How do you audition speakers at a store?


I would love to know how you all audition speakers in a store. 

Here's my context, which may help explain my question. While I'm not as experienced, knowledgable, or wealthy (!) as many of you, I'm not new to this game, and for the last 35+ years I've made all my serious purchases through one store that I trusted (Take 5, in New Haven). I knew the rooms/acoustics in the store, I knew the owner, and I felt comfortable spending hours there listening to music, often just trying things out. I once spent six hours in one day comparing Maggies, which I ended up buying, with other speakers. I'm sure this sounds familiar to you all. Alas, the owner recently sold the store, it moved location, and, as I live 5-6 hours away now, I'm not inclined to try learn a new environment and a new staff. (I do wish them good luck, though!)

So I find myself without a safe harbor. There are at least four different speakers that I want to hear, in at least three different dealer locations. It's a big purchase for me, in the $4,000-$7,000 range. I feel like a rookie! I'll bring some of my own music and q-tip my ears in the morning, but:

What tricks do you have for leveling the playing field, moving past the psychoacoustic "tricks" that dealers might have to promote one speaker over another or simply the difficulty of mentally trying to hear a speaker as it's going to sound in your own house? I was reading in another recent thread that "Many speakers are voiced to impress during a quick audition, often with a "smiley" EQ." (The poster candidly admitted that he loved them in the store but after a few hours at home they were too bright.) Especially if I can't compare speakers side by side--that is, if I'm going to different locations--what recommendations do you have for minimizing the initial WOW that can happen (because a dealer is a good salesman, because the speakers play "big," because the oriental rug in the room is sooo beautiful, because the room acoustics in one store are better than another, because the amp/components/cables are WAY better than anything I'll ever own, etc)? I also have read that we may be initially drawn to certain acoustic qualities that can shine at first listen but may grate or disappoint later. 

In short, what are your methods for listening "past" a store's environment and the excitement of listening to a new sound ... and hear the real speaker as it will sound in your own space ... for years to come?

I don't know that it matters but I'm going to start my search looking at Kef (Ref1), Harbeth (C7ES-3, 30.1), and Spendour. If I can find a Joseph Audio dealer, I'd love to hear the Pulsars.

Finally: thank you to this community for accepting and welcoming newbies to this culture!
northman
Hello,

 I used to love hitting my local shop.

  It may be a pain in the butt, I enjoyed it.

 Bring in your own cds’ or LPs’ if they have a tt.

 I would lug my amplifier with me, dress accordingly, so you look like u have money, nice clothes. They will hook up your amp, and choose the speakers of your choice.

 Choose a good CD player, or a moderate one as close to quality to your own. And begin,.........

i brought my 3 year old to audition some audio just 5 years back, or 4?.....?

anyway, they had some top tier stuff, I was dressed well, I had my stroller with me, my son was a little squirmy, some tears, grumpy,

i asked for for pink Floyd music, on a wicked pair of sonus Fabrer  speakers, powered by Macintosh monos if I remember correctly,
 maybe a top of the line CD player, other stuff is irrelevant,

we sat sat in the closed room, just the stroller w my kid and I, 
honestly after only 3-4 minutes my son was counting sheep, and I was almost there myself. The relaxing tone and sound was amazing. Almost put me to sleep as well.

anyway, if u. Have the time, bring in your own gear to audition speakers, or most high quality places will let you bring home an amp to audition in your own home.  Thta is how I came upon the Sunfire, my Rotel Rb-1090 gave up the ghost after only a year or so, I was mad. They gave me a floor model sunfire 300, I liked it so much, I took the Rotel floor model swap for their rib-1090, sold it shortly after.

couple years later, after being not too happy with those Emotiva monos, found a like new b stock sunfire 600 signature amp.

HAPPY!

Other than bringing your own music, I would be mindful of the room setup.

If it's truly a professional store, it's likely "tuned" to some degree, to make a speaker perform their best. 

That said, it's not going to sound like that in your room, if the rig is in a living space, and not a dedicated room.

Developing a true relationship with the staff, is paramount. Do you TRUST their recommendations/suggestions? Ask a lot of questions, and go with your gut on whether they are on the level.

It the staff isn't showing true interest in providing what you really want, walk.

Have your Ipad/phone ready for instant reference/fact checking while discussing techie stuff. 
[email protected] 

agree, if they don’t kiss ur butt, and make you comfortable, to EARN your business, maybe say something, and walk,

these salesmen men should be earnest.
they should want to make you feel special.

be wary. Enjoy the audition.
It’s all about the relationship, as you seem to know already. What approach did you take when you began establishing your former relationship? Obviously it worked. Right? Anyway, you have to test the sales guy/gal to see if they actually have a clue. Tell them what you like, what you want to hear, what your room/listening area is like etc. see what they say. You will know very quickly if they are into it, or just “a sales guy”. Ask about the return/audition policy, see if they have setup professionals if needed, etc. then put on some tunes and go to town. I’ve managed to create a great relationship with my local shop, and I can pretty much walk in and ask for the floor model of something and take it home. I don’t abuse that, but I can if I want/need to. I’ve also spent a decent amount of $$$, that is ALWAYS helpful! ;-) Anyway, just go for it and have fun!
It is difficult, picking out speakers. As @geof352 does, I always get a final audition at home, after as many store visits as needed to be sure the speaker is a real candidate for me. That only seems reasonable for an expenditure in the thousands. It mainly tells you how the speakers sound in your own system. (If really worse than at the dealership, consider whether your room acoustics need work.)

Have someone listen with you part of the time, another experienced audiophile who likes the same kind of music as you.

There are no tricks to this. It takes careful, repeat listening, clarity on what your goals and tastes are, and willingness to negotiate patiently with your dealer, if necessary, to get the trials you need -- and then not expect a big discount, as well.

P.S. I’ll tell you about a great dealer - Stereotypes in Portland, OR. I was ready to write them a check for a pair of Harbeth 30.1s, and they said, "You should take them home and listen before you decide." I did, and I bought something else (that’s specific to my setup, not a diss of the Harbeths.) They lost that sale but gained a trusting customer.
Ideally of course you would try them at home. But even if you do this routine will really narrow it down and help you figure out if its worth doing.

Bring your own music. Listen to them with the store system. On the same visit have them change something- amp, source, power cord, anything- and listen again. The difference is whatever was changed, but the speakers are a part of whatever doesn’t change. The more of their things you hear the same speakers with the closer you get to what the speakers are doing. Bring something of your own- interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords are easier to lug around than amps- and hear them with that.

Its very important to keep in mind that the best components, speakers or otherwise, do very little to the signal. If that is indeed what you have then you would expect the sound to change quite a bit with different upstream gear. To the extent it does not change, you got some less than ideal speakers. Really good near perfect speakers in other words will sound like crap with crap gear, and sing like an angel with angelic gear, and it will be very hard indeed to pin a character or personality on the speaker itself.

At some point if you get serious then have them set up in the store similar to the way you would listen at home. I’m talking mostly distance apart and from you, and how much they are toed in, but also how close they are to the walls. If they have to be right near a wall at home listen to them right near a wall in the store. Some stores hate moving speakers even more than in-home demos. So there is a process, you don’t always do what you want sometimes so much as what you can.

My Talon Khorus were bought from a dealer who knew me well enough to be pretty sure I’d like them, and how I would use them, and had them set up just like home for me- even though I know he likes a lot less toe in. That’s what you want. What you get however is all over the map. Good luck!
Call the Dealer and make an appointment to audition speakers on their least busiest day i.e. not on a weekend or holiday. Call the Dealer the night before to confirm the appointment. IME, the professional courtesy you display will be reciprocated by the Dealer, which may lead to an in home demo once you narrow the field down. 
Make a test tracks CDR as it saves a lot of time swapping discs (you could also stream a playlist).

In this way you can listen to familiar tracks which can represent issues you are most concerned with.

For example,

1 Track 1 could be a spoken / audiobook recording which could help in assessing accuracy of vocal reproduction.

Especially useful in locating crossover issues between woofer and tweeter if app.

2 Track 2 could be a well recorded Heavy Metal track which will highlight dynamics.

3 Track 3 could be a female (or even male) vocal track which errs on sibilance.
If it bothers you at the store, it’s likely to bother you even more at home.

4 Track 4 could be a recording which has strong lifelike tonal textures. Are these speakers bleaching them out somewhat?

You can do the same for imagery, timing, detail, bandwidth etc etc. Just bear in mind you will not find perfection, and there will always be serious compromises. All loudspeakers are far from being perfect.

So it’s a question of finding what you like and avoiding what you don’t within your budget of course. Thankfully the law of diminishing returns kicks in fairly quickly above 2k when it comes to loudspeakers.

It won’t always be love at first sight, or listen, and juggling all the various factors can be a difficult decision.

Getting a result you can enjoy is important because this will affect the sound of your system like nothing else can. You might even get to know yourself a bit better as a result of all these endeavours.

The result could be the second most important relationship in your life (or possibly even the first! - but I would be never say that of course).
These are wonderful responses, and although there's no silver bullet there are some great suggestions that I hadn't thought about. Of course it could indeed be the "second most important relationship in my life"! Luckily, my most important relationship is pretty easy going about all this; my wife doesn't care much about music and is understanding as long as I don't scare the horses, as the saying goes.

I hadn't expected to feel so unmoored by the retirement of "my stereo guy" and the relocation of his store. I'll just have to whack up the ginger, as Bertie Wooster might put it, and lean forward into a new store, hoping they are accommodating. It's going to take a few trips and a few stores; it's not in me to show up at a new place with a CDR, some of my own equipment/cables, and a picnic lunch. 

I also appreciated the suggestion above to "dress accordingly"! I feel like I'm going on a first date!
Though a couple of hours from New Haven, Audioconnection in Verona NJ should be on your shortlist.-Especially, when you want a dealer who won't judge you on your appearance, and will give you honest answers and listening time to your hearts' content.

Bob
Thank you, Bob. Even though I kept relying on Take5, I moved to Vermont twenty some years ago. I've only heard great things about Audioconnection, and maybe I should make the trip. Google tells me it's a 6 hour drive so I will at least see what I can find a bit closer. I hear good things about the two places in Nashua, NH. I know Natural Sound outside of Boston pretty well, too. 
Visit a few shops. Listen. Look. Live. Open your heart. Choose. Life is to short to spend years test-driving. If after 3 months of break-in it is not for you then move on. I realize that 5k is not trivial, but in the end, making a choice and moving forward is less stressful than fretting over endless options.
I am curious with the hundreds of well reviewed speakers that
you could have it down to four companies? Another company near you is DeVore. I like two of your choices quite a bit. Spendor and Joseph. Why are you only considering new? The pulsars can be bought used for $3,500-$5,000 all day long. The new version is $9k. I guess you can see I like that one best. 
You have most all the listening tips above. One more is to download the free decibel X app and make note of the range you like to listen to music
in on your home system. It could be 60-65db for example. Then when shopping before any dealer sets a volume level at 80dbs, explain you listen at X and have your phone out and the app on. 
The oldest trick in the book is for the volume game to be run on you.

Here is another thought. Go to the Axpona show in Chicago in April.
If you are not absolutely dying to spend your hard earned cash this month, consider taking the approach that you want to hear and learn as much as possible before your $ and you part way. Embrace the process.
 
Vermont may not have an organized audiophile club but NY has several.
See Stereophile online for the list. These people will probably be very willing to let you join their club and listen/learn from members. Some
will own exactly what you are interested in. Joseph is located nearby you. Go do a factory visit/tour. 

I envy the fun you have ahead of you. If you buy new and they don't allow a home trial, go elsewhere. Of course if you beat up the product
on your home trial expect to be dinged yourself. 

Keep us posted on your experiences. I will enjoy hearing them!
Great replies above. I’d only add a couple things.

When I went, I brought some bookshelves I knew well and had them set up next to the speakers I was auditioning, then A/B’d them. I could hear differences between the two pairs which specifically articulated what the store’s (better) speakers were doing that mine could not. 

The other anecdote was that the salesman played some speakers for me in one room, with one amp, source, etc. and then I went into the better room to hear better speakers. In that room, well, all that gear was also better. I felt shy about asking them to bring the better speakers into the lower-tier room. So, it wasn't a fair comparison. But, I wasn’t about to purchase, so I let it go.
I bring my own speakers.  I want to hear how others sound in direct comparison to mine.  They obviously won't sound the same as they do in my home, but everything else in the store's system will be identical, so the only difference will be the speakers.  Of course, bringing my speaker cables is an easy addition, and probably worthwhile too.  If my amps weren't so heavy, I'd also bring them.  (This probably won't work if you speakers are huge and/or heavy...)
OP,  I feel your pain.  Evaluating in brick and mortar stores was never really easy for me--even when I had tons of brick and mortar shops to go to.  Now that hifi stores are either extinct or on life support, it's worse.  

Not to mention, I need to hear stuff over a long period (say a month) to really know what I'm dealing with.  


RE: "Stereotypes" in Portland, Oregon, I absolutely agree with mike_nc. The staff are extremely knowledgeable and patient. It's my local shop of choice.  I moved here 5 years ago from Washington (state). "Stereotypes" was recommended to me by John Zimmerman of Seattle's "Audio Connection", another shop I suggest locals patronize. It has a limited selection, but it has John and he's been there for decades (and I assume he still is, but I haven't talked to him in about a year). John has exquisite hearing and offers good advice, even if it doesn't involve a sale.

RE: Take 5 in New Haven, I didn't know the shop closed and moved. I visited there once about a year ago and the staff were really nice and engaged. Too bad about that.

RE: New Hampshire, strongly consider "Sounds of Silence" in Nashua. Steve Klein has an excellent selection of high-end equipment and he's a first-rate audiophile, dedicated and personable, too.
You are all VERY kind! 

jbhiller and hilde45: I appreciate your empathy! 

hilde45 and bhakti-rider: that is simply awesome that you bring your own speakers. One of the NH stores that I'll visit (Spendor, KEF, Klipsch, etc) carries my current speakers so that should give me some sense. I'm glad you mentioned this idea. 

gadios: thank you for such a thoughtful response. I didn't mean to suggest that I'm going to do this immediately; I think I'm just excited to start the journey. In fact, I won't be doing anything until after going to the Montreal audio show in March. And I didn't mean to suggest that I was limiting myself to those four speaker companies, nor that I'm determined to buy new. In fact, I've been thinking about starting a thread about buying used speakers, the plusses and minuses. And I'm daily watching a pair of used Pulsars in Ohio and a pair near Toronto; hell, I've already google-mapped the route to both sellers and tried to understand the vagaries of buying something in Canada and bringing it back across the border. But ... I figure that I should at least hear the speakers before I plunk down $4k. Joseph Audio was at the Montreal show last year and I hope they'll be back this year. [Does anyone know a dealer in the Northeast??] And I'm very open to other companies; I'm basing my early preferences on reviews and comments for the kind of sound I want, mostly out here--and a little bit on aesthetics. 

kacomess: Great suggestion about "Sound of Silence." What is up with Nashua? They're loaded with promising spots. As for Take 5, at least it wasn't a sad demise; the owner, Ralph Cortigiano, retired after 42 years. I had a nice visit with him just before they closed, and he was in great form. It's still strange for me to think that when I was a teenager/young adult in New Haven, in the 70s and 80s, there were multiple stereo stores, all of course now gone. Sic transit gloria mundi. 

Isn't Goodwin's High End in Boston? They are an excellent store, and a lot closer than NJ, I'd think. Many years ago, they had a room whose acoustics I've never heard equalled. Worth a visit just for that.
Some good ideas above: Call ahead, make an appt for a less busy day and time, be prompt, and be presentable (these days, a suit would be overkill).
I also like @millercarbon's idea of, once you like something, asking the dealer to change a component in the demo system to make sure you still like it.
And have fun!
One advantage of buying used, since you asked, is the obvious fact
that $4k used will buy $7-12k new.  That may not equate to double
the SQ but the savings can go to your next need. Acoustics?

northman


Looking forward in reading about Audio shops visited and gear auditioned. Have fun!


Happy Listening!

gadios, since you asked about my asking, I'm going to ask back about used speakers. Apologies if this all sounds ask backwards.

I've bought used tube amps, ss amps/preamps, digital streamers, etc. I've tended to stay away from mechanical things like transports, although I bought a used Nakamichi take deck back in the day (which turned out almost certainly to have been stolen). I have bought used/demo speakers in the past but only through a dealer, and never at this price range.

So putting aside the obvious stuff like the seller's online history, and putting aside the desirability of hearing them first (often not possible with an online purchase), what general advice would you have about used speakers? Assuming that the seller assures that they're in excellent condition and provides pictures, what would you be wary of?  Is there a general number of years at which speakers start to show their age? Or is it more about the way they've been used (hours/day, house parties, etc), which of course is hard to determine. I hope I'm asking this right: obviously I'd message with any potential seller, prefer an original owner and even a warranty, prefer a little old lady who only listened (Brahms, Haydn) on church Sundays. But as a general principle, what are the issues with used speakers? How old is too old? Or is that the wrong question? 
To start I only being a few CDs that I am completely familiar with.  I use Dean Peer CD so I can hear a solo instrument first.  It has to sound like a real bass.  Ten I move to a solo piano CD, a vocal CD and then something that is complex so I can hear how everything gets sorted out.  But the sorting out may be the equipment.
In short, what are your methods for listening "past" a store's environment and the excitement of listening to a new sound ... and hear the real speaker as it will sound in your own space ... for years to come?
It's as hopeless as trying to determine where the onion in a Gibson was grown.

A single cable mismatch can make an otherwise excellent system sound awful. How would you know if it is the speakers, room, cables, amp, source? You? Were you stressed to the max finding parking?

First, why other than spending $$$ are you changing? Once you can answer that, then look for speakers that address those issues.

Any specific recommendation here is not worth the bits to transmit.
It reads like this isn’t your first rodeo. Start developing a relationship with the closest dealer that carrys what you’re interested in. Tell them what you want and then, if they’re pros they’ll ask questions. Thats how it begins
Once again, thank you all.

ieales: "the onion in a Gibson"--that made me laugh! I know more or less exactly what I want and what my current speakers aren't doing for me, but that feels like a different thread to me. In fact, I'm not looking for speaker recommendations here, just trying to think about the process of auditioning multiple speakers in multiple stores. 

steve59: thank you. The closest store is about three hours away, and I want to hear at least a few different makes before committing. I don't mean to make this search a holy-grail search, but in the past I had one store that I trusted and worked with what they had (which was very good). But since I'm starting anew and traveling anyway, I'm going to take the opposite approach: try a few different places to try a few different speakers. 

Again, many thanks! I will take this up over the next couple months and see where I land. It'll be fun (I hope)...
OP one thing that I don’t recall anyone mentioning is if the store puts down speakers that you are considering but they don’t carry over what they are “promoting” run don’t walk!
With 2 ears and an open mind.
Although I live in California, I have two daughters that live in the Boston area.  On occasion while visiting there, I've ventured out to check on some of the better audio stores, two of which were Goodwin's High End in Waltham MA, and Fidelis in Nashua NH.  I found both to be friendly and accommodating.  Fidelis is actually the US distributor of Harbeth Speakers so they will have all models for you to audition.  In my own experience, I find that my ears become accustomed to the signature sound of whatever speaker I've been listening to for a while.  When changing from my Dynaudio's to my Klipschorns, the Khorns were extremely harsh sounding, but over time the harshness disappeared.  Going back to the Dynaudio's, now they sounded muffled!  My current speakers are some DIY Electrostats that also upon first firing up sounded a bit bright. But that toned down eventually until I came back from a two week vacation, and they now returned to their perceived brightness!  So I guess what I'm trying to say is; if you can stand not listening to your Magnepans for a few days before your auditioning adventure, perhaps your ears will be less biased. 

What I do:

Bring music I'm familiar with and like.

I listen first however the speaker have been arranged by the store, just to get a quick read.  Then I ask for some position adjustments to be made (usually possible) of the speaker.  I play around with listening distance, speaker arrangements.  I make sure to set them up and listen from a distance that I use at home which tends to be closer - e.g. 6 1/2 to 7 feet.  Similar spread to what I have, though try other options.

I listen from usual distance, more distance to get a sense of how they interact with the room, then closer to nearfield.  I stand up and listen.  Crouch down to listen.  Listen from off-axis.  From behind.  From far away in the room.  Basically a walk-around.  It's almost like doing a human, Subjective "speaker measurement" in a way.


By the time I'm done have always have a very good read on the sound of the speaker.  I have never, ever been surprised by the sound of a speaker that I hear at my home, when I've auditioned them before-hand.   And when I encounter the same speaker in different set ups they still have the same recognizable "voice" I got from my audition.

Works for me :-)


@prof,
I concur. If I auditioned something in a store, it usually doesn't surprise me at my home. Yes, there will be differences do to equipment/cable choices, but once I hear a speakers characteristics in the store, I have yet to not have it translate in my home.
I also agree with walking around a room. I tend to listen at many positions-most of them not in 'the sweet spot'. If a speaker doesn't allow me to listen in multiple places, it gets crossed off fast.

My one last recommendation is to listen to a speaker you are very interested in for a long time. If you sense a 'fatigue', then reconsider your choice. Many speakers sound great for an hour, but can end up grating your ears in the next.
Bob
I live in the s.f. bay area and three of our best stores don't have thier systems setup for cd players. streamers rein.  Two did have a ttsetup on lesser systems. So your left with what is on your phone as a source. Anyone else see this trend?
If a speaker doesn't allow me to listen in multiple places, it gets crossed off fast.
Wow! Opposite for me. If it's a wall of sound, it's gone
FIdelis -- yes, definitely them as well as Goodwin's.
I was wondering about streamers. I thought I might bring a flash drive with some music files along with a cd or two. I've been obsessing over Beethoven's cello sonatas lately, which is a good example of what I want a speaker to do well. 

I'm glad to hear about Fidelis; they're on my list of places. I lived outside Boston for a decade and am still there frequently. I'm not sure why I never made it Goodwin's. They carry DeVore, which I'm now keen to hear. Of course both places carry many fine speakers. AVTherapy is nearby (KEF, Klipsch, Spendor, etc)

I see multiple road trips in my future!
@bhakhti-rider, my speakers are large and heavy but still... I like your suggestion. I can't recall anyone suggesting something so obviously sensible before. Especially if you intend to spend a serious amount of money.

This combined with prof's 'human subjective speaker measurement' technique, it's clear I'm just not taking speaker auditioning seriously enough. 

Generally though, I've not had too many problems with bad purchases apart from a couple of designs where the initial barely perceptible sibilance issue later became unbearable when I began rotating the volume switch clockwise.

This sibilance problem soon became so stressful that I was afraid to play unfamiliar music on them. Somehow I became obsessed with listening for it and found myself playing more far more music on my modest second system.

Eventually I had to accept that I had made a serious mistake, and it was no one's fault but mine. Hence the decision to go in armed with test tracks in future.

Therefore I would also like to add that you should ask for your music to be played back at least as loud as your normal home playback levels. 

For me that's when faults and weaknesses start becoming easier to identify.

I could also suggest that listening to nice well recorded 'plinkety plonkety' jazz is more akin to having a cup of tea or coffee with a potential job applicant, when perhaps in our case a serious grilling under a bright light is a more appropriate attempt at discovering the inevitable (sometimes well-hidden) compromises that all loudspeakers possess.





You cant, have to take them home and use in your environment.
Most speakers can sound good in a sound room and horrid at home.
Curtains, furniture and most important "carpet" play a huge roll.
In my last house i had vinyl floor put in, my sound went the other way.
Moved a year back and its so nice to have my sound back, carpets are not moving.

In the vinal home i was running 24 drivers in 3 pairs of speakers just to get a bit of my sound back, it did not get it back to the pure tone but helped.
Was very happy when my other half wanted to move off the racetrack we lived on...and i mean over the moon!
Nice big old solid house with massive back garden with buffalo grass...trees and more!
Fidelis and Audio Video Therapy in Nashua are both top rate places to audition as well as Audio Connection Verona NJ if you get down that way.