Who needs a high-end audio system?

No one "needs" a Corvette, a $4,000 vacation, or a high-end audio system. But if you can afford these things, why not enjoy them?

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
3 min read
Oracle Audio Delphi MK VI turntable
Oracle Audio Delphi MK VI turntable Oracle Audio

Before we get to the high-end audio question, I wonder who needs a Porsche 911 Turbo to drive to work? Wouldn't a Prius make so much more sense? Why would you buy a $10,000 Rolex watch when a $20 Casio keeps better time? Who needs an Yves Saint Laurent sweater; I'm sure one from Wal-Mart will keep you just as warm.

No one "needs" luxury products, but that doesn't stop a lot of us from coveting them--or at least reading about them. Have you ever noticed that almost every car magazine in the world puts exotic cars on their covers that 99.99 percent of the readers of the magazine never buy? People like to read about state-of-the-art stuff, and that's why I write about it. The goal of this blog is to cover the full spectrum of quality audio, from $25 speakers to $6,000,000 home theaters.

I'm not claiming the major electronics manufacturers' products don't offer tremendous value and decent sound quality. The major brands have made substantial strides so they're rarely bad, but they're never great. High-end audio manufacturers can't compete on a value basis, so they serve a market where giants fear to tread: the high-end, performance-oriented segment--the "Ferraris" and "Mini Coopers" of high-end audio, if you will.

Someone with a life-long passion for hi-fi started just about every high-end audio company I've written about. They thought they could make a great speaker, amplifier, turntable, or whatever. To succeed, or at least stick around for more than a year or two, they also had to know how to run a business. Most high-end audio companies have 25 or fewer employees; corporate they're not. The prices aren't cheap; the little guys never have the economies of scale on their side.

Again, it's not so different from the exotic car business; Ferrari currently sells a mere 6,000 cars a year worldwide, they're essentially hand-built creations. Since its founding in 1947 until 2008, Ferrari has sold only 130,000 cars; Toyota built 280,000 Prius' in 2007 alone.

I'm sure the majority of those Ferraris are still running and cherished by their owners; and the same case can be made for high-end audio gear. It's built to last decades. Take Linn Products, they still sell their very first product, the LP-12 turntable, and the company still services 'tables they made in the early 1970s. I can make the same case for dozens of high-end audio companies. Does Apple service every computer it ever made? Can Sony fix your ancient Trinitron TV? I doubt it; it wouldn't serve their bottom line.

I don't need to write about Apple's latest i-gizmo, it's covered. The Audiophiliac is the only place on CNET that reports in-depth on better sounding than iPod alternatives, like the Hifiman HM 801.

Sure, there's a lot of less-than-stellar gear in the high-end audio market; it's my job to present worthy alternatives to good-enough, corporate products. If you love music and want to hear it at its best, it might be time to step up to the high-end and see what the fuss is about.