It’s the time of year for saving money!
Bought a Ferrari lately? How about a Patek Philippe watch? Maybe a bottle of Egon Muller Riesling wine? Well, if you are not especially disposed of spending several hundred thousand dollars on a car or a watch, or $35K for wine, chances are you haven’t.
But how do you feel about those that do?
I have a friend who loves sports cars. He has also been fabulously successful in life. He has, at current count, seven automobiles, all of them high performance sports cars. One is a nice shiny red Ferrari that is a real kick in the pants to ride around in. This is an automobile where an audio system and talking are not necessary. That magnificent Prancing Horse V-12 right behind your head is about all the sound one needs.
I do not have a Ferrari. I do not really want one although I will admit it would be a fun toy to have. I do not have any hard feelings, however, towards my friend because he does. I don’t criticize people who invest unheard of sums of money in watches, wine, art, or anything else. Why then, is high performance audio criticized because of how much equipment costs?
Okay, yes, we have speaker systems costing as much as a house. Cables costing as much as a car. Amps and other components costing so much it becomes baffling. To anyone who is not an audiophile it’s hard to understand how a speaker cable could cost $40,000.00 when a pretty nice car could be had for the same amount. Equally difficult is explaining the logic behind a $250,000.00 amp or a $600,000.00 speaker system. Pretty hard to do, right? Oddly enough, such reasoning is decidedly difficult even within our own hobby.
Maybe I’m mistaken but I don’t see similar vitriol leveled at sports car enthusiasts for owning a hyper car by people who are not car enthusiasts – let alone by those who are. If a car, watch or bottle of wine for me is just a normal everyday thing, I don’t think someone who loves one or the other is crazy for spending what they do on something I cannot justify. Why then, is one who chooses to use a $40,000.00 speaker cable be so easily vilified? I expect derision from those outside the hobby. Why does it frequently happen inside the hobby?
All audiophiles know and understand the cost of owning a world class audio system. For some, probably many, attempting to justify the cost of a speaker costing as much as a nice home is pointless. But if affordability isn’t a problem, why criticize anyone for doing so? Let me also add I don’t own a $600,000.00 speaker system, a multi hundred-thousand-dollar watch or routinely drink $35,000.00 bottles of wine. I do, that being said, have a significant amount of money invested in my audio system.
My friends know me well enough that they have effectively stopped commenting about the cost of my system. They enjoy hearing it strut its stuff from time to time but basically, they are pretty ambivalent towards my system. Regardless of what they may think or say, I must believe if I rolled up in my driveway with a new red sports car from Maranello, Italy, they would be happy for me. They would not, I suspect, start calling me names and criticizing me for spending so much on a car when a subcompact worth $15K will get from point A to point B just fine. There’s the rub – the sports car is not especially about getting from point A to point B, it is about the driving experience. A high performance audio system is not about simply hearing a song. It is about a listening experience and the emotional connection it creates.
In my estimation, the cost of world class sports cars, super luxury watches, or such extravagances carry with them an accepted level of cost. We don’t necessarily criticize anyone with the temerity to buy a Ferrari. We accept the fact that maybe we cannot afford one ourselves, or even if we can afford the cost, perhaps we are not that interested in sports cars. Why then are audiophiles typically very critical at the cost of hyper expensive audio gear?
I realize not everyone can afford a multi hundred thousand dollar audio system. Even those that can may not be especially desirous of such a system despite being an audiophile. It is also commonly understandable that even possessing a detailed, intimate knowledge of exactly why some audio components cost what they do, it still does not mean everyone will want super expensive audio gear. What does surprise me is the level of contempt, from within the audiophile community, no less, at those who have made large investments in the cost of audio gear going beyond what is considered an entry level, budget price.
I champion my friend for owning a couple million dollars’ worth of luxury sports cars. He is also a wine enthusiast and has two large wine cellars in his home. I love to go for a ride in one of his sports cars. I also enjoy the smoothness and richness of an excellent bottle of wine. I do not think my friend foolish for having what I cannot or would not want even if I could. Likewise, he has heard my system and despite being absolutely mesmerized by the sound and being able to easily afford one of equal value, audio is not his thing. By no means, are there any criticisms either way because of the high cost of our chosen hobbies.
Maybe it’s time to give expensive gear a break. Rather than deride the cost of audio gear, maybe audiophiles should embrace the ability of designers to do what to so many commonly believe is the impossible. Maybe we should champion the assault on sonic excellence and be thankful there is something actually better than simply average – regardless of the cost.
If you listened to the critics as much or as well as you listened to your cables…
People don’t object to the cost – that’s a red herring. People simply can’t see – or hear – the *value* in most high-end components. They know very well what most audiophiles know too – there IS snake oil in the industry (as in others). What, I think, might be unique about ‘high end’ audio is the utter refusal of reviewers to call it out. Ever. And if you give the very real appearance of denying even the most obvious snake oil AS snake oil, why should anyone take you seriously on anything else, that might not be snake oil? After all, they can’t hear the difference either.
And pretending this is about price is a red herring. People don’t care a jot that rich people spends lots of money. They actually think it’s pretty cool. It’s when non-rich people spend tons of money on something that isn’t obviously ‘better’ that people don’t get it. A Ferrari LaFerrari? Objectively one of the best cars out there. I’m perhaps a little more unsure why certain watches come with 7-digit price tags, but they are often unique, or made as a tiny batch, by a master chronologist in Switzerland by hand. Why are there hifi components with six-figure prices tags? Ain’t no-one got a clue. Even when it’s industry legends at the helm – Nelson Pass, Dan D’Agostino, the late David Wilson – it’s simply not clear why that matters to an industry that itself doesn’t care, or pretends not to care, about names. It’s all about the sound quality, the “emotion”… so it can’t be about the name or the exclusivity. It’s never about that. So then it reduces to objective performance… and, well, the high end does not have quite such a monopoly on that as it likes to think.
Very well said and I totally agree.
Don’t have much to add here, as others have already put the finger on the issue.
It’s just good ol’ Mr. Placebo rearing his head again. You WANT to believe a $10K cable sounds “better,” so you believe it, A/B tests be damned.
It’s actually kind of funny, in a sad way.
I agree with Graham or at least partially, I don’t think anybody really objects in people spending lots of money on audio equipment, what they or at least I object to is the cost of that equipment. Let me explain that, I firmly believe that the more you pay the better the quality of the equipment (obviously the are plenty of exceptions to that) but this only applies up to a point, at a certain price/quality than the is NO listenable difference that the human ear can hear. Now that doesnt mean there’s anything wrong with spending more money that that, it’s a hobby so if it pleases you that’s fine, the problem is what the equipment with the massive prices does to the whole price structure of all equipment. Too much of the top end (audio wise) has inflated features which now inflate the prices and put very good quality stuff out of the price range of the average joe
I think that cheap people are just jealous, or envious. They can’t afford it so anyone who can is a dumb smuck for buying a Rolex or Ferrari, or super yacht. With audio it’s the Engineer types that can’t afford it haven’t listened and believe that XYZ is just snake oil. Jealousy and envy are ugly emotions. It’s why the critics always seem to be so angry
Rich people are cheap as hell. It has absolutely nothing to do with jealousy or envy, and more to do with whether at that price range what magic dust do they sprinkle on the electronics to get the gear to sound better to the human ear? But I think the biggest point this article is missing is pedigree, and collectibles. Rich people buy these cars and watches because they have shown through decades to go up in value. Thats why they have markets and auctions. A person can possibly make double off of a Rolex Daytona bought 10 years ago. A Ferrari Enzo could be purchased for 650,000 about 15 years ago, now they are 1.5 million plus. Can anyone make a profit off of any new audio gear they bought in the last ten years? This is the real reason I think people can’t see the value of extremely priced systems, because there is no value.
An interesting analogy. Some 1960’s and 1970’s Tube amps now sell for serious multiples of their original prices, but but still a tenth of the cost of a new “high end” cable.
That is a good point, but that niche is nowhere near as vast as some of the other markets out there, and I think it will only get worse because high end has a bad track record with attracting younger fans.
Lol…I don’t care about their spending habits. Ps, I can certainly tell the difference between a super yacht over a Boston Whaler…
One can easily tell the difference ‘objectively’ between a Fiat and a Ferrari. It is not only a measurable difference, but real-world performance difference. It requires no belief system, no ferocious pseudo-scientific rationalizations, no hopeful pondering, and no agonizingly pretentious mental contortions to determine that yes, a Ferrari is a better machine.
Calling cow poop on audio snake oil isn’t about jealousy, it is about refusing to be sucked into the religiosity of a cult belief system based on the God of Subjectivity. Prove that MY ears will hear a $30,000 dollar’s worth of difference with a set of cables or interconnects, and then the criticisms end. Tell me that cables are worth $30k because you think YOU hear a difference, a difference that may or may not be heard by anyone else, and it is snake oil.
I don’t care if someone wants to spend their money on a 30k bottle of snake oil, just quit trying to convince me that the snake oil is worth 30k.
It’s not envy, some people just legitimately like calling out snake oil when they see it. I’m willing to bet that a $30k speaker cable would be indistinguishable from my $30 cable in a blind test. Same for fancy digital audio cables. The most ridiculous thing was a audiophile Ethernet cable..
I agree with the points made below and would add that reviewers overwhelming focus upon stratospheric costing gear is off putting because 95% of the reading audience will never be able to afford that gear. Writing about affordable audiophile gear ($500-$3,000) that offers truly exceptional value is where the focus of reviewers should be if they wish to serve 95% of their audience.
The Ferrari and watch are both genuine examples of excellence in engineering. Having purchased the Ferrari would you genuinely believe a third party oil supplement would make it drive better? Ferrari run one of the world’s most successful racing teams, they know how to get the most out of their engines.
When you buy an expensive mains cable you are saying you don’t believe the amplifier manufacturer knows how to design power supplies.
When you believe it necessary to buy exotic speaker cables you have given up on the laws of physics.
I have listened to talks by Nelson Pass and I understand his point of view and design approach. When I read a review of a class D FET amp with a Tube input stage and hear it called a Tube amp, I know that truth has gone out the window.
Paul, I believe you missed the point. I did not say that I or anyone should be using expensive cables. Nor did I state they outperform other lesser expensive cables. My only relation to expensive cables was the cost and is that cost justified. Said justification can come in a variety of methods — Sonics, “WOW” factor or even that someone has the ability to buy them. Or maybe they cannot be justified at all . Whether or not cables, or any other part of an audio system are, as they are sometime called, “snake oil,” is a separate matter entirely.
I have to agree with the comments about “snake oil”. When you ask an audience to “embrace the ability of designers to do what to so many commonly believe is the impossible” and “champion the assault on sonic excellence and be thankful there is something actually better than simply average”, then I think that audience deserves something better than a purely subjective opinion, especially when it comes to things like power cords and cables.
Additionally, I believe like me, many others are feeling left behind by audiophile publications that seemingly concentrate on high cost gear. It’s nice to read about some components that I could never afford (like reading a review of a Ferrari), but there is a lack of balance with truly affordable gear. For example, I regularly read another online publication that has the stated purpose “Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment”. The last 2 months have included reviews on speakers – Monitor audio Gold 100s @ $2100/pair, Triad Bronze 11.4-channel home-theater system retailing for a total of $13,444, and Dali Opticon 8s for $3299/pair. Granted these are by no means high cost audiophile speakers, but for a publication with their stated purpose I think what we’re seeing is the high cost gear changing the definition of “Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment”. The sub $1000 price category is being underserved.
I’m an audiophile. To get straight to the point, it’s very difficult to compare high end audio systems to luxury watches or cars. I have a modest system worth around $30,000. (Modest is laughable)
I say modest because high end audio can reach upwards of hundreds of thousands to a few million and most people don’t know the names of any of these high end audio brands. Most people know brands like Ferrari and Rolex. Even though the average person may not have driven a Ferrari, most people know that there’s a night and day difference of performance from a Toyota to a Ferrari. Or that some luxury watches actually increase in value over time. This is never the case with high end audio gears. There isn’t a night and day difference between an audio system modestly valued compared to those at the higher echelon. The technology to recreate music hasn’t improved much since the introduction of stereo. I think this is the biggest issue within the audio industry. Also keep in mind that even the best system cannot accurately recreate the actual reproduction of sound from a concert hall to your audio system. Most people and audiophiles can agree that listening to music at a concert hall that cost anywhere between $15 to $50 is actually a better experience than listening to the best audio system in the world.
Other problems that exist in the audio industry are the snake oil products that floods the market. I think that may be the reason why audiophiles even for myself is somewhat critical of expensive audio gears. Many products don’t justify their cost compare to their performance. Even though how subjective it is, a $10,000 audio gear is not going to be superior than a $1,000 gear. If an audio reviewer or dealer say or uses the term, ‘ night and day difference in gears, don’t believe a word they say.
Many people compare this hobby to other luxury products like cars, watches, to wine and even food. As ridiculous as it may sound, I think, this hobby can be compared to tuning import cars in a way. Only audiophiles understand audiophiles, as people who modify their Honda Civic and invest tens of thousands into their cars understand each other. I think from that perspective how one see an audiophile who spends a ridiculous amount on a turntable and spend more upgrading the parts to seek audio euphoria could somehow relate to car enthusiast investing on exotic automotive parts that was actually perfect to begin with as their hobby. Regular people have a hard time understanding audiophiles. Regular people don’t see the need to spend thousands to have a slightly better audio sound in their room, and as an audiophile, I kind of envy that.
There is a difference between a Rolex and a Philip Patel watch. The former is mostly quartz driven and the latter is hand built auto-winder. That is a huge difference to me.
I have no issues with people spending money on their audio equipment. What I do have issues with is the attitude, ” your equipment is not resolving enough”, etc.
Many audiophiles believe, not is science but alchemy. Let me explain. You cannot make lead into gold, by any chemical reaction, but you can produce iron pyrite which looks like gold. Same with audio. If one cannot measure differences then why is their differences? Because we have a built in bias system, our emotions. When we hear music, we do it through that filter. It really does pervade everything’s that goes through our senses.
If you like expensive equipment, great. It just probably not better than what other paid for. It is the name one is paying for.
“There is a difference between a Rolex and a Philip Patel watch. The former is mostly quartz driven and the latter is hand built auto-winder. That is a huge difference to me.” Actually the vast majority of Rolex are mechanical and many hand-wound, even. So not correct and that’s Patek Phillipe – https://www.patek.com/en/home FYI.
Years ago I was told that a basic component system will provide about 95% of the true sound. As you get closer to the 100% mark, each step will cost you substantially more……
The problem is for recorded music no one knows what the true sound is. Not even the musicians and producers who recorded it.
A 24/192 flac of The Dark Side of The Moon taken off the original master tapes today, will sound far far better through high end equipment; than it did when it was originally recorded and mixed in 1974 and played through the analogue kit they had available in the studios.
Even 1974 vinyl disk of it will sound far better today, than the same disk could possibly have done in 1974.
Sure the ultimate sound is a 60 player philharmonic live at full chat in an acoustically perfect studio environment – but short of that… and considering most music isn’t recorded ‘live’, but mixed and edited?
Isn’t that the point – getting more out of a reproduced piece of music than even the musicians that created it intended?
If you buy a Krugerrand coin from a gold dealer it will contain exactly one Troy ounce of pure gold – and cost exactly what the spot price for an ounce of gold is that day. It will be worth the spot price less the agreed small commission the dealer will levy when they buy it back from you.
If you buy anything else it will cost what you agree to pay or what the seller agrees to sell it for.
What it’s worth in monetary terms is much harder to assess and depends on many things. Cost of design and manufacture, make, rarity, desirability, retailer’s mark up, sales tax or import duties… Usually with little regard for intrinsic differential in price.
A $35,000 bottle of wine cannot taste 5,000 times better than a $7 bottle… A £400,000 speaker system cannot sound 1000 times better than a $400 one.
But ultimately things are ONLY worth what people are prepared to pay for them, if they are sold.
Or crucially what sentimental value the owner places on them….
The watch in Pulp Fiction or Kate’s model plane in Lost were far far more valuable to their owners than any financial valuation would imply.
But the harsh reality is that most of the time, most things are a lot less financially valuable than their owners believe they ought to be.
Even money itself.
And to be fair higher (than the mass market) end audio equipment does hold it’s value far better than most things. But doesn’t ever appreciate, or gain value over time.
Unlike 99% of cars (even most Ferrari’s) that lose 20-40% just by being driven off the lot and then keep depreciating downwards like a lead balloon. Though even the 1% rarely appreciate, just hold their value better, than the 99%.
Unlike genuine Strad violins say, which only will only ever appreciate.
But again does a $2m Strad cello sound 100,000 times better than a $200 one? I’ve heard one being played live in a close to acoustically perfect studio in a building that cost far less to build, than the cello cost to buy, and it sounded wonderful…
Just not 10,000 – 100,000 times more wonderful the the first cellist’s cello being beautifully played not five yards away from the $2m soloist’s one!.
So bottom line things are only worth what someone is prepared to pay, and you never know what that is until you try to sell them.
Apart from the Krugerrand – you always know what that’s worth.
I envy those who are so confident in their ignorance and convinced that their $30 cable will always be indistinguishable from luxury unobtainium cables. Ignorance is indeed bliss… and so much more affordable.
“Why then, is high performance audio criticized because of how much equipment costs?
Okay, yes, we have speaker systems costing as much as a house. Cables costing as much as a car. Amps and other components costing so much it becomes baffling. To anyone who is not an audiophile it’s hard to understand how a speaker cable could cost $40,000.00 when a pretty nice car could be had for the same amount.”
there are many of us audiophiles who also deride the cost of some audiophile gear. cables are a perfect example. i believe that folks who buy $40k cables only do so because they cost $40k, and they like the fact that they spent $40k on a pair of cables. there’s nothing that makes them worth that much, from any sane perspective – be it performance, or pure aesthetics. unlike something like a fine watch or automobile.
same with other gear, but cables, to me are the main example of stupidity spending. at least with over-priced amplification, turntables, speakers, etc., you may have some aesthetic enjoyment of something that looks freaking awesome, even if its performance can be equaled or even surpassed at a fraction of the price…
Very simply put—TO EACH TO OWN WHAT EVER THE HELL HE WISHES TO DO SO…
Snake Oil, the cry of the audio internet troll. These people are toxic, and even predate the internet. It used to be these people never made it past the ‘Letters to the Editor’ (the ultimate gate keepers). People who criticize audio should not be on audio sites.