I was in one of the elevators of the 2019 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) trying to catch my breath from all the walking in the cavernous Gaylord Convention Center. As in most elevators, silence seemed to be the rule when riding up and down. However, this day, on this ride, one guy posed a question that got everyone in elevator number whatever thinking - "if I had a $100,000.00 to spend on an audio system," he said out loud, "I wonder what I'd buy?"
I see both of these comments as a microcosm of the audio industry. We all, pretty much regardless of financial abilities, want something better. Whether or not the something better is even remotely affordable depends on one glaring factor - wealth.
Being desirous of and affording the something better is only half the battle. Even when you can afford something truly better, making the decision of what to actually purchase may very well be quite daunting.
"Is it possible today to retire on one million dollars?"
Good question and one that might have many different variables and possibilities. For some, it would be way more than necessary. For others, it might not be enough to make it to next month. Having a $100K for an audio system poses a similar dilemma. Because, is a "hundred-thousand-dollar" system really good enough? And if you are thinking I'm completely crazy, consider this. What about the person who has a system consisting of the world's best components - like $150,000 amps, $300,000 speaker systems, a boatload of money on cabling, think they would limit themselves to only $100K? The new Tech Das Air Force Zero retails for somewhere around $400K alone - just to play an album. I'd say that person would laugh at the idea of limiting themselves to only a mere $100K.
There will be those who will emphatically stand by the notion that such people have more money than good sense and a $5000 system is plenty good enough. Really? Does anyone actually not believe that as system cost increases, sonic quality also increases? How can a $5000 system possibly be the sonic equivalent of one that is twenty times more expensive? Additionally, if we are going to consider the room as also part of the overall system, would access to greater funds not allow the construction of a purpose designed listening room? By the same token, many audiophiles are completely enraptured by the sound of sub $10K systems housed in the great room on a routine basis. What on Earth would they need with a $100K system?
I personally do not see this hobby in any microscopic respect as a matter of need. None of us, yours truly included, actually needs a high-performance audio system. I also like pre 70's American made muscle cars, I like sports cars, I like watches, I like a lot of things. I could easily devote my time, attention and fiscal resources to the pursuit of something other than audio. I don't for one simple reason - I happen to like listening to music more than the other pursuits. And it is because of my musical interests that I want, yes want, a better audio system.
In thinking about the question, however, regardless of its real-world veracity, I suppose it is something to consider. What would be the audio system if given the choice to spend a $100K freely and without any financial peril? Would such a system be all analog, all digital, or a combination of both? Where would the highest percentage of the $100K be spent - speakers or something else? How about cabling? The sky's the limit there. Would all new components be purchased, or all used? Or a combination of both? How would the mix and match of the system actually work?
Another issue is would this very expensive system be any more satisfying than, say, a $10K system, even if money were not an issue? Having the available funds and actually spending them may not necessarily produce a level of enjoyment commensurate with the cost.
I suppose questions such as this are very natural. Wondering around an audio show and seeing all the magnificent gear, wishful thinking seems a likely enterprise. It seems obvious that most of us calling ourselves audiophiles want a better system. We want that better mousetrap. If "this" much makes it sound really good, why would five times "this" much not make it sound otherworldly? As for me, I have no definable answer for what I would do if I had a $100K for an audio system. Make it a million, then we can talk.