Buying music or books online makes a lot of sense, but I'd draw the line at speakers.
Maybe there's no place close enough to go to for an in-store demo--a lot of shops closed their doors--precisely because too many people used their service to audition gear, and then bought online to get a lower price.
Nice, so now there are fewer places to hear speakers before you buy them. So even if you're reasonably happy with what you bought online you never had the luxury of comparing one speaker against another and picking the best of your choices. Good enough is good enough.
Over the past 30 years--16 as a high-end audio salesman and 14 as a paid audio reviewer--I've listened to thousands of speakers. My sales experience gave me a deep understanding of how all sorts of people, not just audiophiles, listen to and buy speakers.
Some buyers need to touch the speaker, get a sense of its build quality, and some buyers, even after reading a review, are surprised by the speaker's size or some other quality. It's one thing to read about a speaker or peruse its specifications, seeing and hearing it for yourself is so much better.
I draw upon those experiences when I review speakers, but I still can't predict how each reader will react to their sound. Everyone hears differently, and preferences are all over the place.
Some customers want lots of bass, some just want to play loud, or quietly, some care most abut stereo imaging. One guy plays dance music, another only opera. But most speaker shoppers can't articulate what they want from a speaker. That's the rub, and why reviews, even ones as well written as mine for CNET and magazines, may not be the best possible guide to the right speaker. … Read more