It's All About Value

AR-vslue1.jpgIf you haven't read it yet, I recommend you go over to Home Theater Review and read Jerry Del Colliano's article entitled "Value Is The New Luxury For Home Theater & Audio Enthusiasts". Jerry thinks that US audiophiles are no longer in the market for $50,000 amps and $100K+ speakers. Instead they are buying $500 Oppo universal players and building their own speakers from GR Research kits. I, for one, think this is great!

For those too old to remember or too young to know, the whole home audio thang began in the US in the late 40's and early 50's when returning servicemen with skills developed while under Uncle Sam's employ began building their own audio gear. They DIY'd for two reasons - most commercially available hi-fi gear was too expensive for a young person right out of the service. Also most hi-fis were glorified living-room furniture, not high-performance audio gear.

The DIY sector of the audio marketplace has expanded and contracted almost in lockstep with the state of the economy. During hard times more audiophiles explore DIY and kits. But there's another force at work here too - not trying to come across as socially out-of-touch. We have entered a new age where flaunting your ability to buy hyper-expensive stuff of ANY variety is no longer viewed as the well-deserved rewards of a lifetime of hard work. Instead luxury goods indicate the owner's self-centeredness and lack of social awareness. Even high-end watches (which are in large part merely jewelry for men) are shifting away from bling towards far more subdued stainless steel so-called  "tool watches."

As one of a legion of audiophiles that have been burned over the years by products whose values have plummeted as much as 50 % in less than a year, I'm not overly excited by news of the latest $50K-plus ultra-fi amplifiers, regardless of the maker or technology. Even new $5k amps don't get my juices flowing. But a well-designed sub $2K amp, now that is interesting...

Another thing that I, and many other US audiophiles are finding increasingly interesting are used amps, preamps, and cables. Truth. It's difficult to pass up a preamp that was originally over $5000 that's now under $1K, especially for anyone who remembers when the preamp was THE preamp to own.

Many audiophiles who, just a few years ago, would be at the top of the list for the latest version 2 of anything that they had version 1 of, now think long and hard before signing up for any premium-priced upgrades. Instead they're buying that Mark Levinson ML 2 or Krell KSA 50 that they've always lusted after...

What's a manufacturer to do? Easy. Deliver greater value. As I regularly tell fresh-faced new manufacturers, "It's simple to succeed in the audio business in the US. Either build a product that is twice as good as the market leader at the same price or build a component that equals the performance of the market leader at half the price."

While this plan is simple in theory, it's difficult in practice, but not impossible. Just look at Oppo, or NuForce. Five years ago they didn't exist, and now they're a market-leader. How did they do it? Buy an Oppo BDP-93 and you'll see how - great packaging, excellent documentation, and high performance, all for under $500. Deliver value along with an easy, comfortable way for customers to purchase and interface with your products and they will come. I promise.

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