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How many of you actually audition equipment at home before buying it?


I'd love to be able to, but I'm not sure how feasable it is given that I'm not buying the high end stuff from the kind of shops that sometimes let you take stuff home.


What's the alternative when dealing with the big chain stores -- buy it, then return it? Is that why such places have so many "open box specials"?
 

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I highly recommend a home audition before purchase. There is a certain degree of synergy between components and rooms that can only be assessed by a home audition. Most high-end stores will allow (and encourage) this. The mass-market retailers will let you return the equipment no questions asked within some variable time interval.


Every new piece of gear I've bought in the last 5 years had the option to return it if unsatisfied.
 

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I purchased my pre/pro and amplifiers based on specs, and didn't do a home audition. Those pieces of gear simply pass a signal or amplify it, and things that contribute to "coloration" or "noise" should show up to some degree in their specs. That being said, I think the specs manufacturers provide are largely useless for that purpose, since they're generally incomplete or vague at best. But, since I don't believe that amplifiers really sound (much, if at all) different, I wasn't too concerned with that.


I did a home audition for speakers. Purchased several pair of brands I was interested in for my price range, and did blind testing over the course of a week. Returned all but the pair I wanted. Most places had arranged to allow a free in home audition, but I had to pay a 5% restocking fee for two pairs. Well worth it IMO to know you're really getting the best for your money (within reason... no way I could have auditioned every pair in my price range). I'd also strongly suggest a home audition if you can work it out. Blind testing (even if only single blind, and not entirely properly controlled) can really help to distinguish between the real sound and the expected sound.


I purchased cable based on gage size. Listening to a cable is pretty boring.


I also have the benefit of having a friend who is a trusted employee of a hi-end store. On several occasions we have setup listening tests (blind usually) on afternoons or weekends. In this way, I have heard much more gear than I ever could have at home, and much that was clearly out of my price range. Mmm... Dunlavy's... :)
 

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I would highly recommend trying out speakers at home, the effect of the room guarentees that they will sound different in your room than in the dealer's. Electronics are less of an issue, unless you'd like to try them with your exact system setup or if you'd like to see if you can live with the equipment's interface etc.


I'm quite lucky in that I've been buying hi-fi equipment from the same dealer for nearly 10 years, and he has no problems with me borrowing demo units without leaving a deposit.
 

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I bought my B&Ws without auditioning them in my home, before I knew much about HT and audio. I got lucky. Hindsight being what it is, I'm not so sure I'd spend 1k or more on speakers without auditioning them in my home first. If it's possible, do it. If not...Do a butt-load of research and audition as many speaker brands in your price range as you can in the store.


--steve
 

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Just found this old thread...


Bigus, how did you effectively blind yourself in your speaker auditions? I find it can practically be quite difficult to do a proper blind test for speakers even at home (forget about it in dealers). Just curious...
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by sushi
I find it can practically be quite difficult to do a proper blind test for speakers even at home (forget about it in dealers). Just curious...
i'm with sushi, doing a proper and relevant audition is a PITA. plus doing it right really gets in the way of my tendancy to impulse buy new gear (Greg_R - if you are reading this, that doesn't apply to anything i buy from you :) ).


i've all but given up on hardcore auditioning, and my methods lately seem to be mostly internet auditioning by getting impressions from owners, and, if possible, a cursory audition in a store. from there i usually just go with my gut and get something that i believe will sound good.
 

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It certainly wasn't easy sushi. :) Nor was it controlled to the point that it would pass peer review in a relevant technical journal. But it was good enough to seriously raise my confidence level in the purchase I made.


The testing involved three people (myself included), and some planning. The room had reasonable acoustics to begin with (a friend's "listening" room with at least partially effective room treatments), and the source gear was competent.


As far as the logistics of swapping speakers, we gave that much consideration and this is the plan we came up with (I know, it's kinda involved, but we were really trying to do this "right"):


(1) We assigned a number to each of the seven pairs, 1 through 7.


(2) One listener was then blindfolded.


(3) Dice were rolled to choose randomly two of the seven pairs.


(4) The two pairs were both placed into a reasonable position (with both left speakers side by side - with just a few inches between them - and the same for the right). Which was on the outside or inside was determined by the order their number was rolled. We wanted two side by side so that cable swapping could be done quickly, and so that direct comparisons between "A" and "B" could be made.


(5) After that "trial" with that listener, the two pairs were returned to another room with all the other speakers. Which two pairs were being listened to by that particular listener in that particular trial was not revealed until the end of the test. (in this way, it was only single blind, but with a random pairing and ordering).


(6) The next listener was blinded, and the other two of us repeated steps 3, 4, and 5. We did this over several days, each trial taking roughly half an hour, with dozens upon dozens of trials, until each of us had heard each speaker paired with each of the others, and most had heard several identical pairings with the "outside/inside" order reversed. It wasn't exhaustive of the possible combinations, but it was complete enough that after examining the results we were comfortable in interpreting them to show a consistent trend.



Level matching was the one thing we could never figure out. We didn't have identical pre and power amps at our disposal, which would have made this easier. The only thing we could think of was to allow the blinded listener to have complete control of the remote for volume. The level was set to zero between each swap so that relative sensitivity would be more difficult to discern, and the listener was encouraged to vary the volume often to cover the full dynamic range of the speaker... and hopefully mask to some degree the bias that mismatched levels introduces.


In the end, our preferences could be attributed to the interplay of the speaker's sensitivity and the volume's chosen, but since this at least reflects upon a quality that one is concerned with in real listening conditions in their homes, we felt it was a possibility we could live with.
 

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Wah... it WAS an involved trial!!! You guys must have lost some belly fat after the entire session, eh? :D


Seriously... thanks, Bigus, for the useful report.


One question: Were the preference rank orders fairly similar among the three listeners (so that you can tell which speakers were quasi-universally better/worse)? Or were the rank order very different among the listeners?
 

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Similar among the three listeners. The winning speaker was ranked tops by two of us and second by the other, with consistently high marks in most of the categories by which we judged them.


I forgot to mention that aspect of the test. We had decided that in addition to each trial resulting in a "winner" (either A or B from the chosen pair), we should also allow each listener to develop their own "categories" for scoring both A and B (whatever categories that listener deemed to be important to them) to see if the trend for scoring a particular speaker was consistent with different pairings, or if the score fluctuated and was only "relative" to the competitor in that trial. (The actual "winner" of the entire trial was based on just the singular "winning" trials of each speaker, and not some composite of individual category rankings... though I suspect the outcome would have been nearly the same, with perhaps single place swapping in the losing end of the lineup).


We were quite surprised to find that the rankings for a particular speaker remained reasonably consistent regardless of how it was matched against another. The trend wasn't perfect, but it was there. That wasn't expected. Even less expected was the winner... a speaker we had affectionately named "the stepchild" before the auditions began.
 

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Two KEF models (one from their Q series, one of the top of the line Reference series), MB Quart's top model at the time, Energy C-8's, some really nice B&W's (in their Matrix line of the time), a set of Paradigm's, and magnepan MMG's. This was over six years ago so I'm not sure of all the model numbers, though I'm sure I could find out with a little digging around.


The "ugly" Maggies found a new home.
 

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Quote:
Similar among the three listeners. The winning speaker was ranked tops by two of us and second by the other, with consistently high marks in most of the categories by which we judged them.


... ...


We were quite surprised to find that the rankings for a particular speaker remained reasonably consistent regardless of how it was matched against another. The trend wasn't perfect, but it was there. That wasn't expected.
Well, as far as I recall, these observations are perfectly in line with what Floyd Toole concluded from his 20-year research at Canadian NRC early on. It is nice to see that his basic conclusions on subjective assessments of speaker sound (among them, consistency between listeners and independency from listeners' "audio experience" were some of the most important aspects) could be replicated even in a relatively informal home audition setting. I see the power of proper science here.
 
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