Music gives color to the air of the moment.

Karl Lagerfeld

This week our Executive Director, Scott Garlock, shares the second installment of our Listening series.

Welcome back, dear reader, to the second of a number of our weekly messages to you, devoted to listening to sounds in your spaces. Before launching into some thoughts, a few disclaimers:

  1. Apologies for all of the “get off my lawn moments” (GOML).
  2. As mentioned last time we visited, people’s opinions about music are often fairly rigid and even polemic. With audio gear, it’s perhaps an even worse scenario. I will offer a few brand suggestions–these are only suggestions from my own listening experiences. I haven’t had the time, nor the budget, to sample but a fraction of many worthy goods, so apologies if you don’t see your favs listed in any of these articles. And, it might be that I haven’t found favor with some-I’ll try to avoid besmirching products, especially if they are steeped in 20 year old opinions (GOML #1). In the electronics world, five years is an eternity.
  3. Everyone has different tastes in how they want to hear music, and what we want to hear is often colored by the gear we have dedicated to the listening experience. For example, some love Bose speakers, but I also once heard a stereo store manager say “no highs, no lows, that’s why they call ‘em Bose.”
  4. At every stage in the reproduction of sound, there are opportunities for one to spend many months of mortgage payments. While these are my opinions, I will be guided mostly by the dictum of spending more on the source creating the sound initially and the end spot for the sound (speakers). 
  5. It takes great effort to hear electronic goods above mass produced low-fi equipment. Most people buy their stereo equipment at big box stores and over the internet, environments where it’s impossible to do any sort of discernment between pieces of equipment. And, generally speaking, the more a piece of sonic producing equipment is advertised, ummm, the more it needs to be advertised. Most of the mass produced goods can be solid but don’t often produce aural splendor. This makes buying a leap of faith at times, and relying on others’ opinions can be dicey.
New or used?

There are certain items one can buy used, save a ton of money on, and, at the same time, get a higher level of fidelity via purchasing a better model.

For me, the areas I’m most comfortable with buying used are those pieces which are nearly or entirely electronic. So: CD/Multimedia players, receivers, amps/preamps, tuners, and streaming devices would all be in my bucket of safe used gear.

For pieces that have more of a mechanical nature to them, I prefer to buy new–so in this bucket, that would be speakers and turntables (no discourse on any tape device, but that would go here also).

I’ve heard from my electronic repair people that often if a piece of electronics is going to go bad, it will do so within the first 90 days. So, in a sense, if one shops carefully for used equipment, some bugs will already be safely gone from the product you might buy.

New gear…

With all electronics, it is easy to get lulled into buying the newest model. Every year, manufacturers add some features that will improve the sonic experience. Try to avoid this! Buying a prior year’s model (even if bought new) can save hundreds, and, moreover, you’ll be able to better research opinions on the gear.

There are several companies that are dedicated to selling new electronics online that are very user-friendly, informative while not being condescending, and aren’t involved in aggressive upselling:

  • Crutchfield: I have found them to be reasonably priced, very helpful, and they often have ‘opened box’ or ‘scratch and dent’ items that can make your item even cheaper
  • Sweetwater: Also very user friendly, but Sweetwater is mostly aimed at performer’s gear instead of listening gear. But, it’s great for headphones and some speaker options
  • B&H: Began life as a seller of video products, but sells audio gear. I’ve not used them but have heard good reviews.


Used gear…

For used gear, if you know what you want, a number of traditional spots can get you finds (Ebay, Facebook Marketplace, Craig’s List). There are some sites that specialize in the sale of used audio gear, and some of these are pretty exclusively dedicated to high end audio (I’ll share that if you’d like, but these pieces won’t be in most of our price ranges, unless we win a prize for being vaccinated). The largest that I know of, and have dealt with, is: US Audio Mart. Here you can save searches and get daily emails notifying you of the day’s list of items in your category or even of a particular brand/model.


Stay tuned…

In future articles, we’ll go more into depth about each of the products-choices to be made, features to look for, and some limited brand/model suggestions. So, look for an article on speakers, turntables and LP’s, various formats of CD’s and CD players, receivers/amps/preamps, streaming and digital vs audio.

In the meantime, we LOVE getting feedback from you-please respond with your thoughts during this series. You might likely have some experiences that might be useful to another one of our readers.

Email us at:

*The CJO is not endorsing any products or sites listed, nor is it receiving any compensation from the businesses listed above.