In search of better sound

Yesterday a good friend rang me for some advice. He was thinking of taking the plunge and buying a new CD player. There was nothing technically wrong with the one he had, so he wanted to make sure he was making the right decision.

My friend -- let's call him Simon -- is a music and film buff. His entire system, including television screen, cost him more than $40,000. But he doesn't spend for status reasons: he wants the best in screen and music quality so that he can enjoy his CDs, which range from classical to rock, some in superaudio, and his extensive DVD collection. Whenever I'm over at his place, I can see the joy he receives from superb colour on his screen and a clear, true sound.

Simon's been unhappy with the sound of his CDs for a while and, an electronics engineer by profession, recently made some changes to the set-up to improve the sound. But he still felt it wasn't right. So he started checking out other CD players, and found one on the Internet for $1700 that according to some reviewers was the best available for under $3000. It also had many features that really appealed to him. I have no doubt at all about his ability to do effective research on this issue! So why had he rung me?

For a start, he wanted a sounding board. It's a great idea to discuss a potential large purchase with someone you know well. Even talking about it can give you clarity about where you are in the decision-making process, and the issues that may be holding things up.

As well, many music buffs constantly chase the holy grail of perfect sound quality, spending ever-larger sums to obtain just the right sound. Someone with a $3000 player might soon begin to crave one worth $5000, but the owner of a $5000 one might, after a while, wish he or she had splurged on the $10 000 one (these increments represent what buyers have to pay to get an appreciable difference in quality). Simon wanted to avoid this trap.

The other problem Simon had was that before buying, he wouldn't be able to tell for sure if a new player would configure well on his existing system. The only way of knowing was to get the thing home and set it up. He really would have liked to borrow his favoured model from a store, set it up at home and then return it if it wasn't right.

I listened to what he had to say and after a while told him that I thought he had already made up his mind -- that he was just about ready to buy. I also know him well enough to know that, as he'd been unhappy with his cheaper CD player for a while, he probably wasn't going to be happy until he'd bought this new one. But I was worried that he was chasing the holy grail and would soon be craving a $5000 player -- so I initially found myself suggesting he go for the $5000 one upfront, skipping a stage in his consumer craving, despite all my Inspired Shopping principles. But he assured me that he would be happy if the sound was 'right' -- for him, it wasn't about chasing absolute perfection.

Finally, I gave him some advice. 'You have all the necessary information. There's nothing more your rational mind can do. Intuition is great when there are unknowns that you can't be sure of. It can help you work out if you're making a good decision.'

I suggested that he write down two things on a piece of paper: 'Buy x brand CD player' on the top of the page, and underneath it 'Don't buy new player -- get used to existing one'. I suggested that he put tick boxes next to these two alternatives. He could then tick each box, one at a time, each time noting how it made him feel by tapping into his body and its reactions. I also suggested that he then close his eyes and do a short meditation to see if any ideas or intimations came up.

I rang Simon the next day and he had already ordered the new player! I asked him how he felt about his decision. He said that he felt great about it, but was now hanging out for the new player to arrive.

What do you think about Simon's decision? Have you confronted a similar dilemma, and if so, how did you solve it?

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