High-end audio is expensive, but is it worth it?

Just because the best stuff is expensive doesn't mean it's not a wise investment.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

The Aurender Flow digital converter/headphone amplifier Aurender

High-end products are, by definition, expensive. There's a premium for luxury products that can't always be directly tied to the cost of producing, marketing, and selling them, but bleeding edge performance and excellence in design are requirements to achieve full-fledged high-end status. Even so few buyers push the limits of the designs, but the potential is there.

An 15,000 (about $17,050 or £11,060) Leica M Edition 60 camera will surely take sharper pictures than your smart phone, so for the wealthiest buyers who crave the ultimate performance edge the M Edition 60's hefty price is worth it. The value of things is tied to prestige, build quality, functionality, customer support, etc. Ultimately, it's up to the person signing the check to make the final call about a product's worth, that's all that matters.

Some of the best high-end brands like Audio Research, Burmester, Dynaudio, Mark Levinson, MBL, McIntosh, Rogue Audio, Vandersteen, Wilson, and Zu Audio have been in business for two or more decades. These companies are mostly small outfits serving niche markets, so production methods are inefficient and slow, but high-end brands are much more likely to have top-notch customer service. High-end audio gear is built to last, and the best companies stand behind their products, even when they're decades out of warranty.

For example, if your 1974 McIntosh C28 stereo preamplifier quits, there's a good chance McIntosh can bring it back to life for a reasonable fee. Few consumer electronics products retain value and can continue to be used everyday as long as the best high-end audio gear.

Pick up and feel the Aurender Flow portable digital converter/headphone amplifier in your hands, and even before you play it you know it's something special. I'm currently writing a review of this exquisitely finished design, it sounds wonderful, but the tactile feel of the controls is so far beyond what you get from mainstream products.

Compared with high-end cars, watches, boats, and clothes high-end audio is relatively attainable, the world's most expensive headphones top out at $5,500 (about £3,600), and superb 'phones run $1,000 (just under £660). A complete high-end home system can be purchased for well under $10,000 (£6,560) that's still expensive, but far more within reach of an average person than a $280,225 (£183,862) McLaren 650S sports car or a $14,900 (£9,776) Hermes Birkin Sellier 40 handbag.