Should high-end shops be "OBLIGATED" to advise about component matching for best sound?

Being involved in high end audio for at least 35 years, I always wondered why audio shops don't go out of their way to advise about system matching.  I am sure a few go the extra mile, especially if the customer is looking for an entire system and willing to spend $10,000 to 50,000 ( and that would be lower side of premier systems).

Some of us "may or may" not be in this category, or even the medium of this scale of  $20,000-$25,000  Many of us "philes" may be close to the $10,000-$12,000 mark in expenditure.

I get the impression that too often high end dealers would like to sell you far above what you want to spend. There is nothing wrong with good and reasonable salesmanship to extend a customer's budget.  Often audio stores recommend entire systems in an ala carte fashion.

In addition, what happened to  the "stepped system" displays (with some variation). That may sound  like a mid-fi audio store selling approach, but high end stores could do the same thing displaying systems from $2000, $4000, $6000, $8000, $10,000, $12,000 etc   Each step would  have  speaker cables and ICs best suited for each system.   In my opinion, this "MIGHT" REDUCE the trail and error merry-go-round trial of buying and selling.

Lastly, I realize that a large percentage of customer may be looking for one or two components( separates in this case counting  as ONE COMPONENT).   There is no set way to build a quality audio system, but dealers need to get more involved with customers in making buying choices.  If not, then many shops will disappear over the next decade......  

I know the brickbats will fly over this thread because I sound lie an old fogey ( Well, I am an old fogey! ) However, should make for a spirited discussion!!      Thanks, SJ     


Why complicate matters....  If asked the salesman should give his /her personal opinion....

I remember when I bought my first Mercedes.  I was excited about owning the marque coming from a Honda Accord.  On the test drive (his name was Jay Kyle....maybe 50 years ago) Jay sat in the back seat, my wife and I were in the one said a word.....after the test drive I bought the car.  Jay didn't try to sell me Jaguar, Acura, etc.....he just let me languish in the purchase.
Yes, it's the best argument for paying retail along with warranty support and providing a venue for demonstration.
Except for stepped system's (Quite often, a less expensive product will work better in a specific in a specific application.), you're 100% right. If someone asked what makes a good audio store, your post sums it up nicely.

" Being involved in high end audio for at least 35 years, I always wondered why audio shops don't go out of their way to advise about system matching."

The simple truth is that most just don't know how. There's more too it than filling your store up with expensive components. But you're right in that there are a few good ones left. Unfortunately, we need more.
@stringreen If it was an Accord then you're not as old as you think.  The brand was introduced in '76.
Yes, we need more brick-and-mortar Audio shops!
 Who would enforce this " obligation "?
The world is changing....brick and mortar is old school.  Sears is gone, Nordstrums, and Neimann is hanging on by their fingernails...giant malls are scratching to fill the empty spaces. 
My local dealer refuses to talk about what components work best together. As a matter of fact, when asked directly about the different characteristics of components, he is hesitant to discuss the differences. Consequently I wont purchase from him or talk to him about equipment anymore.
sunnyjim, In order to advertise matching of whole system dealer would have to offer all system components, including a home and furniture, be your age, have the same hearing and sound preference, listen to the same music, etc.  In short - to be you.

ricred1,  Jeff Rowland posted on the website, that they don't offer any advise on cables, including power cables, but when I called them asking about matching of particular amplifier they offered advise and discussed it.  I've also sent email to Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen asking about matching and he responded.  Perhaps your dealer is either not friendly or simply doesn't know much.

I like to talk or read about gear, but advertising whole system matching would be too much for me.
Sunnyjim - Over the years I’ve experience exactly the type of thing you talk of and I’ve come to realize there seems to be two kinds of store...
- those that are just in it for the money.
- those that are in it for the pleasure

The latter is the type of store I now frequent and get the best service from.

I know of only four such stores in the Greater Toronto region (it’s a pretty big area with lots of stores) and each of them will recommend products suited to your system. They are not always 100% correct, but most of the time they provide great recommendations.

The kind of store I like to frequent has sales people that spend time discussing your system, music, likes and dislikes. They also know SOME of the little quirks in components that can cause issues and are willing to share them with you.

And before someone asks....
- American Sound of Canada (amazing high end systems)
- Hi Fi Fo Fum (products known for affordable quality music reproduction)
- Audio Eden (a huge variety of products and quality consignment gear)
- Toronto Home of the Audiophile (some of the more esoteric product lines)

All of these stores are willing to setup auditions that include your components, either from their existing stock or even your own gear( I have done that).

You can easily tell this type of store - the same salespeople are still there on a third or fourth visit :-)

I have a great rapport with the staff at these four stores and often just pop-in to chew the fat about the latest gear/albums/etc. - they are always willing to chat.

I hope you find a similar kind of store in your area.

One last comment - as I have delved deeper into the various aspects of this hobby - I have come to realize it is extremely complex.

A persons knowledge tends to be very specific - like turntables, arms, cartridges, amps, speakers, digital players, cables, etc. They seldom know it all

So - if you ever find a salesperson that has an accumulation of all of that knowledge - stick with them and post their name here.

We’d all like to chat to that person:-).

Personally - I find the accumulated knowledge of the Agon members quite amazing and I drawer on that knowledge when needed. OK - you do sometimes have to sort the wheat from the chaff :-)

I realize that it is very much a case of "Buyer Beware" - but the available information on the web today is vast, and can go a long way to eliminate a bad purchase.

Personally - I’ve never had it so good :-)

Regards - Steve

As already highlighted, a  suggestion for any "obligation" inference as to "best sound" is a stark impossibility for 3 main reasons

(1) Dealers can only carry certain brands, and the arena of choice in high-end is far too wide to even consider presenting anything more than a restricted sample available. That kills it right there ...full stop.

(2) "Best sound" is purely a highly deeply biased and purely anecdotal value judgement that is bespoke unique to an individuals whims and bias with no benchmark for comparison or assessment. That kills it again....full stop.

(3) An "obligation" is a course of action that someone is required to take, whether legal or moral. Without drowning in the impossible swamp of generally debating the former, even the latter is governed by the afore highlighted caveat emptor guideline. The latter does not seqway into the former with the possible exception of an unlikely legal protection statute transgression for being misleading or fraudulent, that is not the context of this thread nor even remotely existent in high-end audio where the debatable and conflicting differences in sonic signature are just a flavour of the month.

Time to kill off and mercifully bury this thread and let's move on.

Whoa there AKG - not dead yet :-)

in days gone by you could actually rely on audio stores for good sound advice. (pun intended)

But I guess with the abundance of choice comes ignorance and it's all about the mighty dollar, so shift that product!

(1) Dealers can only carry certain brands, and the arena of choice in high-end is far too wide to even consider presenting anything more than a restricted sample available. That kills it right there ...full stop.
Granted, but I have had dealers recommend products outside of their current line - they are few, but good dealers often offer "advice" on other products they found of value - and they know I'll come back.

  • (3) An "obligation" is a course of action that someone is required to take 
So, I should not expect that my car mechanic actually know's one end of a wrench from the other? Well they are licensed, so there is an inferred obligation there I guess - perhaps we should license high end stores?

The OP states High-end shops - not TV stores. High-end implies some kind of extended expertise or knowledge - at least to me.

It's no different from high-end clothing stores or food stores - they "generally" know much more about their market in general and certainly more details about their products.

Are they obligated? - not legally, but people "expect" a higher level of understanding of "their craft" from the "High-End"  stores.

It's becoming more apparent to me that as time goes by that the level of "professionalism" across the board is diminishing - not only in audio circles but across all walks of life.

Do I expect value when I walk into a store - not really, but I'm sometimes surprised

But the stores that DO step up - get my repeat business.

Just sayin :-)

Much overthinking going on here, system matching is to be expected and central to what any serious audio store has to offer.
I would think a good store would. The better the sound the better they look.Good stores have support, thats how they keep you.
Yes.  That is why we have high end.  I pay for service and advice. If I don't get it then they are not high end and i won't be back
Like previously stated, dealers only carry specific brands that they deem good for their customer base and market.  They don't carry off brands to often as they want a brand that will last a long time, has money to develop new products, and they can get parts for down the road.  I would think that most set-up systems that they feel sound good.  I have seen my local dealer set-up systems for various price points with very good results (Audio Connection in Verona, NJ comes to mind).  Are they obligated, should they, who knows.  There are audio people that I meet that will only buy new from a dealer, not sure how many of those types are still around, but I come across them a lot.  Happy Listening.

To aka--ca.  I could have used the word "mandated" instead of obligated, but saw that as too strong and confining word   However, to just summarily "brush off" this thread because you offer some convoluted legalese  explanation that pleases you, is not very friendly or collegial   Member  "Willie wonka", at least considered what I said and offered reasonable criticism that other members also made; and, some members actually agreed with me. If what I proposed or put on the table for consideration is not worthy of some thought by you, well bully for you and you should move on and out of the discussion

Unfortunately, over the last few years,cynicism /or animosity toward threads that go off the specific or technical, and ask a general industry questions,or raise issues about the changes in the high end audio scene. I think there are some dealers who just want to sell you anything because they got to pay to turn the lights on every day. 

I once walked into an high end shop in Honolulu, gererally inquired about a pair of the YG "Carmel" speakers when they first hit the market at $18,000.  The owner turned them on for me, and they sounded very very good, but not "$18,000 good" what ever that is, or supposed to be. However, he never ask me what my electronics were at the time( which were in $1500-$2000 range.)

Nevertheless, I had  the feeling that the dealer thought  that if I listened  long enough , I would tell him to wrap them up and deliver them.  It was like ( comically) believing that I would catch the "buying flu" just by my proximity  to the product and the time spent in the showroom. The dealer was a nice guy, but in my opinion was a poor salesmen  Having been a audio salesman for 15 years or so in 1980's, I always felt it was better to ask  what the customer wanted to spend and keep him in that ballpark. Sometimes, I was criticized by others for not trying to step up the customer to the next system level. Nevertheless, I sold a lot of  hi-fi. 

Lastly, I think it is worth it to occasionally stop a minute and look at the macrocosm of the high-end market and business .Our precious hobby, obsession, or neurosis is driven by technology and profit. This does not mean we have to be dragged along with what is "trending" or topical.  

 Thanks to all who have responded so far.   S.J.

As others have said... it may not be realistic to expect any audio dealer and their staff to be so experienced that they might be able to advise the customer in how well all components match, or how all compare to others.

In addition, they’ve selected the brands they carry for a reason, whatever that may be, and it is in their best interest to present the brands they offer and the respective components in the best combination they are able to present - to attain the best sound they can to please the customer.

I’ve found few dealers and their staff aware of how well their components sound compared to the many, many available - especially, the "boutique" components out there, at bargain pricing, which compare very favorably to the major brands (which most dealers carry), or which actually "leave them in the dust."

On several occasions, at well known dealers, I’ve auditioned major brands (e.g. Harbeth, Revel, Golden Ear, Monitor Audio, Magnepan, NAD, Mark Levinson, etc., etc.) which have glowing reviews, but which fall far short of the sound quality of others they don’t carry (which often cost far less, are lesser known, or may be "boutique" brands). Nor, do they present those major brands with the best matched components to present their products in their best form (this is often the case with Maggies, which can sound incredible with the right combination of electronics, but not as well with many major brands). I assume they do so, because they can’t offer the brands, which best match, and must restrict their demos to those brands they offer, or they’re just ignorant of the best combinations of components (e.g. impedence matching, etc.). It doesn’t matter, they’re left with trying to sell the customer those brands they have. It’s unreasonable to expect them to "educate" the customer in the best combinations of components, if they don’t carry those brands. If they did they might not be in business long.

And... I've found... that the brands with some of the best sound quality (from an "audiophile" perspective), do not have many dealers in the US, if any (e.g.  Nola, Legacy, Gamut, LaHave, Atma-sphere, etc.), or may only be sold direct to consumer (e.g. DC10Audio, Wavetouch Audio, Linkwitz Audio, Magnestand, DecWare, AudioKinesis, ClassDAudio, etc.). 

Moreover, not every customer’s taste in sound quality is the same - some like "big bass," or "mellow, smooth" sounds, while other’s prefer the most resolution, clarity and definition they can find (though some, might consider that type of sound harsh, strident or fatiguing).

And still other customers will only buy the "big name" brands, despite their premium prices, over "boutique" brands, at much, much lower prices - not because they offer the best sound quality, but because they are the most well known, and are easiest to sell in the after-market.

So... many find... that it is most likely unrealistic to expect any dealer to be able to offer them the best combination of components available, or to even be able to discuss them. They may be able to do so, only in the context of those they offer. This is especially true of Home Theater dealers, who often "don’t have a clue," regarding the best quality sound from an "audiophile" perspective - it’s not in their interest, since most Home Theater brands don’t offer that.

I’ve found that I’ve been able to "sleuth out," some of the best sound available, and at bargain prices... only... by lots and lots of research on forums like this... and... by personal demos of "boutique" brands. I’ve found that by seeking out those who are widely experienced in "big name" brands, as well as "boutique" brands (which most dealers have never heard of), that I’ve been able to find some of the best sound available at any price, and usually at bargain prices. Though, there is some risk in doing so. And... you’ll always run into those forums, which are dominated by those like the "crew" on AVSforums, which are totally ignorant of "boutique" brands, and think that you only find quality sound in the "big name," HT brands (which, of course, is not true).

So... if... you’re an obsessive, compulsive "audiophile," there may be no alternative, but to "do your homework."
"  Who would enforce this " obligation "? "

For the most part, manufacturers do. Established brands won't let just anyone become a dealer. Requirements vary from brand to brand, but they do their best to make sure a dealer can support their products. For example, if you wanted to become a Wilson dealer, you will definitely have to be a dealer for brands like Krell, ARC, Rowland,... If not, they won't approve you.
They should not be obligated unless damage could occur through improper matching.  This is between the buyer and seller.
@williewonka  I too have dealt with Audio Eden in Aurora, and have had only positive outcomes. I have also just popped in from time to time just to hang around and chat about music in general with Mike. Sadly there are too few shops like this around anymore.
Crazyeddy - if you haven't done so - take a trip down to Hi Fi Fo Fum in Toronto.

It's a great little store, with some great gear.

Alas Steve the owner is not as chatty as Mike, but it's worth a trip. Call first - strange hours

American Sound of Canada (Younge/Stouville Rd)   has some great very high-end gear and some nice quality vinyl album choices on sale. Generally my first choice for vinyl.

Toronto Home of the Audiophile - is perhaps more "business like" of the bunch, but they used to carry most of the Gershman Line of speakers and have them hooked up for audition - very nice speakers.

But you are right - Mike is the most friendly of all of them and always willing to just chat audio and share opinions on gear.

We do need more of them!

Chat Later
The market has split up.

Headphones and lifestyle or portable music devices.
big box stores selling everything like Best Buy (Sears of home electronics)
HT market with the main target being new home installs and partnership with builders
car audio
Boutique hi fi
pro market bifarcated to small semi-pro bar band/church applications with a dying high end studio market

This is still evolving towards

Headphones portable market is saturated with low end crap - even expensive products like top of the line Dr Beats Pro are CRAP (now going wireless towards even worse sound quality)
Big box - selling mostly low to mid range ever cheaper Chinese made crap
HT still going strong but home movie watching is dying as families all tend to watch individually what they want on their portable devices and go out to theatres for blockbusters. (Market is dying)
Car audio - increasingly left to hobbyists - like Chip tuning - as car audio on luxury models has become extremely good (and profitable as upgrades can be 5,000 for a few hundred worth of gear vs the usual pennies put into car systems in the 80’s)
boutique hi fi - kind of lost in this split up market with much $ lost to HT, portable and car audio. Now increasingly moving towards furniture suppliers of high end products of questionable value but with massive elegant (expensive) cosmetics and often re-issues of archaic tube designs - exotic woods, steel, precious metals, stunning finishes etc. and ridiculous marketing hyperbole to support that and with most profit on selling accessories like basic wires (specially repackaged) at nose bleed prices
pro market remains bifarcated and an ever smaller niche for aficionados that can’t demo hi end gear easily except through word of mouth or a visit to another facility (most facilities are shutting down as there is not much money in the recorded music business compared to the 70’s and 80’s boom years)

Honestly my take is that boutique hi fi the likes of which are mentioned above are trying to survive and experimenting with approaches. Selling packages is what big box stores do and I disagree that hobbyists would entertain being told what to buy to make a complete a system - this approach is wrong. Sticking to good specific technical advice that is or is not directly related to a sale is what may keep the last few aging buyers coming through the doors. The pseudo-science around audio is what has turned me off boutique compared to the 70’s but I don’t represent the target geriatric customers.

All are are competing with internet expanding market threat! Lifespan as a retailer of dry goods is limited. Retail sales have been dying the last two years - internet buying direct is becoming a reality. Malls are closing down across the US. Showroom floors are too costly - Internet forums have replaced the foot traffic and audio conventions allow manufacturers to demo their sound.