Ultra Audiophile HiFi Destroys Music

‘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.

Naim Statement – start saving, yours for a cool £125k

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;

I buy it….

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.

Inside cover of The Prodigy’s ‘Music for the Jilted Generation’ Album

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.


  1. Today’s diminishing return curve in audio is very steep one once you get a above a few hundred dollars per component.

    For a fraction of these ultra prices (but still a lot of money) you can basically get SOTA electronics and speakers which are just as enjoyable

    A couple of thousand dollars total will already get you close. You will only be lacking extremely low bass and the ability to play loudly in a large space – not even something many people are interested in. $10-$25K total will get you all the way there if you are actually buying for SQ and not for cosmetics and the ability to Veblen consume.

    These components exist for two reasons: a) so people can show off; b) because there are rich audiophiles who suffer from audiophilia nervosa and can always be convinced to by the next greatest most expensive thing.

      • @DH and @Simon Totally agree with the $10k-$25k bracket. What would you recommend in terms of amp+speakers?
        Amplifiers that come into mind: Anthem STR, Yamaha A-S2200/A-S3200, Hegel H390/H590, Cambridge Audio Edge, NAD M33, McIntosh MA8900/MA9000, Rotel Michi, Vitus Audio RI-101 MK2, Gryphon Diablo 300 or Classe Delta.
        Floor-standing speakers that can go towards 30Hz @-3dB @3-4m listening distance: B&W 80X series, KEF Reference and Blade series, Focal Kanta and Sopra, Piega Classic 80.2, Dynaudio Contour 60i, Sonus Faber Sonetto VIII and the Olympica Novas, Monitor Audio Platinum series or Canton Reference K series.

        What are your experiences and which products would you recommend as the best diminishing returns?


        • Look at actives too and go for a good analogue pre amp, great DAC and OK digital source (but don’t go crazy on source) would be my recs. Id add in PMC (my pref though). Blades are better than Kanta and lots of the others but I cant say as that would be disingenuous and I don’t know what lots of these sound like. Hegel are terrific. The DAC in the H120 I have is OK but with that sort of budget Id say Chord Hugo TT2 possibly. I hate them as a company but some great products.

  2. All you’ve done is repeat the S.O.S. other jealous people repeat, none of which is true. Even the lies you tell about what audio enthusiasts actually play is nothing but a series of nonsensical cliches. Especially laughable is “once you get above a few hundred dollars”. If this fantasy makes you feel better I’m all for it since feeling good is nice. I can’t afford a Ferrari but when I see one I don’t say “My Hyundai is just as good and I drive on the same road” blah blah blah. Meanwhile I know some people who can afford super high performance systems and all of them listen to substantial music. All of them are true music lovers. None of them are about showing off. You don’t get the last laugh. You get the last shake of the head because you are a fool.

    • My example wasn’t what they play, that’s in your head. But I was using an illustration at shows. You’ve taken offence where no offence exists. I’m not jealous, I have been able to give back great HiFi. If you can’t make your point nicely by being offensive, maybe you should sit at the kiddies table, wasn’t that the line in the film Hannibal. Interesting this guy runs a website called analogue planet.

      • Imho Mr. Fremer isn’t the “inerrant pope of analogue” but rather the “clown of analogue” which makes everybody laugh. Just look at one of his videos when he is desperately setting up a tonearm! 🙂

    • A Ferrari would be a good example of reaching the point of diminishing returns. A Hyundai ($30k) would be like a $2000-5000 system. A Ferrari ($300K) like a $25,000-35,000 system. Clearly, there is a huge difference between these two in listening.

      When you step up to something like the Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita ($4.8M), similar to a $500,000 system, you don’t get much more performance than the Ferrari.

      You’re example was flawed, and actually help support the writers point about diminishing returns.

    • A Ferrari has better measured performance, objectively. Most of these “Uber high end” components measure worse than what you can get from jds labs for $300.

      This is why audio science review scares the shit out of manufacturers. The emperor has no clothes.

      This coming from someone who owns an ahb2

    • Well done Michael. It is true you get what you pay for…and if you can afford to pay for it. Ive been on highs and lows of audiophile equipment and I d rather be high than low anytime.

    • Michael,

      I guess you don’t know the people who buy expensive systems and don’t actually listen to them, or have them improperly setup. They don’t care about the music, they care about having a status object in their home. I had a friend who sold audio. He literally had people come into his shop and ask him to put together the most expensive system he could, and bought it without listening to it.

      Obviously you and serious audiophiles who care about music aren’t in that category. If someone wants to spend 6 figures on a system so they can get every last ounce of performance out of their setup, I don’t have an issue. Do it.

      That doesn’t change some of the facts. And in spite of you saying “laughable” – it’s simply a fact that there are amps, dacs and streamers being sold today for very reasonable prices whose performance is close to SOTA. Maybe not all the way there, but certainly close enough that many equipment buyers would be unable to differentiate them from more expensive equipment in an unsighted test. You might be able to, but many of your readers wouldn’t.

      There are also great sounding pairs of speakers in the $600-$2000 range that do everything extremely well, except play bass below 35-40hz or so, and possibly also not loud enough to fill a large room. They also don’t have the extremely fancy materials and finish that some of the very expensive stuff does. They may not be as good as some super expensive speakers, but they are very good and satisfying to listen to.

      There are extremely good active/powered setups with DSP and even room correction that will outperform some component systems costing much more – but they don’t appeal to many in the audiophile hobby, who falsely think they can do better mixing and matching components at the same price point.

      Some of the more expensive but relatively moderately priced amps and DACs – say you spend about $4k total – ARE just as good as some similar products costing several times more. They don’t have fancy casework and bling, which is a big reason for the lower price. In a retail sales channel cosmetics alone can be responsible for 50-70% of the price of an item – and I’m not making that up, it comes from the founder of Musical Fidelity, Antony Michaelson. We also all know of real world instances where adding a fancy case to an item and raising the price results in higher sales numbers. It’s also true that for home decor reasons, many people are willing to spend lots of added money for cosmetics. That’s fine, but it has zero to do with the SQ of the product involved.

      One of the problems with the industry and the audiophile press is that it needs to encourage audiophile nervosa and the approach that “if I just buy that next more expensive item, my SQ will be so much better” – when that often isn’t true. Add that to the common audiophile insistence on listening under sighted conditions, and you have a system that’s setup to encourage ever higher spending on more equipment, even if there’s no actual SQ improvement involved.

  3. I understand where you are coming from, but don’t agree with your reasoning. The same argument can be made for just about any product, and many services for that matter. Little is more subjective than sound, but that’s got zero to with the amount of time or use of esoteric materials used to craft ones vision and the cost they set for their art. I think its in poor taste for a professional reviewer who uses Sonos as a baseline for audiophile or even HiFi. Your article sounds like one of those crack pot Bose reviews/salespitches from the 80s.

    • That’s fine but just so I’m clear, I wasn’t making Sonos a baseline. Nowhere do I say that so with respect your construct Thomas. I obviously own and rate pricier HiFi. My point was to most people Sonos is as far as it goes, we have to recognise that and that in the context about being obsessive on audio quality – which is fine for us audiophiles, we should recognise that we take it above the norm and that’s fine too. For me at least!

  4. Will a 3 million dollar stereo system deliver a better (!) sound than the reference (!) sound which was designed in the studio (with room acoustics most different from any private listening room) by the sound engineer who listened to a pair of active speakers costing 3000 dollars? Definitely not. It will just sound totally different and will probably not sound as the sound engineer intended it to sound. 🙂

  5. The problem is this argument will go around in circles. Some people ridicule people paying £1000 for a 3 piece amp. Cd . Speaker system is overkill arguing a one piece marantz/Denon £300 all in one is every bit as good. ? Shouldn’t people just listen and make their own decisions…their money.

  6. My beef is with ridiculously expensive cables touting newfound music Nirvana. At list pricing my system would be about 30k but wish I had my money back for some of the cables I purchased (I’ll spare the details) for maybe a 5% or less aural improvement

  7. Its been said many times before, it’s knowing how to get the very best out of what you’ve got that defines great sound quality and enjoyment from your system, irrespective of price. Proper cable dressing, a decent mains supply, good room acoustics etc etc. You are spot on though Simon about cables! You do not need to spend the earth on ludicrously expensive speaker/interconnect cables. You can hear properly designed cables for domestic audio (I use DNM) making your system sound like real music which you can buy at real world prices!

  8. You are right about the over-engineering but if someone can afford it, it doesnt affect me.

    And in a rebuttal to M. Fermer, I could show you 100’s of photo’s of ultra-high end systems installed in rooms with floors and walls covered in marble, which as we know is moderately reflective, with speakers pushed hard against the walls etc.

    The systems are for show… they cant possible reach there potential in such an echo chamber and no care has gone into their installation.

    Using the car analogy, its like owing a Ferrari when you live on a desert island.. you basically cant drive it in such an environment.


  9. Simon, I have no idea what you’re trying to achieve with this article but it does read like jealousy to me. I can’t afford uber hifi but I can afford what others would call expensive hifi. I can’t afford to do the same with cars, watches, fashion etc. so I have to make a choice. I like good sounding music so I spend my money on good hifi. I also work a bit for a dealer so I have the luxury to hear other stuff. So far, I’ve come to the conclusion that what I’ve spent my money on is worth every cent.Yes, it’s a nice looking box, which I don’t really care for but that’s just how the world works. Nobody is going to spend tens of thousands of dollars to look at a shoe box. That’s not so they can show off at all. It’s so the maker of the product can show off that they care enough about the product they sell that they make sure it looks like you get what you paid for. The same goes for everything you buy; Here in Australia we have Black and Gold canned food. It’s cheap and nasty and the packaging shows it (It’s black and yellow, not even gold-ish). You buy any other brand and the packaging is made to look better to reflect the quality inside.

    If you don’t understand that this is just how commerce works than it’s time to get educated. There’s uber in everything you can buy and there’s always a diminishing return. That doesn’t mean it’s a rip off. It just means there’s something for everyone.

    Ask yourself the question why it is dCS that makes a gold plated product and not Yamaha. It’s because if you can’t afford dCS, you also can’t afford gold plating. So there’s no market for gold plating for Yamaha. There is for dCS and good for them.

    If I could afford one I would get a copper colored one to go with our $2500.- copper plated Big Ass fans and $40.- copper plated Ikea light shades. Sometimes it’s not about price or quality but just about looks. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

    • I’ve all but given up on buying hi-fi. I build my own speakers – there are some incredibly talented designers out there who design, build and test no-compromise loudspeakers using the best low-distortion drive units available, quality crossover components and common sense, high-quality cabinet constructions. Many of these designs are shared for free, others are sold as kits via some of the larger DIY audio retailers such as Madisound, Jantzen etc. The resulting builds outperform some of the most expensive hi-fi products that money can buy, at a fraction of the cost. I have a decent second-hand integrated amp with a nice tube front end and a heavily engineered solid state output end. All of my music is losslessly streamed from network storage or via Qobuz or Tidal via a Bluesound Node 2i. I make my own speaker cables and buy pre-built interconnect cables from a UK supplier who uses Van Damme pro-grade wires and Neutrik phono plugs. I buy them for less than they would cost me to make. I gave up on ‘audiophile’ interconnects years ago. The scientist in me refuses to believe an interconnect can make a significant difference compared to all of the copper tracks, internal wires, component leads and solder joints in source components and blind listening hasn’t proved otherwise. I’ve tried numerous headphone amps over the years – still have a heavily modded WAD HD83 tube amp which sounds really nice. My favourite can amp though, is an Objective 2 which fully built cost me a fraction of the component costs for the HD83. It just gets out of the way and lets me enjoy the music. Also, despite trying, I’ve not found a DAC that makes the Bluesound Node 2i sound any better in blind A/B/X listening tests. The industry has descended into lunacy of late with ‘audiophile’ grade USB cables and even ‘audiophile’ network patch leads. What? A short digital lead connecting asynchronous digital data from a source to a DAC can make an audible difference? Or a short network patch lead that can cost as much as a second hand car will make an audible improvement to music streamed through multiple servers, routers, thousands of miles of fibre optic, hundreds of metres of co-ax, a modem, a network switch, a patch panel, tens of metres of CAT6 cable, an RJ45 wall outlet and the input socket on a music streamer? Modern electronic engineering has eliminated most of the drawbacks we used to have in source equipment and by and large most stuff beyond the very budget end of the market sounds pretty much the same these days. Loudspeakers still make by far the biggest difference to how a system sounds – that is, until you star considering listening room acoustics. Room acoustics have more impact on the system sound than anything earlier in the chain and can be one of the most challenging issues to address. I’ve heard expensive high-end systems sound terrible in a bad room and much cheaper systems sound great in a good room. Once you start to look into room acoustics, the rabbit hole can become very deep indeed. How many hi-fi dealers offer room-treatment products? Very few. Why? Because there’s a lot more money in peddling snake-oil to solve non-existent problems with the promise of audio Nirvana than there is in selling properly engineered solutions to real problems.

  10. Thanks for another great rant! As a former audio engineer we used to laugh at people who spent thousands on speakers to listen to mixes we did on little $100 Auratone boxes. Million dollar studios use basic XLR and 1/4 inch cables with $250,000 Neve consoles. Not one reputable studio would waste money on MIT cables with post-traumatic-stressed cryo silver and such utter piffle. It’s 100% bullshit. Hifi used to be about overcoming the flaws and limitations of the playback media: terrible radio, warped vinyl, wobbling cassettes, etc. With the advent of digital these companies are more concerned with manufacturing fake problems to then “solve”. Ooh, jitter lol. Ironically, even a ‘scientific’ site like ASR falls into this trap, by making its readers think that a dac with .0005% thd is ‘objectively’ better than one with .001%. Plenty of lunacy to go around.

  11. Well done Michael. It is true you get what you pay for…and if you can afford to pay for it. Ive been on highs and lows of audiophile equipment and I d rather be high than low anytime.

  12. Michael Fremer from analog planet is reacting to the written publication. When you pay more than $100,000 for any audio component, you have literally reached the point of extreme insanity. Even pays way less than 6 figures is dumb at best. So it is very obvious that some people need a checkup from the neck-up. Absolutely no audible benefit compared to the best audio components in the $500 to $5,000 range. And that is an absolute fact !:

  13. “being rich is a function of appreciating money (and value for money) more because most have earnt it”

    I beg to differ! Most wealthy people across the developed world, but especially in the USA are wealthy because they were born wealthy. They won the womb lottery. And what keeps them wealthy- those dividends, businesses, etc couldn’t furnish their wealth if they paid the workers the full value of the fruits of their labour. Profit is the difference between the value of labour and the wages paid to labour.

    Hifi and good music belongs to all people, it shouldn’t be the private reserve of the wealthy elite.

    • You’ve got to admit though a lot of people in the US, not everyone, are pretty thick and shallow. Whenever I get trolls I check out their IP addresses and the large majority of them are in the US. Hardly ever for Far East countries, France, Spain etc. Value for money is a commodity everyone is on, unless I think, people are stupid.

  14. Hi Simon,
    I’ve only just discovered your site and am sorry to see you’re winding it up, as of the reviews and content of yours I’ve read so far are to my mind perceptive, knowledgable and refreshingly hyperbole free.

    Your recent “old man shouts at clouds” posts are entertaining though. Correct as they probably are (as someone else has already said) the same could be applied to probably every other industry on the planet. Most audio fans know deep down that much of the hype around audio is mostly utter cobblers. People will do what they do regardless. Everyone has their own overlapping Venn diagrams of wants and needs plus it’s a very tribal and emotive subject, illustrated by Mr Fremer’s response – If duelling was still around he would be challenging you to pistols at dawn.

    Hopefully you will continue in audio in some form or another and you don’t burn too many bridges with the medium that you love, even if the industry around it runs in ways you find disagreeable. It’s the way of the world. If you think audio is bad, for a bit of perspective how about how our “government” is doing regarding the current situation we find ourselves wading through.

    Don’t let them grind you down.
    All the best. Jim

    • Hi Jim,
      Thank you very much for your kind words. Most people have been really kind except some idiots. Duelling at dawn…. just like that scene in TMWTGG with Roger Moore and Christopher Lee on the Thai beach (I went there actually when I went to Thailand – Phang Nga bay it’s called). ‘We’ll settle this Mano et Mano’, to which Bond replies ‘Pistols at Dawn Scaramanga???!!!(wtf) . lol
      I’m enjoying shouting at clouds lol and they are quite fun to write. What I hate about this industry is the people who would drive it out of its pleasure are such a polar opposite to what music gives. They are running it into the ground. It’s a source of frustration that the great benefits music brings, which is essentially what HiFi does, are totally at odds. BW Simon

  15. I have a pair of klipsch towers for 1000 cad$, pioneer dedicated cd player 600 cad$, pioneer stereo receiver 1100 cad$. And i changed the very cheap cables ( 25 cad$ the roll ) for 400 cad$ cad$ cables for speakers and cd player. And i have a turntable panasonic from 1990s.
    My advice is to listen more music and run less for the hardware!

  16. This article is more about justification for being a Class Warrior than about the love of music and the gear that gets you closer to it. Undoubtedly one can enjoy music through virtually any delivery system, but that’s not the point of High End Audio and it never was. The love of exemplary product in equal parts to the love of music is where the value lies. Another fatal flaw of this article is the old “law of diminishing returns” BS. You can’t apply an objective law to a subjective pursuit. Period. What makes me happy in terms of the high end audio experience and the value it brings clearly doesn’t make you and some others happy. That we find an abundance of satisfaction where you find opportunity for ridicule supports my observations regarding subjectivity and contempt for that which evades you.

    • Not really as my hifi is prob above what most middle class people, as I am, would spend. The idea diminishing returns in audio isnt existent is perhaps a denial to your spending habits, perhaps for human reasons. If I spend double on an amp I dont get double performance. Pretty much everyone will agree to this, it exists in every walk of life. What you should say, is they exist, and I don’t mind spending the money, then it’s a fair point.

  17. I find it interesting you rail against reviewers that refuse to do comparison reviews, but refuse yourself to visit rooms supporting the ultra high-end, if you don’t listen to those rooms how can you see how far the budget brands, Mytek, Lumin, Parasound & NAD to name a few hi-performance brands, have come in successfully getting you a piece of the DCS, Soulution, CH Precision pie?
    I personally believe that the ultra end of the market serves as both an aspirational goal like your dream car)
    and a goal for the affordable manufactures to shoot for performance wise.
    How many boomers saw McIntosh as kids and now own it, for the sheer pleasure of ownership, musicality and fun! ? !

  18. The anger expressed at Ultra Audiophile in this article, “Ultra Audiophile HiFi Destroys Music” is the tell. When other people spending money makes you mad or when you feel the need to disparage their quest, its obviously personal to you. In this case its the anger, jealousy, frustration we all feel not to be wealthy enough to even have the option. The next best thing is to announce our superior judgement–we are wiser than the foolish person who spends on Ultra Audiophile–in fact the author claims it “Destroys Music”! I have listened to such gear. The worst honest thing you can say is, “Its not worth it” or “I don’t hear much difference” (though often my ears tell me I am hearing something remarkable) but to claim it “destroys music” or “spoils the music” is just not an honest claim because you cannot testify to how much (and why) other people can enjoy hearing Ultra Audiophile Hifi. But that claim appeals to the angry side–to think by spending less you are happier is appealing. Why not just respect the feelings and decisions others make even if you have not or cannot follow suit?

  19. Real question should be what you are really getting for your money & does it make any sense?
    We live in the time when technology lost it’s primary purpose and become more of a Jewellery. Theres no line of industry with more snake oil than audio industry.
    Answer & cure. Proper measurements and performance based evolution are the key starting point. General & personal preference along with usability and product support play an important role & so do the quality & quality of service. Its OK to pay a bit extra for a design & more premium materials if you really like it but to the extent of sanity. I witnessed a lot of huge disappointments regarding really expensive gear which in the best cases performed mediocre.
    Your best referee & protection at the time is supporting sites which do a proper measurements such as Audio Science Review. Sometimes it pays off getting your hands dirty by doing it yourself.

    Best regards.

  20. Fantastic read sums up the hobby well from all perspectives,I personally think the best thing I have done to make judgement of what matters and what’s worth what,is visit good Hi-fi Shows like Munich Hi End where you can actually hear many of the products in question and make your own judgement,also you can listen all the way from mid level systems to the as mentioned Ultra Hi End and hear what the real differences are,when you go from 50k systems to 100k systems the differences are more minimal and possibly a lot of the cost goes towards the finish and prestige,but at this level to many of the potential customers the cost is probably inconsequential,but for me who it’s mainly all aspirational it’s nice to know what’s possible if there are No cost restraints and the area’s where big gains in system performance can be made,what I can take stock of and implement in some form in my own system by further researching what actually goes into these products.

  21. Dear Simon,

    I am glad you left the Hifi-reviewing scene. Your article betrays poor judgement.

    First Hifi principle: enjoy the music; most of us connect purely emotionally with music and some equipment conveys that emotion better than other; this also means that Hifi is highly subjective and there is nothing wrong with that

    Second Hifi principle: the enjoyment of music is an “innocent” hobby with a tiny ecological footprint and no known adverse effects

    Third Hifi principle: the Hifi world is populated by the weirdest and the most wonderful and beautifully expresses creativity and diversity

    Given the above 3 principles, it is painful to read how a “reviewer” vilifies “purists” pursuing their most innocent hobby to its ultimate expression. These purists allow skilled craftsmen and talented engineers not only to pursue their own dreams but also to make a living out of them. What is wrong with that? These “purists” drive innovation with their pockets. And eventually innovation trickles right down to the humblest budget system. What point are you trying to make?

    Good reviews should tickle curiosity and encourage exploration.

    Let me share my experience with your readers and give them ideas that they will not regret exploring.

    By reading reviews, I became aware that the “foundation” of a Hifi system is more important that the equipment itself:
    1. Good power management
    2. Good racks/ stands
    3. And yes: good interconnects and loudspeaker cables
    Pay attention to the above – in the above decreasing order of priority – and you will be able to make your system connect emotionally in ways you did not think imaginable. Spend at least 50% of your budget on these. At any price point.
    Good foundation will outlast many generations of other equipment upgrades and honestly (ruthlessly?) bring to the fore the true “performance” of all other equipment.

    Good foundation is eminently affordable if bought 2nd hand through reputable retailers (thanks to those “purists” upgrading) and will outlive many generations of other equipment upgrades.

    I have reached the end of my personal quest in a mix of new and 2nd hand equipment (truly exceptional gear does not come on the 2nd hand market; why is that?). And yes, it includes a full loom of Nordost Odin cables, dCS gear and a Clearaudio turntable with parallel tracking arm. To my amusement, my loudspeakers cost less than half the new price of my loudspeaker cables. But I would not want any other.

    Finally, a reader remarks on the poor equipment used to record performances. I totally agree. Fortunately, some small recording houses now pay much attention to cabling and gear. With spectacular results re CD/SACD (this IS progress). Curiously, vinyl seems less affected (I owe LPs dating from the early 70’s to the very latest releases, which incidentally invariably sound “better” than even their SACD counterparts).
    Enjoy the diversity of Hifi.
    As the great B sang: Brüder, nicht diese Töne, sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen (with apologies for the off by memory quote).
    Enjoy the music.

    • If I had to geuss you work in the industry. But your comment shows Jack that you are a money no object audiophile. The problem is, most people aren’t, and you cannot subjugate your thinking onto others with a fraction of the budget who rightly want to know about value for money. If you are doing something to the enth degree, with ridiculous cost, that is more about an obsession than music. Maybe even an illness like gamblers. Personally I think the top dCS DACs are not value for money.Ive no problem in them developing gear, but the price has to be representative of the real world nature of the performance of the product. My article in itself doesnt represent my only judgement around the HiFi industry

      • Simon, what you appear to be missing out on in your thought process is the issue and opportunity of trickle down technology and given you are clearly upset with dCS in your article and elsewhere with the issue of organisations that get increased sales, yet won’t sponsor you, it begs the question as to whether these two are linked? But whether or not it is when you agree with comments that there is no difference between the most expensive components and those costing 500 to 5000, you demonstrate inconsistency in your opinion. I have read your review of the approx 12000 dCS Bartok and the superlatives that you bestowed upon it compared to lesser DACs, discussing the improved resolution and it would from your “I thought the Chord Hugo….” (noting you also “hate” that company) comment that you considered it better than that. Now consider where Bartok sits in the dCS lineage that you consider that “the price has to be representative of the real word nature”. When dCS developed Vivaldi it was from a basis of previous ring day products such as Paganini and the previous flag ship performance Scarlatti. People loved Scarlatti performance but the different sized modules made it difficult to accommodate. Paganini on the other hand had the consistent form factor with a machined aluminium facia that shows its ancestry to Vivaldi. The development of Vivaldi 4 box system is easy to understand as a ‘no compromise’, best we can achieve product developed by personnel who defined and made dsd and dxd as well as dsdx2 a reality. You can state if you wish that a four box Vivaldi is either no better than something costing 5000 (or agree with a comment of another saying that) and judgement of performance is personal, however the many other manufacturers who have used them as a source at shows, etc or even those using previous models would suggest that view is certainly not sustainable in terms of 5000 products being as good. The cost of developing Vivaldi and as is the case in every product development scenario (and I have dealt with £10+ billion of product development projects over 40 years) is to obtain the payback over the life of that model and needs to assist in the funding of upgrades and future generation products, whether at that level or trickled down to the next level. Now consider dCS moved to Rossini £20k ish where to principle (initially without disc) was to provide almost Vivaldi quality and I note limited by cost of system not by deliberate hamstringing, to provide a streaming and ultimately by demand a streaming and disc system – if you want a cost driving culprit try buying an esoteric cd drive. Which I can tell you from personnel experience does indeed get close to Vivaldi when used with a master clock. However, when compared in a revealing system Vivaldi as a 3 (transport, day and clock) or a 4 box (with upsampler) out performs it. At this point if those are your choices then I would suggest the audiophile in question (whilst obviously considering alternatives) would be wise to consider their source. If it’s streamed or stored music and rarely cd/sacd then a Vivaldi dac and clock with a storage streamer (and perhaps ripper) such as a Weiss or storage and stream such as an Aurender W20 (for dual aes/ebu as alt to usb) might be more suited than using the up sampler for streaming as hi-res does not need that function. If one must have a disc then a Paganini transport will do dual aes Vivaldi mode as will a Scarlatti, but both are eclipsed by the Vivaldi transport IF you can and want to afford it. Alternatively even a project disc box at 700 ish has an aes output that performs adequately for occasional discs. But returning to thoughts on your position, the next iteration is Bartok, which again trickles down with as you noted a split Rossini motherboard to achieve the form factor and provide the basis for the headphone orientated day that as noted you were very enthusiastic about. I will take on more slight tangent in noting that at the time of Rossini development the consideration of a one box higher performance system seems to have been in dCS thoughts and the production of the Vivaldi one single box system that your article depicts in the anniversary gold version with the comment of “destroys music”, along with some D’Agostino amps in the background. I cannot say I have heard a Vivaldi one, I doubt dCS would have launched it if it wasn’t close to a full system performance and better than a Rossini and would out perform the Bartok that you seem to have loved before something about dCS upset you.
        But the point is Barton would not exist at £12k if it wasn’t for the Vivaldi and Rossini that you consider are not worth the money, I suspect even lessons learned in Vivaldi one assisted in achieving Bartok’s performance. In my ‘world’ at least the last 20 years of it development is attempting something that is not ‘readily deductible to a competent professional’. To achieve and prove that you have to undertake the development that you witnessed of not just product but manufacturing and testing systems in your dCS factory visit and those circuit boards you described as “hifi porn” don’t just happen they evolve and that takes iterations and costs of a world class development team whose names are perhaps not as well known as Dan D’Agostino or Nelson Pass; etc., but perhaps they should be. In conclusion the point regarding development is that short of the occasional eureka moment, they are more perspiration than inspiration. Chords route to the Hugo no doubt benefited from its high end dacs as dCS’s did to Bartok. If it wasn’t for this and the ring day work etc then the limit would be (good as they are) sabre chips etc. Why do they try to improve? Because of the performance of ring days and the other alternatives. So you may not think anybody should pay for the leading to bleeding edge of achieving these technologies. But if they didn’t then the costs would be spread across the Rossini’s or Bartok’s etc. I for one am glad that those who paid for the Elgar and Scarlatti systems that went before as otherwise there would be no Vivaldi, Rossini and Bartok for me to be able to cut my coat accordingly. Or as you also noted in your Bartok article perhaps spend money on this instead of a more expensive car, etc.
        If those who one of your other contributors suggested to your amusement need a ‘neck up’ examination had not got or saved hard for the money to buy these iterations. Then would the near SOTA products that he wrongly suggests at 5000 can eclipse the likes of a Vivaldi even have been driven to exist? In my £10+ billion experience of R&D it is mainly necessity and competition that drives and strives for improvement. In the case of dCS constantly competing against the best they have done before AND gradually bringing that to a more affordable level has been their drive for “only the music” and whether I bought their products or the still sought after many years after production ceased, Arcam CD player that mimics ring dac in a chip. I for one applaud them for it and don’t decry the odd pandering to a market for a gold plated one that probably helped to fund the development of the Bartok that you, at least once, appeared to love.

        • I will not waste any more of my very well paid time on you Simon. I gave you detailed background to emphasise the point, if you want a succinct version I refer you to Winston Churchill on such subjects. Your article is contradicted by the logic of the trickle down case I make and if you don’t understand the proportions of the economic contribution of earlier products that will be an issue in your conclusions. You cannot for example buy a production line and charge the first customer it’s costs, anymore than you should buy a camera for one videoing job and expect to charge the first customer a proportion of the £750 you wanted when the deal was for travel expenses. I would also note that if you think diminishing returns is the primary reason most people don’t buy £100k hifi components then I think you need to consider looking at average income first. Dcs have brought the price down in the Bartok it may not be to where you want it, but that is their business. Mass licensing would not be in their interest, so why should they? You don’t want to write an article for nothing. I can see what’s in cheap Vivaldi’s for you, what’s in it for dCS?

  22. Dear Simon,

    Thanks for taking the time to reply. And no, I do not work for or represent in any way the industry.
    Unfortunately, you avoid the issues:
    1. what is wrong with wealthy individuals splashing out on beautifully crafted objects, thereby supporting a cottage industry of exceptional craftsmen and gifted engineers?
    2. especially if that cottage industry pursues the unbiased enjoyment of music, therefore with negligible carbon footprint and/or other adverse environmental or societal side-effects?
    3. especially if the High End encourages innovation which invariably finds its way into the humblest of households, either through trickle-down technology or through the 2nd hand market?
    It is obvious that you became disappointed with your reviewer-carrier, and that this bias now colours yr writing. You should stop writing as you stand open to rightful accusations of unethical behaviour.
    To the readers you mislead, I say: give yourselves the chance to listen to a beautifully set-up Hi End system on a proper “foundation” (and no, not at a show) and simply enjoy the moment.
    If you are tempted, there are always marginally lesser solutions at a fraction of the price (law of diminishing return), or buy 2nd hand! and simply enjoy the music.
    Most important: don’t let Simon’s ramblings sour yr experience.

  23. Fremer…
    Please go away. You were bought and paid for long ago, which is in and of itself amusing given the meager returns to the purchaser. You’re no more than a simplistic shill.

  24. Can’t resist adding that I think Michael Fremer is a pure product of and direct beneficiary of the industrial HiFi smokescreen marketing machine that Simon has properly exposed and denounced. There are still and there have been some excellent HiFi reviewers in the industry. The best are a pleasure to read. Michael Fremer not only isn’t one of them, he perfectly personfies all that is despiteful in this hobby. He reminds me of the fast-talking, jittery-nervous, beady-eyed snake oil salesmen during the American Wild West period; a dishonest chump to forget post haste.

Written by Simon Price

I'm an audio lover who likes sharing experiences of faithfully reproduced audio in a CREDIBLE, BALANCED and ENGAGING way. I’m interested in products; their looks, functionality and features, and most importantly how they sound! My reviews keep technicalities easy, as I believe great audio is non exclusive and to be enjoyed by all! It's all about the music!

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