Walking through the displays at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2012, I'm struck by the number of manufacturers that are squeezing what seems to be an amazing amount of performance out of products that are priced in reach of the common consumer. Talking to designers, company presidents, sales managers, and others, I heard story after story describing product-development projects that were conceived to offer more value, more performance, and more connectivity for audiophiles looking to maximize their dollars.
One perfect example is the new Aperion Audio Aris single-enclosure loudspeaker system, priced at $499. More high-end speaker than anything related to a "dock" type product, this unit is made of extruded-and-brushed aluminum and has six drivers powered by 100W of power. It sounded huge -- like real-speaker huge -- all for under five bills!
On the other hand, at least as of right now, I haven't seen many of the high-priced over-hyped product launches that are so common at audio shows these days. Though I did already see a $55,000 Tenor stereo amplifier that looked really nice. But has it ever occurred to you to ask the question on everyone's mind? Why in the world would one product, a nice stereo amp built with what I'm sure are premium parts, cost approximately 100 times more than the Aperion Aris? After all, the Aperion product surely costs a bundle in R&D -- it's the first Windows 8-compatible speaker system in the world -- not to mention the amount of time and effort put into industrial design. So, why 55 grand for the 175S? After all, forgetting about the Aris for a second -- most cars don't cost that much! Think about it.
So what does all of this mean? One segment of the high end is focused on high value and high performance, showcasing products that are accessible to most normal folks. The other segment is content to offer what might be great products at truly ridiculous prices -- ridiculous at least insofar as what I could see from afar. Frankly, it's like two different shows.
There is no doubt that some of the over-the-top, ultra-expensive gear is wonderful -- I specialize in writing about those pieces in my "TWBAS" column on Ultra Audio (which is also known as SoundStage! Xtreme) -- but more and more I'm thinking that the makers of these products need to justify to us exactly why things like the 175S cost what they do. I'm just not cool with accepting some of these things at face value any more.
Editor-in-Chief, The SoundStage! Network