23 January 2024    |    Hi-fi, Shop news

Matt’s January feature: Auditioning Hi-Fi

Auditioning Hi-Fi

We are now well into a bright and shiny 2024 and the usual exhibitions are back on the calendar. CES in Vegas has been and gone and Bristol is readying itself for its hi-fi show in late February. For hi-fi fans, CES was a bit of a disappointment. I looked for highlights but could only pick out a Sonus Faber system at £695,000, a new ROON server and a cute little turntable from Victrola. I’m hoping that Bristol will be able to offer some more exciting products.

Many of us enjoy attending hi-fi shows but I don’t always think that they are the best place to audition a product. They are usually busy with other visitors and the room acoustics are often horrid. I like to treat a show as a place to see new products for the first time and to get a rough idea of how they sound. Once I return home, I then arrange an appointment with my local retailer to arrange a personal audition where I can spend time exploring a product’s capabilities.

If you are looking to buy a new piece of hi-fi equipment, here are my recommendations on how to successfully select and audition a product.

  • Before embarking on the auditioning process, it’s essential to define your preferences and goals. Consider the type of music you enjoy, the room size where your audio setup will be, and whether you prioritise clarity, bass, or a balanced sound. Knowing your preferences will guide you in selecting components that align with your specific needs.
  • With your preferences in mind, conduct thorough research on the product you are interested in. Read reviews from reputable sources, consult forums, and seek recommendations from fellow audiophiles. And attend hi-fi shows, of course!
  • Then contact your local retailer to discuss product options and to ask for their advice. Don’t forget that different retailers stock different brands – if you trust yours, ask them for their recommendations. When you have done this, it is time to book an audition of your selected product.
  • Once you are in the retailer’s listening room, the source material is critical. Choose high-quality recordings that display the full range of frequencies and dynamics. Familiar tracks with intricate details can help you assess the product’s capabilities.
  • The listening environment significantly influences the performance of hi-fi components. When auditioning, make sure that you sit in the sweet spot and that there is minimal background noise (any good retailer will ensure this). If possible, ask the retailer if you can test your chosen product in the comfort of your own home. This will give you a truly accurate assessment of how it will sound in your daily listening space. 
  • To thoroughly gauge the performance of hi-fi products, bring a selection of your favourite music. Familiar tracks will reveal nuances, details, and subtleties that you might not notice with unfamiliar material. This step is crucial for assessing how your product reproduces the music you love.
  • During the audition, pay attention to the various sonic attributes, including clarity, soundstage, imaging, and tonal balance. Assess how well the product handles different genres of music and the subtleties within each track. Take note of any distortion, colouration, or anomalies that may affect your overall listening experience.
  • If possible, audition multiple products within the same category to make informed comparisons. Listen to each component back-to-back, noting the differences in sound, build quality, and functionality. This comparative approach will help you identify the product that aligns most closely with your preferences.

By following at least some of these guidelines you might make a more informed decision. With careful consideration, attention to detail, and help from the retailer, you may end up purchasing a new product that will give you many years of listening pleasure. I always find that auditioning hi-fi products is a subjective and personal experience which can be lots of fun. I hope that you enjoy researching your next product as much as I do.

Matt Tasker (Ammonite Media), January 2024

Who is Matt?

Matt runs Ammonite Media, the PR, marketing and social media agency that we have used for many years. He has been working with the hi-fi industry for nearly two decades and has a unique, and sometimes irreverent, insight into the industry.

Each month, Matt will treat us to his views on what is making the world of speakers, cables, streamers and turntables tick.