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Is It Time For New Way To Pay For Our Audio Hobby?

Paul Wilson considers the cost of audio equipment…

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. 

AR-LoanSmallVersion.jpgTry 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. 

AR-Checkbook.jpgStill, 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? 

AR-FocalGrandUtopia.jpgWhen 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?

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