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  1. #1
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    Expensive or Insane? Where to draw the line.

    Here's a good question: just where does one draw the line on price on audio gear? At which point does the price tag on a piece of equipment soar so high into the stratosophere that few tangible benefits exist to justify its price tag?

    It's certainly been a very, very long time since I set foot into an audio retailer - there aren't that many anywhere near me to even try! - but, when I look at the prices on certain pieces of gear, I simply raise my eyebrows and wonder, "Who in his right mind would ever spend that much?"

    $30,000 for a set of two 12' speaker cables? $3,800 for a 1/2 meter coax interconnect? $15,000 for a phono cartridge? While these prices go far beyond what most people would spend, there is one area that manages to sit all by itself in terms mind-numbing prices, and that's in audiophile turntables, especially those under the ClearAudio brand. $150,000 for a turntable? And without a cartridge? Are you f.....ing kidding me?

    Years ago, when I heard the B&W Nautilus speaker, driven by Mark Levinson tri-amp electronics, I thought I'd heard the best sounding system ever. When I heard that the speakers were $38,000, and the amplification was just under $100,000, my enthusiasm waned considerably. Just how many people can actually afford to pay so much money for equipment?

    That was well over 10 years ago, and I'm sure the pricetag on those items has increased significantly. Still, the ClearAudio $150,000 turntable (sans cartridge) stands at the very top of the heap in terms of products priced well into the realm of sheer insanity. It may be the "best" turntable ever made, but I'd like to know who would actually pay $150,000 for something that takes up almost an entire room just to play records? I'd be curious to know...

  2. #2
    Do What? jrhymeammo's Avatar
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    I'm suprised to read this from a person who used to be a VP of Marking department.

    Those flagship products are used to display their technology to the consumers who will ultimately purchase their entry-level products, such as the Emotion, Solution, and Champion. But instead, we ought to be grateful that they offer $150K turntable cuz 99% of learned techs and gizmo are trickled down to their $3000 TT. If anything, the Statement is just a prototype they chose to sell.

  3. #3
    Ajani
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    Quote Originally Posted by emaidel
    Here's a good question: just where does one draw the line on price on audio gear? At which point does the price tag on a piece of equipment soar so high into the stratosophere that few tangible benefits exist to justify its price tag?

    It's certainly been a very, very long time since I set foot into an audio retailer - there aren't that many anywhere near me to even try! - but, when I look at the prices on certain pieces of gear, I simply raise my eyebrows and wonder, "Who in his right mind would ever spend that much?"

    $30,000 for a set of two 12' speaker cables? $3,800 for a 1/2 meter coax interconnect? $15,000 for a phono cartridge? While these prices go far beyond what most people would spend, there is one area that manages to sit all by itself in terms mind-numbing prices, and that's in audiophile turntables, especially those under the ClearAudio brand. $150,000 for a turntable? And without a cartridge? Are you f.....ing kidding me?

    Years ago, when I heard the B&W Nautilus speaker, driven by Mark Levinson tri-amp electronics, I thought I'd heard the best sounding system ever. When I heard that the speakers were $38,000, and the amplification was just under $100,000, my enthusiasm waned considerably. Just how many people can actually afford to pay so much money for equipment?

    That was well over 10 years ago, and I'm sure the pricetag on those items has increased significantly. Still, the ClearAudio $150,000 turntable (sans cartridge) stands at the very top of the heap in terms of products priced well into the realm of sheer insanity. It may be the "best" turntable ever made, but I'd like to know who would actually pay $150,000 for something that takes up almost an entire room just to play records? I'd be curious to know...
    Millionaires...

    I long ago stopped being concerned about the point of diminishing returns on audio gear... as I finally realized that value for money is too subjective to debate.... For me, a good $1K - $2K speaker might be that point at which better is not worth the extra money, while for someone else that price might be $10K -$12K... and for a non-audiophile that price point might be $100 - $200....

  4. #4
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    diminishing returns..

    If I could point to once experience that served as a wake-up call, it would have been about twelve years ago in a local high-end audio dealer. He had several dedicated listening rooms with an ever changing rotation of gear. I listened to a California Audio Labs cd player and dac combo (about 14K for the pair at the time), Hales speakers, and external amplification. I don't remember what the amplification was but they were huge monoblocs, probably by Krell. The experience was completely underwhelming. The sound was lean, not particularly dynamic or realisitic. There could be many reasons for this and I'm oversimplifying but my point is the quallity of even low cost audio gear has become so good over the years that there is no longer any reason to have to spend tens of thousands on gear. Mid-range gear from the big-box stores can get you to the point of diminishing returns very quickly. As for cables, don't get me started. Digital cables (coax, toslink, dvi, hdmi...), they either work or they don't. That's the beauty of digital. If cables are made to a spec and you use them per manufacturer recommendations, you're golden. Some of the off brands can be a little sketchy from a materials and assembly standpoint but it's absolutely unecessary to spend anything more than bargain basement cash on cables. Always buy your cables online. The mark-up in most brick and mortar stores is insane. Speaker cables are another rip-off. If you use the proper guage for the length of your run, you're good. When putting together a system, the most important factors in sound quality are room acoustics, the quality of the recording or audio source, speakers and your frame of mind. Beyond a certain basic level, everything else is of low importance.

  5. #5
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    A guy is showing his friend his new invention...the friend agrees that it is truly amazing. The friend then asks what the price will be for this marvel. The inventor says: "A million dollars". The friend says: "A million dollars? You're not going to sell many at that price!" The inventor says: "That's OK...I only have to sell one!"

    Maybe ClearAudio and others have adopted the same business model.

  6. #6
    Ajani
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    Quote Originally Posted by RoyY51
    A guy is showing his friend his new invention...the friend agrees that it is truly amazing. the friend then asks what the price will be for this marvel. The inventor says: "A million dollars". The friend says: "A million dollars? You're not going to sell many at that price!" The inventor says: "That's OK...I only have to sell one!"

    Maybe ClearAudio and others have adopted the same business model.
    Yep... that's exactly the case... essentially what JRH said....

    Manufacturers often produce statement pieces which are really designed to push the limits of their design experience.... these pieces may or may not be available to the general public (if they are made available - it is often in very limited quantities that are done special order, rather than sold in a store).... The technology developed in these pieces is slowly trickled down to their more affordable products....

    So you need to consider these statement pieces for what they are: R&D for the manufacturer, rather than actual consumer products....

  7. #7
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by emaidel
    Here's a good question: just where does one draw the line on price on audio gear?
    Why must a line be drawn? Statement products are imaginative answers to the question "What if?" While production quantities of any such item are necessarily limited, they usually have no difficulty finding buyers despite the price of admission. All 349 Ferrari Enzos were sold before production even began. While the *list* price of them was only about $650k, they actually sold for around $1M. Such products are fundamentally about exhilaration. I confess that I enjoy twisting the throttle on my Honda ST1300 (with similar 0-60 times) to redline every now and again for that acceleration rush.

    Quote Originally Posted by emaidel
    It may be the "best" turntable ever made, but I'd like to know who would actually pay $150,000 for something that takes up almost an entire room just to play records? I'd be curious to know...
    While they do weigh nearly eight hundred pounds, they really don't require much more floor space than other turntable. And they are simply gorgeous up close and personal. Nudging the massive suspension to see it freely gimbal is quite satisfying. Beyond the superb functional qualities (in the $500k review system they were used), they are works of mechanical art.

    Are the audible differences worth the investment? Who knows? Such is a question I will never need to answer directly. As for me, I just enjoy the privilege of hearing spectacular components like that.

    rw

  8. #8
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Value is relative

    Quote Originally Posted by emaidel
    Here's a good question: just where does one draw the line on price on audio gear? At which point does the price tag on a piece of equipment soar so high into the stratosophere that few tangible benefits exist to justify its price tag?
    ...
    I've always had a modest income and I'll soon be retiring to an even modester income. For me a $2500 component will be about as unattainable as a $25,000, and about as insane given my meager budget.

    Nevertheless I might concede that a pair of Magneplanar 3.6R speakers and a Pass Labs INT-150 integrated amp are pretty good value, just too expensive for me to actually afford. But finding value in $150k speakers and $200k amplification is difficult to conceive. (Beside those speakers wouldn't fit in my listening room. ) On the other hand if I were a bank CEO wondering what to do with his bailout-funded bonus, that level of expenditure might seem indepensible for good listening.

  9. #9
    Sure, sure... Auricauricle's Avatar
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    Roy, your story reminds me....A guy buys a yacht, and when he takes it out on sea-trials, he finds the engine a catastrophe. He calls around and finally gets a fellow who agrees to come over and give the thing a look. After about five minutes, the guy pulls a hammer out of his pocket and gives the engine block a solid whack. The engine runs even better than before. The amazed boat owner says, "How much?" to which the mechanic replaies, "$20,000.00". When the boat owner quits sputtering, he asks the mechanis to explain his rationale.

    Answer: Cost of repair: $10.00. Of knowing why, where and how to proceed: $10,990.00.

  10. #10
    Man of the People Forums Moderator bobsticks's Avatar
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    Something to consider as well, is that most of big rigs you see are the product of many years of trading up. Does anyone actually spend 150k on a turntable without some trade-in or wheelin' 'n' dealin'?

    But I do agree at some point the hobby crosses over over into obsession which is okay too if you're Feanor's banking buddy, lol. Check out this guy on the 'Gon. I think I remember seeing that the table for the rockport was some neutron microscope stand that costs like 150k. Crazy but, hey, you can't take it with you.

    http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr...slt&1036349020
    So, I broke into the palace
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    I said : "That's nothing - you should hear me play piano"

  11. #11
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bobsticks
    Check out this guy on the 'Gon. I think I remember seeing that the table for the rockport was some neutron microscope stand that costs like 150k. Crazy but, hey, you can't take it with you.
    Mike Lavigne is pretty well known over at AA. Actually his Rockport Sirius uses its own air suspension stand that went for merely $74k while still in production. The most impressive of all his components is the completely custom sound room built in a former barn designed by Rives Audio.

    As for aftermarket stands to which you refer, a reviewer friend had two active Halcyonics microscopy isolation platforms for a while. He used the larger one for an EAR turntable and the smaller one with an EMM Labs CD-SA player. You'd hear an explosive bass note and watch the Halcyonics display indicate the active mechanism had clamped the vibration.

    rw
    Last edited by E-Stat; 02-15-2009 at 02:47 PM.

  12. #12
    Man of the People Forums Moderator bobsticks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by E-Stat

    As for aftermarket stands to which you refer, a reviewer friend had two Halcyon microscopy isolation platforms for a while. He used the larger one for an EAR turntable and the smaller one with an EMM Labs CD-SA player. You'd hear an explosive bass note and watch the Halcyon's display indicate the active mechanism had clamped the vibration.

    rw
    I think even the most jaded among us would have to admit...crazy or not, that's pretty cool.
    So, I broke into the palace
    With a sponge and a rusty spanner
    She said : "Eh, I know you, and you cannot sing"
    I said : "That's nothing - you should hear me play piano"

  13. #13
    _ Luvin Da Blues's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Auricauricle
    "How much?" to which the mechanic replaies, "$20,000.00". When the boat owner quits sputtering, he asks the mechanis to explain his rationale.

    Answer: Cost of repair: $10.00. Of knowing why, where and how to proceed: $10,990.00.

    $10.00 + $10,990.00 = $11,000.00. What's the other $9,000.00 for???
    Back in my day, we had nine planets.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by jrhymeammo
    I'm suprised to read this from a person who used to be a VP of Marking department.

    .

    At all the various companies I worked for, unless we had outrageous sums of money we chose to waste on the engineering, design, development and manufacturing of a "statement" product, we'd use those funds instead for products people would actually buy and use.

    When I first joined BSR (who owned ADC and dbx at the time), I was horrified to realize the amount of design and engineering $$$ that were spent/wasted on the development of the dbx Soundfield one loudspeaker. Regardless of how successful that speaker was (and it wasn't), none of the sales of it, or any of the other speakers in the dbx lineup ever justified the initial expense. While the concept of "soundfield imaging" was novel (a perfect stereo image anyplace in the room, including next to and behind either of the two speakers), the world simply wasn't clamoring for such a design concept and reacted to it with a huge yawn. dbx never recovered that money.

    I would have to feel much the same towards a $150,000 turntable, unless the manufacturing cost of that turntable were a mere fraction of its purported selling price.

    Arguably, the Mercedes S-500 is one of the finest automobiles made in the world. It offers one of the quietest, and most serene rides of any car manufactured anywhere, along with a combination of driver/automobile involvement that has few peers. The fit and finish of the car is flawless, and it's a stunning looking car as well. Last time I looked, a reasonably equipped S-500 sold for just over $72,000. Fully loaded models were in the high $80,000's. One could purchase two of these 'statement" vehicles for the price of the ClearAudio turntable. That's something I just can't accept, though I can understand why others can.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luvin Da Blues
    $10.00 + $10,990.00 = $11,000.00. What's the other $9,000.00 for???
    It's going to Washington to help bail out the auto makers. There's a recession, you know.

  16. #16
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    I once read a book called, "The Fourth Procedure." It was a story about a supreme court judge who had the swing vote in a decision on an abortion case, and if he were to vote in the conservative direction as he customarily did, Roe v. Wade would have been nullified, and abortion would once again be illegal in any and all circumstances. A parallel story line involved a crazed woman doctor who used homeless men as guinea pigs in her experiments in which she implanted human embryos in these men to prove that a man, as well as a woman, could carry a child to term, but, of course, not be able to deliver the baby without surgery. Not surprisingly, all of her "patients" died.

    She was also this judge's doctor, and after performing surgery on him for an unlrelated issue, he was complaining about severe abdominal pain. She informed him that she had implanted an embryo inside him, and that he was pregnant. Horrified, the judge demanded that the embryo be removed, but the doctor responded with, "But judge, that's abortion, isn't it?"

    Ultimately, the embryo was removed, the mad doctor arrested for murder, and the judge issued his ruling - contrary to what he initially thought. His final words were something to this effect: "While I remain intrinisically, and morally opposed to abortion, I've come to realize that there are others with differing opinions."

    That's how I feel about this $150,000 turntable. While nothing has changed my mind that it's just plain nucking futs, I realize that others disagree, and I fully accept that they are as entitled to their opinions as I am to mine.

  17. #17
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bobsticks
    ...
    But I do agree at some point the hobby crosses over over into obsession which is okay too if you're Feanor's banking buddy, lol. Check out this guy on the 'Gon. I think I remember seeing that the table for the rockport was some neutron microscope stand that costs like 150k. Crazy but, hey, you can't take it with you.

    http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr...slt&1036349020
    See more of Mike's setup over at Audio Asylum.

    The Transparent Opus speaker cables you see are well north of $30k the pair.
    Last edited by Feanor; 02-15-2009 at 05:31 PM.

  18. #18
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Ah inflation

    Quote Originally Posted by emaidel
    Last time I looked, a reasonably equipped S-500 sold for just over $72,000. Fully loaded models were in the high $80,000's.
    The *entry* level one is now $89k and the high end S65 is $198k. Now, if you want the top-of-the-line Mercedes product, that would be the Maybach S62 S which goes for a cool $432k.

    rw

  19. #19
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    S500?

    Quote Originally Posted by emaidel

    Arguably, the Mercedes S-500 is one of the finest automobiles made in the world. It offers one of the quietest, and most serene rides of any car manufactured anywhere, along with a combination of driver/automobile involvement that has few peers. The fit and finish of the car is flawless, and it's a stunning looking car as well. Last time I looked, a reasonably equipped S-500 sold for just over $72,000. Fully loaded models were in the high $80,000's. One could purchase two of these 'statement" vehicles for the price of the ClearAudio turntable. That's something I just can't accept, though I can understand why others can.
    Pardon me asking, but what is so exceptional about an S500? If anything, the S65 AMG is better and although neither of them aren't fine, I wouldn't classify them as part of the finest.

  20. #20
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    Insane is where you spend more than you can afford on something. Expensive is where you can afford it, but you think twice before spending.
    All we are saying, is give peas a chance.

  21. #21
    Forum Regular elapsed's Avatar
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    $150K for the ClearAudio? That's a bargain. Try the $300,000 Goldmund Reference II.

    But in all honesty, I'm pretty jaded now when it comes to hifi... I've heard $10,000 systems outperform $100,000 systems in the same store. When you start spending this type of money, I really begin to wonder if the owner even listens to music, or if they spend all of their time analyzing test patterns and tweaking their system. Just imagine the music collection you could build instead for a fraction of this cost.

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  22. #22
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    Indeed

    Quote Originally Posted by elapsed
    $150K for the ClearAudio? That's a bargain. Try the $300,000 Goldmund Reference II.

    But in all honesty, I'm pretty jaded now when it comes to hifi... I've heard $10,000 systems outperform $100,000 systems in the same store. When you start spending this type of money, I really begin to wonder if the owner even listens to music, or if they spend all of their time analyzing test patterns and tweaking their system. Just imagine the music collection you could build instead for a fraction of this cost.

    cheers,
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    I can only say I mirror everything in this post.

  23. #23
    Audio/HT Nut version 1.3a
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    Great thread Emaidel.

    For me, being quite income challenged, the line between expensive and insanely expensive is quite low. The point of diminishing returns sets in quickly and drops like a logarithmic cliff.

    I frequently spend as much time finding bargains as I do evaluating equipment. My Technics SL-QD33 turntable with Shure M111HE cartridge cost me about $250 total about 25 years ago or so on a great closout deal. To my ears it still sounds excellent with my Sheffield Labs direct to disc Thelma Houston and Pressure Cooker album I've Got The Music In Me. (I even have a new Shure M111HE I bought many years ago for when the current one grows old).

    Would it match the sound of the Clear Audio unit? No, I am sure it would not. Would friends in my living room think the sound of the Clear Audio table with appropriate cartridge sounded $149,750 better than my Technics/Shure combo. No, I am sure they would not. In fact, I would bet my new Dell computer that they would only hear a slight improvement to their ears.

    For me I would currently put the PODR (point of diminishing returns ... remember I am patient and usually wait for great online deals) for a 5.1 system with regular dynamic cone speakers and TV in a medium sized room at about:

    Turntable and cartridge: $395

    Universal player BD player: $499 (arrival soon)

    8-track player: $25 (out of stock)

    Power Amp (5 ch): $799

    Pre-Pro: $699 (arrival soon)

    Subwoofer: $949

    Speakers (5.0): $1866

    50" flat panel TV: $1792

    Here we have a 5.1 system with a 50" THX plasma, turntable w/cartridge, CD/SACD/DVD/BD player, 5ea - 4 ohm timbre matched speakers and powered sub, power amp - 350 watts x 5ch/4 ohms/all channels driven, pre-pro with everything on it. Total cost excluding accessories = $6999.

    Properly set-up, I believe this system will outperform many systems costing far more and give up only a small difference in audio and video performance advantage to the very best.

    I'll be happy to divulge my picks of individual components if anyone is interested, guesses incouraged. (anyone guessing all components correctly wins a free trip to DizzyLand ... this is not that difficult folks if you have followed any of my previous posts ... the 5 speakers will be the hard one)

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    Last edited by RoadRunner6; 02-16-2009 at 03:46 AM.

  24. #24
    RGA
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    Price and performance is always something people have to decide for themselves. I agree with any poster who scoffs at the high prices of audio gear based on the "I heard a $5k system beat a $50k system."

    Everyone goes by their personal experience and most everyone I talk to has heard the $5k system beat the $50k system. However, I don't base everything on single examples and in the end I have heard a lot more $50k systems beat anything I've heard at $5k. Just because something is $50k doesn't mean it's any good, or made up of gear that is a good match.

    Value is relative - one person's $100k is like you or I spending $1 on a pack of gum.

    The best speaker I have heard is a two way stand mount box with a Paper woofer foam surround and a 1 inch silk dome tweeter with a retail price of a jaw dropping $39,000. It is nicely finished has external crossovers but it's not something that scream $39k. Except the sound.

    And that is the hard thing to "get" - the point for me is audio reproduction - in "my" case it is the best sound I have heard - and like anything in the "best" camp it costs a lot of coin. Granted just like cars you may prefer a Lotus to a Ferrari but they're both miles better than a Honda Civic. And just like the $5k is better than a $50k stereo you may prefer the Honda Civic to Pontiac Grand Prix at twice the price. (I do and so does the Lemon-Aid). But it ain't no Bentley.

    When I get back to Canada I may have a chance to audition a two channel system approaching a half million dollars. I heard it in a $250,000 version and it was far and away the best system I've ever auditoned. The new turntable, speaking of turntables, runs at over $35,000 British Pounds (`$75,000US) Without cartridge, step up transformer for the cartridge or wiring. I am quite excited to hear such a statement turntable - the guy's last turntable was already the best I had heard from any source of any kind. http://www.audionote.co.uk/articles/...s/HFC10_AN.pdf

    Can I justify that price - no - but if you have the money and you're willing to spend that sum on a turntable - I guess the question becomes - why do you need to? Money is no longer a viable concern - it's a "non-issue" for those folks. Lucky them.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by RGA

    Value is relative - one person's $100k is like you or I spending $1 on a pack of gum.
    I should hope there aren't too many of those..

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