We are all quite familiar with how things are today in audiophilia. Equipment prices continue to rise. Dealers, brick and mortar or otherwise, are getting harder to find and equipment reviews are merely a starting point. With all the available gear from which to choose, in a startling variety of combinations (tube, solid state, analog, digital, etc.), is it any wonder that informed equipment choices may be difficult to make?
“We are all ignorant about something” is an old and often used saying. This description aptly describes the skill level of many of us when it comes to making informed equipment choices. This is not to say all audiophiles are blind to the technical side of the hobby. That is a wildly and foolishly incorrect statement. However, it is reasonable that some of us do not have a vast, comprehensive, 100%, in depth knowledge about any and all audio subjects. Therein lies the problem. Because it’s getting harder to find knowledgeable experts, are we making the laborious task of choosing just the right piece of gear more and ever more difficult?
Typically, the entire process begins with the desire for something new or an improvement to an existing sonic signature. What is more than likely quite different among a wide variety of buyers is what happens next. If I want to replace my amplifier, for example, I have many options. I can easily choose the next one up in the manufacturer’s line I already have. Such choices are pretty low risk. I’ve done so on more than one occasion. I can choose a different technology from my current one, like a solid state amp, tubed version or something completely different like Class D. I can go with mono blocks or a stereo amp. And if I am joining the ranks of what seems to be quite a few modern day buyers, I can even choose an integrated amp. After narrowing my choices down to a couple or so options, I suppose my next logical step is to begin looking for equipment reviews.
If I am fortunate enough to find a review on the exact component in which I am interested, I am indeed one step ahead in the game. Because as much as any of us expect every component known to mankind to have a review available somewhere or by somebody, that is, sadly, simply not the case. Many times, the best we can find is a review about something in the same family by that particular manufacturer, whether up the price and quality ladder or down. Such reviews may answer some questions, but likely won’t emphatically foster a warm and fuzzy feeling to entice pulling out the checkbook. At this point, it is frightfully easy to become our own best salesperson or most profound detractor of the best bang for the buck. I certainly cannot speak for anyone else, but I am resolutely positive that, given enough time, I can convince myself to buy most anything as long as I can afford the product in the first place. Historically, I have had this work both to great effect and to disastrous results, and not just regarding audio components.
Life would be far more simple if there was an audio dealer in almost every city who had mounds of time and free, knowledgeable, expert advice to any and all potential customers. Having such expertise would remove much of the doubt and uncertainty many of us have when buying a piece of audio gear. It would make us feel like we have factual answers to the most basic of questions – like will this component work for me? Or is it worth the cost? This presupposes the salesperson at our imaginary dealer is honest and will be truthful in what he or she is telling us.
Most of us live in the real world, however, and buying a new piece of gear can easily ensure uncertainty and doubt. We skeptically yet assuredly write the check in the hope that when the new thing arrives, we will be rewarded with sonic nirvana. And if the decision to buy the new thing is ours alone, to whom do we complain when we are sadly disappointed with the sound? Do we stand on a street corner and chastise ourselves for being ignorant about something, in this case audio gear?
Let’s face it, we can only do so much research. We can even demo a piece of equipment at a dealer or an audio show. We can read reviews. We can post questions on any number of audio forums. We can wade through the proliferation of answers from those forums tendered by those who may have no idea whatsoever if their opinion is in any way correct. We can blind ourselves to any hope of reason because, at the end of it all, we really want the new thing. We have convinced ourselves of sonic improvements. We move forward, “damn the torpedoes,” place the order, write the check, and walk a tightrope of hopeful expectations.
Hopefully, and with good fortune optimistically smiling down upon us, we will be treated to sonic improvements that makes us smile. What we do not want is soon after the new component is put into the rack, we stand there in abject bewilderment wondering why on Earth we ever spent so much money for such a sonic failure. Sometimes we are ignorant about something. Hopefully, just not too often, and not at our own hands because we mistakenly convinced ourselves we knew what we were doing.
Manifestly, our expectation is complete and total excitement in the sonic signature of our new piece of equipment. And the pride that is ours alone for making such a wise choice – whether the wise choice was planned, or we just got lucky.