When you go shopping for headphones, HDTVs and other pricey gear, research is vital, but there's nothing like trying before you buy. It may seem difficult, especially with electronics, but it's not impossible. Here are some tricks to get your hands, ears and eyes on the stuff you want before you spend your cash.
Reading reviews and doing research can only help you so much. If you find sites and reviewers with opinions you trust, that's a good start, but as our own Whitson Gordon noted, if it's all you rely on, you'll miss out on better stuff. Research has diminishing returns, and there's a point where only you can really be the judge of whether a pair of headphones, a new TV, or a pair of speakers are right for you. Sadly, most stores don't just let us take stuff home and use it, then decide we don't want it anymore. Here are some ways you can still do your homework, and get a more hands-on experience at the same time.
Join Enthusiast Clubs And Groups That Have Meet-Ups
One great way to get hands-on before you buy is to get familiar with enthusiast clubs and industry groups that have regular showcases, community meetups, and enthusiast events where you'll have the opportunity to try the things on your wishlist before you drop money on them. For example, if you're a big fan of headphones and audio gear but you're not keen on dropping hundreds on an unknown product, join enthusiast groups like Head-Fi, where community members hold regular meetups all over the globe to share and talk audio. You'll have the opportunity to see and hear the gear you're researching, and talk to knowledgeable people who can help you make an informed buying decision. Photography meetup groups are common too. You can find a group for just about anything at Meetup.com.
Similarly, don't forget friends. If your friends own an item you're thinking about buying, ask them if you can give those headphones a test drive with your own music first. You can easily supplement your research with a few hands-on impressions.
Sniff Out Brand Stores And Showrooms
Industry groups, trade shows and showcases that are open to the public are also great ways to get hands-on experience with the things you're considering before you buy. Home shows and showrooms are great places to get familiar with new appliances, hardware, indoor and outdoor design elements, and more without having to buy anything. Trade shows give you the opportunity to talk to industry representatives (who often want to make a sale, so be careful) about their products.
Similarly, enthusiast stores and showrooms that specialize in one specific product or category can help you try before you buy. HDTV showrooms, speaker and audio stores, and brand stores are all helpful destinations. Home theatre showrooms will often let you play with TVs and tweak their settings to see what you're in for when you get the model back home. Of course, there's no way to replicate how a TV will look or how speakers sound in your own space, but you'll have a general idea.
Finally, when you're ready to open your wallet, remember to support those stores that were influential in helping you make your decision, and to give back to the communities that helped you out. The more you pay the favour of good information forward, the more healthy online communities and businesses there are others like you -- and for you when it's time to do your homework again
While you can't always try everything before you buy it, there are ways to get hands on with the things you're interested in before you throw down hundreds -- possibly thousands -- of dollars on a new appliance, gadget, or piece of electronics. You may have to do even more homework (and maybe even drive some distance to test things out), but at the end of the day, you'll be happier with your purchase in the long run if you do the extra legwork. Bonus: You won't catch yourself trying to sell your mistaken purchase to buy what you really wanted later if you do that legwork now.