It seems change is the only constant that we all experience. Nowhere is this truer than in the world of High Fidelity. All of us can rattle off various audio and video trends that we all thought would be with us forever only to see them gone….8 track tapes and players, cassette recorders, VHS recorders and of course Beta-Max.  Vinyl is making a big comeback people say. Truth be told, it never left for reasons we will talk about in our next article. Currently the rage is streaming services and streaming devices. You buy a new toaster most likely it will stream Pandora as you wait for your daily bread to be burned.

Have A Plan

So the question needs to be asked how one makes smart purchases in the middle of all of this flux. We like to think that we have a good answer to this. The first place to start is to make a plan. I know it sounds very elementary but you would be surprised how few people actually do it. One of our long time customers is a surgeon. He’s a big jazz fan and spins vinyl anytime he can. He always comes to our store dressed in his surgical green garb and talking on his iPhone. He listens to various gear and invariably gets interrupted time again by “the office”. When he buys something the evaluation lasts maybe 3 minutes at most. He runs out before we can ask key questions. He loves SET valve amps which is fine and well. But you have to match your speakers very carefully with SET amps. Recently our doctor was listening to a pair of high end speakers which are rated charitably at 86db 1watt 1 meter. His amp puts out a whopping 12wpc. Only the most efficient speakers can work well with his amp. The manufacturer of the speakers he was enthralled with suggests (mandates) that these speakers require a minimum of 200wpc. Our experiences support more like 300wpc. On his next visit with cappuccino in hand for the good doctor we sat down and put a plan together that saved him a tidy amount. Make a plan.

Use A Template

With this in mind an effective plan has to be a realistic plan. If you’re 25 years old, it’s unlikely you would be contemplating purchasing the flagship speakers of Magico, B&W, or Wilson. We use a template with our customers which starts out defining the type of system you would like. Is this going to be a two-channel stereo? Are you planning on doing a home theater system?  What is the overall budget? These questions act to effectively guide you into defining what products work for you. Without this guide people tend to be taken in by 4k flat panels at the big box stores. They take their new video delight home only to find that the only speakers they can now afford are the goose fart X1’s. (All of us have owned the GFX1’s. We just know them by a different name.)  So where to start?

Start With Speakers

We always recommend starting with good speakers.  Good speakers make any system sound better. Whether you are playing CD’s, using reel-to-reel tape (it’s coming back!), spinning vinyl, using digital downloads or streaming from one of the many subscription sites, good speakers will always make a significant impact.  In the allocation of your hard-earned money, we suggest 45% to 50% of the budget ge allocated for speakers. If you’re building a home theater system, we suggest getting easy to drive and efficient speakers. Multichannel amps are not known for large power reserves. So 8 ohm speakers that are at least 89db at 1watt 1 meter make for an easy to drive home theater system.

Mate The Electronics To The Speakers

Your choice of electronics should be matched to the speakers you like. If you chose your speakers when they were connected to a 300 watt per channel solid state amp, be aware that they will sound completely different with a lower powered valve amplifier. So try different amps and preamps with your newly found speakers. Your dealer should have no issues with this. If they object or are not eager to help…get a new dealer to work with you. Helping customers is our job.  Your dealer should know this matching of electronics to the speakers is critical in having a great overall system. But we ask that you the customer be honest with us.  It’s fine to put a dealer through many hoops if your plan is to make your purchase from that dealer. Exercising the local dealer then buying elsewhere is a topic we’ve talked about previously. This is not a good thing for either the dealer or the customer.  There are certainly faster ways to the bank than being in the AV business. Most dealers I know do this out of a love of music and the gear. We are not part of the so called 1% to be sure. So be open about your plans with us.

Make Smart Decisions On Cables And Accessories

I’ve seen great plans go to the rubbish bin with poor decisions on cables or accessories (particularly racks.)  We are of the belief that good interconnect and speaker cables do make a contribution to your system. We have free training classes here once a month. The topics change but far and away the most popular class is our cable class. No topic gets people as worked up as the subject of cables. So we let people decide for themselves. We present cables, both interconnect and speaker cables, from all price ranges from the very modest to the very extravagant. The results are amazing. Even those who came with the hard over view that cables make no difference at all end up walking out of the class with a new understanding. Our view is that it’s your system. Do what you think makes good sense to your budget and to your ears. But clearly do not drop thousands on cables if the system costs less than the cables themselves. We’ve seen where this goes.

Take Time To set Up Your New Gear

People are understandably excited to get their new gear home and get listening to music. Try to resist the rush to do so.  The best thing in the long run is to take your time in setting everything up. This especially true of setting up and positioning your new speakers. The speakers should be away from side and rear walls with the same overall positioning between the two. Here our big Magico’s are three feet away from the side walls and three feet nine inches off the rear walls.  We’ve experimented with various placements. For our room this positioning sounds the best.  Plan on moving your speakers to different positions and listening to them. It will be well worth your time.  Please allow for a break-in period of your new gear. When speakers are new the individual drivers are stiff initially. We say that speakers change in tone and richness after about 150 hours of playing them. We recommend playing your system at low volume while you are at work to move the break-in process along.

Read The User Manuals

I know this is not popular with many people but take the time to sit down and actually read the user manuals on everything that you have purchased. There will be features in your pre-pro or amp that you did not know existed. At least once a month or more we get calls saying their new DAC is not working. (Lately the calls have been all about DAC’s or Turntables). The call ends quickly when we point out a non-descript button on the front controls the type of source input (SPIDF, AES/EBU or DIGITAL COAX). It’s prominently mentioned on page 2 of the user manual. You get the point… the manual.

As an aside, please fill out your warranty cards.  This is how the manufacturer tracks the item you bought. It’s well worth the five minutes of your time. If something does go wrong then you’re on record with them and they will address the issue significantly faster.


This is all about having fun and enjoying music. Invite your friends over and play music. Be a missionary for our hobby.

Mike Twomey owns Big Kids Toys AV in Greensboro NC. Mike is delighted that reel-to-reel recorders are coming back. 

Read More Dealer’s View with Mike Twomey






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