Before I’m a reviewer, I’m a consumer. I always attempt to thread my customer-oriented thoughts through my hi-fi commentary. For me, it keeps things real. I never want to lose sight of the opportunity cost of spending $3k on a new DAC. That’s an overseas holiday that I’m foregoing.
I don’t review anything that I can’t afford. I guess that’s why I like budget gear so much. That isn’t the entry-level’s only appeal though; the lower the price point, the more likely hi-fi equipment is to bring the man in the street in from the cold and into a warmer place where sound quality matters (more).
Whether it’s $3k or $30k, I think it’s important not to be glib about money. I wouldn’t listen and then conclude with a “I believe this product represents great value for money” comment. Not without proper context.
So – what’s proper context?
If you’ve just test-driven a $30k car, I suspect you won’t say to yourself, “I think this car represents excellent value for money”, write the cheque and drive it away. No, you’ll more likely think, “What other cars will $30k buy me?”. You’ll test drive a few more and you’ll compare them. Only then will you make a final call (and write that cheque).
Hi-fi consumers are no different. If they read a review of $30k loudspeakers, I doubt they’ll fall for the “I like’em, buy ‘em” line without direct comparisons to other $30k loudspeakers. Check out the comments section beneath any online review and you’ll see numerous readers asking how the product in question compares to another (similarly priced) product.
I’ve spent considerable time with numerous standmount loudspeakers in the sub-$3k price bracket: ProAc, Spendor, PMC, 47 Labs, ATC, Rega, Epos etc. and my pick of the bunch would be Spendor’s SA1. It might not be the most exciting-sounding loudspeaker out there but it’s one I could come home to time and time again. I only arrived at this conclusion via comparative context. The SA1 would most likely furnish me with the most enjoyment for my $. I know this because I’ve spent months listening to a whole range of similarly-priced monitors. Isn’t this what the most committedb
When I come to review iFi’s iDAC you’ll probably want to know how it compares to Resonessence’s Concero (US$600) or the DAC inside the Wyred4Sound mINT. Or the Beresford Bushmaster.
Comparisons of the iFi iDAC to the 10x more expensive AURALiC Vega might be helpful in establishing what the extra cash buys you, but once you’ve decided to pony up $3500, the whole ballpark-price comparison starts again: “What other DACs will $3500 buy me?” Then you’re into conversations about the likes of Metrum’s Hex, PS Audio’s PerfectWave MKII and Resonessence Labs’ Invicta.
When I come to write a review of Wyred4Sound’s mINT in a few weeks, it won’t be enough for me to describe its sonic qualities and sign off. I’ll want to give its features and sound some appropriate context: the Peachtree Nova125 will provide the second data point. The Nova125 is almost identically priced to the mINT and both are all-in-one digital workhorses. In effect, I’ll be asking myself, “What else will $1500 buy me?” Just as consumers might. (Screenshot from Part-Time Audiophile).
For many people (myself included) $1500 is a lot of money and I think it’s important not to trivialise that notion. Directly comparing Product X to Product Y is how I establish my own perception of the value for money quotient being served by each. I want to know which one will bring me the most enjoyment for the same amount of money. It’s by no means an exhaustive process. It isn’t logistically possible to compare everything that comes through my front door to everything else but I believe that a single comparison is more informative than no comparison at all.
What do you think? How do you decide what represents value for money and what doesn’t? Have your say in the comments below.