Insanely expensive high-end audio might not be so crazy after all?

Is high-end audio a more sensible buy than a Rolex watch or Prada flight jacket?

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

First thing, expensive stuff is designed to be coveted by rich people, so sure, sticker shock may make us common folk snicker. Take watches for example, why do 1 percenters buy insanely expensive watches? Ask Robert Downey Jr, he can tell you all about his $33,000 Patek Philippe Nautilus watch, and the rest of his high-end watch collection, I suppose one Patek Philippe wasn't enough for Mr. Downey. Watches strike me as one of the most useless things on the planet, my iPhone 6S keeps perfect time, but the rich wear absurdly expensive watches to demonstrate their wealth.

Who knows, one of Downey's pals might have a $6,060 Prada Shearling trimmed leather flight jacket hanging in the closet, or a $2,750 pair of Yeezy 750 Boost shoes he's worn three times. If a Wall Street banker closed a deal with a major client, they might celebrate the occasion by buying a $7,450 Leica SL camera, or popping the cork on a $9,799 bottle of Armand de Brignac Brut Rose Champagne. So yes, rich people buy all kinds of expensive stuff.

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The Wilson Audio Sabrina speakers.

Wilson Audio

So it should come as no surprise that rich audiophiles buy mucho expensive speakers and electronics. I know that from firsthand experience from when I sold high-end audio, before I started writing about it. Just recently I was bowled over by the sound of Avalon Acoustics Idea, Ubiq Audio Model One and Wilson Sabrina speakers. Those three speakers will likely be used in systems with price tags in the $20,000 to $40,000 range. That's a lot of dough, but I assure you owners of these systems live really well, and as I recall from visiting my high-end customers' homes, the rug on the floor or a single piece of art hanging on the wall might be more expensive than the entire audio system! Rich folk like to buy the good stuff, but I made a living from it. And so did the people who designed and made it.

But here's the part you might not expect, a lot of my high-end customers weren't rich: they were college professors, owners of small businesses, plumbers, chefs, photographers, working (not famous) artists and musicians. Of course these people weren't buying the most expensive systems, but one of my musician friends bought a Rega Planar 3 turntable in the mid 1980s he still uses today. Another friend bought a Cary Audio tube amplifier in the late '90s, that he still plays every day. These were major purchases for those people, but considering how many years of pleasure these products brought their owners, it was money well spent.

As for Prada flight jackets and Yeezy 750 Boost shoes, I'm less sure about their usefulness in the coming decades.

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