With your budget decided, the next step is to book a series of demonstrations with a specialist hi-fi dealer. We’ll cover that in more depth in our Buying Advice section, but the basic points are these: while judging a product on its brand name the quality of your dealer’s demonstration or even on the strengths of its magazine reviews can be a useful way to narrow down your options, in the end, only you can decide whether the equipment is right for you.
That’s partially because personal preferences have a huge part to play in the listening experience, but it’s also because hi-fi components interact with each other in a remarkably organic way. Combine three well-reviewed components in a system that should, in theory, be fantastic and you could well find that the results disappoint. Ancillary components, such as cables, supports and stands, can make a difference in this regard, but it’s the intrinsic sonic properties of each core component that have the biggest impact. This is where an experienced dealer can be of most help.
While the best way to judge if a system will meet your needs is to hear it correctly set-up in a dedicated listening environment, always be mindful of the size of your own listening space before signing on the dotted line. And always insist on being able to listen using your own music at the sort of volume you are likely to use at home. Great hi-fi is tailor-made, not off-the-peg.