Besides writing for The Absolute Sound, Audiophile Review,
and Home Theater Review, I also write for the venerable guitar monthly, Vintage
Guitar Magazine. Recently I received a new acoustic guitar for review where I
had no idea what about its price. This occasionally happens, usually because
the instrument is so new that it hasn’t been officially released yet.
For this particular instrument there were two versions, one
priced at $599 and the other at $3999. Looking at the pictures on the Internet
it was impossible to tell which version I had received for review. It wasn’t
until several days had passed when I discovered that I had the $3999 version.
During the previous couple of days I had wrongly assumed that I had the $599
When I learned that I had the premium version I was
disappointed. The guitar would have been a stunning achievement for $599, but for
$3999 it was only just OK. Obviously the performance of the guitar hadn’t
changed, but my perceptions of the instrument’s relative value sure had.
I sometimes experience same thing with audio gear. A $1000
DAC, when compared to other $1000 DACs, could be an outstanding value. But if
that same DAC was $10,000 rather than $1000, it might not be such a standout
performer, but merely average for that price-class. The old saying, “In the
land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Comes to mind. Products must
always be considered IN CONTEXT, and one of the primary contexts is its price
and other competing products at a similar price.
I often lament the fact that many audio reviewers end up
getting “typecast” by chance or choice into reviewing particular price-point of
gear. Some reviewers rarely touch “entry-level” gear, while others specialize
in it. In a perfect world all reviewers should cover a wide range of
price-points. Because only by hearing both budget and high-end gear can a
reviewer get a handle on what is really an above-average product, regardless of
whether it’s $100 or $100,000.