make the most of your demo
Updated: Mar 30
Along my travels of helping those in need on various forums, I come across many audiophiles who are unhappy with their system for one reason or another. More often than not, this is a result of system mismatching, mainly due to buying blind without an audition. While grabbing a good ex-demo bargains feels good, don't necessarily believe everything a dealer tells you about something he's trying to get rid of - of course it's going to be perfect for you! Buying blind is fine if you’re happy to live with the random, and potentially negative result of your purchase, but to make sure your system sounds its very best, an audition is essential. Here are a few tips to make the most of your audition.
A dealer’s demo room is highly unlikely to be anywhere near representative of your own listening space, but it is still a place where you can directly audition and compare a number of products together. This allows you to choose the best product for you based on comparative sound quality. Get to know the room. You need to know what the room is doing and how it affects the loudspeaker's output in order to appreciate what the speakers or components are actually doing. So if you can, get the dealer to replicate your system exactly, or at least use some products you know or are similar to what you have.
Use music you know very well. Auditioning equipment with music you’ve never heard before gives you no frame of reference. We may moan and groan about the usual suspects played at hi-fi shows, but they give visitors a benchmark. Also, well recorded music will sound great on just about anything. My advice is to take along some music that you feel doesn’t sound too good on your current system – what seems to be a low quality, muddled recording can be vastly improved by a good system. Not so something that already sounds good.
Don’t listen to product after product after product. Compare two products at a time, then dismiss one and move on to the next two. Essentially a 'knock out' type scenario, or 'winner stays on'. This will eliminate the confusion of switching back and forth between five or six different products. It's far easier choosing between two at a time instead of five or more at a time.
The amplifier and speaker pairing is a very important one, so when auditioning loudspeakers, do listen to them with your existing amplifier, or if looking to upgrade later, your intended amplifier. The system should closely represent your own – there’s little point listening to a group of £500 amplifiers through a pair of £5,000 loudspeakers. Those speakers may well show the differences between the amplifiers, but they'll be struggling to maintain composure with a more demanding loudspeaker, and therefore won't be sounding their best.
Don’t be put off auditioning a product that a magazine hasn’t rated very well. A product may only be three stars in the opinion of one reviewer (and it is exactly that - his/her opinion), but it may be the perfect match for your system or room, making it a far better value purchase than any five star award winner. Your dealer can be of help here, as he has chosen his range of products for a reason (or at least, should have).
Quick A/B auditions may work for some people and is usually the norm, but spending a little time with one product and getting to know it before moving on to the next can help take the stress out of whether or not you should hear a difference – forcing yourself to hear small differences in quick AB demos will get you nowhere. Take your time, relax, and form a general opinion of a product, or take notes of what it does, or doesn’t do well to your ears. It’s your ears that matter the most, and your choice should be what sounds the best to your ears, rather than any reviewer’s opinion, or even the dealer's.
Lastly, a good dealer will guide you far more easily along your upgrade path, and give good advice if you’re confused about anything, or suitable recommendations should you need them.
davidf @ the little audio company