How to Get the Most Out of an Audiophile Demo

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Imagine you walk into your favorite local audiophile dealer to spend some time listening to the latest and greatest gear on display. Years ago, most professional stereo salespeople had a short stack of their best Compact Discs ready to play for you on a moment’s notice, but today, with the advent of streaming music, we’ve opened up the world of literally unlimited musical possibilities, which raises an interesting question: what do you actually want to hear and how do you politely but effectively get the most from your audiophile demo?

A stack of audiophile Compact Discs for a demo
A stack of audiophile Compact Discs for a demo

Ask the Salesperson to Play You Two or Three of Their Favorite Tracks Before You Get Yours

Not every audiophile salesperson is a top-level closer or an audiophile killer (learn how to be one yourself here), but you can help them to get you to a great outcome with a little guidance. I remember when people would come into Christopher Hansen Ltd. in Beverly Hills in the mid-1990s to hear products like THIEL or Wilson Audio speakers and they had a copy of, say, The Who: Live at Leeds (buy at Amazon) in hand. This is like a news reporter handing the person they are interviewing their microphone. Smart TV anchors know to never give up control of their microphone. Smart audiophile salespeople (and customers) do the same, but in the event of an audiophile demo, there needs to be a little give and take so that the person giving the demo gets to make his/her points and you get to hear some music you can relate to. 

Before my days in specialty AV publishing, when I sold very high end audio gear for a living, I would often ask the client permission to play a minute or two of my best demo tracks before playing their music. If the customer refused, I knew that I didn’t have a significantly qualified buyer and needed to wrap things up quickly, as zero times ever did a product audition start this way and then end with a credit card provided for said desired AV investment. To complicate the matter more in the modern era, the realities of people having huge quantities of music right on their phone paired with unlimited access to CD- or higher-level resolution streaming, picking the best tracks can be complicated. Asking your local salesperson what they would like to play for you is always a good way to warm things up musically and get the demo off to a good start.

This is NOT The French Laundry... it is a laundromat in France but close enough to make our point.
This is NOT The French Laundry… it is a laundromat in France but close enough to make our point.

Obscure Audiophile Music Kinda Sucks So Don’t Be Shy About Asking to Play Music That Doesn’t Make You Want to Kill!

I am just back from the CEDIA tradeshow in Denver which is mostly a custom installation or home theater show, but there is plenty of audio to experience there as well. When asked what I would like to hear in a non-scripted audio demo, I often ask for something that is “RIAA certified platinum” meaning “play me something that I’ve actually heard before.” How exactly can you determine if the system/component you’re looking into is any good if you don’t have any familiarity with the music being played? Asking for some options that you’ve heard before is completely fair. Playing Indonesian gamelan music might sound great as a demo, but how can you tell how the system or component sounds? There are so many other external factors, including the room and other components that keeping your music somewhat standardized helps give you a frame of reference as to what you are listening to. In the rare event that the store doesn’t have anything you like, be sure to have some of your favorite demo tracks on your phone that you can stream into their best audiophile DAC so that you can get the demonstration you want/need/desire from your trip to the stereo store.

You want obscure music – we’ve got you covered with this YouTube.com video.

Audiophile Demos Should Never Play Past the First Chorus 

Too many audiophile salespeople play music for too long for their clients. Most people have a short attention span, so playing a demo track for about 1:30, or to the end of the first chorus of a pop song, is a good marker for when to roll down the volume. Even if you are excellent at an audiophile demo (read here to find out some tips to easily accomplish this goal), you aren’t going to select music that speaks to your audience, and  keeping your demonstration short and to-the-point is a great way to be able to live to fight another day. At the Three Star Micheline ranked Napa restaurant, The French Laundry, their uber-famous chef, Thomas Keller, delivers well over 20 small dishes over upwards of three hours of dining. It is a marathon of eating event even if the portions are small when judged on their own. If there’s something that you don’t like (unlikely, by the way), then just wait until the next course, as it’s likely coming up pretty soon. Audio is the same way and unlike The French Laundry (which purposefully doesn’t play music to deprive you of that sense so that you can focus on taste, smell, and sight) you get some good music into your life this way. 

Remember, the goal isn’t to close your deal or make your audiophile argument emphatically, right there on the spot. Someone who does a great audiophile demo knows that they’re earning “trial closes,” meaning small victories that build to a bigger goal. Not every attempt is going to be a win, so don’t get caught playing 20 minutes of orchestral music to somebody who isn’t all that into classical but is too polite to tell you. These audiophile audition opportunities are too few and far between to waste them. It is up to you to communicate clearly (but politely, of course) so that you get what you want out of the experience. You have every right to get that out of an audiophile demo, be it at a store, at a trade show, or elsewhere. 

It’s understandable why a manners-oriented human being could be a little anxious in these audiophile situations, but there is simply nothing to worry about. You deserve to get a relatable, rock-solid demo of any audiophile system that you sit down to enjoy. If that isn’t happening, we are encouraging you to take matters into your own hands and get things headed in a different direction. A truly pro audiophile salesperson might never need any of these suggestions, but we all know that there are all levels of competency in the world of audiophile dealers. If you need to take control of the demo, do so with confidence so that you can come to strong conclusions about the components you’re looking into. This is your audiophile right. 

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