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The Importance of Being Authentic

July 20, 2007

What's wrong with high-end audio? That's a topic of perpetual discussion among audiophiles and members of the audio press alike, with the answers ranging from an aging demographic to the rise of the iPod.

In his keynote address for the Hi-Fi News Show in London last year, David Wilson of Wilson Audio Specialties acknowledged that high-end audio is "at a crossroads." His 54-minute talk has the weight of experience -- Wilson Audio is one of the most prominent and successful companies in all of high-end audio -- and a powerful argument behind it. His conclusion? The industry -- or "guild of artisans," as he called it -- must remember where it came from in order to survive and thrive in the 21st century. High-end audio is about experience, not "stuff" -- about musical satisfaction, not commoditization.

Wilson weaves a complex argument. He uses anecdotes from the pharmaceutical industry, in which he worked before founding Wilson Audio, to help make the point that "authenticity," a word his company has championed, is at the very heart of high-end audio. It has far-reaching influence, from the ways in which companies develop and market products, to the use of Chinese labor, which often pads profits instead of lowering retail cost. Wilson points out that the average wage of a Chinese worker is 3% of that paid at Wilson Audio, which is located in Provo, Utah. He boldly admits that a Sophia 2, his company's least-expensive floorstanding speaker, which has over 150 individual parts, could be manufactured with comparable Chinese parts and processes and sold for one-tenth its current price. However, quality and authenticity would suffer, and the speaker would cease to be what it is.

"A company should be simply who it claims to be," he says in favor of the idea of audio companies reporting their financials, which Wilson Audio has been doing for more than 20 years. He concludes by saying that "The future vigor and health of true high-end audio depends on a high level of authenticity and accountability by the companies that produce the products and the magazines that report on the subject."

This is an engaging talk, and an important one too. You can view it on Wilson Audio's website (QuickTime is required)....Marc Mickelson, editor@soundstage.com


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