Several years ago I was quite apprehensive toward buying online. I was hesitant because I truly felt my financial security would be somehow compromised. While that is still a concern, I did finally relent to online procurement and so far, have found it perfectly safe.
From an audiophile perspective I buy CD's from Amazon (among others) and download music from HD Tracks. These types of audiophile purchases have become almost ubiquitous. I still like local music stores but lets face it, the selection is sometimes limited. Online, one has simply to type in an album or artist's name and poof, there's a merchant ready for your credit card.
What about, however, the practice of buying gear online? More and more equipment retailing is being done online, much to the dismay of brick and mortar stores. Many customers go to a local dealer, audition equipment, and then buy it online. Is that really worth the price of admission?
When I was shopping for a turntable, I heard and saw one at a local dealer. I decided that it was the one I wanted. I didn't want to pay full list price so I let my fingers do the clicking online. Sure enough, I found two major online dealers that both sold my turntable. After a few emails and phone calls I made my choice. I bought the turntable and a cartridge at a discount and had the dealer mount the cartridge. They shipped it, and upon arrival, I hooked it up, and well, it sounded OK. I still preferred digital.
One day I was reading an article on turntable set up and how improper set up could seriously affect performance. I got to thinking about how I felt my analog sound was just not exciting. I had always assumed that the cartridge was mounted correctly but decided to have it checked. I found a company who specialized in repairs and had experience working on my turntable. So I disconnected it, hauled the seventy pound beast out to the car and drove it two and a half hours to this service center.
Upon arrival, the owner first set up my table on a system he had in his showroom and played about three tracks from various albums. He then said "let's see what we have going on here." After checking the tracking force, alignment and all of the other settings, he turned to me and asked who installed the cartridge. Because everything was wrong. Everything. After he corrected the mistakes, he hooked it back up to his system and played the same albums again. The difference was profound but on my system it was astonishing.
Taking into account the cost of the repairs, about a $180.00, the cost to drive five hours round trip, my time which was basically a whole day, not to mention months of reduced performance, was it really worth buying the turntable online? I suppose it all boils down to personal preferences and budget. I did save money on the purchase price but did I actually obtain the lowest overall cost? Was my purchase decision really the best one I could make?
My turntable was the one and only equipment purchase I have made online. Since doing so I found a local dealer who is a real pleasure to work with, who is knowledgeable, and who gives me realistic advice. More than once, he has told me that an idea I had would not be best with my other components. He has come to my home repeatedly to help me position speakers, move equipment around and always delivers and installs any new purchases. Another local dealer only provides a fraction of those services. So clearly not all dealers are the same. If you find one who will work with you above and beyond, such a dealer is a valuable resource. Because there is generally a notable difference between price and cost.
An old sales adage is "take price, service and quality and chose any two." Nowadays most customers want or expect all three. It could reasonably be argued that if you purchase equipment online you should realistically expect two of the three. If you want the full program, it may be wise to stick with a good local guy. You may well find out that you come out far ahead in the long run. Because there IS a salient difference between price and cost. Be sure you are getting the biggest bang for your audio buck.