Buying Without Audition

Surely I'm not the only one with the dilemma of living out in the boonies with no audio equipment dealer (other than Walmart) within 100+ miles.  How does one choose among the many speakers offered in any given price range without listening to them before buying?  The reviews are often skewed by self interest and, in any event, what you hear and what you like is completely subjective and the prosaic descriptions in the reviews mean different thing to different people.  After all, you really can't accurately describe in words what someone else might hear. The problem is compounded if you wish to buy "used" from a private party as there often is no right of return, and when there is, the cost of shipping both ways is a significant consideration, especially when looking for floor speakers.

Any educated suggestions?
Go to the Newport or RMAF shows you can hear hundreds of speakers.
Road trip!
When I was a lot younger, I visited every shop I could get to to listen to speakers and equipment, so I had a notion of what I liked. 
I think if you are now getting serious with hi fidelity stereo, you should make it a point to go to some audio salons and spend some time getting to know the various makers of equipment. A good dealer will help guide you.
And, not to be patronizing, speakers work as part of a system. The other parts: amps preamps and dacs should be evaluated together with the speakers so you get the sound you are looking for.
When I was a lot younger, and living in or near a city, I did the same thing and became very familiar with the brands and sounds of the time. A lot of sound waves have passed under the bridge since then, and there are so many more products now.  I understand that there is a "systems" approach and the same limitations apply to auditioning preamps/amps and sources. So much to choose from spread out all around different dealers in different cities.  As you know, it is hard to A-B compare components that you hear at different places at different times. This is one of the problems of living out in the country......but I ain't movin' back to town.
Going to shows is good But usually the rooms are not too good. That said if you are looking to replace existing speakers the best thing to do is explain the sound you would like get and what you're looking to change with your existing speakers. Of course most folks will tell you what they own is the best. So take inputs with a grain of salt. Because everyones expectations of what they want to hear is different. But also make sure to mention your current electronics and your room size and speaker placement. 
I bought speakers without an audition since dealer closest to Chicago was in Pennsylvania.  I based my decision on the glowing reviews (many years in the row) as well as the warm natural sound I was looking for.  In addition it was 6 month old dealer demo for a little bit more than half of the price (small reselling loss).  It all ended up good and bad.  Good because speakers are absolutely wonderful and bad because lack of dealership base made manufacturer go bankrupt - hence no support. 
You have to find a way to listen.

Plan a three or four day weekend around attending a show or traveling to a city where there are some dealers.

Good luck!
Matching speakers to your room should be #1. There are many members with a great deal of experience here. Perhaps you could give some specifics on your room size, current equipment, what you like and dislike about your current system and what direction you wish to go in. Then some reccomendations could be made. At that point, like many others have suggested, it would be advisable to do a road trip and listen to the prospective candidates. This way you could narrow the field to speakers that actually would have a good chance of performing well in your environment and to your taste. FWIW
Larstusor - 

While I agree with most that you need to audition I am was in the same boat (or is it boonies) as you.  The one component that varies the greatest in sound are the speakers - 95% of the time if I had to guess.  But I didn't have a dealer near me, so I did my research and read the reviews and made sure whomever I bought from had a return policy. That happen to be Crutchfield and they happen to be selling the Thiel CS2.4's - the speakers I was interested in. So I took the plunge. 

All the the rest of my system other than the BAT preamp and Parasound JC3+ Phono pre was bought direct from authorized internet dealers with return policies. And I did use them. Though it was a pain, in the end I made it all work. 

So it can be done. The upside (and downside) is since you probably don't have any reference systems to listen to, you have only "you" to judge when good sounds "good" - and that's all that really matters!
That's why if I'm buying something used I will be patient and try to find a local sale where the seller is willing to demo......I did this with my speakers not too long ago.    Fortunately they sounded better with my gear than what I originally heard them with.  

I bought my preamp and DAC new,  luckily I heard them with some serious associated equipment , so I knew they would not be the bottleneck in my system.  I felt that if they sounded great in a mega buck system they would be a good foundation in my humble set up.  

My system is at the point where I'm afraid to make any changes because everything gels and sounds great now I focus on the music and not the gear.

I think shows are great and can be fun but it's hit or miss.  Sometimes you walk in a room with $200k worth of equipment and it sucks,  other times you are blown away by a modest really depends on a lot of variables. Of course if you are shopping for speakers it's tough when you are not listening in your room or at least a room with similar dimensions.
If you buy smart and buy used you can use Audiogon as an in-home audition service basically, keeping stuff you like and selling stuff that doesn't suit you. I've done that countless times over the years to arrive at the system I have now, and have generally at least broken even on gear I've ended up selling. It's a somewhat labor intensive but very fun way to build a system over the long term.

Your ears are your own best guide and decision maker.
I,too, do not have any Audio representation in my immediate areas.
If you must road-trip it, then do so. The experience is wonderful and you will audition the gear of interest. Audio shows, now back in heavy rotation, are another excellent point.

Keep me posted & Happy Listening!
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Sometimes you just have to jump in with both feet and take your chances. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. I’ve come to learn that it takes weeks to figure out how I really feel about a speaker - you have to listen to it with all types of music material.   And your own personal physiological state will help determine, in no small part, how music will sound to you.   A pair of speakers may leave different impressions on you, depending if you're tired, or fresh, in a good mood, a bad mood, stressed, relaxed, etc.  A three-hour audition at a dealer is better than no audition, but it’s no guarantee of happiness, and it goes both ways - a speaker that may not seem great in the dealer’s space may sound really enjoyable in your own space. Like many have said before me, you MUST listen to the speakers in your own space, and for more than just hours. You have to spend days or weeks with them and let your ears acclimate to them. Like jond above, I use Audiogon as an in-home audition service, keeping what I like and selling what I don’t like as much, and it’s worked out great.
Thank you all for sharing your perspective on the matter.  Your opinions are valued and are helpful.
I buy used, wait for a good price and sell it for my cost or in a few cases more than i paid for it.

Thats how I ended up with my Ref 3A de Capos after trying out 2 other speakers
In my forty+ years at this, I've always lived in the "boonies". Early on, I was exposed to Tannoy speakers, and subsequently bought some 12" Monitor Golds, built cabinets, and then listened to them for 18 years.

I wound up going to B&W's, and then Dynaudio, but felt like I had to return to Tannoys, as though I had unfinished business with them. Sold the Dyn's; bought some 12" HPD drivers and crossovers, and built some 150 liter, 200 lb. bass-reflex cabinets, and now I will not be changing speakers before I leave this earth.

My HPD's sound great with 500 Wpc class D, or 9 Wpc SET 300B, which I switch to and from as my mood changes, and in a large room, 16 X 34 w/cathedral ceilings.

Just my way of dealing with being a long way from cities. Around 80% of my equipment has been purchased on Audiogon, as mentioned previously, it can be an enjoyable, and affordable, means of finding equipment you like, and will stay with over the long haul.

Best of luck, regards,
I buy things that are like things I like. 

Harbeths are like Spendors and I like Spendors. 

So I've bought Harbeths unheard many times and never regretted it.  

I've gotten burned a few times buying speakers that are popular that I ended up hating.  
Though I gave you advice to seek out a dealer earlier, I realized later that I didn't take my own advice recently.
On a whim, and with some persuasion from another Agoner, I bought a pair of Zu speakers, based only on word of mouth. As others have said, buying used saves you lots of money that will not be recoup-able should you decide to sell later on. Since, I have my other equipment pretty well set up (as in: I'm not going to change anything soon), I felt taking a chance on these speakers was okay- If I hate them, I'll sell'em and hopefully not loose too much on the deal.

Though you haven't stated it, I am assuming you don't have any other equipment (amps, preamps, etc). In which case, I think you will be best served by making an effort seeking out a dealer and spending some time listening and getting acquainted with the brands out there. To be honest, it was the most fun part of getting a stereo system.   
I'm located in Louisiana and Hi-Fi shops are few and far between.  I started researching speakers and a picky audio friend said that I should audition OHM speakers as he inherited a pair from his brother and he was sure that I would be more than happy with them.  After reading everything I could find on OHM, I took the plunge and ordered a pair of the micro-talls.

The speakers took about 60 hours to break in, and the end result was so impressive that I ended up sending them back and upgrading to a pair of OHM 1000's.  It cost me $95.00 to ship the micros back but I didn't care.  I needed something that could handle a bit more power.

My advice to you is to research all the companies that will allow you a home trial.  Ohm offers a 120 day trial period.  Also, do your homework and read up on as many speakers as you can to see what the owners say, positive and negative about them.  That helped me make my decision.  Good Luck


Same here, I'm in a 'no audio' zone. I generally buy used gear, some local and some not. All I've really gained from buying local is saving freight and making sure everything worked- the actual judgement happened at my house in my system. 

This group is generally very helpful and searching the past threads should give you a rough idea of how a product performs and sounds. I've leaned toward products that had consistent themes throughout the threads and have been happy with most purchases. Local or not- I read up, and if I can't get a good gut feel I steer clear.

As some have told you already, if you buy preowned your downside risk is limited. Also, return shipping can be pricey, but it's good option to have if you buy from a dealer. I've read about shows and would love to attend, but have also read the show set ups are not always the best gauge of performance for various reasons. 

My advice is do the research, read and ask. You will generally find more written on products that have been around for a little while.

Good luck,
It's a tough one, but I think the advice so far is quite sound.  Best Buy Magnolia, which is relatively easy to find, carries B&W, Sonus Faber, and Martin Logan.  They also carry McIntosh electronics, so if you find yourself near a Magnolia, you can get a taste for these easy to find and high quality brands.  I suppose if I were you and I had my mind on a particular brand, gearing up for a purchase, I would read every review in print, study the company design philosophy and methodology, and if possible, take a trip to a dealer to listen to a couple of the models.  At that point I would search for a great deal, on agon, or at a dealer, and take the plunge!  Worst case scenario, you'll have to live with them for a while and sell them, hopefully for about what you paid.  Good luck!
Last year I spent several months in my quest to find a new pair of speakers, in my case I live outside two large metropolitan areas.

To me speaker selection involves the most "personal preference".  In my quest, one of the salesmen I encountered asked it I preferred "analytic" or "musical" sounding speakers...I thought about it for a moment, "musical" was my preference.  Interesting to ask that?

I rejected a whole bunch of excellent speakers in the process, just didn't "float my boat".

I've had nothing but great experiences, buying on Audiogon.  Since you won't be paying "retail", most likely you'll be able to try some new speakers out, if they seem to have enough demand, won't lose so much, if you decide to sell them.
Great post ejr, I agree.
That is why I think the OP should try to visit a high end salon or two, in order to get a feel for what he likes.  Reviews and praises from others only go so far when it comes to speakers.
I'm the exception to the other posters, being in a similar situation where there are no local dealers I've repeatedly purchased without audition, and with the exception of  one integrated amp, haven't been disappointed, nor have I found "synergy" to be a problem.

Not saying this is the approach to follow, just saying that haven't personally suffered angst over this. 
There a lot variables.  Do you already have the electronics and source devise?  What kind of expenditure are we talking about?  Does your taste run to more of an analytical, resolving type of sound or do you like a warmer sound.  What kind of room are we talking about.  The larger the expenditure the more I would be inclined to travel to listen.   
Audition at other audiophiles homes til you find speakers you like...then work backwards toward the source components...listening at friends homes....or nearby audio nuts you meet thru Audiogon and other sites.
A collection of reviews can be helpful if options are limited. That and try to choose newer equipment in good shape and that's favorable among the masses so turning it over again wont be as much trouble. Youll have to eat shipping fees but its not as painful as getting stuck with something you really didn't want.   
bcgator is spot on. I bought a pair of Snell Type B's in 1993. I can't even remember what source factors contributed to that decision. When they arrived, I set them up and to my horror they sounded terrible! BUT, I was forced to listen to them because I was stuck with them. Over one year, I threw everything at them I could get my hands on from cables to CD players and different positions in the room. What a pay off it was! I've been a Snell fan ever since. 
If I waited to listen to speakers in friends' homes I'd be dead 10 times over. Whenever I talk to freinds or people I work with about equipment they look at me like I have 10 heads; or ask me, questions like " hey what do you know about SONOS?". MHO, you can make it work without auditioning and not have to settle, nor have it be an excrutiating expereince
I bought my whole system piece by piece without auditions. BUT I did study for about a year all things audio, primarily on this site. I began to gravitate towards time aligned, crossoverless, high efficiency speakers and balanced fully differential  electronics throughout. It paid off in spades. 
Just decided if I was going to spend that  much money I wanted to learn how things worked. 
I guess I am ’old school’ now.
The internet has opened things up for audiophiles. ’Back in the olden’ days’, you had to visit shops and spend hours listening (which was fun), now you can review the experiences of others and make an educated guess when buying stereo equipment.
What I really wanted to impress upon the OP is that by auditioning equipment, you get a real feel for what sound ’good’ to you and you alone. Sure, you can get a decent sound system by using the reviews of others, but my opinion is that you really need to experience what ’sound’ makes you close your eyes and experience the ’Nirvana’ that comes when a stereo system comes together. (Of course, you’ll always be tweaking it....;) )
I didn't know there were so many fellow boony-dwellers in Audiogon! Everything in my listening room was purchased used on Audiogon or other sites, except for my Vinyl Nirvana Thorens long base 125, which I got from Dave himself, along the tonearm and cartridge. I have been doing that since I started, and it's been fun. I have bought my first set of  Thiel 2.2's from a store in Lubbock, the others from Don Hamby in Amarillo, all used. I have become willing to meet people half way, from the metroplex or Houston. I have swapped speakers and amps after eating barbeque in Brady, TX. I bought a pair of (huge) Thiel CS5's from a seller in Alabama, and used Craters and Freighters to pack and ship them to my garage, luckily without incident. Go for it. It's all fun.

If you buy speakers that have a VERY flat frequency response, good quality drivers, good cross over design in a nice cabinet, you can get away without an audition. Mine are 34 - 20k hz +/- 1.5 db and 29 - 45k +/- 3 db. 

Hard to go wrong if the response curve is that flat. Wish they were a tad more efficient, but getting the power wasn't that expensive. 

I wouldn't hesitate to buy anything from Jim Salk or Dennis Murphy without ever plugging a wire into them. 
That is a problem (especially for large and heavy speakers for which return shipping can be expensive). In your shoes, I guess I would begin by doing a lot of web-based research (which it sounds like you may have already done, or started doing); then pick a city with a lot of brick-and-mortar audio dealers to visit or vacation in as you can (NYC, LA and Chicago come to mind here) and make the rounds of the stores. (Alternatively, attend one of the big annual audio shows... Rocky Mountain, Chicago, NYC, etc.) to audition many speakers and systems in one place. If neither of those is an option for you, Ihen check out some of the bigger (and well regarded) online retailers such as MusicDirect, Acoustic Sounds, Elusive Disc, and Upscale Audio. Another fav of mine is Galen Carol Audio in San Antonio, Tx. This is by no means an inclusive list... just the online merchants I've had goof interactions with... Best of luck,

Volsfan, I too spent a lot of time looking at Salk/Murphy speakers. The SS12's were out and looked promising but ran into production problems. Jim was very open and honest as far as the different lines' attributes. 
Ultimately, what did you decide on and what do you drive them with?
Hi Larstusor,
    You're in a spot that plenty have been in...sometimes with the demand on family it is impossible to leave for a couple of days, so I understand that you can't go listen.... Your only other option is to shop and educate yourself as thoroughly as possible, then shop for values in used speakers so that you can re sell without getting burnt so bad.  Good luck,  Tim
definite road trip.
living in the middle of nowhere is cheap so driving must be far.
i'd research local craigslist adds or ebay listings within 100...200 miles around where you can actually drive-in and check-listen.

Shame on me ,.I did this once spending $17,000.00 ,.!...

It was a turntable made popular by reviews at first then all sorts of praise and accolades here on Audiogon including other popular sites which in the end was nothing but a herd mentality promoting a mediocre over priced turntable for many that love it however can't hear ,....

You got to hear speakers! the only speakers I ever bought without audition was a $50 a pair of speakers that I bought for a basement workout room. No matter what you've read, remember, think ice cream shop. Lots of different flavors. Not everyone likes the same flavor 
Where is the OP? If you are reading this, what did you end up doing?
Zazato ,.not unless said component was flawed from conception,.
Price has absolutely nothing to do with performance,...

I'm the OP and still looking and learning.  I was going to make a 9+ hour round trip to audition a pair of speakers I saw advertised on line. The are beautiful to look out, made of real hardwoods, and fit my decor more than perfectly, but of course, its about the sound. The manufacturer is no longer in business but had a very fine reputation during his run.  The reviews raved about the speakers (it seems like they all do) an noted that they were "laid back" rather than "out front" and that they didn't hit you in the face with tone but rather "lured you in".  I guess that meant that the speakers were not on the more detailed end of the spectrum.  I was still intrigued and seriously contemplating rearranging my schedule to go here those beauties. 

Fortunately, I was in the closest big city (Atlanta) for a medical appointment and made time to visit some shops to hear some speakers.  It's slim pickin's in that town.  When I lived there, many years ago, there were several small, hi-fi shops that handled some high end lines of products. Now, I could only easily find the big box (Best Buys "Magnolia") and one shop that has been there forever.  The guys at Magnolia knew a lot less about their equipment than I did; and, they only had the various price point models of B&W's to listen to.  They had several other brands on the floor of the "sound room" including Martin Logan, Sonus Faber and Distintive Technology (or something like that). When I asked to  A - B some of the others with the B&W's, they told me no can do. None of the others were hooked up!!!!  I guess they have a real good margin in the B&W's and don't want to sell anything else.

The other shop had a nice set-up and I auditioned several sets/brands without any sales pressure.  They happened to have a set of trade-in speakers from the same manufacturer that made the ones I was focusing on and which were 9+ hours away.  The pair at the shop were a 2-way version and I was interested in the bigger brother 3-way systems but figured I could at least hear that manufacturer's "sound".  Just as I had read, the speakers were "laid back" and didn't have the brighter detail and sparkle that I prefer. The sales associate said that was the result of the silk dome tweeter. The big brother had a silk dome tweeter (probably the same one) and I realized that this was not the sound I was looking for.  This event saved me from a 9+ hour journey to disappointment.

I'm still studying and looking.  Many systems for sale that interest me are large floor standing, full range speakers which often are quite heavy and the sellers require "local pick-up" only, or the shipping costs are prohibitive, especially for an opportunity to audition and return if not satisfied.  So. in the meantime, I'm sending my old KEF 105/3's to a repair facility to have the surrounds and donuts replaced and crossovers checked.   I may just be happy with these once they are back to their original sound which was quite nice really.  Thank you for all your advice and sharing your experiences.
I guess I broke all the rules too. I bought all of my system completely unauditioned. I did do very extensive research on everything prior to purchase and knew exactly what I wanted. I must say that I am quite pleased with my system and will be for some time. I believe you can read forums, reviews and of course the manufacturers website for specifications and get a pretty good sense about the sound characteristics of a piece of equipment. The one thing you can't know however, is how it will sound in your home.
BTW,  anybody familiar with a full range speaker system with "detailed" sound that can be placed within 18" of the back wall?
You could try Zu speakers, if you buy new, they have a trial period. They are also relatively low cost and easily powered. Email them, they are very responsive.

You haven't given us the dimensions/specifics of your room- which would help in giving you recommendations. Can I ask what brand of speakers you were considering? 

I don't have a dedicated sound room. The audio system is in my living room. The room is approximately 25 x 16 with a sloped ceiling that goes from 8 feet to about 12 feet high. I was quite impressed with a set of PSB Imagine small towers. The imaging and detail were excellent (at least in the showroom).  I would like to hear their Synchrony model which should more depth and bottom end. I'm not familiar with Zu and will do some research, thanks.
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I haven't heard the PSB, so I can't comment on their sound.
My listening area is similar to yours (minus the sloping ceiling), so you probably don't need tons of power-unless you like to listen super loud.
(Also, you don't mention your other equipment).
As I mentioned before, I think the Zu might suit you. They aren't 'laid back', but very honest and revealing, maybe just your cuppa'. Also, looking at the prices of the X2T show them to be around $650 (I don't see the Synchrony line). If you can budget around $1K+, then you could probably get a nice older floor standing model Zu used. There are a pair of bookshelves for sale on Agon, but I think you would need a sub for the lower frequencies- so better to stay with the floor standers.
I own Vandersteen 3a sigs and the Zu Union. Both are very capable, though I listen to the Vandy's most. 
Right now I'm using my 1990's Luxman R-115 receiver (75w/ch),
 recently cleaned and recapped. I've got a Peachtree Audio Grand Integrated on its way here. Tons of class D power (more than I really need) and a great built in DAC. For sources I have a Musical Fidelity X-Ray CDP and will stream internet radio from an iPad. I accumulated all the equipment (except for the iPad) without audition and based on research and reviews. I've done ok so far but speakers are so variable and subjective that it gives cause for caution.