It’s the time of year for saving money!
One of the biggest problems with the audiophile business is that it is a hobby of “or” not “and.” What I mean by that is that in other affluent hobbies, one collects and collects and collects until one runs out space or money (or both). Think about a watch collector: does he get rid of his starter Rolex to buy his first Patek Phillipe? Not a chance. He saves, scrimps, and borrows enough money to add another gem to his growing timepiece collection. The wine enthusiast is perhaps an even better example. For every gorgeous bottle of Super Tuscan that goes into the cellar to marinade for a decade or so, there are all of those bottles that go down the hatch when friends come over or on a random Tuesday night when you are feeling a little thirsty. There’s no resale value on an empty bottle of 1996 Sassacia, and as such, being a wine collector is a very consumable hobby that gets the enthusiast back into the store more often that in high end audio.
Building a high-performance audio system is rarely like the scenarios that I describe above. Yes, there is a journey from your starter system through mid-fi audio and into a place where the air is pretty rare and the dollars flow pretty freely. The problem is: the current audiophile culture promotes selling off components at each and every stop along the way. Audiogon.com loves this reality, as gear that holds its value over time can change hands over and over again while they make their ad fees and commissions on the sale. High-end audio manufacturers pretty much have turned a blind eye to the reality of the resale market, as it is something of a necessary evil. One might argue that the pressure is on the companies to make compelling, high-value new audiophile gear that grossly outperforms the gear of the past at a very fair price and the consumers will buy new. Then again, why am I shopping for used Mercedes GLE 350 for my wife when we’ve always been a buy-new or on an ongoing lease pattern with the Star and the Laurel? It is because with the amount that we drive (very little). a 25,000 mile, $30,000, one-owner, certified pre-owned car for us delivers nearly exactly the same experience as the $60,000 new car. For us, the value is better, and like most audiophiles, we aren’t in the game of hoarding used SUVs. At least not yet (we’ve got two of them now).
Terry London recently told me about a rare opportunity that came up for him: the chance to buy a vintage Threshold amp that he once owned. It was one of the last, biggest, and most fantastic designs of the legendary Nelson Pass before he left the company. One of our readers reached out to Mr. London and offered him access to his collection of classic Threshold products and Terry, who has the benefit of the room and some expendable budget, decided to take a trip down memory lane. This amp, which has been fully restored and buffed up for another 30 years of use, really lived up to the memory of its past performance. And that is saying something, as Terry has Nelson Pass’ latest XA60.8 amps, First Watt SIT II amps, and other gems from Nelson’s more recent past. The cost of the older amp wasn’t insignificant, but Terry suggested that if an amp like this was made today, it could easily cost $20,000 or more. That’s not chump change.
I asked Terry if it was a dangerous path to try to relive the past in your audiophile system, and he pretty much agreed. Not every component takes a quantum leap forward with each revision, but each update does have its advantages, even if the performance delta isn’t that high from Version 5 to Version 6. If you’re comparing Version 6 of a product with the original product, though, the delta in performance can be huge. We went on to discuss the idea of glorifying gear in your mind as sound (or tastes or smells) are hard to be anything but subjective within one’s memory. I can still vividly remember the joy that owning and buying games for my Intellivision game system brought me in my youth. It was unlike any material item that I own today (sorry, 911 Turbo). So, in the early days of eBay.com, I bought myself another Intellivision and each and every game (including the voice ones, which seemed so futuristic at the time) at a pretty hefty price. The box was huge when it arrived in my old office in Beverly Hills. I lugged the sucker home and couldn’t wait to plug it into my Faroudja LD-100 line-doubler linked to an older, Sony 7-inch CRT video projector. Games like Micro Surgeon seems so cool back in the day, but they proved to be about as lame as you could imagine years later. By no means am I the type of advanced gamer that say HomeTheaterReview.com Senior Editor Dennis Burger is. He never stopped playing the latest and greatest video games, whereas my gaming career peaked out at around EA Sports NHL ’94 (the best video game ever, if you ask me). Those more modern, 16 button controllers are just too complicated for me, but then again, entering a virtual patient’s ear and looking for maladies all over his or her body and treating them with aspirin and/or antibiotics didn’t really hold up in terms of a game plot years later.
Back during the absolutely needless format war between SACD and DVD-Audio, I argued that DVD-Video should have won out. A format war in consumer electronics is a rite of passage, and we got one that left us with both formats lying dead on the floor at the end. Imagine if DVD-Video won out over Compact Disc and your $13 for a silver disc got you stereo, plus surround sound and video extras? Not only would the music industry would have been able to stay more relevant longer, but the audiophile hobbyists would have been given a real world reason to buy more amps, more speakers, buy subwoofers, more cables–more everything. By definition, that outcome would have given audio enthusiasts a reason to collect more audio in their systems–not just swap one component out for another as many of us do today as we seek ultimate audio enlightenment from our audiophile rigs.
There are certain products that I would like to have bought along the way and kept. A Cello Audio Palette (analog EQ) would likely make me do something stupid financially as they are rarer than hen’s teeth these days. A Cello Duet 350 amp is also pretty cool bit of Tom Colangelo design, and Tom is no longer with us, nor is Cello. A Nakamichi Dragon tape deck would catch my attention, as it would many in Japan who enthusiastically collect Nak gear. I once bought and restored a 1964 McIntosh 25-watt tube amp thanks to Audio Classics in Vestal, New York. The amp, once refurbished, didn’t really tickle my fancy, but it sure made a collector happy in Japan who sniped it from Audiogon.com for full asking price, plus a hefty shipping fee. So, I guess there are places in the world where people collect audio more so than the North American market.
Will an Oppo UDP-205 audiophile universal Blu-ray disc player become collectable some day? It is possible, as there are billions of different kinds of silver discs and the Oppo plays nearly all of them and very well. And you are never going to be able to buy another one new. What if audiophile companies made limited edition runs of their components more often than they do now? What if Audio Research (just using them as an example) introduced a 50th Anniversary stereo preamp that you have to be invited to buy at a price that the company dictates, just as Ferrari does with the F60 “Enzo”? Do you think they would have trouble selling a healthy but limited batch of these deep-five-figure (and fictitious at this point) stereo preamps? Not a chance. They all would sell and fast. The value of said preamp would remain well over retail value if ARC didn’t come right out with another preamp that performed at the same level but with a different name. It speaks to human nature, as people want what they can’t have, yet audiophile companies take more of the Doritos model of “crunch all you want; we’ll make more,” which doesn’t help build as much value into the gear over time.
What audiophile gear would you collect if you had the opportunity, money, and space to invest? Are there any components that you’ve owned that have been so good that you just can’t justify getting rid of them no matter what? Let us know what products are on your list and how you collect audio in the comments below.
Ohm F , Richard Allen tube amp with 300 W, Leonklou Integrated Amp
Revox B77 MKII tape deck and Teac V2RX cassette deck
I killed so many people on the operating table on Micro Surgeon it was like the battle of Gettysburg in the recovery room. Good times.
Good thing you aren’t a doctor today!!! Wait… 🙂
Technics RS-1700 reel to reel
Infinity IRS V speakers
Reel to reels are SO physically cool.
I had a McIntosh MC275 reissue, the Gordon Gow edition, that I sold at a good price to finance the purchase of another amp. Now I wish I had kept that MC275. It wasn’t the last word in resolution or bass extension, but it had a warm, euphonic sound that, while not the most accurate, was really pleasing to listen to.
Other than that, I bought a Marantz 2216b receiver because it was the first quality piece of gear that I bought when I graduated from college and wasn’t a broke college student anymore. Sold it decades ago and decided I wanted it again. Now I use it in my computer audio system and you know what? It sounds surprisingly good by today’s standards. I also own a Technics SL-D3 because, you guessed it, it was my first good turntable after college graduation…and because I got it for $5 at a garage sale! It works perfectly. I also have a couple of 1970s Kenwood and Pioneer receivers I got really cheap at garage sales (the Kenwood is in absolutely immaculate condition).
First generation Dyna (mono) amp, tuner and preamp, which I built – after a set of EICO kits I also built. When stereo became available, bought and built another amp, preamp and a Texas Instruments FM-stereo adapter kit. Kept that system for quite a while because a) I really liked how it sounded, and b) I couldn’t afford anything that sounded that much better. Wish I still had it, if for no other reason, than it was my first real “hifi” system.
MY stepfather had each and every one of these components that he too built from a kit.
Respectfully, they couldn’t hold a candle to the Adcom stuff he bought at the old SoundEx in Philly way back in the day. Crazy.
But I get it on the collectable stuff.
My collectable Hi-Fi list starts with 1970’s JBL speakers, as soon as my time machine is perfected I am bringing back a pair of L300s. High efficiency dynamics + Alnico drivers + Peak mid-century modern styling + Bass only 15” woofers can provide.
Jerry’s article started well but then he undermined his point in two ways:
1. Failed to note the Hi-Fi hobby already has collectors. LP enthusiasts who collect cartridges and tonearms have been around forever. There is a reason so many turntables accommodate multiple tonearms. Among the newest audiophiles headphone listeners often have multiple pairs of ‘phones, amps, and sources. Note what headphones and cartridges have in common is that one can store many of them and quickly swap them in and out of the listening chain. This in contrast to if my collection included Magico Ultimate 3s, Wilson WATTs and Klipsch Klipschorns, for that I need the piano movers on speed dial.
2. The paragraphs first noting the desirability of a Threshold amp representing the peak of Nelson Pass’ work at Threshold devolves into audiophile OCD fretting over “Not every component takes a quantum leap forward with each revision, but each update does have its advantages, even if the performance delta isn’t that high from Version 5 to Version 6. If you’re comparing Version 6 of a product with the original product, though, the delta in performance can be huge.” And there Jerry in one fell cut kills his argument. As long as the audiophile hobby is defined as the obsessive pursuit of some mythic ideal state of the art anything less that the latest and greatest is just holding the quester back. Later in the article Mercedes automobiles are used to explore the topic. Consider this, if gear heads gathered and Joe reports he has just acquired a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Alloy Gullwing would he feel the need to justify that addition to his collection as Terry did for his classic Threshold amp? Would any of the gear heads have challenged Joe “don’t you know the Mercedes-AMG GT R Coupé is faster than your 300 SL?”
Some reader just emailed me with a Nak Dragon tape deck on Audiogon.
I need this like a HOLE IN THE HEAD.
Yet, i want it badly.
it IS a thing.
Some Martin Logans went on sale cheap. But where I just bought a pair of New England Audio Resource speakers, my wife said no. Fortunately, I can’t imagine anything sounds better than the NEARs. With no spider to create drag, they give an unequaled presence. I just upgraded from an Onkyo receiver to a Yamaha. I think I’m handcuffed for a while, at least till she buys more shoes. It’s an obsession.