It’s the time of year for saving money!
See if this is an agreeable statement: High Performance audio gear is expensive. I doubt I’d get much in the way of disagreement with that conclusion. Gear is very costly and like everything that touches our fiscal lives, is getting more expensive. Remove the audiophile tag from the equation and the cost of much, if not all of the equipment in our hobby is unrealistically if not laughably expensive.
Try to explain the legitimacy of a speaker to play music that costs five and even six figures to someone whose primary method of listening is a smart phone. Try to explain the legitimacy of a wire to connect those speakers to an amp or some other type of electronic “box” that retails for four figures and quite likely five and the confusion really begins to set in.
To really identify this confusion it is important to not cloud things over by the description “five figures.” We are talking about speakers that sell for $10,000, $50,000, $200,000 and some are even more. We are talking about speaker cables that sell for $5000, $20,000 and beyond. It is not inconceivable to have a set of speaker cables that cost more than a Honda Accord.Trying to justify that extreme level of expense to someone who sees no value proposition in any sound system over a couple hundred dollars is completely pointless. And trust me, talking about sonic quality and the “lifelike musical presentation” might work when someone is standing beside you looking at your system, but let that same person get away from you and their real outlook on your passion will surface. I know, it has happened to me.
On the other side of the coin is the ever optimistic audiophile. Make no mistake, audiophiles are mostly oblivious to the opinions and derisions of their non audiophile contemporaries. I personally could care less what anyone thinks about how much I spent on my system. It is, after all, my money and my business. And of course, as the system cost rises, so does the level of confusion in the minds of those outside our hobby. Predominately, this confusion is borne from a lack of understanding of what motivates an audiophile to seek a better listening experience.
While it is true there are many options for lower priced gear, most of those components are even decidedly expensive to many non-audiophiles, particularly those using an Mp3 player.
Still, we cannot disagree that improving the sonic quality of the music we so enjoy is getting more difficult to readily afford. Perhaps worse, as the total system cost rises, so too does the cost of identifiable, demonstrable and easily noticeable sonic improvements. Make a $3000.00 change to a $5000.00 system and it will very likely be a breathtaking improvement. Do the same with a $250,000 system and any perceptible improvement likely won’t even be noticed. We audiophiles, ever convinced that better sound awaits, continue to justify the cost of the new piece of gear purported to bring sonic bliss. As I see it, that is part and parcel of being an audiophile and I see nothing wrong with such a position. Still, though, we need to pay for our extravagance regardless of cost.
I have no way to know this for sure, but I suspect most people pay for their audio equipment with cash. Maybe something inexpensive might be put on a credit card for a few months and then paid off, but mostly, pull out the checkbook, that fine pen to which one is steadfastly endeared, and begin writing. Not only have I paid cash for everything I’ve ever purchased, in most cases I paid cash in advance. Because my sources were all reputable I was not worried about being cheated but still, writing that check, sometimes large check in advance tends to give one pause.
Here again, I have no way to know, but I’m guessing most people finance their home and their automobile. Both are, for the average person or family, among the larger expenses they will make. Paying for a child’s college education is obviously a horrendous expense but not all couples have children and not all children go to college. A place to live and transportation is pretty much a given. So if the common practice is to finance a car and a home, could we also realistically do the same with a stereo?
When purchasing a home or car, there are time worn, well established financing options in place. Making such a purchase is a contract, subject to legal ramifications if one party fails to live up to their part of the agreement. To my knowledge, no US bank has a specific loan process modified for the purchase of an audio system. So here’s a thought – if a system can cost as much as a house, why not have a loan tailored to finance the cost and let the audiophile make monthly payments?
Is that a really novel idea or something so ludicrous as to completely and totally lack any meaningful foundation? For my part, I will always choose to pay cash because I dislike financing anything if I can avoid doing so. Still, however, if an audiophile had a better than average monthly take home pay, and little cash on hand, would financing, if a dedicated audio loan existed, be a way for an enthusiast to enjoy a great system without having to wait to save up for one?
Needless to say there are many conditions and ramifications on such a practice. And currently, unless I am mistaken, “audio loans” do not even exist within the banking system. Personal loans, yes, but not a tailored audio loan. I’m curious, if there was such a loan, with favorable rates and the allowance to modify the loan to secure new gear, would this be a practice the average audiophile might seriously explore? Could leasing be an option?
It’s a practice an audiophile shouldn’t explore.
As someone on a limited income who has spent the last 15 years working up to a respectable stereo system worth somewhere around $2,500, I would respond with these truisms:
Patience is a virtue
Debt is slavery
As a “young adult”, I find the cost of this hobby laughable. It’s good to start towards the low end because you see how useless the high end becomes. You actually understand where the money is best used towards.
Bookshelves + Subs + Room Correction = Better Sound than most $100K+ systems setup by old rich farts that have no clue what a measurement mic is. Put your money into speakers, subs, room treatment and room correction (like DIRAC) and for under $5K you have a system that can hang with the best out there. Stop wasting money on electronics and cables.
While you might have something useful to say, it’s drowned out by your arrogance and lack of wisdom.
I don’t think hobbies are the place to incur that kind of debt, if you can’t afford to pay cash then go more slowly. An exception might be budgeting a (reasonable) system as part of a home purchase (like furniture), especially if you could work it into the mortgage. Still though you need to live within your means, too many people in too much debt, don’t know that we need new ways to put them there.
I don’t disagree, well for the most part. I kind of related it to motorcycle riding, which any true rider would say is pretty much a hobby (I can speak to this being that I own a bike myself). While debt should never be a goal, an enjoyable life should be, and sometimes-frankly, financing extends an opportunity to enjoy pleasures while paying them off. Being as audiophile is being a-part of a great club, and I used to think the prices they tag to systems were ridiculous (some still are), until I understood the amount of R&D that goes in to continually improving sound, and that you’re paying for more than the system itself. In addition to the fact that most of these are hand-made which is another factor. But I’ll end with this, it’s hard to continually tell folks what they’re missing out on, and what they should be hearing in music without giving them a chance to experience for themselves – in their own living space, and this option of financing would afford them that. What they do after, and how long they choose to take to pay it off – is in the end, like all things really, up to them…
By the time most folks can afford even mid-range audio equipment their hearing has likely deteriorated to the point of making the expenditure dubious at best.
And now with the new tariffs impose to China products we can only expect prices to hike. I’m more worried about equipment built in the US that use their electronic components (resistors, diodes, mosfets, capacitors) most of them made in China and now affected by this tariff.
Respectfully, you took an awfully long time to get to your point. As to that point, it is seriously flawed in that high end audiophile gear will depreciate far too fast to ever be considered acceptable collateral by any legitimate financial institution.
In all honesty there was not really a point ever stated. This article is more of a question, is financing a viable option? A question, I might add, without an answer. I stated “For my part, I will always choose to pay cash…” which is what I have always done. But one reader, JH (below) makes an interesting point — that being a quality of life question. In that example, financing might actually be a worthwhile option. You also make a very good point about depreciation but do you think cars are any better? What’s the old saying, you loose half the value once you drive off the lot? I don’t see any financial institution shying away from loaning money because of depreciation, they simply build it into the loan. In any event, I really doubt audio loans will ever take hold. One, the audiophile community is too small and two, most people simply pay with cash. It is why it is a hobby basically built around disposable income!
Thanks for your comment.
Fair enough. The subject question was clearly stated in the title.
I considered auto loans when composing my response. I guess, as I see it, the difference is an automobile is basically a utility in todays world. If the loan defaults the car can be repossessed, which would likely cause the owner serious issues such as loss of a job or the ability to properly handle basic necessities like getting kids to and from school, etc. This provides incentive to pay this type of loan as agreed. On the other hand, audio gear is a luxury, especially at the high end.
I don’t think most people pay for large purchases with cash either. Visa, Mastercard, sure, but not cash.
Bruce is right, enjoy the journey and pay as you go. There is an option not mentioned here and that’s DIY. Not every thing needs to look like “audio jewelry”. Start with your cables, you will be surprised. Try a headphone amp from bottle head. Speaker kits abound on the internet. Reference the Burning Amp conference coming up.
One question the “experts” never explore in depth is how much better is the sound quality of a $2,500 system and a $25,000? Ten times, no chance, 10% maybe but unlikely. There is a plateau in audio where 99.999% of the population can’t hear the difference, the question to answer is where the line is for you in terms of cost and value.
A straight personal loan, depending on income level, can do what is talked about here. If you have the income, and are willing to pay the monthly payments, why not? The best part about this is the reality-check of the someone else who is willing to give you the money. If you can’t afford it, they’ll certainly (given it’s a reputable lender) tell you so. And, if you’re smart, that should be the end of that. Almost sounds too simple now that I’ve put it all down.
Loans are available it is the interest rate that is too high to justify using these loans. Home equity has been the longest running finance method for audio. Do banker audiophiles exist that can help this discussion?
I like the PayPal Credit 6 months interest free loan. It doesn’t allow me to live beyond my means, (especially with the new monthly payment) but it takes the sting out of a large purchase by spreading the payment over time.
I bought an Anthem MRX 1120 ($2800-big bucks to me) on eBay with PayPal with 6 months no interest then took out a personal loan from my credit union at 9% to pay it and a couple of cards off. $150 a month & I love it !!