Your Journey into High End Audio and What to Expect

Your Journey into High End Audio and What to Expect
  • Music is a tool for humans to express emotion. 
  • The accessibility of music is a double-edged sword - greater access is good, but it also means people are playing music on all sorts of systems, some of which aren't able to produce the emotion behind the music.
  • High End Audio systems allow you to reconnect with your music. 
Hifi systems, just like anything in the luxury sector, like wines, cars, boats, watches, come at all price points. Two channel speakers start as low as a few hundred dollars and go all the way up to the millions, like the Wilson Audio WAMMs (pictured above) at a cool AUD$1.5M. And this fact sometimes causes eyeballs to fall out of sockets. If one's experience with speakers are $100 bluetooth speakers or $1000 wireless speakers, then the consternation that comes when even a $20,000 speaker system is completely understandable.
What do we mean by "high end"?
Let's quickly define what we mean by "high end" in a hifi system context.
Estelon Forza in Ocean Blue
The temptation is to categorise it into price brackets - after all, whilst unless you're a seasoned listener, it's the easiest, but one of the more flawed methods of being able to qualify these brackets. Just like wine, the most expensive bottles aren't necessarily the best, nor are the more affordable bottles an guaranteed marker of poor quality.
For us, for a product or brand to be "high end" is a statement of their approach and methodology. A high end audio brand should place primary focus on producing products that reproduce music as accurate to the original artists as possible. Not just in marketing message mind you - after all, there aren't going to be a lot of manufacturers that claim they're making systems "just to make noise". Rather, their fundamental ethos comes across in their designs, their research and development phase, their quality control, and ultimately, their performance.
As a side note, this is a reason why we find price is a rather loose indicator of a product's "high end" status. We've encountered plenty of high ticket price items over the years from well known manufacturers that are lacking in so many areas - not areas that are subject to taste mind you, but rather areas that should be fundamental in high ticket price items, like a basic level of audio resolution, of feature set, of sonic impact and presence in a room comparable to other products in a similar league. And on the other hand, there are some stellar performers that perform well above what their price point might suggest.
What can you expect with your first high end system?
So, when you purchase your first high end audio system, what can you expect?
In a word? Emotion.
Music is an art form, created by humans, for humans, as a way of expressing the emotions the artists felt, that inspired them to create the music. From break-ups, to the passing of a loved one, to joy, to anger - all the most revered music was all spawned from emotion. A well composed high end audio system will bring that emotion out of music.
Which brings us onto another topic - accessibility.
Music's in the Air
Let's rewind the years, before the internet, before CDs, before cassette tapes, before vinyl. Before we could record music, the only way to experience music was to attend a live performance, where you could witness with your very own eyes and ears a live performer, expressing their emotion and feelings behind the music. This is obviously something we can still enjoy today - live concerts are one of the most engaging and exciting things to go to, arguably even more so than in the past, as the music from your favourite artist on Spotify is even more enthralling experienced live. Whilst a very engaging medium, for most of us, it's not the most practical if you want some music to entertain you on a Friday night at home with a glass of red.
These days, the accessibility of music is ubiquitous. There's a plethora of music streaming services all screaming at you for that monthly subscription, and there are still plenty of brick and mortar stores selling vinyl, tapes and CDs. The good thing about this much access is that there are plenty more people listening to music all the time. The bad thing is that for the majority of people that don't have a decent hifi system, the quality of the reproduction is poorer than it should be relative to the maximum potential quality, and the aspect that suffers the most is the emotional quality of music. The "compressed" sound means that it still sounds like the song, but without the finer details that were originally recorded onto the track.
Going back to our wine analogy, a low quality Shiraz will still have the "grape-y", tart and tannin notes of a high quality one, but the low quality one is missing all the depth of flavour, the ebbs and flows of tasting notes, and the flavour length after each sip.
Now, we're certainly not advocating for the days before this much accessibility - the more people who are listening to music, the better for the artists and the music industry in general. But what we are saying is that as the majority of people reproduce music on an inferior system, the majority remain uneducated, unaware they are only listening to half the music they believe they are. So often, new customers who visit the store and play their favourite track on one of our systems are completely stunned. They sit there listening to the track they've heard a thousand times, in disbelief, as the track they thought they knew suddenly takes on a second, third or fourth dimension, and they are connected even deeper to their music. No word of a lie, we've had fifty year old men cry in our demonstration rooms, when they hear the emotion behind the song they thought they knew. It's honestly a very rewarding feeling!
But high end systems are so expensive!
Yes. They can be. But remember you're not just paying for the product - looking at a speaker and seeing the $50,000 price tag and running away is a shallow way of looking at things. When you look at a $50,000 Rolex watch, it tells the time just well as a $20 Casio watch from the markets. But of course, that doesn't tell the whole story.
Of course, the performance is a diminishing returns equation. A $100,000 loudspeaker isn't going to sound twice as good as a $50,000 loudspeaker. But as you approach the limits of what's humanly possible, just like anything else, it costs more to push the boundaries. You're paying for decades of engineering and research. There's costs of artisans, and we mean artisans, producing these sorts of product - check out our Wilson Audio factory tour video and you'll see how much work goes into producing one of their speakers. There's obviously the manufacturing costs, raw material costs, shipping costs and government related costs.
And frankly, there are "brand" costs. The reason why brands like Wilson Audio or Gryphon are so highly sought after is because of their status - status built on decades of long-standing excellence in their fields, which gives their loyal customer base a guaranteed statement of quality, of status, and service for decades to come.
Buying a modern Ferrari over a BMW M3, on specifications, makes absolutely no fiscal sense. The two cars are almost identical in 0-100 km/h times, braking times, Nurburgring lap times, the number of doors and wheels. Yet the Ferrari is still generally sought after for reasons that are not pragmatic. And that's completely ok. There's no need to try to justify that lust and emotional response - if you can afford it, and you want it, why shouldn't you have it? Those of us who can't afford it shouldn't be begrudging someone who can out of jealously.
The same is true for high end audio.
Too often on forums and social media, we see the keyboard warriors and trolls come out berating someone who is fortunate enough to own a such a system and brave enough to share it, touting ridiculous statements like "my $500 speaker I built in my backyard is better" or "you bought the wrong speaker". Why? Why cause someone else angst out of your own jealously? It serves no one, especially not the trolls saying such statements, as it just further pushes them deeper under the proverbial bridge (children's fable reference). Instead we should be celebrating the fact that someone has enjoyed enough success in their lives to be able to purchase something that brings them obviously joy.
Closing Thoughts
High End Audio is not for everyone. Just like wine, or luxury cars, or watches, not everyone appreciates it. And that's fine! But if you love music, there is a certain minimum of quality in a system that is required to be able to truly appreciate music. Without it, you'll only ever be drinking Ribena. There are a lot of moving parts even in the simplest two channel system, including pairing combinations, cabling and so on. A good hifi specialist will be able to assist you curating the sound you're after.

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