Written by 7:00 am Audiophile • 3 Comments

When Do Audiophiles Spend Too Much On Components?

Paul Wilson comments on a recent forum question about system cost.

AR-SpendTooMuchSmallFormat225.jpgI was recently reading a forum on a popular web site when a posed question caught my interest. “What components do others over and underspend on?” Hmm, now isn’t that an interesting question? 

This is one of those buckle your seatbelt forum questions and the replies did not disappoint. Most were complaints positing that a whatever coting “this” much was no better than another version costing far less. I don’t know, color me skeptical. 

One responder enlisted a common opinion found throughout high performance audio – the difference between a $20.00 something and a $2000.00 something might be very noticeable. However, the difference between a $2000.00 something and a $20,000.00 variant typically is not. Put differently, as cost increases, the difference in performance characteristics are not as noticeable. Hmm, again, color me skeptical. –

AR-WorthTheCost225.jpgThis does raise an interesting question, however. When is an expenditure of any part of an audio system too expensive? Is there a jumping off point between value and excessiveness, between modest and life altering performance characteristics? 

In my own system, I have made small, seemingly innocuous changes mostly producing modest results. I have used anti-vibration devices ranging in cost from inexpensive to very expensive. I have had varying effects but almost always a noticeable, yet admittedly, sometimes minor improvement. In fact, for the money, I consider anti-vibrational footers and platforms to be a wise choice for any audio system. 

AR-TechDasAirForceOne225.jpgI have also made changes at the opposite end of the spectrum. Moving from a speaker cable in the middle of the manufacturer’s lineup to their best made a surprising and incredible difference. When that top of the line cable was improved and replaced by a new version, in this case carrying a “2” nomenclature, the improvement was once again very dramatic – as was the price. 

Those obversions, applicable to my system only, don’t really speak to the heart of the original question. Essentially, the question posed is trying to elucidate whether or not more expensive gear is worth the cost.  

AR-Stillpoints225.jpgSomehow, I simply refuse to believe that, and let’s use DAC’s as an example, as one forum responder noted, “refused to spend more than $200.00 on a DAC.” He was obviously making a veiled insinuation a $2000.00, $5000.00 or whatever increased price one might spend on a DAC was far too much and not worth the cost. Sorry, I find that position somewhat difficult to accept. 

I have never owned a $200.00 DAC, but I once had one that retailed for about $500.00 and it in no way equaled the performance of its replacement, let alone my current model, which is dramatically more than $200.00. But then again, the balance of my system is commensurate with my current DAC. All my components are on the same level and I feel they concomitantly strike a harmonious equilibrium. Balance, obviously, need not be expensive. System synergy should rightfully occur regardless of the total system cost. 

AR-NashRambler225.jpgWhere, I believe, this position does indeed have merit is when one single component is far more expensive than anything else in the system. An old car buddy of mine used to say, “it’s like putting mag wheels on a Rambler.” Upping the ante on one component while on the way to a complete system upgrade is one thing. To expect one single component costing vastly more than anything else in the system will singularly deliver life changing sonics may be too high an expectation. 

Another condition factoring into this debate is one’s own perception of too expensive. It may be unpopular to make such a declarative, but it is a fact some have a greater ability than others to purchase expensive things. Someone who is married with two or three kids, big mortgage, college, cars and whatever else may lack the financial wherewithal to afford something a multi-millionaire might purchase. This is merely stating a fact and not meant as some measure of condemnation. We all have financial boundaries. 

AR-JumpingOffPoint225.jpgBased on this, is it an acceptable statement an audiophile who is an average family man or woman cannot, and should not purchase an expensive component? Doing so at the detriment of the rest of the family is never wise, and even perhaps selfish. But if someone in this position works and saves to buy something world class, and does not sacrifice familial responsibilities, is that wrong? 

What about the flip side of the question? What conditions amount to underspending? Certainly, this query has many answers. Pairing an entry level, budget priced bookshelf speaker with a world class amp is one that first comes to mind. What about pairing a $200.00 cartridge to a $100K turntable? Such examples are not only easy to illustrate, many also exist. 


How about a world class system in a space with no room treatments and filled with all manner of reflective surfaces – glass, furniture, large windows, etc.? Should that be considered underspending? In my view, absolutely. As it applies to a world class system, where it is housed also matters. 

What all of this really illustrates is system synergy is important. Regardless of how much the total cost of any system might be, have components, cables, speakers and a place for the system that are all on the same level. 

If a half million-dollar system is the ticket, have it in a proper room. If a budget system that doubles for music and movies in the family room is important, make viable choices supporting those goals.

AR-WhatsYourOpinion225.jpgAudio need not be hyper expensive to be enjoyed. Because, however, ours is a hobby based on disposable income, it may also have components at the costlier end of the spectrum for those with increased means. 

Overspending. Underspending. Many opinions exist. Like with most questions in this venue, answers will be varied, divisive and perhaps vitriolic. It does, in any event, make for some interesting reading. Perhaps whether or not one over or underspends is not the salient issue. Perhaps the more important criteria are how balanced the system and room are as one functioning unit. In the end, all that really matters is how much enjoyment is derived from the system, regardless of cost.

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