Where do you shop for and buy A/V gear?

With more tools than ever at our disposal, shopping for and buying A/V gear is a very different experience today than it was just a few years ago. What’s your strategy in the age of mobile shopping? Do you have a favorite store or e-tailer? Take a few minutes to respond to this week’s HT Poll and tell us about your experiences in Comments. Stories encouraged!
Where do you shop for and buy A/V gear?
Local independent retail store
17% (202 votes)
Big-box retailer (Best Buy, etc.)
15% (183 votes)
Custom installation company
4% (45 votes)
Online retailer (Amazon, Crutchfield, etc.)
23% (278 votes)
Direct from company websites when possible
5% (65 votes)
I shop in a store but sometimes make the purchase online
5% (60 votes)
I shop in a store but often make the purchase online
5% (59 votes)
Wherever I can get the best deal!
27% (328 votes)
Total votes: 1220

KikassAssassin's picture

I bought my speakers, receiver and Blu-ray player from a local big box store (American TV) because buying speakers without listening to them first is usually a bad idea. I bought my TV from Amazon because it was on sale for a crazy low price and I couldn't pass it up. My cables/interconnects are from Amazon and Monoprice because the cables they sell in stores are usually criminally overpriced.

I'm thinking of buying a new Blu-ray player soon, and I'll probably get it online, either from Amazon or the manufacturer's website, depending on which one I decide to get.

dnoonie's picture

Expensive, important and cutting edge I prefer to purchase local if at all possible. That would include my TV, and my audio monitors.

More standard items I purchase wherever I can get a good price and good service.

I'm certainly willing to pay bit more for decent service and a good reputation.

And by the way, be careful with delivery people. When I got my TV delivered I'm 90% convinced the delivery guys were scoping out my house for getting the TV. Once I explained to them that 80% of my neighbors worked from home or were nosy retired folks and that the police had their head quarters a mile away they lost interest in looking at my doors and windows and garage!! It's good to have good neighbors!

kevon27's picture


ednaz's picture

I've had two audio only major system upgrades, one initial AV system and then a major upgrade of that system, in the last five years. I really wanted to do the purchases through physical store dealers, preferably not big box stores - the demise of real local camera stores has made kit difficult for photographers to make good upgrade decisions and get good support when the occasional glitch occurs. Unfortunately, my experience of the last five years left me feeling like maybe the local retailers should be going the way of the dodo. (I'm not opposed to big box stores, but the two that are in my area don't carry much at the price point where I buy.)

For the audio only system upgrades, I found that if I wanted to compare the four speaker models I was thinking about, I couldn't - other than to go to a bunch of different dealers. Most of the dealers didn't keep a listening sample for most of the speakers in the lines they carry - for example, for B&W, one dealer only had 800 Diamonds, PM-1s, and a 6-series tower. Another had multiple CM speakers, but nothing else other than a set of bookshelf 6-series. A number of dealers listed on manufacturer sites were installers, with no listening area, no stock. If there's no way to compare the sound of speakers in a physical shop, what exactly is the advantage compared to buying online?

Worse, even when a shop had, say, two of the speakers I was considering, it became a battle to get to hear them. One dealer resolutely refused to hook up the two speakers I was interested in, even though I could see them in a corner of his showroom, instead pressing me to listen to a different speaker at a price point 3x what I wanted to spend. Even after I did listen to those, and then detailed what I didn't like about their sound (which I was surprised to find out after matched up reasonably well with reviews) he spent his time (wasting mine) trying to change my mind. I had that similar experience in three different shops.

I did buy speakers from one of the local shops - just over a $4k purchase for a pair of speakers - that had two of the speakers I was considering, and after a little grumbling hooked them up so I could compare. When I came back a few months later to buy a system for my work studio, however, the amount of grumbling significantly increased and the "you really should buy THIS speaker and THIS amp" behaviors escalated enormously. I ended up sourcing the system from one physical dealer and two different online dealers - if there's zero advantage to loyalty, why should one be loyal?

My first AV system I got from a big box store because I wasn't sure I cared that much about AV surround sound. Once I'd had the system for three years and decided to upgrade, the big box store didn't have any examples in the upgrade categories for me to listen to, no local dealer had any two of the four options I was looking at for the receiver or processor/amp combos. Two dealers who LOOKED LIKE they carried two of my options in fact didn't - they carried the line, but one only had one model, the other didn't stock ANY inventory from EITHER line, preferring instead to tell me how much I'd hate all the choices on my list.

The only way to be able to do comparison listening is at big box stores, and only if your options are the lower and middle range speakers and receivers they carry. Makes me sad - both because I've always tried to support small businesses, and because I can't get any joy from the shopping and comparison process. All that's left is read a bunch of reviews, shell out money, and hope that I made a good choice.

Bob Ankosko's picture
Ednaz, Thank you for taking the time to share your retail experiences. It is, indeed, a sad state of affairs and one that appears to be without a viable solution unless you happen to live in an area with one of those rare independent A/V shops that truly values its customers and understands how to keep them coming back. A dying breed, I'm afraid.
kent harrison's picture

Best Buy closes store around me,the high end stores are 40 miles from me,online stores are best for the money.

thx2468's picture

Washington, DC area doesn't have many options on local retail stores and the few around are very lousy. No show rooms or just they don't want to offer a demonstration when you're ready to buy maybe because they're too busy online or reading the paper. I've purchased my second unopened box Sony ES receiver player on e-bay for less than $2000.00 (STR-DA5800ES) and I never had any problems with none of them; I still don't know the risks I understand that retail stores have to pay rent, salaries, taxes, etc. but I could not afford to buy many products reviewed here if it's not either on e-bay or other online stores with super special prices.

drekka's picture

I've been to both big box movers and small retailers over the years. When looking for gear,
my goal is always to get the best quality gear I can afford, and which to my ears, sounds as natural as possible. This generally rules out the big box guys straight away because they do not have the facilities or time to allow people to spend some time listening and looking. Their opinions are also questionable because their staff are usually quite limited in time, knowledge and experience and have little interest in what they are selling beyond commissions. The smaller guys on the other hand are often enthusiasts and know what they are talking about. They will still have preferences and want to sell the ranges they have, but I find they are far more willing to be honest about the level of equipment needed and where money is best spent. You can learn a lot from them.

I know show rooming is a big problem for a lot of the smaller retailers, but at least one I know actually invites people to showroom in their store. Mainly because they are one of the few local places who actually stock a wide range of high quality gear and they know that very little of what they offer will be one line at a price they cannot match. They also recognise that most people walking through their doors are not just about the cheapest dollar (the box movers are for them), but are looking for that quality/service/on going relationship that online cannot match.

I agree with previous posters about the difficulty of finding the gear you are looking at, in a store where you can demo it. On the other hand, by the time I walk into a store I have an idea of what I want to listen to, but I am also interested in what the staff think is worth listening to. With both the major systems I have bought, the equipment I ended up purchasing was not the equipment I originally wanted to listen to. It was way better and at a similar price. This is simply because everyone is different and likes different things. So whilst I consider magazine reviews a good starting point, I trust the opinions of those in the stores when they suggest things to listen to that I might like.

My last point is a personal opinion and moral code if you like. I try never to walk into a store and use up the staff's time unless I am actually intending to purchase and possibly from them. I don't "showroom" because I think it's rude. When it comes to prices, I don't just consider the value, I also consider the things that go along with a purchase. Perhaps I can get a cheaper price from a big box mover and a brand name I've never heard of, but I don't expect personal service if something goes wrong from them. Where as I've had some excellent above and beyond service from the smaller shops. So when I'm looking at a price, I'm asking myself not just is it a good price for the product, but what else am I purchasing - service, backup, knowledge, etc.