Buying "Sound Unheard"

I find myself in a quandry. As much as I know (and recommend) that "audition, audition, audition before purchasing" is the best means to system matching and "audio fulfillment," I find myself doing somewhat the opposite and purchasing quality equipment based on reviews and more importantly, the opinions of peers. Luckily, in my last three purchases (phono stage, cartridge, and now line stage) I've been fortunate in that they've been major boosts to my system. Living where I do, there just isn't access to the brands I'm interested in, plus my schedule is unforgiving. I'm curious as to how many others find themselves in this position, and the resources they use to get around it (including the obvious one - this web site!). As many threads as I see inquiring as to the characteristics of this-and-that, I would suspect that many of "us," especially those in rural or semi-rural areas are in this position. Just Curious. -John
I agree 100%. I am currently looking for a power amp and have no way to decide between an Odyssey Stratos and a Belles 150A. I have no idea what to do...
There are some reasonable alternatives if you do not have an authorized dealer(s) within 200 to 400 miles. First of all, some manufacturers who sell factory-direct do offer a free home trial period, often ranging from 10 to as much 30 days. Your sole responsibility is the shipping costs. Therefore, you may want to contact a specific manufacturer and determine their policy. Some manufacturers are occasionally willing to arrange a trial through an authorized dealer. There are also some enlightened dealers who sell via mail or Internet order who may have similar trial policies. Over the past 20 years or so, I have had considerable success with AUDIOCLASSICS.COM. Yes, their prices can be somewhat on the high side, but it may be a more than acceptable trade-off to insure your satisfaction. I would also suggest contacting Galen Carroll at GCAUDIO.COM. A superb and totally ethical dealer by any objective standard. Other sources to investigate, though I do not know their home trial policies, are: AUDIOLOGIC.COM in Iowa; JSAUDIO.COM in Maryland; and AUDIOMAX-LTD.COM in California. I have personally purchased several items from all of these dealers and never had a problem; and I have also been treated courteously and fairly. HCMAUDIO.COM sometimes has electronics on sale, though they do have a restocking charge. FATWYRE.COM also has some non-cable/interconnect gear for sale on occasion.
I have bought several components and speakers without ever having heard them, some from dealers who will take things back if you dont like them without charging you a restocking fee. Cd players from Reference Audio Video, a Classe amp from another store, I took back.

But the most risky and rewarding purchases I have made without having heard the components were my two sets of Harbeth speakers. The first, a pair of HL-P3 mini-monitors, I bought from the then-distributor several states away. He was not going to take them back. I bought them on the basis of the Stereophile review. I liked them so much I started looking into the other Harbeth speakers and noticed a review of the Compact 7's by Professor Greene in The Absolute Sound.

I then enquired of people who had listed their C-7's for sale on the internet as to their reasons for selling. They told me what they didnt like about the speakers.

Then I found a dealer in the UK with a website (Signals) and started emailing him with questions about the speakers. Eventually, I bought a pair of these speakers from Signals, without ever hearing them, primarily on the strength of the Absolute Sound review. (The proprietor realized there was a market in the US, however small, and added some pages to his website advertising the Harbeths for export.)

For all the complaints about reviewers, I have found that if you read carefully and are familiar with the reviewer's views on other products, reviews can help. You can also find honest retailers who are willing to discuss the equipment they sell by email or over the phone, and most of them want you to be happy with what you buy, so most really high end dealers I have encountered will tell you if something is not suitable for the rest of your system.
I almost always buy sound unheard. Isn't that what Ausiogon is for? I look for good deal on great equipment. If it sounds better in my system, I keep it. If not, I keep my component and sell the new stuff for what I paid, more or less. I keep track of all my buying and selling and have just about broken even.
I'm with metaphysics. Audiogon makes it possible to indulge my audiophile urges by living with a wider range of reputable products than I ever could if I had to buy everything new. A wider range than I could have ever imagined just a few years ago. So it's all continuing education rather than long-term commitment. And there are many great dealers who will let you try things out at home, for the stuff you want or need to buy new (somebody has to buy new, after all). Speakers are tough, though.
For more than 20 years I lived in the mountains of southern Oregon. Curcumstances dictated that I buy equipment on faith. BIG MISTAKE! Have you ever heard an AMC amp? Don't fall for the sales fluff like I did. Take my advice and listen before you buy or buy from a source you can rely on.
Hi John; for me, the internet has changed everything. Like some of those above, I now do most of my buying through the various audio gear listing services-- mostly Audiogon. The inet also allows for a great deal of research of products prior to purchase. I've also found some good high end stores that will do mail order, some are listed above, and I also like in Ohio, and in Iowa. I live on a remote part of the Oregon coast. Cheers. Craig.
Audio Advisor also has 30 day return policy that I have used before without any hassles. I once ordered a speaker from another dealer however who conveniently omitted telling me that it was not the current model. When I received the package I called to complain. The skunk pretended he didn't know but also refused to accept a return under any circumstance. Luckily I got them for a decent price and liked the sound. I ended up keeping them for several years so it turned out ok. Lesson learned,don't assume anything unless you ask!
I used to buy almost all my stuff blindly, based on what i read and heard. It was kind of hit or miss that way, but for me that was fine as this was buying stuff that cost at mosta few hundred bucks, and was easily returnable or re-sale-able.

I have now graduated to the, IMO, stratospheric level of paying many thousands of dollars for some of the gear I buy, and ever since I got to that level, I have arranged to hear anything before I buy it. Just had too many bad experiences in the low price class.
follow these two rules, & yule never have a problem buying sound-unheard: 1)if buying brand-gnu, be sure there's an in-home audition period. if not, & yure not happy w/the product, ewe will surely take a bath financially. even selling something at 75% of retail, which can be difficult w/even *almost-gnu* equipment, can be costly, w/the prices of some of our *toys*. 2) buy used; that way ewe can re-sell for pretty-much what ya paid. i recently bought 4 used-or-closeout preamps w/in about 5 months; sold 3 w/o losing any money, & kept the one i liked.

c'mon musikdok, how much of a risk were ya taking, buying that melos preamp i recommended? it wooda gone away w/little financial loss if ewe decided it weren't what i said it was cracked-up to be, no? but, i guess yule be keeping it for a bit, eh ;~)

regards, doug s.

hmmm, negative feedback for my last post - i guess there's someone who feels ya shouldn't buy used, or ya shouldn't buy gnu w/an audition period. mebbe a disgruntled snobby dealer? ;~)

regards, doug s.

Thanks for the responses thus far. No Doug, I didn't feel like I was taking a risk with the Melos insofar as your recommendation was concerned. My concerns were with the veracity of the seller regarding the condition of the unit etc (the "sight unseen" aspect). Still waitin' for the new toobs BTW - the place screwed up and dint overnite them as expected. Hey Craig - I agree that the internet (and Audiogon in particular) has permanently changed the approach to used and/or unfamiliar-yet-intriguing equipment. Just in the last year I've bought either equipment, cables, or LPs from the U.K., Canada, Hong Kong, The Netherlands and Belgium. It's pretty damned cool IMHO, as is exchanging ideas with youse "Audiogoners." -John
hi musikdok, i was yust teasing regarding my melos comments - i *know* yuve figured out how nice it is to buy used components & then be able to sell them w/little financial pain, if it doesn't work out in yer system! but, i must be really offending that stuck-up dealer, as my last post has also garnered a bit-o-negative feedback! :>) face it, who-ever-ewe-are, the internet has forever changed traditional buying-selling relationships, & this is true not only in the audio world.

regards, doug

I agree with Garfish, you can't do better than they are located in Columbus, Ohio and I have alway found them to be very helpful and extremely fair.
le'see - a total of 12 negative wotes for recommending that ya buy used or get a money-back in-home trial guarantee if buying gnu from a dealer. and that's after subtracting the positive wotes i *know* i got, cuz i was told in priwate correspondence. ;~) wazzup w/*that*?!? this *is* audiogon, isn't it? where the main purpose of the site is to buy/sell used equipment? and ask for adwice about stuff ya mite not be able to get 1st-hand experience with? (like what this thread's title suggests?) someone *please* correct me if i'm wrong! at this rate, my positive wotes may go back under 200... ;~)

doug s.

Gave ya a few positives to offset yure detraktors Sedond. Least I could do for yure good advice!
I have always been one of the more fervant people about not buying what you haven't heard. I believe it is good advice. I should follow it. You never know how a component will sound in your system. Even the best can sound bad in your system. It all depends on matching. Two weeks ago, I won an auction for a cable from a company with a few fervent followers, and a lot of hype. Try it, you'll like it. That's what these people say to everyone. Well, it did not turn out well in my system. Worst sounding cable I have tried so far. So now what do I do? Ask for a refund? Put it up for sale here, in hopes it will work out for someone else? Should have just went with what I know.
Late with my response again. Arrrrgh, where does the time fly? Well, anyway, my suggestion is to get your primary system up and happy making with only auditioned gear, then play with unheard/unseen gear on a piece by piece basis. I auditioned a good bit for my primary system, but bought my entire secondary system on line. Like them both, recognize their respective weaknesses, and can now comfortably fool around with parts and pieces in both. The one component I find toughest to consider on-line remains the speaker - it's so critical to the whole system sound, and so difficult to gauge whether someone else hears things similarly to me. I read alot of recommendations for Spendors, but when I actually heard them I was hugely unimpressed. No one ever even mentions Silverline SR-17s, but for my system they are wonderful. Still, I shouldn't be surprised to one day find myself buying a used pair of Dunlavys, or a new set of NewForm 645s, or whatever happens to float my boat that day. I treat it like gambling - the wise man never gambles, but your average shmoe can get by if he can remember to never gamble more than he can actually afford to lose. Unlike the wise man, every once in a while, the average shmoe wins big.

One element of all this is, as they used to say at Apple, the journey is the reward. Just about every component I try in my system teaches me something about how I hear, what I like and don't like, what matters most to me (today, anyway), and what the hell everybody else is talking about! Dan.
It's not just rural areas! i live in the center of philadelphia and i have a very difficult time auditioning equipment due to my work schedule (6 days of work, 3 nights of school) most of the better audio shops do not have night or sunday hours so i wind up narrowing down possibilities using forums like this and then travelling to a shop i can find that is open on sunday. it blows my mind that there aren't open on sunday.