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My amp died. 

Technically it was a Marantz SR5005 A/V Receiver. The black box had reliably driven my SurroundSound and audio systems for more than 10 years, so I couldn’t really be mad at it. The Marantz had served me well. It was exhausted. RIP, Marantz.

My wife Bonnie and I tried using just the audio from my 54-inch plasma TV, also about 10 years old. I like the warmth of the picture. The sound? Not so much. It made dialogue a muddled mess and emitted farting sounds in the bass. 

“What did she say?” “Can you rewind that?” — echoed through the house nightly. So did the occasional, “Can’t you HEAR?” and, with more frequency: “This sound SUCKS!”

After a week it was clear something had to be done. I figured trying to find the right replacement amp, purchasing it, and — most frightening of all — hooking it up, was going to test my sanity. But I’ve got time, so, bravely, I dove in.

Researching the products was actually kind of fun. I recommend plugging into your search engine something like “best value in [insert gear type].” Countless sites review and rank the products. (My go-to is c/net.) You can also add phrases like “under $1,000″ or “over $10,000” to your search. 

In a couple hours I had my choices boiled down to a Denon and an Onkyo model. Then, as if my dead amp were messaging me from the electronics afterlife, another choice crossed my computer screen: a Denon X-3500, a step up at $1,000 list, for $549. Amazon had it. But I knew that if I bought it from them I’d be completely on my own.

I did a quick search and found the unit for the same price from an outfit in Chicopee, MA called Safe & Sound. I dialed the 800 number. Someone answered on the second ring. Let the miracles begin.

Safe & Sound in Chicopee, MA.

Aaron Martin, one of the store managers, was on the other end of the line, ready to help.  We discussed my product options in detail and decided that moving up to the Denon X-3500 made sense because of the sale price. Let me pause here to emphasize: I got to talk with a real human with oodles of product knowledge. With no on-hold wait time!

I purchased the unit then and there, on April 13, via Safe & Sound’s online ordering portal. It shipped (free) the same day, and arrived four days later. This beats the pants off Amazon, which has moved inessential merchandise down the list of deliverables. (Example: six weeks to receive a set of new Scrabble letters.)

“Nice-looking cardboard box,” I thought, as I moved it into a corner. Installation would have to wait at least a day. The following morning I liberated the amp and started the process of wiring it up. Here’s where I spare you a description of the confusion and frustration I experienced — because, y’know, no one wants to relive a nightmare. At one point, the Denon just kept shutting down no matter what button on the remote I pushed. I called Denon customer service and left a message. Then a thought: Why not give Safe & Sound a buzz and see if they can help? It was around 4 p.m. Aaron answered on the first ring. 

He stayed on the phone with us for an hour, right up until closing time at 5. Walked us through arcane exercises like speaker calibration. Every set-up step that appeared on my TV screen he knew by heart, and could easily troubleshoot. Damn if it didn’t work — and sound great. I offered to send him a check. He thought I was kidding. I wasn’t. He declined, said he was just doing his job.

Besides getting a quality product at a great price very quickly, with shockingly remarkable customer service, I also saved $38.43 on sales tax. 

Denon customer service never called back. 

Shelter Upgrades, Part 2: Great ideas for wireless headphones, outdoor TVs, home offices and more.

Read more stories from duPont REGISTRY Tampa Bay’s Health & Happiness Issue, Summer 2020.

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