Written by 5:07 am Digital

What’s Your Reference Standard?

Everyone has a reference standard that is created by the best gear they can afford. That used to be it, the most expensive gear that can be afforded. However, it may be time to redefine the idea of a reference standard.


AR-refstd.jpgIn the world of audiophilia we’re always talking about references. Many reviews eventually come down to a Mano-a-Mano between the reviewer’s “reference” and the piece of gear under review. Usually a reviewer’s reference is the best-sounding example in a particular category, be it speakers, preamps, power amps, or cables. Also, generally, a reviewer’s reference is the priciest piece of gear that they can afford or manage to get loaned to them. And while I certainly understand the rational behind high-ticket reference gear, I think it’s time to expand the concept of reference to more than merely the “best” example that crosses a reviewer’s path.

It’s time for the concept of the cost-effective reference. That is a product that, while it is not the best all-around performer, is the best performer within its price class, and most likely several rungs above. A cost-effective reference can be almost as good as the price-no-object reference, but obviously it should cost much less.

And just as the selection of an ultimate reference is a personal choice, a cost-effective reference is even more subjective. It comes down to what can you live without in terms of performance and still enjoy the music?

I’ve been employing cost-effective references for years. I still own a pair of the original NHT Super Zeros. I also use other vintage components, such as my Accuphase P-300 as benchmarks. If a new power amplifier can’t outperform the Accuphase, it needs to be dirt-cheap or it’s not going to cut it.

DACs are a product category where cost-effective references abound.  I have a $500 reference – The Music Hall DAC 25.3, a $800 reference – the Musical Fidelity M-1, a $1500 reference – the Wyred4Sound DAC-2 and a $7500 reference – the Weiss DAC 202. Even the least expensive DAC on my list is good enough that I could live with it permanently without feeling sonically deprived.

In many product categories the performance gap between cost-effective products and cost-no-object products has never been smaller. And I, for one, consider this a wonderful thing.

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