‘Ultra Audiophile HiFi’ – a pursuit removed from music, rather than about music. This is because it’s about people who have more money than sense, where the diminishing returns are huge as you spend more. Music stripped bare, playing it through a £26k dCS Vivaldi DAC in a swanky New York prime location, or through a wind up radio in an impoverished village in Africa, is essentially the same experience. Or is this true? There is an element of truth to this sentiment and whilst those of developed nations can, are able, and would, prefer the music to be as faithfully reproduced as possible through a great HiFi, how far do you go?
Judging by the dour sullen faces of some of the everyday punters sitting around some £130k Focal Grande Utopia speakers and banks of £125k Naim Statement amps, at a show, playing the ubiquitous Diana Krall (left), Yello etc, the answer is – not this far! Adding insult, the music has all but been thrashed out to death before and it’s boring and you wonder is this really about music? What are they actually selling? But I find the ‘punters’ reaction more interesting than what’s actually coming from the HiFi or the jeans, shirt and jacket top sales guy prancing up and down gesticulating heavily – which is necessary in itself as he will need to gesticulate heavily to sell this stuff to these people or convey it being value. But back to the listeners reactions – they are mostly all thinking, I think, that, OK the music may be more real and the sound huge, but, a), how do I get all this gear in my house/flat and more importantly, b), does it allow me to enjoy music more going back to my point about music stripped bare? The answer to point b) is no. The faces are a giveaway to this. You see people get up and walk off and somebody else takes their seat. I always go home thinking my HiFi is as enjoyable at a fraction of the price.
I can’t even be bothered to stay very long, especially when Wilson show off their speakers. The top priced ones can cost nearly a £million. In fact it’s the type of HiFi I mostly walk past at shows – to boot, this type of Ultra HiFi will give me a headache too. The speakers are just way too big.
But this is all why most sensible people who have money will have Sonos speakers around their big house because, let’s face it, even normal audiophiles including me are an obsessive bunch. So where does this put Ultra HiFi? In fact on a recent excursion to buy a car with a relative, did I see Sonos speakers all around a four or five million pound house near Ascot racecourse. This means being rich isn’t a reason or even pre requisite to buy HiFi of the price/ilk of these Wilson speakers, Naim Statement amps or the Focal’s. Further, being rich is a function of appreciating money (and value for money) more because most have earnt it. So no reason to go crazy like a lotto lout millionaire with hedonistic pursuits.
What always resonates with me with this type of HiFi is why anyone would go to the extent of using materials that are eye wateringly expensive to make the product more expensive when it’s already expensive. It’s not a veblen good? Aluminium is a huge ‘cost contributor’ to the price as dCS preferred me to say when I reviewed their Bartok, instead of ‘expensive’ or words of similar effect. These are slabbed aluminium cases of the type Boeing’s are built from, milled from solid aircraft grade aluminium that is designed so as cracking is limited. No garages at 38,000 feet but at 276 feet ASL (above sea level) where I live, is it actually necessary from an acoustic perspective? Can using thinner or less costly aluminium be as effective, sound wise, or no need for the aluminium at all? Well that’s an argument we could get into, but what does it do to everyday impressions of audio for dCS to bling up their Vivaldi by gold plating it??? Who does it appeal to? The Russian oligarch or a Michael Jackson type on one of his ‘I’ll have it regardless’ spending sprees. This ain’t us! I hear Paul Whitehouse saying ‘I buy it’ in my mind;
But the thing is, if you wanted a gold plated HiFi, not that it looks particularly tasteful – except perhaps in one of Trump’s hotels, wouldn’t you be better off buying the cheaper HiFi and then buying a bit of aluminium art to make up the difference. I’m sure Damien Hirst could do you something cheaper. It would look better than a blinged up HiFi box too that, let’s face it, has no real artistic purpose. The blinged up gold dCS Vivaldi One costs £66k. I know KEF gave up on a carbon fibre Blade speaker, as the cost to build was extremely high. Go around their heritage showroom and a pre production model sits alone in the corner. Shelved by KEF.
The technology of Ultra HiFi is taken to such levels of over engineering in a pursuit of perfection that it is extremely narrow for most people, that this ‘analyzing the hell out of audio’ in the spec of ultra gear, spoils the music enjoyment too, but in a very tangible way. It’s all about get rich exclusivity rather than musical enjoyment inclusivity, and what could be more universal than music? All this is the equivalence of gold plating a decorative truffle in a restaurant. It’s pointless and totally vacuous. The bigger point is that it’s against music. The same applies to those ridiculous cables that it’s connected up to. I’d love them to do a cheapy comparison with the statement amps.
But to develop my point on inclusivity, the acid house generation of the early 90s could dance in a field or visit Braintree Barn, where The Shamen, The Prodigy and other acts started. It was about enjoying music in community, all the human reasons why you do this. They wouldn’t be listening intently on a dCS Vivaldi type component, but on a distorting sound system and that’s all they needed. That’s extending the point far to us sensible audiophiles for exaggerative purposes, but being into such levels of HiFi precision in Ultra audio, is alien to most people. It should be too.
It seems ironic then that dCS would use names of composers for their products – Rossini, Bartok, etc. But where do these brand names have any relevance to the context in which everyday music is enjoyed. Can you imagine what music halls would have sounded like in Mozart’s Salzburg in the 1700’s. Ultra HiFi products and the high diminishing returns are as far removed from real music listening as it’s possible to be. Where the tag line of the brand, ‘only the music’, is contradictory to the line of argument I present.
So we shouldn’t be thinking Ultra HiFi is aspirational, possibly tantamount to the hidden premise of a post on a forum ‘what’s the most expensive HiFi you’ve heard?’ But we should be happy that, as Audiophiles, we have the last laugh against these ultra systems where you just don’t get value for money and that someone really rich will think it’s crazy too. In fact, most uber rich people. Also that our systems are as enjoyable. I’d stop at the Bartók as it’s a tremendous bit of kit which I loved reviewing, and they could make it much cheaper too I think, but then that might not present being ‘only for music’. Spending £26k just on a DAC is silly. £66k and you are on another scale of ludicrosity . It detracts and destroys the music, and lest us not forget we always do all of this for the music and enjoyment. Going crazy on Ultra HiFi takes us away from that.