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Technotes Online > The Secret World of the (real) Audiophile

The Secret World of the (real) Audiophile

Issue #9
January 16, 2004

You mean there are actually people who will pay $26,000 for a turntable? Well, yeah, but that doesn't include the $5,000 phono cartridge.

Lots of gorgeous full color ads, along with some pretty sophisticated articles.

Admit it: Spouses, significant others, family members and even a few casual bystanders are often befuddled by the amount of money we spend on gear. Naturally, my first line of defense is, "But ten years ago, this would have cost five times as much!" Hmm, as many times as I've used that, I still get blank looks or the occassional sad shake of the head - the kind usually reserved for people who just announced they are definitely planning on relocating to Neptune. Well, here's the good news: Compared to a true audiophile, the money we spend is a pittance. These audiophiles even have their own magazine, The Absolute Sound, which is dedicated to keeping them up-to-speed on all the esoteric gear they need in their quest for the holy grail of audio excellence. Like the $126,000 Alon Exotica Grand Reference Speaker, for instance. Akkk! That's 126 followed by three zeros!
Hey folks, you can't make up stuff like this!

One answer to that question is easy: It's not us. I'd have to guess these are corporate executives with exceptionally good taste and some extra time on their hands or possibly trust fund orphans of Texas oil tychoons or maybe some of those early dot-commers who sold their companies for millions, just before the bottom fell out. Or maybe (heaven forbid) these are the people who keep sending us those fake e-mail messages, asking us to send them our name, address, credit card number and our personal PIN because they have to "verify our account." Okay, I'm jealous. I am certainly

These speakers, handcrafted in Germany, certainly appear to have a tuba protruding from each enclosure (and you thought I was kidding...).

not making fun of these people. Because let's face it, who wouldn't want to make up a list of audio gear and then put a figure of $126,000 in the column for speakers? Or (get this) $10,460 for 1.5 meters of speaker cable. Hmm, I wonder if adoption is still a possibility at my age? Still, I find it fascinating that given the small number of $26,000 turntables a company is likely to sell, that there is enough money to run a full page, full color ad in each issue of a 200+ page full-color magazine that sells for a paltry $6.99 at Barnes & Noble. But to tell the truth, the magazine does have enough interesting technical discussions to make it worth my while to pick up a copy several times a year, and is often ahead of the pack when it comes to the latest technology. Where did that subscription card go? I think you'd be impressed by the sheer (for lack of a better word) eccentricity of some of the designs, like a pair of speakers that appear to have tubas protruding from their sides. Honest! I suppose that's as good a conversation piece as you'd ever be likely to own, just in case Bill Gates drops by for tea.

Creating ads for specialized magazines like these have to be great fun for the ad agencies. Here are just a few samples. "Purely. Simply. Undeniably. Genius. Start with a unique idea, assemble a team of great minds, utilize only the finest components, keep the design simple, yet elegant and you are ensured a masterpiece." Now come on, that's great copy. Okay, I'm not exactly certain what they're

The Wilson Audio Specialties X-2 Alexandria: This photo is probably as close as most of us will ever get to a real pair of $125,000 speakers.

selling (I think it's a $9,900 mono-block tube amp), but who wouldn't want to be on that creative team? Here's another: "Greater than the sum of its parts. Precision machining. Outstanding engineering. Meticulous attention to detail. Striking contemporary design. Why not take it for a spin?" Great, huh? Looking at the photo, I'm guessing this is either a gigantic turntable about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle or the world's largest waffle iron. It's dubbed "Fat Bob" by the manufacturer. This from an upscale cable manufacturer: "You are closer to audio truth than you think." See? Brilliant! Don't you want a set? If you have to ask the price, you cannot afford them.

Truth is, audio is a personal choice. There are people that still lament the death of the 8-track tape cartridge. Others refuse to own a turntable that costs less than a new Porsche. Most of us average audio fanatics fall somewhere in the middle. I used to date a young lady

Here's the "Fat Bob" turntable from JR TransRotor. You've gotta love a company with a sense of humor!

whose sole audio was produced by a combination turntable, tuner, cassette player and two pressboard speakers containing a single four-inch driver in each. Umm, that relationship didn't last long. I think diversity is great. I'd hate to show up at a gig and find out that everyone else there had a Paul Reed Smith Santana guitar and a Tech 21 Trademark 60. I'd be quite a bit happier to see a Fender guitar or maybe a budget Epiphone (still a fine instrument) and an old beat-up Vox AC-30 amp. It's fun to compare gear, and even more fun when you can play music and blow other people away with your sound. In my case, I don't have the budget (or desire) for a $26,000 turntable. Yes, I'd love to have some additional income I could use to make a difference in both my own world and the world at large. Possibly the audiophiles who buy the gear I've described here feel exactly the same. I guess that means I'll just have to set my sights just a bit higher and work a little harder tomorrow.

I've already done a column on Home Theater setups, but my next column will focus on high-resolution audio (a topic that will crop up fairly regularly as the year goes by). Other columns in the works include reviews of two new Rode mics, BIAS Peak 4.0 and a special look at Paul Reed Smith guitars.

As I have mentioned before, we now have a Tech Notes Forum online at the Sweetwater Web site. I answer a lot of e-mail almost every day. Please, wherever possible, I'd appreciate it if you would post your queries to the forum. I love answering your questions (yes, even the tough ones) and I think it would be great to share that information with a wider audience. If we don't use it, we'll eventually lose it. So click on the link below and get everyone involved.

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Questions, comments, rants, suggestions, unwanted ‘62 Stratocasters and any other form of correspondence can be addressed to jim_miller@mindspring.com.

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