Remember What High-End Audio You're There To Buy!
With the possible exception of a few fanatic Drill Collectors (who knows, there might be some). There are certainly plenty of strange hobbies out there – look at ours, for example! Nobody ever buys a drill because he wants to own a drill. What he really wants is holes; the drill is just what you have to buy to make them. Our high-end audio hobby seems pretty much the same – or, at least, so we tell ourselves. What we want is music, and the only reason we buy all this stuff (equipment, recordings, room treatments, "tweaks", etc.) is because that's what we have to do to get it.
Well, not exactly. If all we wanted was the music, we could buy a radio – anything from a shirt-pocket portable, to a three-men-to-carry-it boombox – or we could just go listen at a friend's house or in our car.
The fact of it is that – at least (I would bet), for the great majority of us – we don't just want music; we want good-sounding music, and that's why we buy all the stuff we buy. I'd even go further than that, and say that we want good-sounding, good-looking stuff, to please our eyes as well as our ears. And, if it should happen, in the process, to impress our friends with our good taste, great wealth, sophistication, and demonstrable (or at least apparent) technical knowledge at the same time, so much the better. And, of course, before any of those other things can even be considered, if we are to buy it, it must be affordable, whatever our budget might be.
The problem is that there's an effectively infinite amount of stuff out there to buy, but none of us – not even the very wealthiest – has an infinite amount of money to buy it with. That means not only do we have to spend money on the stuff we buy, but we also have to spend time and thought in deciding which stuff to spend the money on.
And that's where the point of this article comes in: There are all kinds of reasons why we buy what we buy, but the very best way to be sure that what we get is what we want is to know, well in advance of the actual purchase, what it is that we want our purchase to get us.
Truthfully, that's not nearly as easy as it sounds, and the reason, when you stop to think about it, is pretty obvious: Most of the time, regardless of what the thing is that we're buying, we have more than just a single reason for choosing it instead of something else. If it is something for our system, for example, we might choose some particular new goodie because (using just those four criteria that I mentioned earlier) it's just as good-sounding as the best of the other products tried, is better-looking, is no less prestigious, and is significantly more affordable than the rest.
In manufacturing, there's an old saying about orders: "Whatever you want, you can get it fast; you can get it good; and you can get it cheap. Pick any two of those options and you can have them, but you can never have all three." Buying audio gear is sort of similar: You can have it great-sounding, great-looking, easily affordable, and highly prestigious. And in our case, we're even a little more generous and you can have three out of four, instead of just two out of three. Even so, you still can't ever have all four. (Unless you can find an old MC-60 amp or a classic Marantz or Sequerra tuner at a yard sale for $10. But even then, it will still cost you a small fortune to have it re-tubed, re-capped, and re-furbished for your use.)
Sometimes it seems like you just can't win, but that's not true: You really can win, but only if you'll take the trouble to figure out and arrange in advance all of the things that are important to you.
If, as with most people, getting a good deal is a primary consideration for you, the first thing you have to figure out is what a good deal is. For example, would getting a pair of Ulta-Amazing Speakers at a staggering $850,000 per pair or more (depending on finish) for only $400,000 be a good deal for you? It wouldn't for me, for two very simple reasons:
First, I couldn't afford to spend that much for any pair of speakers, regardless of their price, and second, if I could afford it, I still wouldn't, preferring instead to buy a more modest entire system and a second home to enjoy it in.
So, a good deal is only a good deal if you can both afford it and want to spend your money that way.
Still sticking to those same four criteria; good sound, good looks, the impression it makes on others, and price, let's set up an order of value. For me, at least, the very first thing must always be can I afford it. If I can't, there's simply no point in going any further. That means that I have to set some absolute limit on how much I'm willing to spend. Then, it must sound good.
No way am I going to spend my money on something that doesn't do that. Looks are sort of peculiar with me in that (unless it's a piece of art or has some other overriding intangible value) I'd never buy a thing just because it looks good. I might buy it, though, if it's good enough and cheap enough to overcome a less than lovely appearance. But still, given the same performance and price, I'll take the better-looking product every time. As for the impression it gives to other people (except for what they think of its sound quality, which I do care about), what they think of my stuff in terms of what it says about me will always be the last thing on my list.
If you'll do this same kind of thing when shopping for new toys: figure out what you want to get, in which order of importance – your shopping will not only be easier, but probably more effective in getting what you want: For example, if you decide that you have this number of dollars to spend, and that good sound is the very first thing on your "want list", it opens the way for a whole new kind of shopping: Instead of just saying "I want a new amplifier", you can simply say "I want better sound" and look at all of the ways that number of dollars might get it for you. Granted, I am a cable manufacturer, and I do have certain preconceptions and beliefs (backed by more than sixty years as an audiophile, a reviewer, and a manufacturer) even so, what I'm about to tell you has happened in far more instances than any kind of bias could ever explain.
Instead of a new amplifier for however many dollars you want to spend, clean all contacts within your system, or changing speaker placement, or listening to the amplifier you already have with different cables. Perhaps try using different feet under all of your components, or changing your room's acoustic treatments because that can make a difference too. When the object is better sound by any means within your budget, and not some specific product, you might be surprised at what your money will buy; or how much of it will still be in your pocket when you're done.
And won't that feel good when you sit back in your favorite chair, turn on your system, and...