Buying speakers online: a crapshoot?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Bob_A, Jan 19, 2002.

  1. Bob_A

    Bob_A Supporting Actor

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    Do any of you feel that it is very unwise to purchase a speaker without hearing it?

    Yes, I understand that these online companies can potentially offer excellent value by bypassing the dealer network...but let me ask you guys about some things...

    First of all, how do you guys MATCH associated equipment with the speakers? From what I have seen, people generally buy the speakers online, and then hook it up to their existing equipment. There is no dealer network to audition the speakers with different receivers, amp/preamp combos, cd players, cables, etc. So, in essence, it is a bit of a gamble correct?

    For instance, if it were not for a local dealer audition, I would never have known that a Yamaha receiver sounds SO much better with my speakers than a Denon receiver. I will certainly admit that many dealer setups are far from ideal...and no truly definitive conclusions should be based on a quick in-store audition (IMHO)...but I still feel that they can be invaluable to people who do not want to try out many different combinations of equipment at home in order to find an "ideal" match.

    Also, what about the people who say there is "NO RISK" in purchasing online? I do not agree with this term...since the potential buyer is ALWAYS responsible for non-refundable shipping charges (both ways)...so in essence, a potential buyer is handing over a non-refundable "fee" (ie shipping charges) in order to audition the speakers. I am always surprised that most people seem to be totally unconcerned that their existing equipment may not match well with the speaker purchased online...or is it simply a decision to buy some speakers and add associated equipment from there?

    One thing I would like to point out is that...as controversial as their speakers may look...nOrh has an interesting philosophy (IMHO) in that they produce amps/preamps, cd players, and cables under the nOrh brand...all of which should (presumably) match pretty well with their speakers.

    Second of all, for those who decided to purchase a speaker online and unheard...what was so deficient about all the speakers which could be auditioned locally? Were there really no speakers in your price range which did the trick for you?

    Last of all, I'd like to ask a general question...does anyone feel that some of most effective marketing of speakers is done by representatives of some of these online companies and owners of some of these online products?

    My intention is not to bash speakers only available online or speaker manufacturers which only sell online...but rather to get a sense of how much of a gamble it is to buy speakers unheard, and get a sense of why someone would even want to make this "gamble". I hope this can be a thoughtful and informative discussion. Thank you for your responses.
     
  2. Carl Johnson

    Carl Johnson Cinematographer

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    How are speakers different than any other piece of gear in that you'll never really know what it has to offer till you get it home and start using it. I would be every bit as comfortable with buying a speaker online based on reviews and stats as I would walking into a store and judging it based on hearing it for five minutes in a soundroom. The best case scenario would be taking a product home and playing with it for a week before making a final decision but most of the time that isn't possible.
     
  3. Bob_A

    Bob_A Supporting Actor

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    Well, obviously speakers are generally expensive relative to the other associated equipment, they often take a LONG time to break in (sometimes more than 100 hours), they are often heavy and not so easy to move around from place to place, and they are often tricky to set up. In other words, it is not so easy for someone to try out several different brand-new speakers at home in a given month. But anyway...most dealers that I am familiar with will let you exchange associated equipment for the speakers within a specified amount of days at no additional cost...for instance, I was able to send back my Denon receiver and pick up a Yamaha receiver at no additional cost other than the difference in price between the two receivers.
     
  4. Sean M

    Sean M Stunt Coordinator

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    well, Bob, I think you are making the assumption here that people are buying the speakers and the amplification to run them at the same time. I think that if you are buying a new system from scratch this is the case, but if you are replacing existing equipment, then you buy one, then the other.

    Since speakers form the foundation for the sound in the system, I would buy those first, and then select the upstream equipment to complement them. This may mean using a less than optimal setup for a period of time, but you may face that dilemma even if you buy from a showroom if you cannot afford to upgrade speakers and amps/receivers at once. This becomes important to note, since I think most people buying speakers online are looking for a high value, low cost speaker. I would buy speakers online if I thought they offered equal or superior performance to what I could get locally at a lower cost.

    Of course, there is a certain amount of risk involved in buying speakers online and auditioning them in home. I have always felt that a bad demo is worse than no demo at all before getting a product home. Given the differences in room acoustics and the generally poor setup of most dealer showrooms, a demo is practically worthless. Take Def Tech, for example. I have never liked Def Techs when I demo them, especially for music. But, you tell me that it's all in the setup, which the dealer lacks. I could buy Def Tech, based on your recommendation, and set them up like you say in my home and see if I like them. The only difference between buying online and the scenario I just outlined is that I wouldn't be out shipping costs for demoing the speakers in-home. I would still be taking the advice of a satisfied owner and buying on that recommendation.

    If I were going to use that criteria, then I would own a complete set of nOrh's, or Axioms or Swan Divas. I just may do that in the near future, I may not. Def Tech, Mirage, or Paradigm may get my money. I only know one thing for certain, whichever speakers I buy (unless I choose to buy an amp and keep my current speakers), I won't know till I get them home, setup and broken in, whether I'll be keeping them or not. It's just a matter of whether I want to gamble shipping or not.
     
  5. Steve Zimmerman

    Steve Zimmerman Second Unit

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    Value. Accessibility to the designer of the product. Excellent customer service. The opinions of hundreds of other consumers.
    --Steve
     
  6. Bob_A

    Bob_A Supporting Actor

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    I never said that one needed a specific receiver with a particular speaker...I am just trying to emphasize the importance of matching associated equipment with speakers...and I do not feel that this should be downplayed.

    Some companies will be a call away, some companies will be an email away, some both! But a decent speaker company should provide excellent customer service regardless of whether their speakers are available online or not IMHO.

    Well...anyway...enjoy your purchases!
     
  7. Terry Flink

    Terry Flink Stunt Coordinator

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    Most home theater enthusiasts would LOVE to have someone take a look/listen to their setup. I have seen many requests from people interested in a particular brand of speakers for demos. There may be someone in your vicinity that can let you listen to their setup.

    I bought Outlaw, SVS ad nOrh based upon recommendations here and other sites and am far from disappointed.
     
  8. MikeLobos

    MikeLobos Extra

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    Bob_A,
    I would not feel too uncomfortable about buying speakers online. In fact I just setup my first HT system this past month. I price matched a Denon 1802 receiver at ABT electronics and bought the Energy Take 5.2 + S8.2 sub system from an online store. The speakers came in great condition and sound incredible with my setup. Unfortunately there were no stores near me at which I could demo the speakers, so I had to buy them blind. I researched the speakers online by reading many reviews and decided to go with the Energy's. I could not be happier with my decision and I saved $260. Remember almost all quality equipment will sound incredible.
    I recommend researching the products you intend to buy and the seller.
    You can find many equipment reivews on this forum and:
    www.audiorewiew.com
    www.ecoustics.com
    You should check out the seller's reputation at:
    www.audiosurvey.com
    www.bbb.org or www.bbbonline.org (Better Business Bureau)
    Most reputable e-tailors are registered with the BBB.
    If buying without demoing equipment worries too much don't do it, save yourself the headache and buy what you can find locally. I took the opinion that I could not demo the exact setup I was buying, so listening to each component seperately was pointless. I trusted that quality names in audio products would all sound great, but that is just my opinion. You could also see if anyone in your area will let you demo their system. Remember setting up your system should be fun, not a burden and a headache.
    Good luck,
    MikeLobos
     
  9. Doug_B

    Doug_B Screenwriter

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    Interesting questions, Bob. I have some answers for you that you might find interesting.

    Yes, I am one of those people that has bought speakers available via an online-only company. Specifically, I purchased Soundline Audio speakers, which are ribbons. I am still waiting for the center and surrounds, as I recently finished my audition of the mains.

    When I started auditioning equipment last March, I had no idea that most of my equipment would end up being purchased from online companies, but here I am with everything but a pre/pro purchased from such companies. I didn't have much apprehension with my sub (SVS) or amps (Odyssey), based on all the positive reviews, but the speakers were another matter. I knew from months of auditioning how unique my perception was of speakers that I liked and how I could not rely on others' opinions (with the sub and amp, I guess I never felt as much of this uniqueness of perception). For example, I did not particularly like the B&W Nautilus line, Martin Logans, and Dynaudio (see below for some reasons).

    So, how did I end up purchasing online speakers? Well, after auditioning Maggies at 2 different dealers, I really liked the ribbon sound, but the 3.6s were just too wide for my room. Someone made a mention of Soundline ribbons, and I also researched other ribbon-based speakers online. I liked the looks, and during communications with the owners, I asked them to find me an owner in the region who would support a demo for me. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

    I finally decided to go for it based on my excitement associated with ribbons and the fact that the potential gains (getting extraordinary speakers) outweighed the risks (2 way shipping charges and the hassle associated with the return shipping of large speakers), even though these are not well known speakers. I did have a "standard" model, Monitor Audio Gold series, on top of my list, which I liked a lot, but the potential associated with ribbons sold me.

    After going through all of the dealers' auditionings last year, I do have some reservations about the process, most of which have been expressed in this thread and elsewhere; dealer store acoustics and setups can be lousy, the equipment they use may not be appropriate, and not many dealers provide home demos (although I did bring home the MA Golds to try against the Soundlines).

    Two other very important points that I don't see mentioned much are speaker break-in and speaker availability. When one is looking at speaker models that cost $1K+ per speaker for a 5 channel setup, such speakers are usually sold by only a few dealers (if that many) within reasonable driving distance (let's say 1-1.5 hours). Also, since there is less of a market for such speakers, they do not get auditioned by many folks, especially if dealing with a relatively new model. Thus, they are not broken in (and I have gotten dealers to admit this). How is one supposed to get a good demo for speakers when you have all these facets working against you (room setup, matching equipment, few dealers, not broken in, no home demo,...)? With all of this working against me, my decision to buy online doesn't seem such a stretch after all.

    Any more questions, feel free to ask. Time for sleep.

    Doug
     
  10. Larry B

    Larry B Screenwriter

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    Bob:
    I don't think it's necessarily unwise to buy speakers online, though I do believe it's less than optimal. There are many manufacturers of quality speakers, and the odds are that most individuals would be happy with any one of a number of them.
    Speaking for myself, I would not buy any audio component (especially speakers) without extensive (and I mean, EXTENSIVE) listening. (As you may have guessed, my main imterest is music.) When I am considering any new component (speakers, in particular), I listen to it for hours, at mulitple sittings, and try to compare it to other products to determine what sounds best to my ear. I audition using associated components that are either identical to the ones I own, or are as similar as possible. While it is true that products do not necessarily sound the same at home as they do in the showroom, it has been my experience that this is not highly product-dependent. (Though others may have had different experiences.)
    In my opinion (and I know I'm in a small minority here), AudioReview is virtually worthless, for the following reasons. First, I put no stock in the opinions of individuals I do not know. Keep in mind that both our tastes and experiences vary enormously. How many times have you seen someone proclaiming that component x is the best they ever heard, or is as good as products costing 2, 5 or even 10 times as much? Regarding "the best I've ever heard," my guess is that in most cases this is because it is the most expensive piece they ever heard. For example, if you have listened most of your life to $250 speakers, and then hear a $1,000 pair of speakers, the latter will probably knock your socks off. Does that mean that the $1,000 speakers are particularly good? No, it simply means that they are better than the $250 speakers the individual was used to. As for a product being far better than other products costing far more, I can only tell you that I have yet to encounter this. (I have occassionally listened to some very overpriced products, but this seems to be more the exception than the rule.)
    Second, most of the reviews on AudioReview are completely biased. People buy what they like, and it is human nature to want to believe that we have made wise decisions. (And to seek reassurance from others: Even on this forum, it is common to see a member asking if he/she made a good decision.) Most of the products in AudioReview receive 5 stars from those who own them, with lesser reviews coming from those who don't. (Interestingly, about the only products that seem to receive only 1 or 2 stars are those that are very expensive. While I can't be sure, my guess is that jealousy is an important factor.)
    I'll end by re-iterating that since there are so many decent audio products availabe now-a-days, there is a good chance that you will be happy with something bought sight unseen (or is that "sound unheard"? [​IMG] ) However, if you are really serious about sound, and spend a lot of time listening, then I would advice against it.
    Just my opinion....
    Larry
    P.S. I forgot to mention that AudioReview does allow one to determine if a particular product has a poor record of reliability. Of course, this is usually not an issue with speakers.
     
  11. DougO

    DougO Stunt Coordinator

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    I'll be able to provide a more thorough answer after I've broken in the Axiom M22ti speakers I just received (so far, so good after 50 hours on 'em).
     

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