What the hell is “high end audio” anyway?

What the hell is "high end audio" anyway?

After 40 years of being an audio enthusiast, consumer (and someone covering this world for the last 17 of those years) I think we have a fundamental confusion in what we’re talking about.

To me, “high end audio” means something condescending, something unapproachable, something you can’t have. It means the secret handshake, the elite club.

I’d rather it not be that way.

In the world of cars, you have cars that get you from point a to point b reliably, like a Toyota RAV 4 or a Kia Soul, that are perfectly good cars (I’ve owned both of em) and they get the job done with no fuss. And for probably 99 percent of the population that’s just fine. If you think I’m nuts, how many of your friends, male and female, have said at one point or another, “cars don’t mean anything to me, I just need one to get from a to b and back.”

There’s no shame in that at all. Most people don’t give a shit about cars.

I’ve got news for you, most people don’t give a shit about audio either. But almost everyone loves, or at least likes music. But for so many, it’s something in the background, it’s something to listen to on the subway, or when friends are over. Or sing along with.

It’s something to get from point a to b.

But high performance audio is something completely different. High performance audio, like high performance cars, motorcycles, bicycles, cameras, concentrates on delivering more experience, no matter what the approach. It doesn’t always have to be expensive, and it doesn’t always have to be brand new. $30,000 will buy you a well-appointed Toyota camry, or it will buy you a really nice, used Audi S4. Think about it. If you love the way a car feels going around a corner, or stopping hard, you’d probably rather drive the Audi.

But even if you take the new approach, high performance audio does not have to break the bank. Many of the manufacturers that we might consider “high end,” and perhaps even out of our reach, make great products, that are very affordable. And they are all a great place to start your journey.

A perfect example of this is Vandersteen Audio. Their flagship 7s cost upwards of $60k/pair, but the current version of their model 1 is just under $1,500/pair. If that’s still crazy money in your book, look at the Paradigm Atoms. $299/pair. Both of these speakers are designed and built by the same people that build the flagship models with plenty of TLC.

I can cite plenty of examples in the realm of amplifiers, preamplifiers, DACs and turntables, but I’m guessing you know most of the players.

You can spend a little bit of money or a lot of money. That is up to you and those are your personal priorities.

But stop worrying if your system is “high end,” and where that line begins. Think “high performance,” or even “performance oriented.” Then we can all play, and we can all get on with it. Best of all, we can all get back to enjoying music, to a greater degree than what a mass market solution offers.

Who’s with me? If you’re enjoying music, and you’re having fun doing it, you’re in. It’s really that easy.