There are numerous web sites, web blogs, and web boards devoted to disparaging audiophiles and their devotion to high performance, and high priced, music reproduction equipment. What motivates this disparagement? Is it jealousy or ignorance or a combination of both? It is often the case that individuals railing against something (or someone) that is no threat to them actually admire or desire whatever or whoever they are railing against.
It is not clear to me why high end audio (and video) excites such negative passion. High end audio is no different from the high end of anything else. I do not see such disparagement lobbed against high end jewelry, shoes, clothes, automobiles, homes, art or women's handbags.
Ferrari offers sports cars ranging in price from $200,000 to over $1,000,000. Chanel shamelessly offers its Diamond Forever Classic handbag at a price of $261,000. Hermes offers a more "economical" Matte Crocodile Birkin bag for $120,000. Manolo Blahnik's women's Alligator Boots will set you back a mere $14,000. Men can loaf around in Ralph Lauren's Bleecker Crocodile Loafers for a measly $3,800.
I don't know of any web sites, blogs, or boards where the purchasers of the aforementioned items have their intelligence routinely questioned and where the manufacturers of such high priced goods are characterized as con artists, hucksters, thieves, and snake oil salesmen. A frequent justification for the lack of criticism of other high end goods goes something like:
"Well, other luxury goods are expensive, but at least they do something useful. Furthermore, their manufacturers are able to scientifically prove that their higher priced merchandise is superior in quality and performance to lower priced alternatives. The manufacturers of high end cables, interconnects, amplifiers, and source components have never been able to scientifically prove that their merchandise is superior in performance to lower priced alternatives. I will concede that some high end gear offers better construction quality than lower priced gear, but there is no scientifically validated correlation between higher quality audio gear construction and higher performance."
The overwhelming majority of the people who espouse the preceding axiom are men. A good percentage of those men are married. Generally, in the United States of America, a marriage proposal is accompanied by the presentation of a diamond engagement ring. There is an expectation by the woman receiving the proposal (and by her friends and family) that the diamond will be of a size and quality commensurate with the financial status of the man. It is generally understood that "nice" diamond engagement rings go for well over $1,000 up to whatever you want to spend in the millions of dollars. Let's revisit that axiom again:
"Well, luxury goods are expensive, but at least they do something useful."
What exactly, is the useful thing that diamonds do? Aren't they just highly polished rocks mined out of the ground?
Why will a man insult the intelligence of someone who spends $1,000 on cables and then turn around and spend $5,000 for one or more polished rocks?
Why will a man insult the integrity of a company that makes $5,000 amplifiers, yet that same man will willingly accept the marketing slop from the diamond peddlers that a man should spend a minimum of three month's (it used to be two month's) salary on a diamond engagement ring? For a man making $50,000 a year, the three month's salary "rule" comes out to $12,500...for a rock. It will certainly be a pretty, sparkly, highly polished rock, but it will be a rock nevertheless. It has no more real value than the random gravel along side any random highway.
Why is the man who spends $50,000 on diamond jewelry a hero to be envied, but the man who spends $50,000 on an audio system a fool to be reviled?
Why Won't High End Manufacturers Offer Proof That Their Merchandise Is Better?
Why do high end audio manufacturers need to prove anything? No one asks DeBeers to "prove" that their diamonds are better than other far less expensive gem stones or even cut and polished glass. With audio gear, the only important test is whether you like the way it sounds.
Furthermore, it is the height of ignorance, stupidity and hypocrisy to require such proof. I say such a request is ignorant and stupid because the perceived quality of music reproduction is subjective and cannot be proved. I say such a request is hypocritical because the requesters of such proof only require it of high end audio and video manufacturers, while the "quality" and asking prices of DeBeers' highly polished rocks are accepted without question.
It can be proved quantitatively and unequivocally that a Mercedes Benz 550 CLS is a higher performing automobile than a Ford Taurus. However, to a little old lady who only uses a car to go to church and run errands, the Benz is subjectively no better than the Ford. Therefore, what value would it add for Audioquest to quantitatively prove that their speaker cables are better than ordinary hardware store zip cord? Some people would still not be able to hear a difference or improvement because of their ears, associated equipment, or lack of interest.
Can the makers of premium ice cream brands "prove" that their ice cream is better in quality and taste than generic store brands? Breyer's might use the freshest and purest ingredients in their ice cream and it might be quantitatively better than Albertson's store brand, yet some will prefer the taste of Albertson's ice cream. Therefore, even though Pass Labs uses the finest components and construction techniques in their power amplifiers, some people would still not be able to hear a difference or improvement between a Pass Labs amp and a Sony receiver because of their ears, associated equipment, or lack of interest.
I don't require that Breyer's prove their ice cream is better. If I am interested in ice cream, I should sample as many brands and flavors as reasonably possible until I find what I like best. Why shouldn't I optimize my ice cream enjoyment? If it turns out that I like a less expensive store brand better, I am not going to throw rocks, either figuratively or literally, at the folks who prefer the higher priced gourmet ice cream. To each his own.
Why So Serious?
I don't understand the seething anger and hostility toward expensive audiophile goods. I don't see this kind of hostility directed toward cocaine dealers. Some examples:
"Man, I hate, hate, hate expensive cables and the companies who make them!"
Why hate a harmless thing just because it exists? Once an expensive cable is manufactured, it doesn't do anything to anyone. It sits in a box until it is taken out for use by the purchaser or shoplifter. Many high end manufacturers have very liberal return policies. If their merchandise does not work for you just send or take it back for a refund.
"The quality of "reasonably" priced consumer electronics has advanced to the point that there is nothing to be gained by investing in high priced gear. "
Would you tell Mercedes Benz to discontinue their automotive performance research program? Really, do we need ever increasingly powerful engines? Most of us are not involved in auto racing.
"High end companies are horrible beasts because they prey on the consumer's gullibility by exploiting the placebo effect. They know a person is more likely to accept something if it is pretty and expensive."
Even if it were true that the only value provided by high end audio and video gear was a perceived performance improvement due to the placebo effect, the joy that the consumer receives from their new toy is very real...so leave them alone. If a man pays $10,000 for a diamond necklace for his wife or girlfriend, he is actually giving her a bunch of rocks with no real value (i.e. they are actually worthless). A $1 light bulb or $2 screwdriver has more actual value and utility. However, the pleasure the giver receives from providing the gift and the pleasure the receiver receives from accepting and wearing the gift might be worth more than $10,000...to them. You can't put a price on happiness...so leave them alone. As for me, I would rather give a $10,000 investment portfolio or give $10,000 toward a down payment on a home.
For most people, the ability to play loud and clear is the only objective criteria for audio and video gear. Such things as sound stage dimensions, image layering, image weight, image stability, tonal balance, and low level detail are not important. For the vast majority of consumer electronics consumers, there really is no advantage to be gained by investing in high end audio gear, just as there is no real advantage for the average automobile consumer to invest in a $100,000 Mercedes Benz.
What purpose does it serve to disparage the high end audiophile and the merchants who serve them? Do you have what you want in the way of audio gear? Are you happy with what you have? If so, then why not go and enjoy that rather that rail against the fellow with the $100,000 turntable? How someone choses to go about their musical journey should not be a source of contention. It's just a hobby.
It is true that some high end manufacturers and retail dealers offer merchandise that could be considered a "rip off". However, I challenge you to name one field of commerce that does not have some rip off artists. One is expected to use reasonable judgment and common sense in the high end audio and every other market place. ;)