Like most folks, I receive more than my fair share of unwanted emails. It has practically become part of my morning routine - get up, breakfast, local news, delete junk mail. Every so often, however, something comes along that piques my interest. Such was the case with an email from Anthony Chiarella of Sound & Vision titled "Six Reasons Why High End Audio is a Sound Investment."
Hmm. This should be an interesting exploration because in my mind, high performance audio is, and always has been, a luxury item. I do not need an audio system, I simply want one. And if I'm looking to make an investment in anything, I can find all sorts of ways to increase my net worth beyond audio. Shoot, audio is a continuing reason why my net worth is not improving more than it is right now! But that's a choice I have made.
His first reason, "The Stereo Format Hasn't Changed in Decades" is something I agree with partially. Modern advancements in digital audio are basically less than a decade old. However, his assertion is that high performance audio has not changed to the level of Home Theater (HT). I'm not sure I totally agree with his opinion that a HT system purchased today will be obsolete in two years. How up to date is a budget, all digital audio system purchased two years ago with what is available today? Depends on the user's outlook of what is "up to date."
His second reason is that audio is not ever going to get better than it is today. He mentions that some of today's equipment has the quality of a Swiss watch. Now that I would agree with. However, making such a declarative statement about the future that no one can accurately know is, in my mind, very hard to successfully accomplish. Like everyone else, I'll have to wait and see if the needle is moved forward, or not.
Third on the list is that the best pieces become classics. Agree. Absolutely. When the Lynn Sondek LP12 turntable was introduced in 1972, it became an instant hit. It still is today. My guess is there are any number of pieces being sold today that will still be timeless classics thirty or forty years from now.
Reason # 4: "Prices of New Gear Keep Rising." Who would disagree with that?
"Rich People Crave It." Reason number 5 seems a little thin to me. When I looked at the budget systems at RMAF this past September, I saw in these systems something any regular music enthusiast could afford - and enjoy. Are there components aimed at the uber affluent? Of course there are. Any of us can start naming six figure anything's used in a high performance audio system. It is equally possible to get a nice sounding system for under $5000.
Last on the list is one I am confident will not find anyone disputing - "It Delivers Continual Joy." He mentions super expensive watches only worn on special occasions. Exotic cars spending the bulk of their time protected in a garage and not driven. He also mentions HT systems only used when sufficient time is available, like a family movie. Audio, on the other hand, is something, according to Chiarella, that can be enjoyed daily, whether alone or with others, used as background music at a party or serious listening. I certainly can't speak for anyone else, but I can absolutely testify that my system delivers continual joy. He ends the piece by stating that a "fine sound system is one of the most rewarding indulgences available..." Yeah, I'd go along with that.
I decided to "go-a-looking" to see if I could find any dissenting opinions on the value proposition of high end audio. Whata-ya know, I found a lot of them. I saw a Forbes article that asked if there was really a difference between a $100 speaker system and one costing a $1000. And of course, is that difference really worth it? Other articles pointed out, with absolute certainty, that super expensive amps and DAC's are not worth the high cost. My guess is that these folks have not spent much time with really expensive amps and DAC's.
In my view, this is a supremely difficult question to which a broad-based answer may be applied. If my ability to afford higher priced audio equipment is vastly superior to someone else, then my reasoning for such a system is consequently different from someone who can only afford a budget system. But that does not mean the person with the budget system cannot enjoy their system as much as I enjoy my expensive system. I just don't see cost as an arbiter of why anyone would want a high performance audio system.
Some people take immense pride in that exotic car sitting in the garage and hardly ever driven. Others have really expensive watches only worn on special occasions. I have two of them that spend most of their time in watch winders - and only worn on special occasions. Still however, I really enjoy them both.
High performance audio is a hobby. Nothing more. It can be an obscenely expensive hobby or one that is budget conscious. But still a hobby. Like watches, exotic cars, scrap booking, stamps, coins or wine, audio is something we do as a diversion from the challenges of everyday life. My system is in no measurable way a "sound investment." Much to the contrary, it is probably a very expensive waste of money. It's value proposition and return on investment cannot nor should not be measured in financial gain or loss. As long as I remain in some modicum of spending what I can afford, what I get in return is complete joy and serenity in the music that I play, the music I enjoy, and the emotional connection I derive from the effort. And that's priceless.