Six Reasons Why High End Audio Is a “Sound Investment”?
As a professional writer, I hate clichés. So, why did I use one to title this blog? Because there really is enduring value in a great two-channel audio system. Let’s be precise here: I’m talking about a discrete stereo system with, at the minimum, a high-performance amplifier and a pair of top-quality loudspeakers. Anyone who has purchased Home Theater, “Distributed Audio” or whole-house control and AV systems has suffered the sharp depreciation to which each of these purchases is subject. A “Super Stereo,” on the other hand, holds its value over decades of ownership and certain components will actually increase in value. So, why does two-channel gear hold its value while other media products don’t? I think there are a few reasons:
Reason #1: The Stereo Format hasn’t changed in decades. Buy a Home Theater processor and it’s a safe bet that (with the exception of software-upgradeable products such as Trinnov) it will be obsolete, within two years. Fact is, multichannel formats change more quickly than a chameleon on a patchwork quilt (OK, another cliché) and, perhaps by design, the gear just can’t keep up with the algorithms. Buy an expensive projector and it will be surpassed just as quickly, and at a lower price. Control systems are even worse, as lower pricing and higher sophistication are the driving force of that market segment. Stereo, on the other hand, is pretty much the same as it was in the 1970s, and much for the gear from back then is still utilized and cherished today. There’s something to be said for stability.
Reason #2: It’s never going to get much better than it is today. Decades of relentless refinement have brought solid state electronics, Digital-to-Analog Converters—even record players—to a state of near perfection. Whereas past generations obsessed about future “Mk II versions” which solved a host of sonic and reliability issues, today’s components embody the excellence of Swiss watches. Buyers’ Remorse has become a non-issue.
Reason #3: The best pieces become classics. Audio geeks know that McIntosh and Marantz components from the “Golden Age” of HiFi have skyrocketed in value, but those aren’t the only audio products with investment potential. Have you searched ebay for classic receivers? A Marantz 2600 from the late ‘70s (about one grand new) recently sold for over $6250 and most similar-vintage Pioneer, Sansui, Yamaha, Technics and Kenwood Receivers and Integrated Amplifiers are selling for several times their original MSRP while Open-Reel Tape Decks, Technics “Broadcast Series” Direct-Drive Turntables, original Mark Levinson electronics and NOS Telefunken, Western Electric and Mullard Tubes appreciate like fine wine.
Reason #4: Prices of new gear keep rising. In 1978, the Audio Research SP-6B—widely considered the best preamplifier available—retailed for $1,295. Forty years later, $15K is the de facto standard for a world-class preamp while flagship models from Simaudio, D’Agostino, MAC and, of course, ARC now flirt with $40-grand. Six-figure Monoblocks have become commonplace, as have speaker systems in excess of $500,000. As prices escalate, you can be confident that the gear you buy today will look like a bargain in 10 years.
Reason #5: Rich people crave it. Let’s face it, there wouldn’t be so many exquisite and expensive products hitting the market if there weren’t customers to buy them. A state-of-the-art stereo system might not have the ubiquitous snob appeal of a Ferrari or Patek-Phillippe but there are certainly a group of wealthy connoisseurs who chase the best gear and, as a result, have become not only the patrons of our industry but also the catalysts for higher-budget gear. Expect this trend to continue.
Reason #6: It delivers continual joy. Most exotic cars sit in garages and are driven infrequently, Ultra-luxe watches are worn on special occasions. Even a home theater is only utilized when the owner can devote two hours of uninterrupted viewing time. By contrast, a great HiFi is used and appreciated daily, not only as an end in itself but as a backdrop for parties and other activities, both social and solitary. How many discretionary purchases can provide infinite pleasure?
Completely aside from its appreciation potential, a fine sound system is one of the most rewarding indulgences available, and among the most decadent. Trying to decide how to spend your next bonus? I have a few suggestions….