Trust and Online Purchasing

Curious how you all think about this: with the decline of brick & mortar audio retailers what factors allow you to purchase a particular piece of gear online without having the opportunity to demo in-store?

What role, if any, do the following play?: professional reviews, brand reputation, 30 day home trial, feedback on online forums, prior experience with the company, ability to personally interact with a company rep, website user friendliness, free shipping etc.

JMO obviously…

I buy most of my equipment without having heard it. It wasn’t always that way but there is so much really good gear and so few high-end retailers in a lot of markets. I’m careful about what retailers I will buy from, and I spend a lot of time reading reviews of what I’m looking to buy.

Of course, none of that is fool proof. Every so often I buy something that for whatever reason I don’t like, and/or is no better than what I was upgrading. I then just turn around and sell it. Yes, I lose money on that but I just figure that’s the cost of participating in this sometimes crazy hobby. :grinning:


Do you ever take advantage of 30 day return policies to avoid having to re-sell at a loss? Or is 30 days not long enough to determine?

I don’t, but I hardly ever buy new equipment. Given the typical margins to dealers (dealers usually buy at 50% off) I wait until a product trades in the secondary market, generally 40-60% off retail price. There are probably places that will do that with a 30 day return policy but I am not familiar with them. I just figure I save more money not buying retail than it costs me when I have to re-sell something I just bought at a loss.

Interesting! When buying used do you use particular sites like Audiogon or USAudioMart? Are you particular about the seller–do they have to have high ratings? Do you only buy things with a certain rating 9 out of 10?

I typically buy from sellers on Audiogon and US Audio Mart. I will buy equipment rated 7 or 8 as well. As long as it functions as it should I can live with a scratch or two. I figure it will get a little nicked in my rack anyway.

I rarely buy from sellers that don’t have a 100% rating. If a guy has a lot of transactions with like one complaint on 20 sales that’s probably OK too. You have to be careful though. I have been buying and selling on Ebay, Audiogon and US Audio Mart for years, probably 1000 transactions by now and I’ve never had a negative. I treat people the way I expect to be treated. Most sellers do the same but not all.


It’s nice to have a dealer who has a good ear and discounts new equipment. Mine has steered me toward what to look for in the used market as well. He is located several states away, but I trust his opinion, as he used to put Harry Pearson on to great equipment.

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Do you buy gear from him without hearing it first? Does he let you do home audition and return if you don’t like it?

Yes and yes. Understand that I still do my research. His recommendations are sleepers and classics. -Plus he’s a very good guy who returns my calls and will discuss audio with me for as long as I want.

I can’t imagine buying speakers (esp. large ones) without an audition, no matter what the reviewers and online “experts” say about them.

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Buy from trusted sources with clearly articulated return policies. Sometimes there is a restocking fee. I purchased an Auralic Polaris earlier this year from Audio Advisor in Michigan, and the product failed within a couple of weeks. Amp section fissled. Returned it for a refund (no replacement) with no hassles. Similar situation in early 2018 with a demo PS Audio DSJ, same vendor. It was bad upon delivery, possible rough shipping & handling. Prompt return and exchange process without hassles. PS Audio, Wyred4Sound, Audio Advisor, Music Direct, Schiit, and Moon-Audio are places I’ve had really good luck buying online. If there’s ever a problem, they address and resolve it.


Makes sense. Would you consider another Auralic product given this experience? Will you give a brand another chance or is this a deal breaker?

I think Auralic is a good brand. I purchased the Polaris for a combo streamer DAC; didn’t really need the amp, but it was marked down to almost the price point of the Altair so I went for it. After returning the Polaris, I decided to go with a separate DAC and separate streamer so I didn’t repurchase an Auralic product. It sounded really good for a week. Auralic sells a lot of stuff…if they didn’t have good products they wouldn’t be around long. Just got a bum one. Replaced the Auralic with a Benchmark DAC3 HGC, and “new trade” Bryston BDP-1. For my office setup.

My last 8 purchases have all been online without ever having a chance to hear the equipment I bought until it arrived. However I did not make any of the purchases blindly, every one followed long periods of searching the internet, trolling audio forums, reading every review I could. To push me over the finish line was finding a dealer/company that would take the equipment back if I didn’t like it. As painful as that might sound to some, the honest truth is I really enjoyed the research - I find it a lot of fun. A good friend of mine told me all the fun is in the chase. The fun ends after you get what you wanted. It is so true.

As fun as it is do the reading research for new equipment (ok for me at least), I really do miss the days of hanging out at the boutique audio dens listening and playing. I spent hours a week just hanging out and listening to equipment I never had way of ever buying. I’d bring a box of discs and just play, try these speakers with this amp, etc. It also was the most social part of our hobby, hanging with like minds and discussing equipment, recordings, music. I really do miss those days. :frowning_face:


RayK that’s really interesting about your process and passion for research. In terms of research, what sources of information do you most trust and rely on? I know what you mean about the loss of the social dimension with the disappearance of audio stores.

Google is my number one go to for research. I’m not shy about reviews from people or sites I’ve never heard of. I’ll read every single article and post I can find on a piece of equipment I’m interested in.

I look for commonality in reviews rather than if it is good review or bad review. I focus on the common threads from reviewer to reviewer rather than a rave review. I also like to read the forums & message boards in search of information. The average Joe Audiophile can provide lots of help in their descriptions, either backing up comments from others or challenging other people’s view.

Hopefully you know what attribute you’re missing and trying to improve. You can search for that by reading many reviews, posts, etc to find the piece of equipment that is highlighted in that area by more than a couple of people.

Because this hobby is expensive I’ll also do my homework on the manufacturers. Here you’ll get more varied opinions and lots of personal experiences with a company. I aim for companies that are willing to make their people visible and available to the consumer. I’d always lean towards an audio company that are staffed by passionate people who are out there backing their products rather than a company of anonymous people. It’s also very important to me that people have good experiences with the service department. It’s especially good when you find quotes regarding dealing with specific names in a company’s service department (e.g. “I got John on the phone and he walked me through…”) and those people despite their problems still had positive experiences.

Going back to my earlier posts about missing hanging out in the audio boutique shops, one thing that is far better today than those days is the available information. As much as I miss sitting for hours with my favorite shop owners, they did have nothing but high praise for their stuff and would give you reasons why it was better than the equipment they didn’t sell. Today you can get a far broader set of opinions and more information than you did back then. So there are pluses today that we didn’t have back then.


For me I do whatever I can to listen to the product first. I rarely take advice from forums as most forums tend to be no more than a place people go to make them feel good about a product they already have. Now if I run across someone who has a product I have been looking at I tend to like to see what their thought is. Does it match what I am hearing, etc. Sometime it does and sometime it doesn’t.

There are so many great products that I can always find something that I can listen to that fits my needs. To me the best way is to get the gear in your home for a trail. Now a 30 day home trial is great.

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Michael, would you say your trust in other audiophiles evaluations of gear is low or, rather, it’s a matter of differing tastes? That you can’t really use someone else’s subjectivity as a proxy for your own feelings about a particular piece of kit?

I find it interesting that we see others as being swayed by “confirmation bias”–the tendency to feel good about decisions we have already made–but feel that we are ourselves are less influenced by these emotions.

For me it is a matter of different tastes. Gear today cost way too much for me to make a purchasing decision based on someone’s else opinion. Now this isn’t to say people don’t have good or bad opinions, I just need to hear the gear for myself.

Also I do believe people want to know that others have purchased the same gear as them. It does make people feel good in my opinion.

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Speakers: In person audition only
Amps: In person audition only
DAC: Gambled with on-line PS Audio… worked out. Benchmark DAC USB - me was unhappy
Other: gambling - Almost everything I ordered without hearing it first was a disaster.

Bruce in Philly

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