Evaluating Hi Fi System Recommendations
Choosing equipment is a easy at one level but choosing the best sounding items is another matter altogether due to a large number of interactive and complex variables. To short circuit the selection learning process, decisions usually boil down to who you trust and personal experience. Key reference points people often rely are:
5. Personal Experience
6. Technical Specifications
7. Brand Reputation
The Hi Fi community is generally very friendly at all levels and a pleasure to belong to. We love serving our customers and contributing to their listening pleasure. We also respect and generally get on well with shops magazines and the people involved with competitive brands.
In the context of the above we should add that it is easy to be confused at what is read when one is fresh to the world of Hi Fi ( it still is confusing!). After nearly a quarter of a century in the community, we feel it may be helpful to pass on a few observations that might help those new to the scene. This is to understand what is said in various circles and read between the lines. In common with most industries there are politics involved between magazines, manufacturers and shops. There are people who will say exactly what they think without fear or favour, but most of the time diplomacy rules. Hence opinions aired are influenced in varying degrees by factors such as profit, survival, allegiances, personal preferences, nostalgia, sentimentality, loyalty etc.
There is no shortage of product recommendations and time is way too short to audition everything. At the end of the day all of us have to find people who know their way around the jungle - we hope the following will help to avoid some of the pitfalls and ensure you get the best results.
Printed Magazine Reviews
These are regarded anywhare between blind trust at one end of the spectrum to extreme cynicism at the other. The truth lies somewhere in the middle depending on the reviewer and magazine concerned - it is important to realize that reviewers don't claim to be infallible (there are a few exceptions of course!).
The magazines do a great job of informing us on the market place - they tend to be a lot more accountable for what they write than some of the stuff you can read on a forum and therefore are a very worthwhile source of information. We support the magazine industry for these reasons.
Most people like to trust reviews and make their choice based on what the "experts" say. By all means consider what is said, but weigh it in context of factors not always considered. To go by a magazine recommendation ALONE is a highly dubious course of action and we have heard enough stories first hand to bear this out.
- If you depend heavily on magazine reviews, make sure you see a good cross-section of them. Reviewers have different room acoustics, different systems, different preferences - all of which influence results.
- It is best not to limit your choice to the latest "flavour of the month". Just because something is new, is no guarantee. There are older forgotten products that also have outstanding reviews which are as valid today as the day they were written.
Internet Magazine Reviews
Categorized differently to printed magazines because these tend not to run for profit. They are relatively free of the influences that some say affect magazines that depend on advertising revenue. The writers are audio enthusiasts who have full time jobs outside the Hi Fi industry and write in their spare time for very little, if any, cash return. Again, try and get a consensus, as there are always wacky opinions.
These have the apparent advantage of being totally objective and free of any vices. The advice, experience and opinions of forum members can be very helpful or extremely misleading. They depend entirely on the quality of people involved - the trick is to discern the genuine enthusiasts with a good ear and great judgement from those with an axe to grind. Worse still are those manufacturers posing as ordinary forum members - manufacturers or one man bands who engage in this practise do so in disguise to dismiss their competitors products and promote themselves, so beware, it goes on.
Providing access to view and audition a wide variety of brands, there are some excellent dealers and these are a good way to assess equipment first hand.
Beware of "great discounts" - we put it like this - "would you prefer to buy a £2500 arm with a £1000 discount, or a £675 arm with no discount that outperforms said £2500 arm?
A good demonstration in your own home and system is ultimately the safest way of purchasing equipment.
Get to know people, and manufacturers who deliver what is promised.
Technical claims need to be backed up by listening - see why
Good design is more about a mindset than years of experience. Companies that are outstanding in one area often expand with equal success into new ones.