It’s the time of year for saving money!
My first exposure to a better sound than a transistor radio was McIntosh audio system. You know the one, those patented, iconic blue lights on just about everything they can find to light up?
I was hooked and although at 15 could in no way afford anything made by the legendary New York based manufacturer, I always loved the brand because I thought it looked amazing. And yes, I scratched that itch when in 2010 I bought a McIntosh amp, blue power meters and all.
Anyone who has ever priced any of our gear knows how much equipment can cost. What we expect for our money is a memorizing sound, something to captivate us well into the night. Something to argue with our logic that no, it is NOT live music, it is a recording!
Are sonics the only barometer of what we look for in the equipment we buy? Manufacturers clearly do not think so based on one other factor, how nice and pretty they make their equipment look to the consumer.
When you consider that in addition to listening to our systems, we also look at them while we listen, stunning visuals are not a hard concept to grasp. Also, considering what some of our gear costs, well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I want something beyond sonic excellence. Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder – and I want my eyes to behold something magnificent. Call it bling if you like, just make it look visually appealing.
Many manufacturers go that extra step by finishing aluminum faceplates. Maybe they give it a brushed look, intended to soften the curves machined into the part. Perhaps they use other finishing techniques that have nothing to do with fit and function but everything to do with aesthetics.
Speaker manufacturers are constantly searching the world of exotic materials to spruce up what is arguably a rectangular box. Look, for instance, at the upper tier speakers made by German manufacturer Tidal. Regardless of what may be said about their sound, their casework is absolutely stunning. Sonus Faber, ever seen their speakers? Beauty personified. Many others may also be named.
Is that all there is to how we decide on something? If it sounds good and looks good, does that complete our check list? Or are we curious about other things – like how it was made, performance parameters, resale cost, and any other qualifications we may have?
Regardless, however, of what our checklist actually has as meritable requirements, looks will almost always figure somewhere pretty high on the importance scale.
There is an unwritten, typically unspoken side to making a component look nice and pretty. That soft, brushed look on the front faceplate of your amp, preamp, DAC or other component only got there because of a secondary process. Many machine shops will quite often use a piece of equipment called a Timesavers to apply that nice brushed look. It takes a skilled operator making whatever per hour to get that finish.
Not surprisingly, that nice look so highly regarded makes the component cost more. Dramatically more? No, but a higher cost is a higher cost regardless of the percentage.
Most audiophiles think nothing of the cost to make things look pretty, appealing, cool, or whatever adjective may apply. Only that it looks like any of those descriptors is ultimately the relative factor. And that’s okay. We all want as much as we can get for our purchase. The salient point is there is a cost to do so.
Imagine browsing around in a large, well-stocked with demo equipment, audio dealership. You are taken in by all the amazing gear. While your interest may or may not be to purchase anything, you are still struck by all that you see. As you casually walk into a listening room, the music playing grabs you because it sounds so amazing. As your eyes scan the room, they stop suddenly on the speakers.
Now of course, it is quite natural to assume this glorious sound is the sole result of these speakers. If they also happen to look as mesmerizing as they sound, are you even more enticed to buy them or do you consider only how they sound?
How something looks is always a part of the purchase justification process. We want that component to look appealing as well as sound remarkable. If we see a beautiful speaker or other component before we hear it, is not our level of curiosity increased? Take two sets of speakers, one with beautiful casework, highly finished, hand crafted woods. The other set of speakers looks okay, although basically vanilla flavored. If you had not heard either of these speakers previously, which would you ask to demo first? We all know the answer to that question.
Face it, as much as our hobby is sonically driven, it is also aesthetically driven. Maybe it is not driven by how something looks to the same level as how it sounds. Still, however, looks count. We will be drawn to a better looking component simply because we are all, to some degree, visual creatures. We will willingly pay more for the amp with the nice smoothly textured faceplate as opposed to the one that is not. In the end, how something sounds will justifiably be the deciding factor. Do not, however, discount how something looks. Because that matters almost as much as how something sounds.
I wanted everything in white. I bought white Q Acoustics floor standing speakers, a white Orbit turntable, a white Pro-Ject pre-amp and I have a white Harmon K sub-woofer. But you just can’t buy white electronics such as receivers, disc players, TVs, etc.
I love beautifully designed products. I work as an engineer at FCA, and while we could design and build a utilitarian (code word for ugly) vehicle that was optimized for drivability and save cost on cosmetic details, we don’t because nobody would buy it. So we design cars that are hopefully visually appealing both inside and out. Why should I have to settle for anything less in a home audio product. We are talking after all about products that will reside in a communal room in my house that is used every day. I buy audio components primarily for the pleasurable experience of listening to music, and for me looking at ugly, black boxes detracts from that experience.
Joe, I agree with your last sentence completely.
FCA builds junk and I am a supplier
I like silver equipment. I also like a 5.1 surround system, with a zone 2 option for my whole house stereo. This limits my choices. I usually buy used, for economy sake. I want my rig to look good and sound better. Classe’ always had understated elegance, and their stuff holds up for a LONG time, making me able to afford things that I wouldn’t be able to afford normally. DavidTwoTrees
no, generally, i do not buy gear based on looks. sound is paramount. however, if i find something that strikes me as visually appalling, i will typically not want it in my residence, even if it sounds fantastic. there have been a few components – speakers basically – that fall into this category.
there is gear that first attracted me because of its appearance – but it has to perform as well as anything else in my budget range for it to make it into my system.
Nope buy Simaudio so that is kinda clear!
Sound, Sound Sound!
First and foremost, the eqpt has to sound good, so the answer is generally, “No, I don’t buy eqpt based on appearance.” That being said, I have turned down eqpt that has a case of the uglies, even though it sounded great. This is especially true of speakers, where appearance is a subjective matter. Take my wife, for example. She is of the opinion that floor standing speakers should be heard and not seen and that, no matter how beautiful the case, it is ugly and detracts from her well designed and placed furniture. She would rather listen to some form of hidden but inferior blue tooth speaker that the listener is challenged to locate in the room.