Originally Posted by pjp
To the "scientists": What is the superior method you have used to select the exact brand and model of equipment that sounds best in your home at your target price point? If CD transports represent too much of a grey area, which is a very fair complaint, choose an easier category like speakers and tell us what exact method you used to be certain that the brand and model you bought sounds better in your home compared to all of the other options.
For me, first it was car audio so going out and "using my ears" is a fatally flawed concept unless the audio equipment, setup and calibration was identical to my vehicle. I could get an idea about efficiency, power handling and distortion but only indicators because proper installation and vehicle treatment is critical right at the start. Not a lot of companies would be into me buying the equipment, installing it in my car, ripping it out and returning it for obvious reasons. You HAVE to know what you are purchasing before doing so which demands a person educates themselves about all things car audio related. In reality, you have no options and the amount of time required to actually find all the brands in cars (not your own) would be staggering.
In home audio, I got started by fixing family and friends speakers, amps and helping them wire up their systems. Having an electronics background gets you "invited" to all sorts of installation parties--if I can tear a car apart, install new wiring and not create an electrical fire--I'm an "expert".
Home audio is a breeze compared to car audio, you don't need to crawl around under a dash, custom build subwoofers, door panels and adapters while having far more space to get it right.
These days, roaming on down to Fast Eddie's Audio Shoppe' are gone--not a lot of options to listen to various systems unless you live in a major city and have a few weeks to kill. Sure, I can order audio equipment online then ship it back--some people do and "let their ears" decide. Uhhh... I default to my car audio equipment selection process, learn how it all works, know what specifications are important to me or required for the space and narrow it down that way. Learned about that as a teenager, knowing the specs, what they mean and if they apply to the project worked well and continues to do so.
In my youth, I did blind ABX (actually ABCX testing) of CD players, amplifiers and speakers--learned about that game then adjusted accordingly. Did PA systems which required physically hauling speakers/amps around and attempting to get them to work the best you can in the limited amount of setup time in locations that acoustically were very poor with limited speaker location options. Any delusions about "golden ears" or whatever is null and void with PA systems--it don't matter what I think at all. What really mattered is what the money paying customers thought about your sound system, they really didn't care what brand anything was but that it sounded accurate with plenty of SPL potential. To have a chance at proper sound equipment setup/calibration in 45 minutes (I had a day job) test equipment was employed and I purchased books on the subject.
For me, education and understanding electronics, how speakers work, room acoustics, car acoustics and so on allowed me to get really close when specifying equipment. Say I want to buy an amplifier, I look up the test results of actual amplifier testing at the start. I am fully aware it will be used in a living room or garage (garage sound) and I am not using fully horn loaded systems of 110+dB 1w/1m with muffled HVAC and floating walls. No need for studio amps that are made for that sort of thing so Benchmarks are cool but not required. I know what amplifier I require because I know what SNR level I need, how much power is required for my speakers to belt out the SPL I demand and they don't fall below 6 ohms so no 2 ohm load monster amplifers are required. The same applies with car audio and PA, you have to match the impedance of the speaker to the amplifier used. The one ohm stable car amp is chosen not for sound quality, it is chosen for driving low impedance loads so running 4 ohm speakers with that amplifier is most likely wasting electricity, wastes space, adds weight and that sort of thing that is a sin in car audio. Not considered in home audio but important in cars or PA systems.
Speakers? Now THAT is something that is critical with any sound system! First, I determine what max SPL level I require for the speakers first. I then determine how much power I will have available and how much electrical power I can provide. Sure, it would be cool to have four mega subwoofers with 4,000 watt plate amps but my single breaker providing the power might have issues with 16,000 watts of amplifiers. I calculate the max amplifier power I wish to feed from available power, calculate how much SPL I require then use speakers or subwoofer designs that are at that efficiency or higher so I don't need to rewire the house.
I then look at the room, if it is a traditional living room without floating walls, without major room treatments and a limited amount of spots I can place equipment--I use different speakers. Over the years I've learned that ultra-wide dispersion speakers are not a good idea for LCR speakers--too much floor/ceiling bounce so I go for designs that have limited vertical dispersion. Waveguides, horns, AMTs, ribbons or line arrays do that--I had a pair of speakers that had a waveguide on the dome tweeter which worked very, very well!
Now that I have my efficiency, power handling and dispersion demands down--I look for third party testing with at least on/off axis testing to get an idea of how well the speaker is designed. Not hard to get on axis to accurate--but the off axis shows any flaws in the design be it the crossover, phase issues between the drivers or poor waveguide integration and dispersion flaws off axis. Horizontal center channel flaws are easy to spot with off axis testing. The DIY people show tons of measurements for their speaker creations for "street cred" so that option is open. I shoot for accurate speakers both on/off axis in a certain bandwidth with realistic expectations. Basically, if it can do 80 Hz to 16 KHz smoothly then it goes into the one to watch file. Sure, it would be nice if it went to 20KHz or 30Hz flat but quite often if they do that, they can suffer at the lower frequencies--midrange specifically might suffer because of the very small drivers required to do ultra-high frequencies. I specificaly look for 80 to 16KHz solid--PA days thing.
Once I find the speaker that is efficient enough, has enough power handling, is accurate within a reasonable bandwidth and is available in the size, weight, price range and finish I desire--I then (and only then) sniff around to see if actual owners of the speakers have any specific durability, reliability or serviceability issues. Does the company provide parts and service after the warranty is over? How long do they provide these parts and is there a common failure point? Speaker reviewers (car reviewers etc.) don't care about that, they might be exposed for a few weeks to months and move on. I am not a big fan of speakers that fail over time so checking for failure rates is a key step. I look for actual pictures of what is inside the speaker, what the drivers look like, bracing inside the cabinet and crossover parts. I don't buy cars without popping the hood so I want to see "under the hood" of speakers.
Then I take a sniff at reviews and opinions of speaker sound. Most people will never admit they bought the wrong anything while others will complain about anything they buy as not being good enough. Such is humanity so I take that into account. After all, if the reviews counted and popularity equals performance I would of just purchased Bose 901's back in the day and been set for life...901's 4 Lyfe! I tend to key in on any oddities the owners have noted, anything a bit odd when they use their speakers. I also pay attention to how long they have used their speakers, every new toy is incredible but once the honeymoon phase vanishes--then reality sets in so I look for longer term owners.
Another detail I look at is the manufacturer. If they make supernatural claims, completely bogus claims, bad designs as a "feature" or creating then solving bogus problems I tend to avoid those manufacturers. If they sell speakers then offer mystical "upgrades" with "audiophile grade components" they get axed. If they don't offer complete specifications, they get knocked down from consideration. If I see a spec that has no tolerance, they get eliminated. If I see "in room" specifications or 1/4 or 1/8th loading specs for efficiency or max SPL specs--they get canned. I figure if they don't provide specifications, tolerances or standardized ways to measure speakers their customers are not me. This is a good thing, I save a ton of time doing research when I see little to no real specifications--I then press on. PA speakers have a ton of specifications because they have to when dealing with business, nothing personal but if it is wrong I lose more than just the purchase price so the pro sound companies tend to provide better specificaitons. No excuses for the home audio companies, put up or shut up. Since I can't "just listen" or "use your ears" the inclusion of meaningful specifications is now much more critical than it used to be due to online sales VS B&M.
So that is how I do it, a mix of car audio, pro sound audio and home audio experience and education is the key thread through them all. Learning how it works, understanding what the specifications are and what they mean then applying them to your particular needs works well be it audio, automotive, houses or speed boats. Just because 0.00001% distortion is "better" than 0.01% distortion on paper does not mean it applies to real world use. To understand and apply specifications and testing results is the main thing in audio. If your speakers are generating over 1% distortion when listening to a movie, do you think that 0.01% distortion is something to lose sleep over? Understand the full system, that will allow you to put your money into things that matter and not overspend on things that don't. Gain knowledge and understanding how the entire system works and your weak links are the speakers, room acoustics and setup--oddly enough, the hard part about audio. Any fool can swap out a box or wire--much harder to get the speakers, room acoustics and setup done correctly. That applies to cars, home, portable pro sound and install sound--you are fighting the same demons and it is tedious at times.
When people ask me about the latest audiophile tweek--ya know, audiophile bricks, cable hangers and so on--I just offer this as advise. Does this stuff exist with computers, aviation, military, medical or test equipment used anywhere else on the planet? If not, it is snake oil--audio equipment is not state of the art or special in any way--you are being scammed. Common sense is not so common.
Hope that helps