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The Absolute Sound

From The Editor...
December 2004 / January 2005
By Robert Harley

The High-End's Driving Force

  Several letters published in this issue raise the question of value and pricing in the high-end audio industry. The letter writers seem to object to the very existence of products at the upper end of the pricing scale, and believe that the high price of same products prima facia evidence that ultra-high-end audio is a systematic ripoff of an unsuspecting public. While that may be true in a few instances, there are actually legitimate reasons why some extremely expensive products are so costly.

In a few cases, however, very expensive products are priced in the stratosphere to create the illusion of being "high-end." For purchasers of such products, high price is a virtue in itself. Another factor is that some products are made in such small quantities that the consumer ends up paying for the lack of economy-of-scale manufacturing. In both cases, there is little or no relationship between price and performance.

But the primary reason why some high-end products cost as much is that the product can not be designed, manufactured and sold for any less without compromising performance. The designer is making an all-out assault on the state-of-the-art and wouldn't consider lowering the product's performance to meet a "price point." If there art people willing to pay for such performance (and believe me, there are), who's to say char such products shouldn't exist! Can you imagine a car enthusiast objecting to Ferrari building the $659,430 Enzo or Porsche creating the $448,400 Camera GT? Should the passion that drives the development of cutting-edge designs be tempered by cost-consciousness so as not to offend the sensibilities of those who cannot afford the best?

Rather than condemn an entire industry because it offers cutting-edge components, we should exalt such products as exemplars of what is possible. Moreover, enthusiasts with means should be given the opportunity to buy the best available without regard to cost. Who is anyone to say char they should be denied this possibility? And consider this: development work on cost-no-object products finds its way into less expensive components, to the benefit of all music lovers. Those buying the stare-of-the-art in effect subsidize the R&D costs for the rest of us. A perfect example appears in this very issue; the Aesthetix Calypso ($4500) and Rhea ($4000) are direct descendents from Aesthetix' $22k Callisto and Io.

It is our job as editors and reviewers, and your job as consumers, to look beyond the price, hype, and marquee to differentiate between those products worth the high price and those that aren't. Cynical products can't survive in a world of educated consumers and a rigorous press.

High-end designers will always push the state-of-the-art. If they didn't have that passion for creating such products, they'd he designing boom boxes. This compulsion to create products that take us one step closer to the original musical expression is fundamental to the high-end ethos. Expecting the industry to place limits on itself is to misunderstand the driving force that makes possible the magic we all experience in our listening rooms.




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