Accessibility is an unaddressed need in high-end audio. Not only do we hide our products (and what they can do) away in off-the-beaten-track places, but we often fail to reach a new audience by making products that are priced for gazillionaires. While there is nothing wrong with making the signature pieces that sell in tiny numbers to a handful of super-rich audiophiles, we also need to reach out to real people with real-world budgetary constraints.
The difficulty is that there is 'good' and there is 'cheap', but products that combine both are relatively rare. OK, let's temper that somewhat; in fact, the quality of almost all audio products on sale today is better than ever, so in fairness 'good' is relatively easy to achieve. But high-end audio was built on a foundation of high-performance not just high price, and finding products that reach the upper reaches of sound quality while not costing a king's ransom are rare.
In this issue, we have gone for 'Excellence For All' at the outset, striving to find products that perform above and beyond the norm, irrespective of price. This means that while some of them are still not exactly 'bargain-basement' products, they still deliver a performance over and above the expectations at that price point.
The products that really excite, however, are those that manage to achieve a truly high-end audio performance at something close to real-world prices. Of course, what constitutes 'real-world' price can depend on the circumstances and interests of the buyer. One man's 'cheap' is another's 'punishingly expensive', so we come up with an (admittedly somewhat arbitrary) way of setting price in context.
Put simply, any product that costs less than about two thousand (pounds, dollars, or euros) is 'affordable', anything between around two and eight thousand is 'attainable', and anything between approximately eight and 16 thousand is 'achievable'. Any product that costs beyond that is 'aspirational', especially as some cost so much you might need breathing apparatus to cope. These figures are not entirely arbitrary, as they reflect the buying power of many music lovers today; we're seeing lots of people buying product in the 'affordable' and 'attainable' levels, some buying in the 'achievable' band, and a few buyers in the 'aspirational' zone.
In this issue, we have tried to concentrate on products in those 'affordable' and 'attainable' audio categories, although a couple do reach into the 'achievable'. Nevertheless, even the most affordable product in this issue fights well above its weight. Enjoy!