The very best high-end systems don't have a sound per se, they sound like the music they're playing. That's the goal at least, and the $350,000 system I heard at Bill Parish's GTT Audio & Video shop in Long Valley, New Jersey, was one of the best ultra high-end systems I've heard. And I've heard a lot.
The wild looking MBL 101E Radialstrahler Reference speakers ($49,900/pair) employ utterly unique woofer, midrange, and tweeter technology to radiate sound with perfect, 360 degree dispersion. Sounds technical, but trust me you don't have to be a golden-eared audiophile to hear what that does for the sound of music. The first thing you notice is the sound doesn't sound like it is coming out of boxes, it's so much more like the sound of real instruments, and the MBLs can replicate life-like size and scale of the music. Grand pianos are nine feet long; saxophones emerge with all their brassy, breathy luster intact; and rock rocks harder. Which reminds me, the MBL speakers track the music's soft-to-loud, and loud-to-soft dynamics with remarkable ease. Then again, with 5,000 watt 9011 MBL amplifiers ($75,000 per pair) driving the speakers, you'd expect that. The MBL system isn't just about power, it sounds amazing cruising at late night volume. It's the closest thing to being there you've ever heard.
When Parish spun LPs on the V.Y.G.E.R. Indian Signature turntable the sound was even better, the flesh and blood presence of the music, compared to the CDs, bumps up another few notches. The one area that irked me was the deep bass; there was plenty of it, but it wasn't as precise (on CDs and LPs) as I would have liked.
GTT is located in Parish's home, so it's easy to imagine how all of his great gear would sound in your place. Most of his customers are music lovers, but he handles high-end home theater installations as well. GTT operates by appointment only; prices start at $10,000 for individual components and $50,000 for complete systems (there's also a number of more affordably priced trade-ins, check the website for details).
Sure, the prices are in the stratosphere, but as I recall from my days as a high-end audio salesman, a lot of my customers owned all sorts of expensive stuff. In many homes the paintings on the wall or even the rug on the floor cost a lot more than their stereo system. A couple of my customers wore watches pricier than Bill Parish's uber system, and all a watch does is tell time. A great hi-fi is a time machine that can bring the Beatles back to life. How much is that worth?