Remember Perrier? The bottled water phenomenon whose popularity soared in the early 1990’s? Their early premise could have not seemed more absurd. Drink Perrier because it is better than tap water. Critics at the time maintained what is wrong with tap water? There was also the cost.
Of course, as soon as convention dictated the new cool was being fit, or at least giving the appearance of being fit, bottled water started to really catch on. As soft drink manufacturers began seeing sales of sugary soda decline, they did the next best thing – they introduced their own versions of bottled water. Of course, “luxury” brands also started showing up on the scene.
Fiji Water, probably one of the more expensive brands, and the one I usually buy, supposedly comes from a spring in some far off place. You are intended to have this image of a rock laden, burbling stream, trickling down the forested mountain with the Juan Valdez of water gathering it all up at the end. This, of course, being at the opposite extreme of other lower cost brands which are simply treated tap water. What the bottled water industry has been effective at doing is giving something in all price ranges to those who want to purchase some form of the product. It is very easy to buy a bottle of water for less than $0.50 as well as one that costs $5.00 or more.
Additionally, the bottled water industry has been very successful in convincing the public of a presumed preference for the bottled variety. Tap water is bad, bottled is good – for any number of reasons. It is now actually a measure of societal “coolness” to be lugging around some designer water, and even designer water bottles, which is intended to say “I am healthy and I am in with the in crowd.”
There is also the other intangible, bottled water promotes good health. Because seriously, how could anyone dedicated to a healthy lifestyle ever be accepting of water from the tap in the kitchen sink – and filled with all those chemicals? Perish the thought, that image and one of good physical health don’t go hand in hand. Or so the bottled water industry would have us think.
There are, quite naturally, the detractors. Those people, purportedly in the know, making claims that bottled water lacks the fluoride that municipalities started adding to tap water in the 1950’s. They point out that cavities among children are climbing at an alarming rate and point to bottled water without fluoride as the reason why. Then there are the conservationists claiming plastic bottles are filling up our landfills, that they choke and pollute the ground for years, even hundreds of years to come. They also claim that recycling doesn’t come close to ridding the world of all the plastic bottles used for water or other uses.
While not an essay on the pro’s and con’s of bottled water, and regardless of your actual thoughts on the subject, does the whole argument sound in any way familiar? Think about it, we have proponents in high end audio on all sides of a host of issues. There are products happily now available at a multitude of price ranges. There are very plausible, very logical arguments why audio products should or should not do something or cost at some price point. If a consumer is only willing to spend a minimal amount, there are available components. However, if money is not a particular consideration, or maybe not the primary consideration, there are world class products available as well.
Maybe you want bottled water but view the “luxury” brand as wasteful. Maybe you would rather opt for a $299.00 set of speakers that sound really amazing than something in the six figure price point. Our hobby is becoming like the bottled water industry in that we are trying to give a wide cross section of consumers something to satisfy any reasonable request. You want some $299.00 speakers that sound really great? Here you are. You want something that costs over a hundred grand that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up? Here you are. We have seemingly become an industry with the audio versions of discount and luxury water brands.
There will always be agreement and dissention in most anything. Yes, I buy what is one of the more expensive bottled water brands available. However, I probably drink more tap water if truth be told. I haven’t had any terrible fate befall me from a lifetime of drinking tap water so I don’t expect any. Yet, I still buy the brand many water aficionados would say is wasteful. I also buy audio cables and other products with which certain “audiophiles” would absolutely disagree.
There is also the difference in the cost comparison of water and audio products. Fiji Water costs decisively less than a five figure speaker cable. Some will say there is no difference in taste between Fiji and tap. Some will say there is no sonic difference between an expensive cable and zip cord. Others will disagree with both notions. The intended parallel lies not in the actual dollar amounts, taste or performance, but rather in the difference in cost between one end of the spectrum and the other. Its all about perception.
Close examination of the bottled water industry reveals a definitive effort to appeal to as wide a cross section of potential consumers as possible. Might the same be legitimately said about the high end audio industry? So is there an identifiable difference difference between tap, budget bottled and luxury water? That depends on a variety of things. But speaker cables? Now, that’s a different story.