... which I had in spades for many years.

 

I  eventually learnt 2 very valuable lessons:

1. there is no end point unless you create one ..

2. there is an unlimited variety of brilliant guitars

 

There will always be another guitar or amp that used to get the adrenalin going, and as I used to say and feel, the hunt is on !!!!   I am sure that a lot of it was about the hunt, the negotiations, the ebay auctions and then winning the prize, whilst receiving the guitar or amp was a bit of an anti climax.  I find the same sometimes in photography, its the hunt for the shot at times, then seeing the shot thru the view finder to take.  The processing and publishing being an anti climax in comparison.

 

I haven't brought a guitar in 3 years, but sold 5 ... so going the right direction.

 

Hifi, well you can only fit so many systems in your house, and when you change one component it may mean that you end up replacing multiple components, well I do !!!!   Law of diminishing returns comes into play if you can recognize you have reached that point.  Recognition is the 1st  point and then the discipline of not getting caught in a moment and being impetuous in acquiring is the next.   Time is a good thing to use, slow the decision down, sleep on it .. then listen and appreciate what you already have  .. they work for me most times ...  

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2 minutes ago, Rosco8 said:

Law of diminishing returns comes into play if you can recognize you have reached that point.

The good old LODR hmmm.... that is one of those enigmatic universal laws of reality that reminds me of Xeno's paradox.   To crudely paraphrase – wherever you are in relation to your destination or goal, that measurable distance or time, can always be halved,  so you never ever really get there...

 

I also agree with your  Confucious quote “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” 

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I first got hooked into HIFI in my teens.  Then I got married and convinced my wife that our lives were not complete without a decent sound system.  Then having sold everything to come to Australia in the mid 70's we didn't have a lot but within a couple of years I was back in the market pursuing the HIFI dream and the endless cycle of upgrades.  There were some great HIFI stores in Perth then and lots of ways to spend money on diminishing returns in SQ.  Then CD's arrived on the scene which at first looked promising but never had the romance of vinyl and my   HIFI passion subsided....... or so I thought.  Earlier this year my loyal Luxman 58A integrated amp, which I'd had since new (35+ years) decided to take retirement and I thought I could do without.  That lasted a couple of weeks before I started to look around for a potential replacement.  I eventually found another current generation Luxman integrated amp.  When it arrived and was connected and powered up I was amazed at the SQ.  That started me once again on the upgrade path and now many thousands of dollars later I'm hooked again.  I think Audiophillia is an actual diagnosable condition much like alcohol.  I thought I was cured but it only took one drink for me to fall off the wagon again.  On the positive side I'm really really enjoying music again and finding online resources such as Stereonet has been just great.

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My recent experience in researching and finding new gear is that it's not that easy.  As the original poster "Tassie Devil" pointed out there aren't that many HIFI retail outlets around in these times and those that are in business can't offer a wide variety of brands they stock or promote.  So even though one might spend a lot time reading reviews and specifications etc, it's not the same experience as a live listening test at home with your system, room acoustics, cabling and music sources that would in the past have influenced your purchasing decisons.  I've seen several posts recently in the classifieds section where people have actually bought their short list of gear to test at home and then resorted to offering the gear for re-sale once they've made their choices.  It's effective but must be extremely time consuming and costly.

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I've found some of the best advice has been from the sellers on this forum. The ones who have already sold their gear. 

 

Find something that has already sold, and send them a PM of what they thought of it and thoughts on what they replaced it with and what it was paired with.

 

People have been very honest comparing their sold items with new items. And even in their regrets. 

 

And if you set up some alerts for the gear you already have, you often find stuff being advertised as pairing well with the gear you already have, or if they are selling/sold what you have you get to hear their opinions on their upgrades.

 

I basically wouldn't trust anyone in sales or magazine reviews. Magazine reviews read the same now as they did every decade prior. Just swap the name of the component. 

 

Some of the most trust worthy people have been Australian small businesses that hand make and stand by their products. 

Edited by DrSK

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On 29/07/2020 at 12:05 PM, Tassie Devil said:

 

 

 

Once upon a time many cities had one or more friendly local stores who would loan out gear to audition at home but those days are long gone so now

There are quite a few stores around the country who would loan out their equipment for an in-home audition but may not shout it from the rooftops, after all, you need to ensure the product comes back in the condition it went out in. I know of one in Perth that does loaners to serious buyers 😉

 

But in all seriousness, from my own experience, there are quite a few "buyers" out there who take advantage of this trust and are either tyre kicking, or feel that the home audition now means the retailer is held to ransom is expected to further discount, so I can understand how its not common practice any more. It's no surprise the retailer is jaded.

 

I would also say that nowadays stores stock far more brands than ever before, but you can never keep everyone happy.

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