We started out on the theme of this issue with a simple goal – the best of the best. And naturally, when dealing with an industry that has seemingly no upper limit to its price structure, that can automatically translate to astronomical prices. While there are some products in this line-up that certainly fit that bill, in the process of compiling this flight into audio's stratosphere, we ended up with performance over price.
Maybe it's a sign of some much-needed sanity hitting the upper tiers of the super high-end, but whenever we looked at something supremely expensive, something simply 'expensive' invariably sounded better. In some cases, the super-high-end was in performance only. While 'The Man on the Clapham Omnibus' might think anyone suggesting a £12,500 loudspeaker marks a return to sane prices is not themselves sane, stepping back from £125,000 loudspeakers and beyond makes such a price tag seem positively cheap!
I'm not saying this necessarily marks a sea-change for the audio industry or even for Hi-Fi+. Even the most cursory glance around May's Munich High-End would show the cost-no-object model still has a lot of traction in high-end audio, but I think we are beginning to see products made that don't just appeal to plutocrats and oligarchs.
I suspect this is the start of a trend, based around the so-called 'squeezed middle' beginning to return to an even keel after too many years of financial turmoil. Real people are starting to regain confidence in their spending power once more, even if their life savings and investments have been put on a low gas.
This is great for the audio business, because while there are many who only cater to the elite, that elite reflects the demands of the wider market, just written bigger, and in solid gold lettering. And without the wider market, the elite slowly goes away, too.
So, welcome to Hi-Fi+'s super high-end issue, which features super high-end equipment but not at super high-end prices. And long may it remain that way!
Our congratulations go out to Dr Dirk Oberbeck in Germany, who wins a set of DALVIVO loudspeaker cables and INCANTO interconnect cables, all worth £2,130 and Catriona Macdonald in the UK, who wins an Ensemble DALVIVO power cord and INCANTO interconnect cables worth £1,370 in our Ensemble AG competition. Also, our congratulations go out to Sandy Ralph, Wayne Griffiths, Emma Davock, David Adkin, and Stan Avery, all of whom win a fabulous set of Chord & Major earphones. Well done!