Home Hifi Demo Frustrations

karlsushi

Active Member
I love this hobby. For me, the main hook has always been the anticipation and excitement of what the next hifi upgrade might bring to enhance my love of listening to music. In this regard, demo-ing new kit is one of the greatest joys in life (yes, I need to get out more!).

But I have a frustration regarding demo-ing hifi. It seems the choices are either listening to kit in a well set-out demo room in a hifi shop with other kit and room acoustics that have no relationship at all to your listening environment at home. Or, it means buying the kit first.

For me, an offer of purchasing the kit in full with a money back guarantee within 14 or 28 days 'if you're not happy' and 'you haven't put so much as a finger print on the chassis' not to be the same thing as a proper home demo.

I have found very few dealers (albeit there are a small handful) that offer a proper home demo service, with perhaps the only exception being dealers that you have bought kit off for years and have sufficiently demonstrated to them that you are likely to spend a small fortune out of the kit they've demo'd to you in your home.

This is not a criticism of hifi suppliers by any stretch. I have no doubt that the risks to a dealer of just handing out kit for people to try in their homes, with no guarantees of a sale or even the kit turning up again, are rarely worth investing heavily in.

Of course during lockdown, the issue of getting a home demo (or any demo for that matter) has become even greater, which is in stark contrast with my own situation during this time period, whereby I have become more obsessed in wanting to demo and purchase new kit than ever before (frankly, what else has there been to do!).

But how often do we here on avforums (and forums in general), do people respond to a question asking "what kit shall I buy?", with "don't rely on other's opinions, you need to go and listen for yourself"!!

In practice, this realistically involves demo-ing kit from more than just one shop. Possibly several.

Easier said than done.

I have previously (and still do to a degree) viewed the second-hand market as a great way to just buy and sell kit without losing too much dosh and avforums has certainly helped a lot there, but the risks seem to just be getting greater all the time, with chancers and tryers (ebay, I'm looking at you) picking out a tiny little mark here or a disagreeable description there, coupled with courier damage risks and then there's the scamming risks which were highlighted recently on this very forum. The second-hand market has subsequently become a bit of a minefield, both as a seller and a buyer.

The only other way to get to listen to loads of great kit is to become a reviewer. Who else doesn't seethe with envy every time they see one of @Ed Selley 's reviews on some exotic speakers or amps that you know you'll never get your hands-on. I do sometimes see manufacturers offer out loan units within certain forum communities in exchange for 'honest opinions', but that doesn't ever seem to happen here. And of course that doesn't necessarily involve equipment that you have your eye on for your next upgrade.

So what's the answer?

Well, it would be great if more dealers/manufacturers felt comfortable just loaning out demo kit on a proper home demo basis, but I understand why that isn't the case.

So, the best idea in my mind would be for someone to start up a Hifi Hire Service, whereby demo units could be shipped out for hire to try out in your system at home, obviously with an appropriate fee for doing so plus shipping costs. Personally, I would love to be able to borrow the latest and best kit to listen to at home to see if its worth investing in first and I imagine there are many more people besides me that would also be interested.

As you can probably appreciate, I'm not a businessman. But couldn't this work as a viable business?

And who here is going to take it on? ;)
 

Nico72

Active Member
Well you can already hire a supercar for a day, so why not some high end kit for a weekend?
Whether it works as a business depends on demand. Also there is huge variety of expensive brands and products in audio, so owning and stocking most is not practical for any business. I guess the distributors would have to be willing to hire the kit to such business in the first place.
 

AmericanAudio

Active Member
AVForums Sponsor
It is all down to 'Risk'

We would love to offer home-demos on our kit with little outlay for our customers, but our insurance company wouldn't like it, and wouldn't cover it.

You then have items there were brand new when sent out and even if they come back in brand new condition, can not be sold as such, at the very least sold as 'open box' then ex-demo. So there is a hit to the profit being made.
 

karlsushi

Active Member
Good to get a response from a supplier, so thanks for that @AmericanAudio

If you already have demo units in stock, I have often wondered how practical it would be to cash-in on demos? i.e offer home demo units for a borrowing fee.

That way you are getting something back from customers who decide not to, or even have no intention of, purchasing, which I imagine is a frustration as a dealer?
 

Hear Here

Active Member
So what's the answer?
I don't think you can expect a dealer you haven't previously dealt with to lend you a unit unless they are pretty sure you may buy it, although many do offer this if they happen to have a unit in stock that they keep for demo purposes.

Perhaps the answer is that manufacturers or their national distributors take on this job and they offer units for home demo with no expectation that you will buy from them - you'd buy from a dealer. They should charge you a nominal £25 or so for shipping, etc (more for speakers) and give you a £25 off voucher you could use at any authorised dealer if you go on to buy the item. Perhaps the dealer could reclaim that £25 from the distributor although I don't think this should be necessary as the dealer has been saved the cost of loaning you a unit or having you sit in his showroom for hours, drinking his coffee and asking innumerable questions! He'd be happy giving away a small part of his profit if you simply order the unit without any of that hassle.

The trouble then becomes, what purpose does the dealer fulfil? Perhaps we'll lose more of the valuable and knowledgeable guys from our high streets.
 

larkone

Distinguished Member
Have you thought through just how expensive setting up a decent range of hifi hire equipment of popular models that is likely to be superseded every couple of years would be. Add to that insurance and shipping costs (most hifi is heavy and bulky) and I doubt many consumers would pay the price, especially as most would want more than one item to test. Beyond that, with so much electronic equipment being software controlled they would need unpacking, resetting and then repacking after every excursion out to avoid endless support calls because the software has been 'fiddled with' by the last hirer. Not going to happen.

On the other hand being on forums and talking to those that have practical experience of the items you are interested in is not a bad way to go.

Reviews are useful but I take issue with some of the scoring mechanisms when everything is a 7 or above. In reality if a 7 is the lowest score awarded then it equates in effect to a 1
 

gibbsy

Moderator
I have found very few dealers (albeit there are a small handful) that offer a proper home demo service, with perhaps the only exception being dealers that you have bought kit off for years and have sufficiently demonstrated to them that you are likely to spend a small fortune out of the kit they've demo'd to you in your home.
I think that's true in some respect. I've always used my local AudioT and use to love just dropping in there sometimes just for a chat. Everytime of late that I've gone to buy some new kit I've been told to take it home overnight or the weekend but only from their demo stock. AudioT are one of those dealers that do offer a good home audition service.

I have spent a fair bit in there and will continue to do so and a big part of that is because of their excellent service and customer support.
 

karlsushi

Active Member
being on forums and talking to those that have practical experience of the items you are interested in is not a bad way to go
It is a great start and certainly helps you whittle things down, but you still need to hear your shortlist before making the purchase. For many of us, the money we are spending on this stuff is not insignificant. I'm sure we've all made a bad choice from time to time and that is a costly business.

Reviews are useful but I take issue with some of the scoring mechanisms when everything is a 7 or above. In reality if a 7 is the lowest score awarded then it equates in effect to a 1
And I'm right with you with this. I know it's a topic that's been discussed many times before and slightly off topic, but I am getting more and more frustrated with the reviewing culture. Aside from the useful background info about a product, which I do find helpful, when it comes to the all important 'sound' section, every review seems to be a clone of the last one and no-one dares say a bad word about anything.

Which again comes back to the all importance of demoing before purchasing.
 

spinaltap

Distinguished Member
My local dealer facilitates home auditioning for anything in their shop: so long as you sign a credit card receipt (which won’t be banked) and that will be returned to you on return of the borrowed kit.
 

hamzamian

Active Member
interesting thread. I'm not an audiophile and don't listen to audio equipment as a hobby at all, but every 5 to 10 years I'll need to replace or add something and I'll end up on here and watching/reading far too many reviews to help decide what I need to buy.

This is what I'm doing right now with a new hifi and a/v conference setup for my newly refurbished office. Mostly of my purchases have been blind and just based on recommendations and reviews. Thankfully so far I'm pretty happy with them.

One area I've been more unable to determine a choice has been the sub and thankfully I have managed to find dealers who are willing to let me home demo. This has meant finding three different retailers (as no one has stocks all three or even two of the three products) and arranging home demos. I did strike out on my first choice of retailer for one of those products but a google search later I was able to find someone else who was willing to send me a demo unit. If I pick that product, they'll be getting my business. Only one of these have dealt with me before.

In regards to reviews, I think you have to do a lot of reading between the lines now to get anything meaningful out of them. Everything reviewed seems to have great reviews and you have to listen for the tiniest criticism. More importantly though, you have to watch out to see what hasn't been reviewed. Steve Guttenberg recently in one of his YouTube videos talked about a speaker he really didn't like but his response to this was too just not review it (he didn't identify which speaker it was).
 

Hear Here

Active Member
Have you thought through just how expensive setting up a decent range of hifi hire equipment of popular models that is likely to be superseded every couple of years would be. Add to that insurance and shipping costs (most hifi is heavy and bulky) and I doubt many consumers would pay the price, especially as most would want more than one item to test. Beyond that, with so much electronic equipment being software controlled they would need unpacking, resetting and then repacking after every excursion out to avoid endless support calls because the software has been 'fiddled with' by the last hirer. Not going to happen.
That's precisely why I suggested that manufacturers or their distributors take on the job of loaning demo units. They would have relatively few models (far fewer than a typical dealer) and are better equipped than dealers to de-individualise returned units before they next go out. It's often a simple matter of going into Settings are pressing Factory Reset.

It's remarkable inexpensive to send things like amps via well-established couriers and manufacturers could easily arrange for return labels to go out with demo units so returns could be done at trade rates and included in the (suggested) £25 loan charge.

If a small charge was made, we would consider carefully the options we are thinking about and whittle down our wish list to maybe 3 models we are serious enough about to want a home demo.
 

gibbsy

Moderator
One area I've been more unable to determine a choice has been the sub
Subs are different beasts and should really only be auditioned in your room. There may be a huge difference in how a sub performs in the dealers audition room to your living room. It's fair to say that you can in some way rely on owners' thoughts on a particular sub as it gives some indication to depth, punch and timing which may suit your particular needs. For music I always recommend REL subs because they have a pedigree in that area.
 

larkone

Distinguished Member
That's precisely why I suggested that manufacturers or their distributors take on the job of loaning demo units. They would have relatively few models (far fewer than a typical dealer) and are better equipped than dealers to de-individualise returned units before they next go out. It's often a simple matter of going into Settings are pressing Factory Reset.

It's remarkable inexpensive to send things like amps via well-established couriers and manufacturers could easily arrange for return labels to go out with demo units so returns could be done at trade rates and included in the (suggested) £25 loan charge.

If a small charge was made, we would consider carefully the options we are thinking about and whittle down our wish list to maybe 3 models we are serious enough about to want a home demo.
As simple as you think it might be there is considerable cost to this and many hifi manufacturers are relatively small businesses. If only the major manufacturers take this type of idea on, as would be likely, it will put further pressure on the small players ability to survive in a competitive environment further limiting choice. Is that what you want?

Hifi dealers provide a more level playing field for a wide range of manufacturers and that gives a shop window for the smaller manufactures to have their products showcased against the majors. It's not perfect but it is the best we have and limiting choice to those that have the resources to offer what you are suggesting is ultimately going to limit choice.
 

English Invader

Active Member
This is kind of why I like to linger around the £300 per component bracket. There is more room for experimentation. I couldn't decide between the Cambridge Audio AXA35 and the NAD C316BEE v2 so I bought both - the lower price point gives me the freedom to hedge my bets in a way that wouldn't be possible with components that cost £1,000 a time.

And there are a lot of vintage speakers that can be bought refurb for £300 that offer design features you won't find in today's market until you get to a much higher price point. At £300, you're pretty much stuck with 30cm x 20cm cabinets and a back firing bass reflex port but with vintage there's sealed, passive radiator, transmission line and all sorts.

At £300, I can afford to take the hit if a component doesn't work out. At £1,000, I can't.
 

hamzamian

Active Member
I think fundamentally, if there really is a demand for home demos, there are already some retailers providing the service and they will just become more popular, especially such a service doesn't require them to be in your locality.

If it becomes popular enough, either everyone will start offering it, or those that don't will slowly go out of business (or find other ways to be competitive)... and if that happens, we will all probably pay for home demo service through higher prices (most likely manifesting as smaller discounts).
 

Hear Here

Active Member
As simple as you think it might be there is considerable cost to this and many hifi manufacturers are relatively small businesses. If only the major manufacturers take this type of idea on, as would be likely, it will put further pressure on the small players ability to survive in a competitive environment further limiting choice. Is that what you want?

Hifi dealers provide a more level playing field for a wide range of manufacturers and that gives a shop window for the smaller manufactures to have their products showcased against the majors. It's not perfect but it is the best we have and limiting choice to those that have the resources to offer what you are suggesting is ultimately going to limit choice.
I'm not suggesting simple but more logical.

You mention small manufacturers - let's say they have just a handfull of dealers. If any customer of any of those dealers wants a home demo, they are most unlikely to have a unit in stock. If the dealer deemed you a worthwhile possible purchaser, they currently arrange with the manufacturer for a demo unit to be sent to their customer. Is that efficient? I suggest not.

Manufacturers build the things at a certain cost - probably less than half retail price and much less than what the dealer pays. They will certainly have used units on their inventory, even pre-production models or ones they take to shows or send to reviewers. They could send this unit to a dealer's customer direct and the nominal carriage charge I suggest would cover their immediate costs. If the customer goes on to purchase through the dealer, it's one more valuable sale for the manufacturer - he should be happy, especially if he is a small fish in a big pond. The manufacturer knows the product backwards so is much better equipped to restore default settings than a dealer who has probably never handled one.

One big problem that dealers have (as suggested by the OP) is that some "customers" like to arrange to hear a dozen alternatives before they actually purchase - or quite possibly don't purchase. Is this efficient? Of course not and dealers and manufacturers are out of pocket. With a small payment to cover carriage costs, the customer would do much more paper research first - reading reviews, asking questions on forums etc to whittle down his wish list to the extent he may finish up with 2 or 3 alternatives he wants to listen to at home and he should be prepared to pay a small sum for the privilege of doing so. All in all, it's a less costly system.

I wanted a solid state amp to replace valves that I'd been using for 15 years so had to look far and wide for a suitable amp that would sound as good or better than the SETs I was used to. I did arrange a few home demos, but bought several amps used at prices that wouldn't leave me out of pocket if I resold them. In the end I bought an amp from a dealer, but I feel slightly guilty for putting other dealers out by arranging to send me demo units. I'd have been happy to pay £25 for borrowing these units though perhaps I'd have eliminated some of them before the home demo stage.
 

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