5 Things About Buying A Jazz Stereo System

01
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Who You Gonna Call?

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Who You Gonna Call?

Whenever I have a question about stereo equipment, I seek the advice of my good friends in the audio business. There’s the speaker-making mad scientist, Jeffery James Coombs, who knows more about impedance and crossovers than I thought humanly possible. There’s my longtime compatriot Randy Bingham from the British hi-fi company Musical Fidelity, who’s sold more pieces of stereo equipment in his life than God has made little green apples. And there’s the venerable Brent Butterworth, the right reverend of all things audio.

I met Brent about 10 years ago when he was the editor of (and I was a salesman for) Home Theater magazine. He was considered one of the industry’s leading authorities on both audio and video back then and a decade more experience simply burnishes his reputation. In fact, the wise folks at About.com, who so readily recognize good talent when they see it, have seen fit to anoint him the new guide on our Stereos page.

Figuring that, when it comes to buying expensive stuff, we can all use a little help from our friends, I posed this question to Brent: What are the 5 most important things jazz listeners should consider when buying a stereo system? Read on to find out what he has to say.

02
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Figure Out What You're Going To Do With Your System

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Figure Out What You're Going To Do With Your System

“Are you going to use your system to play a little Eliane Elias in the background while you’re toiling away in your home office?” Brent asks. “Or do you want to turn off all the lights, order everyone out of the house and crank up Bitches Brew to 100 dB?”

Either way, it just makes good sense to make sure you have the right equipment for your listening habits. “Spending $500 on a little wireless system that you're just going to overdrive all the time,” he says, “is as bad a decision as spending $5,000 on a system you just play in the background.”

03
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Do Your Research. Hear What's Out There.

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Do Your Research. Hear What's Out There.

The first place to go is Brent’s Stereos page here at About.com. Then surf some websites and check out some of the internet’s more reputable retailers such as Needle Doctor and Audio Advisor.

You might also want to go to an audio show to hear some systems live and in person. “There are great annual audio shows in many major cities in North America,” Brent notes. “The best one is Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, which takes place every October in Denver. Worth the trip, I promise.”

04
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Observe Your Own Listening Habits

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Observe Your Own Listening Habits

Is your listening confined to streaming Internet radio stations all day? Are you playing digital files stored on your computer? Or are you spinning vinyl on your beloved turntable?

If your computer is your main source, Brent recommends you plan on spending $250 (or $2,500 or $25,000) on a separate digital-to-analog converter, “which will sound much better than your computer's audio.”

Likewise with vinyl, you’ll want to make sure your turntable is up to the job, especially that 1970s cartridge you bought just after you got your first job out of college. Depending on the system you choose, you may also need a phono stage which, like the digital-to-analog converter, translates the RIAA curve of your turntable into something the amplifier can understand. A lot of the pricier systems out there no longer have a dedicated phone input.

05
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Plan Your Sales Pitch

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Plan Your Sales Pitch

If your system's in your man cave, then you have our unending respect. But most of us have systems in the living room or den. “If that's you,” Brent warns, “start the negotiation process the right way by finding some gear your sig-other might actually like, rather than just picking some ugly boxes covered in a cheesy vinyl fake black oak finish.” ‘Nuff said there.

06
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Know Your Budget And Stick To It

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Know Your Budget And Stick To It

Raise your hand if this has happened to you.

You spend six months in heavy negotiations with your purchasing officer (a.k.a., your sig-other), convincing him/her that your living situation has become almost unbearable, a situation that can only be remedied by upgrading your current speakers to those new Series 10’s you’ve been coveting. Finally, you get the P.O., race to the stereo shop, credit card in hand, ready to make your purchase and what happens? The salesman shows you the new and improved (and considerably more expensive) Series 12s!

Suddenly, those 10s that sounded so great playing the new John Scofield album -- >b>when you didn’t have the money -- now sound a little thumpy in the bass when you do have the money. What should you do?

Don’t fall prey to your inner voice, the one that sounds like a salesman who “doesn’t work on commission,” Brent warns. “There aren't that many retail stores left out there, but I guarantee they'll try to send you home with some crazy accessory that no one’s ever needed. Just say no.”

Still need more advice? Jump on over to Brent's Stereos page and hit him with a comment. And tell him Verity sent you.