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Is High-end Audio Worth The Money?
Music has a different level of significance for each individual. For some, it is something they are extremely passionate about, while for others, it is something that is "just there" in the background. Some people will readily spend tens of thousands in search of their perfect audio, while others will be happy with an MP3 player and basic speaker.
What constitutes high-end audio?
This is a much harder question to answer than it seems. High-end can mean different things to different people. Depending on their individual circumstances, high-end could be a system costing a few hundred dollars or one costing tens of thousands. Perhaps high-end is actually just something that costs considerably more than one would usually spend, or maybe it can be defined as being a sound system that is of high specifications, delivers high-quality sound, and uses the best components available.
Does brand affect this definition? It would appear so, as some brands are automatically regarded as being in the high-end bracket because of their reputation for excellence.
One thing is for sure: true high-end audio is a luxury rather than an essential. It is certainly not worth going into debt in order to have it.
Who is high-end for?
Whatever high-end is, it is really only meant for avid music fans and audiophiles. There isn’t any real logic to spending large sums on audio equipment if you are not overly concerned about how it sounds.
Perhaps high-end and high-quality are one and the same? If that is indeed the case, when it comes to audio, what constitutes quality? Most would say that it is all about the sound. However, in terms of equipment, it probably also involves build and component quality.
All about the sound
So what does high-quality sound actually sound like? For some, quality is determined by how accurately it reflects the original audio signal; the closer it sounds to real life, the better. However, this definition may be too simple or vague for some people. In reality, there are several elements that need to combine to make up good-quality sound.
The first is the bass - the lower, deeper sounds. In order for the sound to be regarded as good quality, the bass needs to have a definition to it, and you should be able to easily identify the instrument that was used to create the bass notes.
The second element is the high-frequency (treble) sound. High-quality audio will have a smooth, clear treble sound. It won’t screech or seem too loud.
The third element is the mid-range channel. This includes vocals. High-quality sound will enable you to hear all the different voices distinctly and individually, as well as the harmonies that they create together. In addition to the vocals, when a song gets going, high-quality mid-range will mean that you can hear all individual instruments and the vocals clearly.
The last element - and possibly the most crucial - is the balance. The channels should all be working in unison and there shouldn’t be a noticeable bias toward any one of the frequencies or channels.
Build quality is much easier to quantify than sound quality. More expensive audio products are likely to be better built and more structurally sound than cheaper ones. This isn’t 100% the case, but budget manufacturing usually leads to lower build quality. This rule often applies to how the products look, with more expensive gear usually having better finishes and more swoopy curves.
What do you get when you spend more?
As a general rule, the more you spend on audio equipment, the better the build quality and sound quality you will get. This is not the case 100% of the time, but it holds true in most cases. Also, it is important to note that the relationship between improvement in quality and increase in price is not a linear one; a speaker costing $1,000 does not necessarily sound 10 times better than one costing $100 (although it could - or it may even sound 20 times better).
Components, parts, and materials
Something else that perhaps makes high-end audio equipment stand out is the quality of the components and parts that are used, as well as the type of materials used for the shell on items like speakers. For example, high-end speakers are often made from expensive wood such as mahogany.
Is high-end audio worth the money? If you have the money to spare and you have the environment in which expensive, high-specification equipment will thrive, the answer is yes. This edition of Absolute Sound provides a more detailed look at high-end audio.