The long and winding road

April 7, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

The road to sonic bliss has always been long and winding, but today it’s getting straighter and shorter.

Remember back in “the day” when information was scarce? Aside from a few magazines, finding out anything substantial about how a system might fit into your home was more than just challenging. It was nearly impossible. A real crapshoot.

You took the word of the HiFi dealer and crossed your fingers. Most of the “research” you did was more about qualifying the dealer rather than the gear.

Today, things are easier. We have a wealth of information at the touch of a mouse.

To me, the road ahead looks much straighter and shorter. Instead of rolling the proverbial dice, today we can read the opinions of others, give a try at home, make our decisions, and sit back and enjoy.

Not only is the road less daunting, but the drive itself is much more enjoyable.

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25 comments on “The long and winding road”

  1. My audio dealer is coming round today to deliver and install a phono stage and tweak my speaker positioning. It is the first dealer I can remember buying anything from, a pair of speakers in 1980. They still trade from the same premises.

    The main loss of retail seems to be at the budget end, the chains with dozens or hundreds of branches. Most died long ago or have transformed into selling white goods and mobile phones. Most of the budget hifi is sold online.

    There is a mass of information, although I think there always was. Maybe it’s because in the UK we always had a large number of quality hifi manufacturers, most of which are still in business, so we could rely on the local audio press. The main change is that the internet has opened up global distribution.

    Paul is correct, I have qualified the dealer, and one or two others, and would be loath to go anywhere else. I suppose the advantage of sticking to one or two dealers is not being tempted to buy things seen randomly on the internet.

    1. Steven,
      Your home-audio dealer seems to visit your abode at least once a week in
      the last…well, since renovations to Casa del Open Plan Living was completed.
      Do you have him on ‘retainer’??

      1. Not really. He dropped off a demo phono amp 3 weeks ago. Yesterday he brought over the new unit and tuned in the speakers. I’m only 5 miles north of the store, 25 minutes usually, he then went west and then 70 miles north. He had an advance party to deliver and assemble the Chronosonic XVX. The service I get may be a bit above average, but I would expect much the same from most dealerships.

        1. I did my fair share of in-home set-ups over the years that I was in retail.
          Bosses weren’t keen on me being out of the shop, but if the
          customer requested…

      1. Hey Paul,
        I’m guessing that the theory is that if you buy extremely well recorded music (Octave Records, Blue Coast, etc.) & get your P20-PST-DS DAC-BHK Pre/Power-FR30 rig, with AudioQuest in between, you’ll not only have a straight road to home-audio nirvana, but it will be a straight super-highway to ‘there’ 😉 😎

  2. At least a couple times a year (especially on a rainy or snowy day) I sure wish I could hop in my car and choose from a dozen or so local area retailers. At least 4-5 carried high end products where I could see, touch, and listen to gear- some of which was very impressive in the rooms. I think I will go visit what appears to be the last survivor in stereo this week and see if anything is new.

  3. While I enjoy our banter here and I have at times learned some valuable information from a few audio forums ( this is the best I have found: https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/ ) and I do enjoy looking for vinyl online, if I could turn back the hands of time to pre-internet days when there was an abundance of B&M audio dealers and music stores I would surly turn back time.

  4. The 1990’s came and audio reached some peak. Digital was coming into its own and the internet started to explode.

    Since then everyone who has an opinion on a subject can have it heard.

    In the days of prolific B&M stores in the US you had someone you could talk with face to face and at the same time use your ears as a guide / final judge.

    Now you have an explosion of opinions. You can demo in your home and that can help. Who do you bounce your thoughts and impressions off of when buying direct?

    Call PSA – and say Hey Paul or Kevin or Scott, I’m torn between this and one of PSA products. How do they compare? Which one do you recommend in my situation? Guess what the answer will be.

    So the road may be straighter in one sense but it may just be a spur that ends at whom ever the direct seller is.

    So down a bunch spurs until you’re worn out and settle… All for the privilege of doing all the work with no objective guidance or real objective opinions but your own.

  5. Well, my dealer came round to do the speaker set-up thing this morning. Fascinating. He only needed a few tracks from two CDs to tune in the bass, imaging and soundstage. The good news was he thought the room acoustic was nicely balanced and he was very pleased with the result. It was very interesting how he first tuned the bass relative to the rear wall and then fine adjustment of the toe-in can move the sound between extreme imaging to a more coherent overall soundstage. The whole thing took about an hour.

    He said in 10 years he’s never been so busy, had four installations to tune in today, finishing with a pair of Wilson Chronosonic XVX this evening. And who said high-end audio is dead?

  6. Here in “the colonies” audio dealers are sparse. My last horrible experience was mail ordering 4 different amps and now in stuck with one I just hate!
    Specifically one company who does 60 day trial period has banned me from ordering due to two returns. Their return policy fails to indicate that repeated trials will result in a 23% restocking fee!
    So in short I have costly bookends !
    The worst is that I truly enjoy listening to music and find it very relaxing but not when the sound is not acceptable.

    1. larry, I know which company you are talking about. I had no idea they were so restrictive. I do buy from them but it is mostly music and accessories. Once when they special ordered a mono cartridge for me they warned my in advance that I could not return it, which since I had the stereo version of the cartridge was not a problem.

      This confirms what I have always thought. That for most people if you are going to spend $10,000+ ( and for some people it could be less than that ) on audio gear you want to hear it before you buy it.

      1. This is amazing to hear.
        Here in USA we have to call the manufacturer and usually get the run around and lost of miss information!
        Recently I spent 6 months trying to convince the manufacturer that there was a problem ! Finally I was “granted”
        Repairs and for two components less than a year old had damaged output stages and the pre amp had a damaged trigger system as well as a bad chip that read the sample rate all since new!!
        I was so mad that I sold both the pre amp and amp when they were returned!
        I was fed info from manufacturer that it was first my streamer, then the internet.
        I called the manufacturer of the chip and they knew immediately who the manufacturer was and told me it was an engineering design problem not the chip! The best was that the amp / preamp manufacturer finally told me they were
        Working on a resolve???
        With a verbal apology- big deal

        1. Well Larry, after reading your above reply it’s no wonder that Paul decided to sell direct to the public…swapping one set of big headaches for another set of hopefully smaller ones that at least ‘PS Audio’ can have direct control over…makes perfect sense to me.

          In Sydney, where I live, there are at least 18 major home-audio retail (B&M) stores, all within 25 miles (40km) of each other, with 5 of them being high-end (Gryphon, Magico, MBL, dCS, etc, etc. plus $40k turntables that I have no interest in anymore)…I could list them all here for you,
          but that would be overkill.
          Then there are more B&M Hi-Fi stores as you travel North & South…what one might consider as rural areas.

  7. I agree pretty much with everything in the post except about the drive being more enjoyable now. Back when I first deeply got into audio, the town where I went to school had a bunch of stores that sold audio gear. I, and many of my friends, spent many happy hours going from shop to shop looking at, oohing and aahing over and, of course, listening to music on different systems. And by all of those comparisons, and familiarity with the shops’ listening rooms, we were better able to translate the sound we heard on our forays to the sound we heard at home.

    So while the internet has made the shopping more efficient, and perhaps more informed from the standpoint of the particulars of any equipment we are interested in, I’d trade a lot of that for the days where audio shops were more common.

  8. Only in the last three years have I purchased products online some of which were stunning but expensive.
    It was not purely because of Covid concerns, but that I’m more isolated at this time.
    We have a few pretty good local sources here in Seattle, but not like there used to be especially after the demise of magnolia hi-fi.

  9. I had four places I would frequently visit to listen to audio gear. Sounds Great, Stereo Advantage, The Stereo Chamber, and The Speaker Shop. The second and fourth are still around. The first is where I bought my first system in 1979. I bought some equipment from the second and fourth. Once the internet and online discounted prices came along there was no real need for them anymore except to listen to something play around with it and then go buy it either new or used online much cheaper. Tax laws have changed and shipping has skyrocketed so it’s not as good as it once was. You just knew the government would ruin a good thing. Rising taxes, gas, inflation, and interest rates are going to send us into a recession in my opinion. Stagflation worse than the Carter days.

  10. Dealers of old would help most consumers with packages that would compliment each other, but that has fallen away with the advent of the internet, declining sales, and certainly other controlling forces that have seen the end of the ol’ brick and mortar.

    Most “packages” sold today are very low end, entry level, beginner systems, most in the home theater arena. One has to come to the realization that 2 channel dedicated “audiophile” systems are not supported as they were decades ago. It would be hard for many companies today to embrace the “package” system, where known selected items are sold as a bundle, where the components of the “package” have proven to have the type of synergy that would provide the needs of the “audiophile” community.

  11. Paul,
    I think that there information overload. If I could find a reviewer with my exact room, my same hearing(left ear not as good as the right) then I could have a reference to start from. But its still part of the fun, listening to some of the reviewers. We have an infinite supply of music at our finger tips. I am happy with the sound of my simple system, vinyl, cds, and a little streaming. I have just purchased my first SACD ever and audiophile Vinyl from Octave records. can’t wait. Been watching Ask Paul videos for over 3 years and use them as a reference when a question comes in this 65 year old head. Enjoy the day everyone, and enjoy the music.

  12. Back in the late 1960s I hung out in in a stereo store literally. I was such a fixture that they hired me. I worked on the busiest day: Saturdays and by appointment. I was the tech guy, there

  13. What we really really love — and don’t often get— is comparative reviews.

    Qutest vs MolaMola.
    Kef vs atc bookshelf.

    I know it’s difficult I also know that a manufacturer would hate hate being the loser in a shootout. So who would do that?

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