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Why Is Hi – Fi So Expensive?

By March 23, 2012June 24th, 2012No Comments

I have been looking through the January, 2012 edition of Absolute Sound Magazine. This edition has listed what Absolute Sound considers to be the best gear that they found and I am assuming from the associated text that they reviewed the piece of gear and were able to create an informed opinion about. What a great job to have.


I was impressed with the Constellation Hercules power amplifier, mono blocks at $140,000 per pair. Weighing in at 270 pounds each and producing 1,000 watts, these amplifiers are powerful and expensive. We also have a solid state preamplifier that is named the Constellation Altair. It tips the scales at $60,000.


The Focal Stella Utopia EM comes in at $90,000 for a 4 way loudspeaker. We have a Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement phono cartridge that retails for $15,000 and a AAS Gabriel/Da Vinci MKII turntable at $76,000 to install it in. Lets see, we are at around $320,000 and we still need a phono preamplifier to round out our analog playback system to say nothing about a digital transport with converter.

What Is Our Goal?

What is our goal in spending this amount of capital on a hi-fi system? Is it to have the best technology from inventors and designers that has been created to date by those said designers and engineers. If it is so, then mission accomplished. Hi-Fi gear at this price point does represent what the designer had in mind as his best efforts applying his current knowledge to his associated technologies. Most manufacturers I know put their best efforts into their highest priced products. Not all the time and not with all the manufacturers, but as a general rule this is the case at least among the ones I know.

Is it a Music Goal?

I am hopeful that there is also a sonic goal of better sound and better music to connect emotionally to. When I hear these components at trade shows, I realize that that sound is what the designer wanted and spent the time and materials to get that sound. He arrived at this price point by achieving that sound. I hope this is true and manufacturers are not plugging in marketing hyperbole and sensationalism into that number. I hope it is their best efforts technically to date and this best effort has a cost that when plugged into their dealer or whatever marketing program, produces this retail price. Unfortunately, one will never hear what the designer intended you to hear without treating your room to acoustically deliver the equipment’s best. There is no way.

Final Frontier – The Room

The room is usually the final frontier considered when placing any type of equipment regardless of price. It should be the first frontier. One can take a $320,000 system and place it in an untreated and unprepared room and that $320,000 system will sound like a $3,000 system. Low frequency layering and definition, the speaker and amplifier designers took great pains to build into their products, will not be heard. The room will blur and smear these low frequency waves of energy and the room will be creating pressure zones that will cause elimination of some and over exaggeration of other frequencies. Middle and high frequency reflections from room boundary surfaces will impose themselves upon the listening position and mix with the wanted direct sound from our loudspeakers and confuse our brain with these signals battling for their respective time positions at our listening position.

Emotional Connection

It is not the price of the gear that produces the sound energy into our rooms that is important. It is the emotional connection to the music that we receive from the equipment. This should be our only goal. More pricy equipment usually does (not always) produce better sound quality which furthers the emotional connectivity to music. It is this emotional connection we crave and must have, especially today.

To make sure we receive that connection, we must take great care and concern by placing our playback system in a room that has had the acoustical issues dealt with that rob our gear from producing its best sound. This trilogy of the amplifier, speakers, and room must not be broken apart. In the old days it was all about the boxes; the amplifier and speaker. Now, there is a new box that must be considered. It is the room. The room must meet the amplifiers and speakers more than half way.


I am a structural engineer as well as a master furniture maker. I design cabinets for low frequency, activated carbon absorbers. Connect with me on Google+

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