THE AUDIO INSIDER: Buying stereos and avoiding really dumb decisions 002


Welcome back. Starting work on part #2 I now face a decision. Should I outline some of the inconvenient and self-administered psychological problems involved in making decisions about anything in general and stereo in particular? Or should I address one per day with a strategy of how to address each – or should I discuss a bit of both? Or should I discuss the effects of information overload? Or problem analysis vs decision making?

Tricky. I have to start somewhere and so I've opted – again in bite-size chunks and as jargon free as I can make it, to start with the first of the six primary psychological obstacles and what can be done to address them.

On a day by day basis I'll work through the six and then if there are no feedback comments to deflect me, I'll discuss information overload and more. I hope you’ll continue to enjoy the journey. I have and will continue to use the phrase ‘self-imposed’. By this I don’t mean that a stereo buyer – or any other buyer is being wilful in this respect. In many situations, observation and post-purchase analysis of a buying decision demonstrates that in the majority of people are utterly unaware of the hurdles being presented, leapt and stumbled over in their minds while deciding what to buy. The first skill is to be aware of these issues.

The illustrative scenario

You are in a demonstration room, or perhaps you are comparing two items at home where one is a loan item. The broad principles are the same except that in a retailer, most salespeople are by inclination wanting to assert control. Not necessarily to make a sale but to improve their self-respect because they wished to be perceived as experts. And in some cases they are. At home, you’ll be in effect both your own buyer and your own sales advisor. An interesting situation because you’ll be trying to balance your emotional and rational perceptions without a ‘conductor’ there to apply influence. And both sides of you will want to achieve dominance over the other.

For this example we’ll consider comparing two integrated amplifiers

Now then, here we go.

Significant self-imposed challenge #1 The Halo Effect:

The amplifier which is superior on all favourable characteristics to another one in a similar price band and sometimes 2 or 3 bands above that is extremely rare - as is the amplifier that who has no redeeming features. Yet research evidence suggests that listeners sometimes make judgments in these strictly black and white terms. A casual glance on some audiophile forums (usually the UK ones I'm sad to report) post both stupid phrases and absurd proclamations such as ‘X walked all over Y” or “X is a pile of manure” and so on. Even allowing for over enthusiasm this is clearly absurd. So what’s going on when a listener is influenced by the ‘Halo effect’?

First it means that amplifiers might (and usually will) tend to be judged as all good or all bad.

This is known as the ‘halo effect’ and is particularly likely to occur where an amplifier has a single outstanding characteristic revealed in the demonstration. For example, if an amplifier is unusually high on one attribute – say perceived bass weight, speed, heft, slam and similar characteristics. A listener might subliminally tend to minimise or ignore any weaknesses this amplifier might have in other areas such as a stinging treble. A comment to this effect might be swatted away by the salesperson as “highly detailed”. Get the idea?

Tomorrow I'll tell you the following:

  1. How to understand how you arrived in such a situation and thus how to avoid a repetition,
  2. How to firmly and unaggressively regain control
  3. Tactics that turn the demonstration toward your objectives.

Hint – sales assistantS will definitely not like any of this. Tough!

Thank you

Howard Popeck

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