Are you on the Equipment Merry-Go-Round?George Moraitis
After speaking with so many audiophiles and music enthusiasts over the years, I am confident in saying that everyone just wants to achieve a great sound – to experience their music collection through a system that presents it in the most enjoyable way for them.
However, I have noticed that there are some common buying behaviours that we fall into that simply do not serve us well. These mistakes send us on a seemingly perpetual upgrading path which can be very expensive over the long term and can cause us disappointment as yet another purchase fails to live up to the promise of blissful sound. Sometimes after the honeymoon period is over, we realise that the new piece of equipment has solved one problem but introduced another.
This is the Equipment Merry-Go-Round.
Now to avoid any misunderstandings, I think it’s a great idea to have as many different audio system experiences as possible. How else will you get to know what you like if you don’t listen to lots of different gear? As audiophiles, there’s a lot of fun in the discovery, or the chase for the perfect sound. If that’s what you love and you are not interested in building something with a sonic goal in mind, then read no further.
But for some of us, equipment churning can become expensive and frustrating. I know from my own experience that over the years I have yo-yoed from being really happy with my sound to wanting to throw everything in the dump master and start again. We even tell ourselves ‘I am an audiophile, that’s what I do’, or ‘it is my vice’. But after a while as the cost adds up and we realise that we are still looking for the right speakers, or still searching for that bit of elusive ‘magic’. It can become fatiguing as the goal posts seem to keep moving and you wonder why you never seem to feel content.
On the other hand, imagine if you put together a system that is fun and musically satisfying. A system that you can’t wait to listen to and that encourages you to explore more music. Imagine if instead of spending all that money on your 5th amplifier upgrade, you had spent it on buying more records or attending more live concerts.
Here’s some common reasons that we buy equipment and why they may not result in what we are searching for:
- I got a great deal!
We all want to save money on an audio equipment purchase. As we all know and lament, this gear can be VERY expensive. But the cost of a piece of equipment has nothing to do with how it will perform in your system & room. If it does not synergize well and take you closer to that blissful feeling, then paying less for it hasn’t helped you. It will eventually have to be sold and replaced. Naturally, many people succumb to the allure of the big discounts. They feel that it was such a great deal, they just HAD to buy it. Unfortunately, many of these people are still churning equipment years later, no closer to that feeling of musical satisfaction.
- It is reviewed positively.
Reviews have a place in the audio landscape but if you buy your equipment solely based on reviews, you are essentially hoping that a particular reviewer’s ideals and preferences are identical to yours. That is almost always never the case. Even if you have similar sonic preferences to a particular reviewer, if a component sounded great in their system, how do you know that it will sound great in yours? In your specific listening space? Use reviews as a way of compiling clues as to how things sound generally. However, basing purchasing decisions solely on reviews is an unreliable method for achieving your personal system goals.
- Someone recommended it.
How do you know the context of the complete system and listening space that someone heard and liked a piece of equipment? Since audio is so subjective, how do you ascertain the value of a recommendation? I see this on audio forums all the time. Someone says ‘I am thinking of getting X’ and then twenty people respond with positive feedback about how much they like X. How many of those people heard that component in your specific conditions? How many of those recommenders have your specific taste in music and sonic attributes? How could you ever know? I meet plenty of people who tell me ‘I bought it because it was popular on the forums but I don’t like it.’
- The seller thinks it’s great.
Further to the above points, if someone has an agenda or a vested interest in you buying a component, their opinion is biased and is generally not a reliable input into your purchasing decision. What matters is what YOU think.
- It looks beautiful.
Believe it or not, the way a component looks tends to play a significant role in the purchasing decision. Justifiably, we feel that high-end needs to look high-end. It needs to look expensive or bespoke. It’s part of the ownership experience. After all, who enjoys spending a lot of money on bland or ugly looking things? Unfortunately, how a component looks has no bearing on its sonic performance and our mind needs to acknowledge and separate the two different types of enjoyments. I have met plenty of enthusiasts who have purchased a rack full of audio jewellery but weeks later, they stopped listening to their systems.
I have come to call this method the ‘shotgun approach’. Just fire away and hope that you hit something that works for you. Follow the hyped brands and it should be great, right?
Perhaps you can approach it in a different way that may result in a more satisfying result. If your goal is to put together a system that gives you great enjoyment, you have to ask yourself two critical questions:
- What sonic attributes are really important to me & how would I describe the sound I most enjoy?
- What types, designs and brands of audio gear have those sonic qualities that I like?
The best results will happen when your system is curated based on a clear understanding of what type of sound best connects you emotionally to the music and then the appropriate equipment brands and models that are specifically voiced to your preferences are selected. Your system should have a synergy where all the components work seamlessly together with the same sonic values in mind.
Try to audition as many systems as you can as that is the best way to educate yourself on how things sound and what you like. I always encourage people to take their time and learn to disconnect their intellectual internal dialogue and simply feel their reaction to a particular sonic presentation. Then remember that feeling and compare it to other experiences.
Finding an experienced consultant or dealer that is willing to spend time with you, helping you to answer these questions and guiding you to audition carefully selected equipment options can also be a great idea.
Having clarity around these questions will go a long way to building a fulfilling system and there’s no feeling quite like being truly happy with your sound and jumping off the audiophile merry-go-round.