Is Hi-Fi a Worse Investment than Beanie Babies?

Many years ago, in a galaxy far away I wrote a review of a $25,000 a pair single-ended power amplifiers where I concluded that given a choice between buying these amps and buying a 1940 Martin D-28 I would buy the guitar, not the amplifiers, because the guitar was a much better investment. The review never ran. My editor explained that one of the basic concepts behind any equipment review should be, "It is always a good idea to buy new equipment." I demurred and we agreed to disagree.

AR-besnie2.jpgLast week I came across an ad in Audiomart for a pair of the exact same $25,000 amplifiers that I had reviewed many moons ago. Their current asking price was $5,000. Yes, that did make me feel smug. That same day my copy of Vintage Guitar Magazine arrived. I noticed several pre-war Martins listed for sale. The least expensive one, a 1940 D-28, had an asking price of $51,000. If only I had put my money where my mouth had been I would have almost doubled my investment by purchasing a pre-war Martin guitar. But I didn't buy one, so I guess I'm not as smart as I'd like to think I am.

Whenever an audiophile within earshot mentions their investment in high-end audio gear I wince inwardly, thinking "if investment is a depreciating one-way street, you got it right." Of course there are other forms of investment in addition to investment for profit. There's investment of time and money for pleasure received. Who am I to say the amplifier's previous owner did not get $20,000 worth of enjoyment from it?

But if we are using the traditional definition of an investment - a financial arrangement entered into with the intention of realizing a monetary profit, investing in high end audio gear is right up there with wildcatting and streetwalking as an almost surefire way to turn money into ash. I especially love the guys who boast about "if only the wife knew what this stuff really costs..." If you're still on speaking terms when you write up your next will, be a mensch, leave your significant other a list with the real prices, unless you want all your gear to wind up going for pennies on the dollar to the first sharpie who answers the Craig's List ad.

AR-beanie3.jpgBack to the whole "investing" thing - Hi-Fi gear, no matter how expensive, has never been and in the future never will be an investment. Hi-Fi gear is a depreciating possession like a car or motorhome, not an appreciating asset such as a 100 shares of Apple stock purchased in 1985. That's OK; it's just the nature of things in our fast-paced techno world. And shorter shelf lives for DACs means an even sharper depreciation curve than with speakers, amps, and turntables.

So, what's an audiophile to do? Simple; recognize that the money you spend on audio is a sunk cost, not an investment. Also, please don't try to tell your significant other that "this stuff isn't worth much" because they might believe you...but then again, you might be right...

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