So you’ve decided it’s time to step into the high-end audio game. Or maybe some of the #audioporn on The Sound Apprentice Instagram has brought you here in search of your next audio upgrade. Whatever the case may be, here are some simple tips to make for a smarter and better buying experience.
Stick to your budget. It’s far too easy to fall into the, “If I just spend a little bit more I can get this or that,” trap. Yes, The Spirited Uncle M (TSUM) will give you sh*t if you’re being “cheap, cheap, cheap,” but if all you can afford is the Shure SE-215 (review), then you shouldn’t even be eyeing the Beyerdynamic Amiron Home (review).
Buy the best gear you can afford. And enjoy it! Along the same lines as tip #1, aim to get the best bang for your buck—meaning the bucks you have. There will always be something newer, better, shinier, and more expensive just around the corner. But remember, we’re seeking Audio Nirvana, not an empty wallet. Sometimes you just have to stop and enjoy the music!
Do it right from the start. Do you really need the $1,600 Sennheiser HD800S (it’s pretty great) or $1,900 Audeze LCD-3 (sooooo lush)? If your answer is, “Absolutely, yes,” save for it and get it. The biggest “mistake” you can make in this hobby is throwing good money at cheap gear you know you aren’t going to keep for the long haul. If you just buy the high-quality gear that you really want from the start, you’ll be a lot happier and probably richer, too. I can’t tell you how much money I have lost by buying cheaper products, only to turn around and sell them (usually for a loss) so I could upgrade or chase the next best thing.
Buy new. I hesitate to say this—I love a banging audio bargain—but it’s too easy to be cheated when you’re inexperienced. Until you learn more about what to look for in quality used gear, and what fair market prices are, stick to finding good deals on new gear with valid warranties and return policies.
Buy from credible sources. Sounds like a no-brainer, but I know how tempting it can be to buy a piece of expensive gear from a foreign eBay dealer when it will “save” $100. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. I’ve been burned a few times—sellers promising gear in mint condition that arrives defective or not as described. I want to save you from that mess and heartache. Whether you buy online or locally, buy from authorized dealers that honor full warranty and return policies. If you can, buy direct from the manufacturer. I’d lean towards buying from dealers that offer trial periods—a set of speakers that sounds amazing in the store demo room may not sound as seductive in your home listening room, and that’s where a 15 or 30-day money-back guarantee comes in handy.
Don’t overemphasize user reviews. Sounds funny coming from an audio reviewer, right? Yeah, feedback is great when it comes to features, comfort, reliability, and build quality, etc., etc. But, everyone’s ears are different. If you ask a dozen audiophiles about the same speaker or headphone, you’ll get a dozen different opinions. Sound is subjective. TSUM loves his Sennheiser HD700; I’d rather listen to the Sennheiser HD650. Point being, the best thing to do is try before you buy. But when that’s not an option, use reviews objectively to help you make a better buying decision. The more you read, the more you’ll (hopefully) be able to sift through the BS, but ultimately buy the product that you think will be best for you and your listening preferences, not what is best for someone else’s ears.
Ask for help. If you know an experienced audiophile, there’s no shame in asking them to help evaluate new or used gear with you, or to refer you to a good place to make a purchase. Heck, maybe you can even be their Sound Apprentice!