A few months ago I got an email which was so blunt and to the point I saved it for a quiet moment so I could get my head around its implications and compose my reply to it. Here it is...
"What is the difference between 400$ turntable and a 4000$ turn table besides the person who bought the 400$ one can tell his former friends he spent that much. In other words I think any one who spends more then 500$ has more money then brains. ps im even poor then that my wife gave me 150$ I bought a pioneer pl990"*
Wow! Just two months into my turntable reviews, a $4000 turntable on test and my own coming in at the wrong side of $7000 if you include arm and cartridge. Had I lost the plot - disappearing into the "high-end" like so many reviewers?
So I sat down and had a good think, to put things in perspective, perhaps even to justify things to myself... Anyway here goes...
First and most important I am blindingly aware that for some people reading this $50 is a months wage, that talk of $10,000 amps and $4000 cartridges is like describing a trip to the moon, interesting but ultimately irrelevant to the reader. Perhaps worse it will make some poor guy or girl, previously happy with music from a battered ghetto blaster, hopelessly dissatisfied with their lot.
I know what it is to be poor (by northern European standards at least), to be in debt or to sit in bed rather than feed the meter to get warm. But it lasted a short while, and at the time reading about things I couldn't afford was something I found interesting, never depressing - I sincerely hope that those of you in a similar position read my more exotic reviews with the same pleasure.
Now I'm middle aged and hopelessly affluent in comparison. In actual fact my income is pretty much on the Northern European average which is plenty for me and my family. What I'm trying to point out though is that I'm no Paul Getty - just Mr Average. And yet I'm sitting here listening to a $15,000 Hi-Fi, something doesn't add up? Actually it does, and I'll explain why.
In our drive is our new car, an Opel Zafira in case you're wondering. It cost about $18000. Opposite my house is a bar and in its car park are half a dozen cars, all quite new. I'll not bore you with the details but two of them would have cost their owner more than $30000. Starting to see what I'm driving at (pun intended)? I needed a car that would take more than five people. I could have bought a Renault Espace. Instead I bought the Opel and the money I saved covered the Hi-Fi. Put it another way. The guy who bought the Espace could have bought the Opel (which would have done exactly the same job) AND a very good Hi-Fi. Substitute "Ford Mondeo" and "BMW 3 Series" or whatever and you'll see that what I'm getting at is "Lifestyle Choice".
What's in your drive? Could you have bought a cheaper car and an expensive Hi-Fi, could the writer of the email? I don't know, but what I do know is that most people in Western Europe at least could afford a decent Hi-Fi but most choose not to.
In our household our Hi-Fi comes 3rd in the list of major purchases/priorities, after the house and cars. In that respect I'm very old-fashioned because in the 1950's the list of major purchases was much the same for the average family in Britain (your Gran's old Radiogram cost two months average wage, one LP = 3 days work). Currently the sound system comes outside the top ten for most households. OK fair enough there's much more choice now, TV's, computers, video games, expensive holidays etc etc, but the fact remains that we're still talking priorities.
I'm not one to criticise other people if they put a 70cm widescreen TV, a dishwasher and a second game console ahead of their Hi-Fi, but equally I expect people to respect our decision to make the reproduction of music something we're prepared to spend a large part of our disposable income on, I don't "have more money than brains" any more than the guy in the next lane with his Jaguar has.
In fact the guy in the next lane is using a lot more petrol, has less space and is paying a great deal more in servicing than me, and in the end I'm not at all convinced that by any rational measure he has a better mode of transport than me. But sure as hell my Hi-Fi will sound a LOT better than his.
And for those who feel like me lets have some good cheer here. Our hobby is, to quote Douglas Adams "mostly harmless", it's not a huge strain on the world's resources. Little cruelty is involved in the production of Hi-Fi and it's one of the less polluting of the "Wests" passions.
At the same time it creates skilled, well remunerated employment, encourages many forms of art, from music to component design to sleeve illustrations - all in all I guess it contributes to the sum of human happiness.
And now after that long preable the "coup de gras". Hi-End audio doesn't have to be expensive, in fact it can be relatively cheap or even free. In a world of low interest rates putting money in the bank has little value. Why not blow a few thou on some really wonderful Hi-Fi bought second hand? It ain't going to cost much to run - good Hi-Fi lasts - and if you buy wisely you might even make a profit when you sell it?**
Hey! it's Christmas - treat yourselves!
*I hope the writer will forgive my keeping it as written, but TNT is international and who am I to correct the English of someone who has bothered to write in their second (or third...) language - the meaning is blindingly clear after all.
**This is of course the argument I use at home...
© Copyright 2002 Geoff Husband - http://www.tnt-audio.com