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The cost of hi-end audio: is it worth it?

Posted 20th December 2011 at 06:16 AM by rjm
Updated 20th December 2011 at 06:30 AM by rjm

Having recently actually bought some new (not used, not my own design, and relatively expensive) audio gear, and from 47 Labs no less, the following question has been occupying my thoughts of late:

How much would you pay to not have a component installed in the audio equipment you buy?

The traditional price scheme for audio equipment is [BOM-times-X], where BOM is the cost of the parts used to make it, and X is a multiple to cover fabrication and distribution costs, as well as profit for the various parties involved. My understanding is that for consumer audio "X" is about 4, though companies with strong brand recognition can get away with higher multiples. And do.

The basic problem is this: how much it costs to build and how good it sounds are not the same thing. There is some correlation: a large, high quality transformer is pretty much guaranteed to improve the sound quality, but for the rest, stuffing a pretty box with many cheap parts - or a few expensive parts for that matter - is neither here nor there in terms of what the final result will sound like.

At the end of the day I realized that I am willing to pay someone just as much to not use a part as I'm willing to pay them to use it. That is to say, I place a high value on their experience and judgement when designing the circuit and choosing what parts to use... and what parts not to use. The price I'm willing to pay is completely decoupled from the BOM, and almost entirely set by how highly I rate the designer.

Now, some of you will say, fine: let that person test 10 or 100 different configuration and choose the best part or circuit element, all we need to do is copy the final configuration and we can build the same thing - and obtain the same result - for a fraction of what they are asking. This is strictly doable, distasteful as it might seem, and indeed what we did with the 47 Labs Gaincard and the Gainclone amplifiers. It helped that the circuit was so simple, and essentially the datasheet recommended configuration, but still... reverse engineer is what we did, no way to sugar-coat it.

Even as improvements were made, though, the copy is never guaranteed to be 100% as good as the original. There is a certain peace of mind that comes with spending the money to get carefully optimized and tuned bit of audio gear from the original designer, not to mention the satisfaction of knowing that in doing so the person who made the effort is rewarded appropriately.
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Total Comments 3


  1. Old Comment
    It's a minefield, I have some very expensive speakers, three ways and electrostatics, but I prefer my Fostex 206e horns, I've got some fancy SET amps and I love them but when I built a cheap system for my nephew using a $90 T-amp with built in USB DAC, I found I could very happily listen to it, especially through the horns. In all these things, wether cars, cameras, or Hi-Fi you run into diminishing returns in a big way, you pay an extra 95% for an extra 5%, but you really notice that 5%. Go figure, and best of luck, so ong as you are aware of marketing BS logic will protect you.
    Posted 24th December 2011 at 12:45 AM by doubtingthomas doubtingthomas is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Nice write up and it was about the time someone noticed that 47 labs deserves some credit and money among all this cloning frenzy. Please continue. High End sound relates more to personal developement as a listener than to collection of expensive equipment.
    Posted 28th December 2011 at 04:13 PM by limono limono is offline
  3. Old Comment
    NO, High End Audio devices are mostly not worth their price. If you consider all material, labour and development costs and reasonable profit for technologically most advanced device you become:

    LAP-2.V3 - about 1000 USD
    MTX Monitor - about 3000 USD


    And if somebody tell you about how it sounds - can two perfect devices sounds different? Or one half is bigger than another? Perfect device has no sound! It is only faith that the more expensive the better. Unfortunately it is lie but nobody wont to tell "The king is naked".

    By the way, why the more expensive device the less parameter are published?
    Posted 25th February 2012 at 08:51 AM by jacusz jacusz is offline

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