Demo Music… Or, What Do You Want to Hear?

I just hooked my demo pair of speakers from a manufacturer for evaluation. They sent along a demo disc with the speakers, a CD of 14 songs. In other words, they already set me up with music they’d like me to hear on them first. Isn’t this the way it is with most audio manufacturers, whether it be at a show or in their demo room? Or even in an audio dealers’ showroom? We’re subjected first, and mostly, to selections of music they have picked out that are deemed appropriate for their gear. This even happens when we go over to our audio friends’ house. In fact, I might even be guilty of this myself. I believe I am. After all, I know what is going to knock your socks off when you sit down on my couch. Does that make me a bad host, though? Or, am I simply following suit?

Audiophiles lament, even complain, about going from room-to-room at every audio show only to be subjected to nothing but Diana Krall and the usual classical selections. On occasion, some will break away and play some Dire Straits or some cool big band selection, but then the next room will be more of the same ol’, same ol’. Sometimes you just want to walk into the Sonus faber booth and say “I’d really love to hear some fuckin’ Slayer on these things” simply to watch them poop their bloomers, but most of us practice more adult restraint than that. Still others can be seen with handfuls of CDs in their hands, hoping someone will take them up on a request or two.

Back to this demo disc. It’s really quite lovely- some great vocal stuff, African and world music, then progressing into some jazz. But, right next to me is Jean-Luc Ponty’s “Cosmic Messenger,” and I’m dying to hear it. That adult restraint I mentioned earlier is fading quickly. Behind it is The Alan Parsons Project’s “I Robot.” Then Pink Floyd’s “The Division Bell.” I have so much that I want to hear on these, and as anyone who knows me will tell you, with the patience of a five-year-old. Track 5 of the demo disc is opera, and (much as I try) I have a hard time appreciating opera. If I were in a dealer’s demo room, I’d be begging them to change it. Yet, I press on.

Demo music does wonderful things for gear, and this disc is no exception. These songs, quite frankly, could make a clock radio sound amazing. But there is a real need for familiarity when we listen to gear that we are interested in bringing into our listening rooms. My patience has hit an end and I’m reaching for that familiarity right now. There, I’m home.

Once I switch to Robert Plant’s “Now and Zen,” I feel like I’m getting to know these speakers better and headed toward my eventual evaluation. Plant’s music helped me position them better. Having heard this album in so many rooms, on so many speakers, I now have the true basis for comparison. Isn’t that my job here? I’m not simply listening and enjoying, though that sure is fun, but I have real work to do.

When finally ending my evening on “High Hopes,” from The Division Bell, I know precisely what my ears are seeking out. I’m aware of what I should be experiencing, hearing, and even feeling. I’ve heard this song on vintage and new speakers, big and small, and in nearly every room of my  home. This is where the rubber meets the road.

Should we be more insistent on our own selections when auditioning equipment? Unequivocally, yes. Don’t bring an expensive purchase home because an unfamiliar three-minute jazz trio cut sounded fantastic on it. If Sly and the Family Stone is your thing, you need to make sure they sound great on it, too. Buyer’s remorse is a powerful thing and drives the used market hard.  Shop smart.

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