Help to steer you through the hifi jungle

Why involve a hifi dealer?

Why would you want to consult The Right Note about hi-fi equipment and buy some components or a system from us?
Why come here when there are so many other dealers, some closer to you?
In fact, why involve a dealer at all when there is so much advice available from the magazines. Why not just phone around for the best price and put the system together yourself?

Valid questions. Things can look very different from our side of the counter and you may find this page helpful in making the music you want at a price you can afford.

Complexity and, um, ‘bargains’

Hi-fi is hugely complex, technically and psychologically, involving:

  • the performance of individual components
  • how components interact in a system
  • the way the listening room affects the sound
  • the listener’s own perceptions, including both his/her physical hearing and mental interpretation – and we all vary.

Perhaps you can see how seriously misleading magazine “5 star” or “best buy” gradings might be. They can take account of just that one test situation, with that reviewer on that day, and it’s only his opinion, within his own experience. Even then he has to choose words to convey those impressions which the reader further interprets within his/her experience! How far have we come from that distant sound in that unknown room?

How a dealer can help you

We believe a dealer has a valuable role, steering customers through the complexities of hi-fi. With his experience he can assess their needs, perhaps better than they can themselves.

You might go down the DIY route, buying special offers or secondhand items on the internet. In effect you are saying, “I know enough to choose wisely and make this system work well.”

Unfortunately, we see the problems and most people actually lose money this way. Buying and selling several items at a loss usually wipes out any saving made with “bargains”. Even worse, experimenters have an unsatisfactory system and end up listening to its weaknesses, choosing only the recordings that are tolerable. Does that ring a bell with you?

So where do I start?
You research, of course. You may scour the internet, read magazines, discuss with friends or telephone dealers.
The trouble is you cannot rank these “facts” because they are all other people’s opinions. Until you listen, form your own judgements and establish your own criteria all you have are second-hand opinions.

Our best piece of advice is: Trust your ears.
Deafeningly obvious you’ll think – but sadly most people don’t. They’ll gather all those second-hand opinions but listening to music systems with their own ears comes bottom more often than not. Believe us, we see it all the time.

Problem – emotion takes over when mouth-watering bargains crop up on the internet. “That component has had excellent reviews and I can’t go wrong at that price.”  Umm, err – remember that excellent components may reveal deficiencies in your system and you may end up not enjoying music after spending a lot of money.

Balance is critical.

So – establish your own benchmarks by listening widely with friends and dealers but don’t be tempted by “bargains” at this early stage. Spend 5% of your budget on travel. If you plan to part with £3000 it’s not extravagent to spend £150 on visiting five promising dealerships within 150 miles to hear what they can do.

This travelling and listening process will also help you to assess the dealers themselves and how they work. Do they make a good sound? Can they adapt it to suit you? Do you think they have original ideas and could help you? Do you feel at ease and trust them to advise you?

Rather than specifying what you want to hear give them free rein and see what they suggest within your budget.

I have a budget of…
You are about to spend what will probably be a lot of money. “A lot of money”? Basically, you’re buying something you’ve been promising yourself for a long time, whether it’s £500 or £5000.
I remember when I was an enthusiast with a young family and a massive mortgage. We had no money to spare. One year I persuaded my wife to combine my birthday and Christmas presents to buy me a £50 pair of interconnects.

The results were amazing and well “worth” the cost, but for us it was still a lot of money at that time. Expenditure on hi-fi is what we at The Right Note call “cream” money: it’s the thin layer on the top after you have paid all the bills, so it’s very precious. We’ll help you to spend wisely.

Give me the facts
We try to establish what you really need, rather than what you think you want. You may ask about cables “to tighten the bass” in a system when you really need to change the amplifier, or just move the speakers (free!).

If you are new to the subject we must discuss budgets, music tastes and domestic factors: size and layout of room, furnishings and much more (toddlers + hot valves = bad news, cats love to sharpen claws on fabric-covered speakers). The “best” equipment within a budget can be very different things for different people.

We do a lot of “bush doctor” diagnoses on the phone. It helps if we establish common ground with enquirers, eg equipment they have already heard and their reactions. This discussion suggests the type of sound they seek.

At last, music…
If several items or a system are involved with many options, we suggest a short-listing session here at the studio. We need to establish what we call “thresholds” for you – the standards the system has to reach in various areas to be enjoyable for you. Everyone has different requirements and tastes, in sound and in music. There is no such thing as a universally wonderful system.

There is also nothing worse than trying to listen to music on a system that continually throws up sounds you dislike. Eventually those are all you hear, waiting for a bass boom, edgy treble or the tonal bias which “colours” everything. So in this first session we need to agree the “must-haves” and as many as possible of the “it-would-be-nice-if” within the budget.

We might discover that your discrimination is much more developed than you had allowed for, ie you have expensive tastes! It happens, and it’s far better to know at the start. Then the only route is to build a better system than you had expected, but over a period of time and with the minimum of redundancy as it develops. Otherwise you will end up listening only to those limitations. This type of advice is a dealer’s crucial role and where he will actually save you money overall.

Even more important – you will enjoy listening all the time your system is improving.
When you are upgrading it is important that there is an immediate gain in performance, even if you buy only one component. You don’t want to spend a lot of money but not hear the benefit until you have spent a lot more.

So we agree a plan, use as much as possible of your present equipment if any but give an adrenalin shot where it will have the best effect in your system.

The last step is for us to let you hear the short-listed items at home with the components you are keeping. We guide you to a system you can enjoy for now, knowing there is more to come as funds allow, if that’s what you wish. We can leave equipment with you for a few days to make sure you are entirely happy before finally deciding.

We are here to help
The bottom line is: listen widely so that you can trust your ears. Then trust a dealer and make him or her  responsible for producing the sound you have decided you want. Of course, by following our advice you may find a dealer whose range of equipment and service you prefer to ours!

We hope we have answered the questions posed at the start, essentially:

Why come to The Right Note?
We believe that by –

  • listening to your needs
  • establishing your listening “thresholds”
  • assessing domestic circumstances
  • steering you through the jungle of choice
  • offering home demonstrations
  • using existing equipment where possible
  • planning a long-term solution
  • being prudent with your money and
  • giving honest advice

– we can steer you to a deeply satisfying system that will give pleasure over many years.

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"When love and skill work together expect a masterpiece".

John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)