Part Five:
Buying Hi-Fi

(NOTE: This section and the ones linked to it are excerpts from Gerard Rejskind's best-selling book, The World of High Fidelity, available from UHF Magazine at a special Internet price)

     If you're an audiophile, or a potential one, I presume you didn't just skip over the last section just because you're not a dealer. And perhaps you got a look at what the local audio dealer is up against. He runs a pretty good facility with a lot of fine gear, but a lot of potential customers won't go through his door because they think -- wrongly in all probability -- that they'll be skinned alive. Unlike the customers at Crazy Al's (who are told they have to decide by five o'clock because that's when the price doubles), your dealer's customers take weeks to decide, even months. Even so, they write to UHF to double check everything they're told, and then some of them buy the stuff by mail order because it's $20 cheaper that way. What a tough racket!
But you've got your own problems.
     You already know what you'd like to own: the best. Only you can't afford it, so you'd like a dealer to tell you what to buy that will sound almost like the best, even if that means recommending things he doesn't carry, or bringing things in specially for you so you can hear them. You then would like him to install the system in your home for a month to see whether you like it, and -- if you do -- to let you have it for cost plus five percent. Oh yeah -- and with no money down until August.
That's what you'd like, but being a reasonable person you're willing to compromise, and probably so is the dealer.

(a) Tell yourself that the dealer won't eat you. At least a real high fidelity dealer won't, because he knows that in all likelihood you won't buy today anyway. If on your first visit he can introduce you to the lines he carries, talk to you about them and play you a little music, he'll figure he's doing well. By all means have a look and a listen. Though few dealers today insist on an appointment for a demonstration, you may get better service the second time if you arrange to drop by some time when the store isn't too busy.

(b) Be frank, but be open too. The dealer shouldn't have to guess what you want, but remember that this and future visits are supposed to have an educational function, and that therefore you have to be prepared to change your mind about certain things. Notice: not to have your mind changed for you, but to alter your opinion in the light of what you hear.

(c) Don't play expert. It may happen that, for some reason, you know more about one particular topic than the dealer. But you're not being paid for expert advice, and he is.

(d) Don't be intimidated. This is the opposite problem, and it is a much more common one. You hear a demonstration you find more irritating than edifying, but the dealer is an "expert" and you're not, so you nod in agreement. Either you walk out and never return, or else you con yourself into buying and you wind up hating both the dealer and yourself. Short circuit this problem from the start. Your ears are as good as mine and the dealer's. If the stuff sounds good, you should be shown that it's good. Don't make this into an ego challenge: don't scream that it's junk, just that it makes you uncomfortable, queasy, bored...whatever. Express your eagerness to go on listening.

(e) Bring a record. Actually you might make a major discovery with a dealer's record you've never heard, but it's useful to have a point of reference as well. A good dealer will be happy you brought it.

(f) Ask to hear the system you'd like to own ten years from now. Really the dealer should let you hear it without prompting, but just in case he overlooks it ask politely. Be honest about why you're doing it. If you lie and claim that this is the system you want to buy now, and then you wind up looking at stuff costing a tenth the price, don't be surprised if the dealer starts thinking how much fun it would be to see you sprawled on the pavement.

(g) Understand the franchise system. Dealers usually have the exclusive right to sell a particular brand in that town, or at least in that area of town. It is natural that he will try to convince you to buy that brand; any other course of action would be suicidal. He cannot sell you a brand that is franchised to a competitor. Even so, I've heard of dealers offering to bring in specially a product he didn't carry which was not available elsewhere in town. This is service of an extraordinary order, so don't demand it as a constitutional right, and be grateful if you get it anyway.

(h) Build a relationship. Unless your pockets are bulging with unwanted currency, building a dream system is a long-term project. A good dealer can help make it less painful and probably cheaper too. If you trust the dealer, you may want to stay with him even if you've read that some component he doesn't carry is just terrific. It is rare in the extreme for one brand to be so clearly superior that there are no sensible alternatives. Your store may have such an alternative to propose.



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