Listening to equipment at home before you buy


This discussion is a recommendation for PS Audio.

I just retired, am new to the audiophile hobby and am enjoying it. (Hobby does have a steep "learning curve.")  I currently have a Jolida JD302CRC tube amp, teac UD-301 dac/preamp and Vandy 2CE sig speakers.  I like my current system but want to try a solid state power amp to compare the sound to the Jolida.

I have been watching the PS Audio videos and decided to do a home trial of the Stellar S300. I tested the amp at home for 30 days and preferred my current amp and returned the S300 to PS Audio. The return of the amp was as advertised, PS Audio paid shipping both ways with my full purchase price refunded.  I highly recommend PS Audio to anyone who wants to test their equipment at home.
0faf33e0 81db 4b8b 93c4 563be307f7762tuby
With the departure of brick and mortar shops, a number of manufacturers have embraced a model that allows customers to try their gear in their own homes/systems.  Some do require the customer to pay a restocking fee and/or return shipping.  This is a different retail model from when I got started with this, but one that has its advantages.
The direct sales model works for me. 
I read a lot of positive hype, reviews, etc on the Chane A2.4 speaker. After much deliberation I purchased a pair for 30 day in- home audition. Even after surpassing the recommended 40+ hour break-in, the speaker didn't deliver what I thought it should've. Between shipping to me and my FedEx back I'm out $150. That's something I have to much more strongly consider when getting sucked into Internet Direct hype re speakers and their guru designers or any other product. Ouch!
@sifter..................

i did a home demo of Tekton Pendragons and it cost me $295.00 to ship them back. 
Yup..not sure how many more hobbies I can ' pay to play.'
You could try a Pass Labs amp. They are excellent in my system. Contact Mark at Reno HiFi. He is very helpful and will arrange an in home demo.
Reno HiFi is a direct factory dealer for Pass Labs. I have done business with them  twice and am very satisfied. They also have a excellent trade
in policy, best I have seen.

I have no connection with Pass Labs or Reno HiFi.

This is so different from the brick-and-mortar days when I had my shop.  We actually almost demanded that the customer take the item home and listen to it before buying, especially for high-dollar items. I might mention that some manufacturers back then did little to support our philosophy, but it was the only way I felt honest about my business. An unhappy customer was simply not going to result from being "stuck" with a component that did not work in their system--not on my watch, anyway. 

Were we taken advantage of?  A few times, but every Christmas when I sent out the cards, I would "fire" a few customers due to various reasons.  We always "suggested" that they would be better off at someplace else that would "better meet their goals."  Typically, these goals included
paying less than cost for items and not understanding why we had to charge anything at all for some things.  Customers are very interesting... 

With the new shipping paradigm, I feel for you all.  Shipping was a HUGE expense back then and remains so today.  Given the prices for many key components today, I would still want to listen to them IN MY ROOM before plunking down cash for a final sale. I guess our "hobby" just got more expensive, and it seems that some manufacturers are stepping up and working with their direct customers to make it happen.  I still say a brick-and-mortar shop is your best bet IF you are near one.  Cheers!
As a new "audiophile," I have been enjoying reading the many different on-line articles trying to get a an understanding of the relationship between price, sound quality, system synergy, etc and I have found it challenging.  I I am not an electrical engineer but I am a scientist and understand the technical vocabulary that describes the specs of a piece of equipment. I read the reviews of how a particular sound track sounds but ultimately, these "experts" are expressing their personal preferences.

I have visited the two "brick and mortar" stores within 30 miles of my home and recognise I do need to hear what I purchase.

My question the the group is how does a new "audiophile" find their best system at their price point?  There is little chance in today's new or used market to hear equipment.   For that matter what is my price point?  I have the finances to spend 10K on a system but if I cannot hear the difference between 10K and 3K I should stop at the 3K number. 

Good thing I am retired and have the time.
After 45 years in the hobby I am not, nor have I ever been, an audiophile. So take what I have to say with a grain of salt.

I do not believe that an amp with a class D output stage is representative of the spectrum of solid state amps that are available. I would try again with a traditional power amp topology. This is not a put down of class D, just a suggestion to consider an alternative.
2tuby I would trust your ears first followed by trying to work with a good audio dealer. Try to borrow the gear you are interested in take it home and listen playing music you know very well. I would start with the speakers first and work from there. If you have to strain to hear a difference in the $3K gear compared to the $10K don't bother spending more money.
Sadly a great many brick and mortar shops are incapable of demonstrating a musical experience. This past year I felt I might also like to update my system having also recently retired. One nice feature of the modern era is the ability to call up almost any material. I have the advantage of having recorded and mixed pop music and also listened to some of it for decades on multiple recording studio and home HiFi systems.

In demos on systems costing more than houses, I have endured zero depth, horrendous phase response, foot heft and point 180°, 'cabinet' on DI bass, vocalists a mile wide, no height, no stage, panned multitrack backing vocals as one wide smear, etc. More than once I wanted to say "you're ….ing joking"

OTOH, every internet twit is an expert in their own mind, never having attended an acoustic performance or heard a capable system.

The difference between $10k and $3k system is often inversely proportional to the price. Pricing today is stupid. A great many products are designed rather than engineered. If one is to believe the hype, recordings of yesteryear should be egregiously awful, which they clearly are not.

Unless you want to become a gear swapper, best recommendation is to visit as many B&M establishments as possible in a day's drive radius, find a knowledgeable salesperson and purchase a system that is musically satisfying on program you enjoy. And then just enjoy it.

@viridian 
I do not believe that an amp with a class D output stage is representative of the spectrum of solid state amps that are available. I would try again with a traditional power amp topology. This is not a put down of class D, just a suggestion to consider an alternative.
Class D is exactly representative of the amplifier spectrum. Some Class D amps are excellent.

It is important to mate the amp and the load. Never forget one is building a system and all parts must work harmoniously.

Just as in the early days of AB transistor amps, some early Class D amps left much to be desired.

No, that is not correct, the ultrasonic spuriae in most amps with a class D output stage is not representative of class A, B, H, etc amps in any way shape or form. Here in the Stereophile bench tests of another PS Audio Stellar amplifier, you can clearly see that a low pass filter is used so as not to interfere with the test setup. The amp is compromised in its ability to pass a clean square wave without ringing:

https://www.stereophile.com/content/ps-audio-stellar-m700-monoblock-power-amplifier-measurements

Figure 3 also shows a 1K sine wave dirtied by ultrasonic noise. You just don’t see this stuff in traditional output stages. They measure it at .8 volts at the speaker terminals centered at 465k. Show me an amp with a class A/AB output stage with this kind of behavior.

Which is not to say that they are not excellent examples of this topology, or that there are not more important criteria than passing a square wave or the presence of ultrasonic noise.
I have heard a few Class D amps and from what I heard, they are not quite ready for prime time.  For myself, I would never own one, especially since I despise bright (detail oriented) sound.
Ditto to Veridian's "not an audiophile" statement. I bought some of my equipment used.  If I didn't like it, I could hawk it like someone did to me.  I ended up keeping almost all of it. One caveat is I treat my gear like a body part for a transplant, others treat theirs like a football.  I never have figured why some used equipment looks like it was kept in a churning cement mixer. 
2 tuby
I would buy 'up" but only to the point where you can discern a performance difference. I have to guard against falling for latest tech breakthroughs on materials and distortion when they often offer no audible improvement. If a leaf Tweeter sounds worse than a metal dome, buy the dome. If a superior metal dome sounds worse than a lowly cone, by the cone. I learned this the hard way.
Browndt-Pass Labs is at the top of my short list of amps to listen to but does Reno HiFi dmo in NY?

Richopp-I wish you were still in business

viridian-I have read about different classes of amps and heard different opinions about which class is better but I as someone who has never heard a Class D, I needed to hear the amp for myself.  Some ears prefer Class D?

So A
udiogon members, I am in the market to purchase a new or used solid state amp that I would like to listen to in my home, new or used does not matter, but I as a newbie I think used make more sense. Can you recommend a B&M shop that will be be able to help me improve my audio experience?

I live 50 miles north of New York City. 

PS- Audiogon members,thank you for you guidance
Audio Connection, Verona NJ
Adirondack Audio,   Queensbury, NY  (Lake George area)
Lyric Audio, White Plains NY
+1 for John at Audio Connection, he is IMO a zen master and often visits customer homes to wring the last ounce of performance out of a system. He as a Vandersteen dealer is also to be trusted to know what amplifiers to pair with your model 2
oh and they are good
not sure I would rule out tubes....QuickSilver will make them sing
or a HD220
or..... an Ayre SS
or ??????
last pair I heard were sublime w 80 WPC VTL

I have no business relationship w AC
know him by reputation as a3 pair of Vandersteen owner

Just sayin... There are many brick & mortar high-end dealers who will let you try gear at home.  Some are more accommodating than others.  You've got to ask (or sometimes beg, cajole, etc.).

This is a big deal, because you have to hear gear in your system & room to REALLY 100% KNOW if you're going to like it... or end up selling it on Audiogon.

I don't have a lot of $$ and I hate re-selling anything, so I always try to hear it at home first if I can.

Back in the late 70s, through the 80s and early 90s, I was very lucky to have a great audio dealer, some 90 miles from where I lived. I both spent many long night listening recessions in his shop and brought equipment back to my home for audition. During that period of time, I was able to buy, sell, trade or exchange (within my budget) some very nice audio gear, with that dealer. Also, I traveled quite a lot during that time period and made a point to check out all audio I could, in my travels.
Through the 2000s, I moved to a rather remote area and found myself having to down size - doing a good deal of selling and buying on line and having to deal with some of the horrors of shipping.
I'm now fortunate to be living in an area that, within 100 - 300 miles, has a few  good audio dealerships and a good many private individuals, buying, selling and trading audio gear.
It's my suggestion to the OP - you might consider used and if you're up to a bit of traveling - check out the for sale adds and converse (through the site/sites) with the sellers, to arrange a personal audition before buying. It may not be in your home, but at least, is in a home environment and you can see and hear, up front, what you might be getting, as well as make some new audiophile friends....Jim

jhills
I have no problem with used gear and have been watching items on Audiogon, US Audio Mart, Music Room etc. I will take your suggestion and see if the used seller is willing to allow an audition. Thanks for the reply!
Please remember you are assembling a system

Source, program, cables, loudspeakers, room acoustic all contribute.

Purchasing without a listen in your system puts you at risk of buying a pig in a poke or passing on an ugly duckling which is really a swan.

And don't forget the stress of driving 100 miles listening all the while to some incoherent egregious automobile system.
@ieales 
One usually has some idea of what kind of system would work for them in their space and on their budget; what kind of music they listen to; how loud they like to play their music, etc. Beyond that - It's not rocket science - just a few basic rules: Quality low capacitance, low inductance, high conductance speaker cables and ICs (they don't have to cost $10K) work very well with most all equipment and speakers, while high capacitance cables don't match well with high currant amps. Don't match a low efficient, hard to drive, set of speakers with a low powered amp - tube or SS. Match the size and character of your speakers to the space you've got to fill. Wither you stream, play CDs or LPs is personal choice and a mater of budget. If something of interest comes up, that peaks your interest and you think it might work well for you - google it, read reviews and ask your fellow AudioGoners. If it clicks all the boxes why be afraid to drive 100 miles to check it out.
Over the years I've auditioned many pieces of equipment somewhere other than in my own home and have never brought home a bad choice. Every room can  be made to sound better with a little time and attention to set up and a bit of treatment. Putting together and setting up a nice system within a given budget isn't as hard as it seems....Jim


+++ for making connections with John at Audio Connection. I have never dealt with him, as I’m quite some distance from the NE. but he has a stellar reputation as a great source for help with anything to do with Vandyies.
A while back, I had a chance to audition the Vandy Treos through an Ayre VX-5 Evo and the sound was very, very good - open, detailed, yet smooth and un-strained. I had a chance to live with that same amp at my home for about 3 weeks, through my Audible Illusions pre, running my Maggie 1.7s and liked it allot.
Another of my favorite SS amps, for the dollar, has always been Bryston. When I get ready to go back to SS, I would not hesitate a minuet to jump on a good buy on a used Ayre V-X5 or a Bryston 4B SST or SST-2, and I have no doubt that either of those two amps would match very nicely with the Vandy 2Ce sigs. Sometimes you can find either the Ayer or Brystons for around $2.5K to $3K on the used market. For a SS amp to pair with Vandies, Maggies or older Thiels, I can’t think of anything for anywhere near the cost that would do a better job than either of those amps. You could check with John though, he may have some other ideas...Jim

Those Vandersteen sound really good with the Belles electronics.