The Blurred Line Between High-End and Mid-Fi Audio

Here's a question - Is a two door, sub compact, four cylinder, 110Hp automobile considered a sports car? This car, most likely, has a 0-60 time in the ten seconds plus time range. With fourteen or fifteen inch wheels it probably won't corner that well. It will certainly have disc brakes on the front, but the back? Probably, but maybe not.

So is it a sports car?

That depends on your definition of a sports car.

AR-Crossing-The-Line.jpgLike so many other things in life, the category into which certain things are placed is largely a matter of perception. But in the final analysis, some things garner no question of what they are; others, not so much. Debate could easily swirl around whether the afore mentioned automobile is a sports car. There would, on the other hand, be little in the way of disagreement in the classification of a Ferrari.

So here's another question. What is the dividing line between mid-fi and high-end audio? Where, and by what standard, does high-end start and mid-fi stop? Price by itself isn't the deciding factor. There are a growing number of components with retail prices substantially below what the "average" high-end system historically has cost that are not mid-fi.

What about used equipment? If the average pre-owned price is somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% or less of its original suggested retail, then a high end system with components that are decidedly not mid-fi might well be obtained for what used to be the cost of a mid fi system. If so, it doesn't look like price is the singularly deciding factor.

How about performance? I've heard components that sold for obscene amounts of money that I thought sounded poor and I would never buy. But someone obviously liked those same components. High performance audio, if it is nothing else, is about how something sounds to each individual - and those opinions may easily vary quite widely.

It would appear that the struggle in high-performance audio today is not about the design, manufacture or procurement of ultra-expensive gear. Any audiophile with financial means will ALWAYS be able to purchase six-figure amps, speakers and other components. They will also be able to assemble seven-figure audio systems. That segment of the business is decidedly high-end - in that there is no doubt.

Maybe I should revise the question - what's the definition of a "budget priced" high-performance audio system? Given the rapid rate of arrival of new components in our little industry and how those components compare in price and performance to something available from a mass merchandiser, or Amazon, the rationale behind the purchase of hyper-expensive gear is diminishing. Anyone who has heard the $279.00 Elac  speaker understands how much better they sound than a mid-fi loudpspeaker at the same price and a number of speakers with an additional zero or two on the end.

Another legitimate question is why do we need to classify lower-cost audio systems as "mid-fi" at all? When the term "high-end" first entered the audio vocabulary the cost of a system classified as "high-end" was vastly higher than what was sold by the local mass-market outlet. High-performance systems of the day were first and foremost about sonics - cost was secondary.

The major difference between the past and today is that today, lower-cost, high-performance audio products deliver both performance and economy. The latest technological advancements have accelerated the trend toward better sonics at a lesser cost. This fact has birthed a spate of lower-cost "high-end" audio equipment. It's also because of that sea-change my original question came up in the first place. 

Perhaps a better question today is not whether a $1500.00 audio system is high-end or mid-fi, but how well it performs and much it is enjoyed? High-performance audio has reached the point today where  $1500.00 can purchase a system with remarkably good sound. Maybe it's high time the term mid-fi was relegated to the rubbish heap of history.

So, once again, is the car described in the beginning a sports car or not? I suppose it all depends on how fast you need to drive...

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