How do you determine value & performance?

Hi All, I’ve been an active audiophile for about four decades. Over that time, I’ve owned products from many different companies and have done business with many “brick & mortar” shops and online merchants.  I’ve never had a truly bad audio experience except for damaged shipments, but my priorities for assessing value and performance have changed significantly over the years.  

In my early audio days I focused on the pursuit of sonic performance to the exclusion of most everything else. I was drawn to the latest “hot”products and the dealers that carried them. Considerations such as a product’s aesthetics, ergonomics, reliability, warrantee/service, resale value, etc. weren’t that important. Also, I wasn’t particularly concerned by an audio shop’s after sales support (general education, system trouble-shooting, etc.). Rather, I was concerned about two things - what products they offered and the competitiveness of their pricing. 

Today, a product’s non-sonic characteristics such as reliability, quality, aesthetics and resale value are at least as important to me as the product’s sonic performance. Similarly, the dealers that I’m drawn to today are those with strong reputations for honesty, dependability and high service levels and not simply those that carry the “hottest” products or those that offer the lowest price. 

How about you, what are your thoughts on determining whose products you purchase and which dealers you do business with?

Thanks, Mike. 

I started my "slippery slope slide" in 1997 so I’ve been pursuing this for about two decades. I think all the factors you cited above matter. For me it is primarily about sound, and I have purchased gear from Audiogoners, Brick and Mortar dealers and online shops. I would say that with a couple of exceptions, my interactions have been favorable. Those two times I felt that I was unwanted or mislead were with dealers I sincerely approached in the SF Bay Area (I won’t say where, they are long since out of business) that lied to me or completely fouled up the audition experience despite my calling well ahead of time and agreeing to let me listen with a properly configured system.

I have owned many amplifier brands, both solid state and tubed, and my current system is a hybrid: tubed preamp and monoblocks, and solid state stereo subs. It matters to me how the equipment looks, but I have a man cave for listening and with the lights turned low, my goal is to forget the gear and just absorb into the music. I greatly value amps that are quiet, easy on the ear, dynamic and don’t sound like they are breaking a sweat. If they can cast a realistic soundstage and have good three dimensionality, i.e., good separation, so much the better. I also value that the manufacturer of my preamp and amps are in the US, use as many US made components as possible, use local jobbers for sheet metal and powder coating, and have their own internal magnetics shop to do transformer fabrication and winding. Reliability, quality, sonics and price are my main value markers.

I will give one shout out to an absolutely top notch dealer that all others should emulate, that being Echo Audio in Portland, OR. Good people, good audio gear.
+1 for Echo Audio in Portland. Visit it if you are in town.

I can suggest a few dealers/retailers that value customer service very well.
Soundscape, The Listening Room - Baltimore MD. Audio Advice - Raleigh NC. GoldPrint Audio - Lexington NC. Audio Concepts - Dallas TX. John Fort Audio - Dallas TX. Galen Carol - San Antonio TX.
I have been wanting to visit Echo Audio - Portland OR.

Happy Listening!
name your local dealers/retailers, if close by. It is good to read that those operations that did not value customer service (SF locations) are not around in 2018.
Happy Listening!
I've had a couple bad experiences buying used. Nothing that couldn't be rectified, but still inconvenient. I now try to buy new gear with a decent warranty, and nothing too esoteric (unless it's basic) since many of those companies won't be around in the future. 

I also believe it's worthwhile to potentially lose some $$ in shipping costs and restocking fees in order to get an in-home audition. With prudent dealer searching and credit card deposit, one can usually manage an in-home audition with option of exchange or return. I've found it's important to discuss the return policy with the dealer prior to purchase so you're on the same page. I let them know I'll definitely return an item if it doesn't meet my expectations.

Beyond those issues my primary concern is sound quality. Appearances take a back seat, but any preamp or integrated must have a remote. That's an absolute deal breaker for me. 
How do you determine value & performance?

It would seem to me the only answer would be in the opinion of whomever is doing a comparison between two or more like components that are new. I write new because the used market has other variables, such as the "condition". And new means in a manufacturers unopened carton. Also, value in my opinion means taking both "quality" (subjective and objective) and price into consideration. Further, price should be what you actually pay, not necessarily MSRP.
Thanks to all for your thoughts. I hadn’t previously realized it, but I do have a mild bias against products made in China because I consider them a direct competitor to our nation. Nonetheless, I will continue to purchase Chinese products when the value to price ratio is very high. 

I too have favorite dealers and product manufacturers. Spearit Sound (located in Northampton MA) recently closed due to the owner’s retirement after many years in business. Their service and advice were stellar and over the years I became good friends with Jack Tozzi who was with Spearit since it’s inception. Recently, I’ve done business with NextLevel AV (located in Chicago IL) and I’ve also become friends with Tyler & Dana Meueller NextLevel’s owners because their service is excellent and they are so personable. 

From a product standpoint my experience with CJ (Conrad Johnson) has been outstanding, although after several decades of CJ ownership, I have moved away from tubed equipment to solid state due to a move to a much warmer climate. A big part of my CJ loyalty was due to product reliability and their terrific service. Another company from which I’ve received exemplary service and am very pleased with the product’s quality is Tri-Planar. They are a very small company whose only products are tone arms. The owner/designer/technician is Tri Mai and his level of personal assistance and service have been extraordinary. 

As I consider what I’ve written, it dawns on me that the personality and the friendship of the people at the dealers and manufacturers I choose to do business with are key part of why I choose to do so. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise.