What are you really paying for with audiophile equipment?
I recently finished writing about the importance of find new audio/video enthusiasts (and creative ways to do it) to join our quirky club of people who love the best in performance, gear, and AV experiences. One of the most important things I would preach to new converts to my new tech and entertainment-based “religion” would be the concept that it’s more important to enjoy the journey of building, upgrading, and learning. evolution of your music and/or movie playback. system than reaching a predetermined endgame. There might be a place you get to when you just can’t justify any further investment – call it the Holy Land – but the road to get there is the most fun. I would encourage all of us to savor the joy that comes from purchasing this unique new component, or embrace the positive vibes that come from installing this new tweak that improves your sound. It’s the fun of the hobby, much like owning a car collection, where you have to sell a few of your “babies” along the way to get the combination of vehicles you ultimately desire. Missing those products you had to leave is a reasonable feeling, as we all have. Coveting that new “XYZ Audio 123” product is also part of the fun. Learning about new equipment, looking for a demo of said new product, and then finding a way to purchase one, is part of the process. Even making the mistake of investing in a key component can help further define what we like and dislike about the hobby.
Not all AV components are equal, not by a long margin. Some differences are huge. Others are so small you have to secure them to your rack so they don’t fall to the floor from normal use. Some components are made as if the metalwork were designed by Tiffany’s, while other products are cheap pieces of plastic shit, but still loaded with compelling electronics inside. Some equipment is available in designer colors, polished wood finishes and/or with beautiful metalwork. Others make audiophile components look like they are made in a basement…and in many cases they are, as you can see on many audiophile displays in hotel rooms at trade shows. regional.
Die-hard audiophiles will tell you that they judge their system by its pure, flawless performance, but few use professional measurement systems to see how their collection of gear actually performs in their specifically treated room. Even the best recording studios and mastering labs often have room for more than an nth degree of extra performance, but you have to use science, not “audiophile religion”, to find it, and that’s fine. more part of the pro audio world than high-end consumer audiophiles. Basically, the audiophile community is thinking “why tune my Lamborghini using this so-called diagnostic computer when I can do it by ear?” I’ve always done it by ear, so that should be enough, right? ” Wrong. There’s more performance there, even in the best of systems. There are computer-based audio-visual products that can use professional measurement microphones which both diagnoses and cures audiophile diseases. These are the cutting-edge components that trickle down to today’s $500 AV receivers. Incredible but painful for snobbish and audiophile cliches. Sorry, the cliches…
What are we really buying when we really open the checkbook for an audiophile or many high-end home theater products? Loudspeaker technology, arguably the most important in the audio equipment chain, hasn’t seen much change in recent decades. Today’s speaker form factors are unquestionably more compelling, narrower and more visually appealing. The finishes of the contemporary high-performance audiophile speakers are truly fantastic, including polished metals, exotic yet durable woods, carefully selected paint colors and more. Today’s speakers are easier to drive and easier to park in your living room with other non-AV lifestyle furniture, and they look great. Much of what you pay includes the finishes mentioned above, which are by no means cheap. If you buy from a traditional reseller, you have to take into account their profit margins, which are high. Rare-earth materials like neodymium, which is the metal that makes up the ultra-lightweight driver magnets, are the main reason your beat-to-shit iPhone 6S is still worth something off the shelf. There’s a lot about a modern audiophile speaker that doesn’t meet the eye.
In terms of audiophile components, designs vary by age, but the ones audiophiles love the most (Class A, Class AB, tube amps, for example) have been around forever. Improvements, new materials, new ways are always found and, just like with a racing car, the products get better and better. But at the end of the day, you are paying dearly for American or Western European manual labor. You are paying for large, beautifully designed heat sinks. You’re paying for low-volume but highly intricate metal work that makes your stereo preamp feel like an audio gem. If it is an imported product, you may also need factor rates and international distributors in the cost of any product. These are the real factors that explain the often high cost of AV electronics. Could these costs go down? They could if the products were built in higher volume, but with the supply chain issuesit’s unlikely.
Some components are so expensive to manufacture that high-performance audio companies simply cannot manufacture them in the modern age. The category of AV preamps comes to mind. In the 2000s, companies like Meridian, Krell, Theta Digital, B&K, Sunfire and many more were making badass AV preamps that had audiophile looks, great build quality, credibility and performance, and a affordable price for audiophiles. Today, most of these companies don’t make modern AV preamps, as you’ll find, for example, at Marantz, Harman (fill in the brand name here) and companies like Trinnov and Emotiva, who have made the big investment to have an AV preamp rig in the modern age. The cost and access to chips (think of those 100,000 unsold GM cars in Michigan due to a shortage of chips), the cost of manufacturing, the high cost of high tech labor based on United States and, more importantly, the cost of licenses. bang technologies, such as room correction, various surround sound formats, HDMI, UL approval, and more. To be in the game you probably need a $2,000,000 investment for even the smallest of audiophile companies and even then the price of said audiophile-grade AV preamp is going to be exorbitant, and don’t be shocked if the reliability is far behind that of the $1,100 Japanese receiver, which is manufactured in the tens of thousands and sold in every market in the world.
The hunt for the right audiovisual equipment
The moral of the story is: always look for value in AV, no matter what level of game you’re playing. I have a $100,000+ Crestron home theater, 4K distributed video, and audiophile distributed AV system in my house, and I’m using a high-end Marantz receiver as an AV preamp for a surround sound theater 13.1 in our media room. I made the decision to buy the Marantz because the performance was there. Reliability was there too. Features delivered in spades, with the Marantz retailing for $4,000 against many times that of audiophile companies. More importantly, the value was there, compared to today’s best AV preamps. In a perfect world, I’d want a Trinnov Altitude 16 AV preamp, but the price is well over $10,000 (on my way to $20,000), and realistically I don’t spend enough time in my media room to justify the investment in a category that is constantly evolving with new technologies. I can still dream of a Trinnov when I win Powerball (I get so close sometimes, easily one or two matching numbers for a $5 return), but in the meantime I was able to find my bliss for my system for now, and I’m enjoying my journey to the fullest again, these many years after the process began. The fun doesn’t have to stop as your lifestyle changes. There are only new challenges and opportunities, and it’s all part of the process. Enjoy.
uncomfortable posts on March 07, 2022 03:30
Jerry Del Colliano is back with a very interesting question that audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts should ponder and answer.
What are we really buying when we really open the checkbook? Not all AV components are equal, not by a long margin. Some are huge. Others are so small you have to secure them to your rack so they don’t fall to the floor from normal use. Check out our article to see what you’re REALLY paying for with audiophile gear.
Read: What do you pay with audiophile equipment?