February 11, 2008

Pricing and Perspective

Well, another CES has come and gone, and from my wanderings around the show this year one thing struck me in just about every room I entered. We‘re losing something -- something extremely valuable -- in high-end of audio: perspective with regard to pricing. Prices seem to be getting further and further out of whack. When I see new equipment being introduced at $10,000 and touted as "mid-priced," I shudder. Most people who choose to enter our little corner of the world will do so at lower price points -- dipping their toes in to see if what we say about better sound is true. There is a passel of good budget (or "entry-level") gear available -- gear that should start people down the audiophile road.

But it’s the gear in the middle, the gear that those budding audiophiles will aspire to move up to when they’ve outgrown the entry-level stuff that got them hooked to begin with, that’s sadly in short supply. I look for such products in particular because that’s where the true growth of high-end audio is going to occur. I mean, really, who’s going to jump from a $2000 or $5000 system to individual components that cost the same as a small car? No one that I know, that’s for sure. Nope, those folks will be looking for components that are substantially better than the entry-level gear they now own but are individually priced about what their system now costs. Yet the dearth of those products is startling.

If we truly want to see high-end audio grow and stay viable, we need to encourage all manufacturers to invest the time, R&D, and money in producing gear that will make newcomers to the world of high-performance audio want to continue up the ladder. That means gear in the $2000 to $4000 range -- i.e., affordable yet superior. Those $25,000 amps and $100,000 speakers are great eye candy, but they're totally out of the reach of the average audio buff. Sure, they are something to aspire to -- kind of like my secret desire to own a 40-foot sailboat or a Lamborghini -- but what’s going to be purchased is equipment that we can actually afford and that provides us with better sound than what we already have. Yes, it’s time to put some perspective back in the world of audio pricing.

...John Crossett
johnc@soundstage.com

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