Why is Hi-Fi Expensive?
Actually most of it isn’t. Far from it. But that’s not how people perceive it. The main reason for this is perhaps because people associate any kind of electronics with computers and other mass-market white goods. With these items the price is always falling. Mind you the quality almost always falls with it. And if not the quality then the build quality and life expectancy.
I recently purchased a combi microwave oven. Mine had broken after 9 years of good service. I decided on another Panasonic and was told by the salesman that the new device would perhaps last 2 years. I questioned this and he explained that manufacturers built most household appliances to last 2 to 3 years only. Frankly I was horrified by this. My company sells audio equipment that lasts 30 years plus. We’re 36 years old and we still see customers who own stereo systems that they purchased from us during our first few years of business. These people think their stereo’s are awesome value!
Money is also worth less every year. My first pair of hi-fi speakers were made by Acoustic Research and were called the AR18. They cost me £200 when I purchased them and I loved them to bits. I recall how much they cost me because when I bought them they were one months wage. There are still plenty of working samples around although the drive unit surrounds tend to fail as they pick up moisture. A later drive unit used a rubber surround to fix that problem. Anyway if a customer came in today and wanted to replace a pair of AR18’s I would suggest to him that he should spend a months salary in order to replace them. I can imagine this might cause roars of derision and laughter.
Of course most people would think to spend £200 or at least start at that price and consider options. Someone with the capacity for higher reasoning might think to themselves “wow!; these have lasted me thirty plus years and given me a lot of musical pleasure. Maybe I should at least make sure I buy something good if it’s going to last another thirty years”.
What is a stereo system for?
“My first stereo system brought music into my life. Not as some peripheral thing but as an invited guest who was with me every step of my journey through life” – Paul Hobson
Simple one really; a stereo system is designed to allow us to appreciate and enjoy music. Of course it can only do that if it is any good. If it is poor you simply won’t enjoy listening to it. The reason for this can be boiled down to this; if it can’t communicate the music to you then listening is hard work and quickly tires, bores or becomes unpleasant.
I know you’ve heard a song you love reproduced so badly that it becomes a meaningless din. Bad sound is terrible and yet many stereo’s sound bad. In fact the two words that tend to be used to describe a music system; stereo and hi-fi are terms that have been denigrated to mean anything that makes a noise. Pressed plastic boxes that look like mirrors and speakers designed to be used in cars are sold to the public because they’re cheap and they don’t take up much room! These are mostly sold by supermarkets that don’t even have them set up for people to actually hear.
A good stereo will be a joy to listen to of course. It will make music make sense and when you hear a song you love you’ll be reminded of why you love it. And since we’ve established that good equipment lasts; it will be reminding you for a long time!
“I’ve never understood people who have no concern for the quality of music. They’re a difference race of people. They’re more likely to be impressed by the label on their shirt than by hearing music reproduced properly” Paul Hobson
Not all stereo equipment is expensive but it’s rarely cheap
The Rega P1 turntable is a perfect example; at £248 it’s a very reasonably priced record player. You can match that with an amplifier for under £200 and a similarly priced pair of speakers and you will have something quite lovely and well able to reproduce music with some accuracy. £650 for a stereo system isn’t a lot of money, certainly not if you consider yourself passionate about music. You’d pay more than that for Apple’s new phone.
Of course the above system can easily be upgraded and most of these upgrades are clearly and easily audible.
Obviously that little system represents the bottom end of what we sell in our store. It represents the point at which “stuff get’s serious” and is capable of providing an insight into music and makes listening a rewarding experience.
So what makes more expensive equipment better?
Better equipment is more accurate. As a result it captures more of the music and loses less. It also has better signal to noise ration. Put simply that means more signal for less noise! That’s very significant.
With a record player the differences are extremely easy to hear because better record players recover more music from the groove. With amplifiers more accurate means more accurate production of that sound and to some degree it’s the same with speakers. But the materials and manufacturing processes needed to make those differences cost more. Of course the products are better and clearly so. They’d never sell otherwise since shops like ours sell by demonstration. If people don’t hear a difference they won’t part with their money.
Can you tell the difference?
Yes of course you can. Never doubt the ability of your own ears. In our 36 years we’ve never had anyone in the demo room who couldn’t hear the differences between the components they were interested in. That includes people who were partially deaf or hearing impaired. Strangely though most people THINK that they won’t be able to tell the difference and thought is a powerful thing. Do you still wonder why hi-fi is expensive? If so read on.
“People don’t automatically appreciate the difference between listening and hearing any more than they do the difference between looking and seeing” – Ivor Tiefenbrun
Some manufacturers make truly exotic components. These are often referred to as “high end Audio”. They represent what Ferrari and Lamborghini products do and yet unlike fancy sports cars, expensive hi-fi equipment rarely sells to the truly well-heeled. In fact they don’t sell in high volume at all but they do serve a very important purpose and that is to push forward the boundaries of what is possible. Improving technology means that in time every product improves. It may take a few years but that technology will trickle down.
Consider the LINN Sondek LP12; a turntable launched in 1972 has truly stood the test of time. It has always been a luxury priced turntable but it broke new ground in terms of performance and engineering. It is still available today and we’re delighted to say that many of the original LP12’s are also still making music today. We know this because we service them. The development LINN have done in terms of arm bearings, subchassis, power supplies etc have been filtered down into the most affordable version of the LP12.
This is another example. When the D3 series came out it had no common components shared with the previous incarnation of the 800 series. People asked us what Bowers and changed and we had to say “everything”. Apart from looking similar there were no shared components. A number of patents are attached to this range and already those patents are being extended to more affordable speakers. Even Bowers cheapest range uses technology designed for previous incarnations of the 800 series.
So with all this in mind why is hi-fi considered expensive?
I think the real answer to this is that many people have no concept of how good it can be. Good hi-fi shops are few and far between so not many people get to experience really good sound. This makes us sad. The demise of Lasky’s was also the last time good hi-fi was seen on the high street. Since then it’s been all about tiny equipment and speakers so small they sound like a duck inhaling helium.
We’ve drawn a line in the sand and we’re sticking to our guns. Everything we stock is chosen for it’s performance and value for money. When you listen to two products in our demo room you’ll hear the difference. We guarantee it. You’ll hear it because it is clear.
A good stereo system will get you closer to the music. You’ll hear the melody and be able to understand the lyrics. You’ll understand what the artist or composer was writing about and the mood of the piece will uplift you or move you to tears. Not only will it do this on the day you purchase it but it will continue doing it for many years to come. Think of owning a stereo system as a long-term investment in music and you’ll be much closer to the truth.