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Are All Audio Components Built to Last?

Paul Wilson muses on the longevity of audio gear…

“They just don’t make ’em like they used to.”  Some may have a slight wry smile on their face, given of course that saying possibly conjuring up the image of two elderly men playing checkers on a pickle barrel at the country store. When asked how things built today compare with things built in times past, you get the saying. In my vision, neither of the elderly men even look up from their checker game to express their disdain for modern technology and build quality. 

AR-Built-To-Last-Small-Format.jpgIf we can agree, and I fully expect we will, that high performance audio is an expensive hobby, then it certainly follows that built for the long haul is obviously desired. We not only seek value in our purchased goods, we also want longevity. Buying a product today that will stand the test of time is exactly what the guys playing checkers feel is lacking. Audiophiles feel high performance audio should rightfully be included in such comparisons – even if purchase cost is the singular determining factor in a longevity barometer. 

Take any component in what comprises a modern audio system and the cost of each can quickly, and easily, reach stratospheric proportions. With some speakers costing as much as a small house, amps and turntables costing as much or more than a luxury car, and even some cables selling in the five figure range, purchase of these items is not undertaken hastily. Even budget priced components very often require careful thought to be sure their purchase won’t cause undue financial strain. 

Regardless of the cost of our systems, we want them to last for years into the future – or at least until we decide to replace them. Buy the system, play music, forget the rest, is a brief but generally accurate description of most audiophile’s system goals. I see comments all the time by respondents on various web sites claiming they have components and even whole systems that are twenty, thirty, or more years old and they still work and sound fine. But do they really? 

AR-Quality.jpgI have an amp, a turntable and a set of speakers that for forty-four years I’ve been dragging around with me to every location in which I’ve lived. My first system. I cut a lot of grass in it’s pursuit and I couldn’t (wouldn’t) part with it if I tried. All of the components still work but do they sound even a fraction as remarkable as my big reference system? While the answer is decidedly no, it is only fair to point out that both systems are on a completely different cost plane. I also think that even a comparable system in 1972 terms to my 2016 system would not sound as good. Technology has changed that much. 

For those that will upgrade a specific component or even an entire system, what is the driving motivation driving replacing existing equipment? Could it be that such patrons of the audio arts are committed to the newest technologies? Are they perhaps in possession of deep financial resources and have nothing better on which to spend their money? Or might there be some other motivation? Conversely, is one who holds a piece of equipment for multiple decades simply resistant to change or are they too much of a miser to spend their hard earned money? Are they so averted to new technologies they discount a new system entirely? 

AR-Buy-Something-New.jpgTime and technology obviously does move forward so it stands to reason that what is modern today will be eclipsed by something new and improved tomorrow. There will be those faction of audiophiles committed to remaining on the cusp of the newest technology and their spending will be likewise representative, others will be hopeful that they can, or wishful that they could, and others still will lack interest in the entire prospect of the cutting edge, preferring instead to let the status quo suffice. 

Acceptable levels of sonics obviously differs from one listener to the next. This explains how systems of all different price levels and quality can be appealing. By the same token, does it in any way follow that if a thirty-year-old system is replaced by a modern version with an equivalent cost basis, will the new system will sound dramatically better? Factor in inflation and the new system should sound significantly better than the thirty-year-old version, right? Ah, there’s the rub. Some will agree and some will not – vehemently.  

AR-New-Technology.jpgI typically tend to replace my primary car about every four years. By that time, I’m basically tired of it, and admittedly, I’m anxious for the new car with the new car smell, and all those marvelous features I suddenly cannot live without. That the existing car still runs fine and is mechanically sound has little to do with my decision for a new car. I’m simply bored with the status quo. Should then, an audio system be any different? 

Personally, I see the decision whether or not to modernize an audio system as a very individual thing. I’ve been aggressively putting my system together since 2010 and I feel I’m finally finished. I’m happy with the level of equipment and I’m amazed at the sonics. Build quality of all my components could easily last for twenty or more years and I’d probably wind up being like our friends playing checkers. Still, that nagging voice inside my head doesn’t seem to be yelling “Rosebud,” it is telling me to “upgrade, upgrade…” 

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