My Dad always loved Mercedes. He frequently talked about how great they were. He could have easily afforded one but he always drove a very basic, very plain, very stripped down Honda Civic or something like that. He usually drove them for about fifteen years and when they were completely dead, he bought a new one. Since my birth I can count the number of cars my Father owned on one hand. So what does this have to do with high end audio? Well, maybe a lot.
I think this is a great example of individual priorities. My Dad could have easily afforded the more expensive car but chose instead the lower priced, more basic one. Same thing holds true with audio gear. Not everyone wants a $250,000.00 audio system, even those that can afford to have one. It doesn’t change the fact that the mega buck system is generally better made and sounds better. Higher price and better performance in audio equipment is almost an absolute. However, those that want the best sound for the lowest price should not be overlooked.
Manufacturers have a real dilemma. They tirelessly look for ways in in which they can improve the sound of their equipment while at the same time keep cost as low as possible- yet still produce high performance equipment. That certainly makes sense, in that way a product will have wider appeal and the manufacturer will enjoy increased sales volumes.
From an engineering standpoint, budget priced gear presents equal developmental challenges as does higher priced gear. To a certain extent, designers know certain shortcuts and can use scaled down technology to lower cost. They also realize doing so may reduce sound quality. The real trick for budget priced gear is to find ways that improves sound quality yet doesn’t raise the price. Conversely, designers also know, again to a certain extent, how to build a piece of equipment that represents the finest. The best of design and technology regardless of the cost.
Most manufacturers these days have moved to incorporate both types of business models. While they may offer the cost no object for those with substantial disposable incomes, they still need sales volume to provide capital to fuel R&D so technical achievements are realized. Those sales come from budget priced gear. They also use scaled down versions of technologies from higher priced equipment in the more moderately priced components with an understood reduction in sound quality.
That most audiophiles want better performance at a lower cost is not in any way surprising. Let’s face it, a stereo system is a luxury, not a necessity and can jeopardize other, more important financial requirements. Maybe like paying for a child’s college education one day. Regardless of financial constraints, is it in any way surprising that an audiophile wants the reference level sound at the entry level price? A champagne appetite on a beer pocketbook if you will. Most manufacturers are almost required to offer lower cost components.
But it is also necessary to consider the very fortunate ones who desire and can afford the $250,000.00 system. They have the wherewithal to have a system that will sound positively sublime. Is it again, in any way surprising, that manufacturers want to cater to them as well?
Audio publications also face a pricing challenge. How much ink or space do they devote to very expensive gear vs. lower priced gear? Because here again, some will want one, some the other. Regardless of how much a set of $150,000.00 mono blocks may be desired, the average person is probably not going to be terribly interested in them because they simply cannot afford them. Since the number of people who cannot afford such equipment likely far outweighs the number of those that can, why devote so much time to high priced gear? Why not cater to the masses rather than the few? Fine if you’re one of the many but what if you are one of the few? Human nature will always give us varying types of people. Some may want the Mercedes and can’t afford it. Some may be able to afford it but don’t want it. The trick is trying to please everyone. A trick not so easily pulled off.
Making everyone happy is a significantly difficult achievement. No matter how much effort is put forth, there will always be those that support the effort and those that do not. It is a balancing act to try and please everyone- chiefly because the desire to get a good deal is timeless. Just like in a lot of other areas, high end audio has not exactly figured it out yet either.