Is everything listed on these pages actually high end audio? Are all the narratives, reviews, ads, discussions, etc., all about high end home audio?
Or is there a point wherein High End audio leaves the pack behind?
We throw the term “High End” around HERE so often YET WITHOUT ANY TRUE CLARIFICATION OR DEFINITIVE PARAMETERS BEING OUTLINED, I thought I’d see if there was an actual consensus as to what it means to the student body, alumni, and faculty on this forum.
Plenty of terms abound in audio which declare a particular piece or system deserves a lofty or loftier perch on the audio tree. State of the Art. Hi fi. Upper tier. Custon. Cottage industry at its finest. Handmade. High def. High Resolution. Ultra fi. Magnum Opus. Ground breaking. If Best Buy does not sell it. Destination. Signature. Statement. Threshold of diminishing returns. Leading edge. If you can’t buy it at the mall. Bleeding Edge. UNOBTAINIUM. Cantaffordium. If you have to ask how much it is…. If its not a four letter word beginning with B and ending with OSE.
As the very nature of this past time is entirely subjective, where do you believe ‘High End’ Audio begins or should begin?
In broad strokes and your own opinion as to where exactly High end home audio gear can be without question called or referred to as truly “High End.
Price is an obvious indicator for many albeit, price too is subjective.
At the end of the day, how do you decide who is or who is not, in the club?
High end has gone from searching for low distortion and high quality (longevity, low failure rate, equipment lifespan, etc)..and necessarily into the lext level of concern when those criteria have been conquered.
This means moving into the psychoacoustics of how we hear. How exactly that relates to the now ’more or less’ perfected aspects of ’engineering level measurements’ that was the prior emphasis.
Eg, a big debate gong on right now, outside of most people’s notice, that can make a mess of high end audio, and that is Bob Stuart’s MQA digital recording and playback software/mathematical manipulations.
We’re having a large amount of unsuccessful, on non-concluding debate as many people did not get the mental memo about ’what comes after electrical parameters have been stabilized across the board?’
It’s the connection between vanishingly small electrically weighted parameters and how this relates to the way that humans hear.
And how we don’t fully understand how humans hear in the specifics of the minutia of perfection in hearing..and how that VARIES between people, as people are all wired differently..and that this variance is as common and REAL as differences in athletics and intelligence, in individuals.
The debate has moved to being outside the electrical obvious to the esoteric and fleeting. As in science itself, the Newtonian debate ends....and moves to being quantum in debate and understanding of reality.
Which is where the debate and the reality of high end always was..but was covered by by the motion into low electrical distortions. And how those electrical distortions relate to how we hear. How in science the quantum includes Newtonian in it’s envelope ...but is actually, at a very different level, and requires a very different mind and mindset -to deal with it.
And just how alarmingly FEW people who debate audio understand that...if they solely pursue what they know and project that onto what they don’t know.
It’s like the multi-level jokes in what are obstinately a child’s cartoon animated film. Where the jokes can be understood by the one set but mean entirely different things -on a different level... to the other set in the audience.
The data is there in high end audio to ’get’ the esoteric but if one is looking at it strictly in electrical terms, that would be only the ’completed and obvious common-junior level aspects’ of the scenario.
So the debates center around the lack of understanding of the complexity and a stubborn inability to consider what they don’t know -but still calls to them if they look with different eyes/ears/mind..one one hand..and... those who note that difference.
Since it is all in mind and can’t be easily labeled but is ~very very real~, the debate rages due to one part of the group not even realizing they are not getting the multilayered complexities that are within (but poorly explored/expressed) the electrical end of things.
The vanishingly low levels of distortion in differential is the entire package of the intelligence of what high end audio seeks. It’s important to the envelope of the music signal’s expression as this is related to how we hear in the specifics of attempts at perfection in this ’expression’ we call ’high end’.
The non athletic, in their ignorance, rage against the athletic, essentially. Then there are other aspects of how the ’audio athletic hopeful’ are testing their own limits, exploring in the ways they may..how they may fall prey to a false presentation within those attempts of expressions. We hear that in those badly realized audio systems that are constructed of what are obstinately low distortion products but don’t have any real musical ’synergy’.
We’ve developed an entire language to try and express to one another....these (electrically) vanishingly low data sets and their overall contexts.
Like the edge of any complex science that is still being hashed out and is not wholly defined, we run into serious levels of contention and hard expressed opinion which happens in a multitude of directions.
To top it off, it is commercial, competitive and not in a professional arena.
It is figuring itself out but it will likely always be a bit of a mess and a area of contention, as it is about individual skills at the edge of human capacities, and not everyone is equal.
There’s no winning or losing as everyone can get to where they want to to be, if they try hard enough and well enough. But it can be vary argumentative as individual human realization, which runs rampant and throughout the envelope of the scenario..this realization in each individual is not equal or in possession of a common norm -outside of the basics.
It’s a mess and will be for a long time yet. Until the debate settles this out and moves on to the next level that will be under a cloud of confusion. Same as it is for all areas of complex endeavor.
Not exactly what you wanted as a contribution, but hopefully.... helpful.
Until you have even a little bit of experience with PWB stuff you really shouldn’t comment on what high end sound is. After all, high end sound is all about sound, not anything else. Not “solid emgineering.” Not blind tests. Not “scientifically valid arguments.” Not cost. It’s about sound. It’s like the old dude says to Geddes the detective in Chinatown, “You may think you know what you’re dealing with but, believe me, you don’t.” This is not to say sound is not (rpt not) also about the room, directionality, fuses and being able to put it all together too.
one day I’m almost certain you will be the primary reason for my next heart attacxk. It will occur the exact moment you actually begin making good sense. BTW TWWBMBTYWHPOOA. . . . . . .. . .
@ghosthouse > Sorry. No interest in "clubs".
Blindjim > Tanks.
If its gonna be about semantics…. what do you call this forum but just another name for a club? You did join it. Ala membership. You attend regularly. You sign in with a secret password. You’ve been in it a long time. You abide by its rules and regulations. You continue to return to it. Its obviously a source of entertainment or interaction.you are committed to. You regularly contribute. I am curious now, how do you define ‘club’? . . . . . . .
randy-11 > alternatively, high end audio is when people think they get very high SQ from spending a lot of money for something
blindjim > thanks. = = = == = = = = = =
I would be willing to wager someone without any experience, but with a lot of money would do exceedingly well in this ‘club’ or ‘sport’ or past time’ or hobby’, or interest’, or concern’, . or endeavor’, or exercise’, or, well, use the term you like the most except High End Audio. No one here seems to be able to define that one very well at all.
Get past the snobbery--high end is about reproducing recordings (hopefully) without note smearing, with accurate instrument tonality, and the qualities related to rhythm and tunefulness. Everybody can't have the 'last word'. Forget brand heritage. If the component helps recreate the musical event to communicate the expressive intent of the artist in such a way as to bring pleasure to the listener, call it high end.
High End today is expensive Hardware rolling without any clue what's going on..... We listen first with our eyes, then with our wallets. After taking both factors into consideration, it is then that we use our ears just to "verify" what our eyes and wallets have told us about a product.
I don't know how to discuss defining hi-end audio beyond my own (and therefore unique) personal experience. So for "you" it's going to undoubtably be something different. but i do know what anyone who loved their stereo system and/or even more significant- their love of music and their passion for sharing it with others really gets to the heart of things. As I met more and more people who invited me in and asked me what I thought of this or that album, it wasn't so much what they had to play it on (everyone had a different budget level and shopped different stores), it was their tremendous enthusiasm that impressed me the most. Eventually I got to hear better and better stuff, I could definitely relate to the YouTube video of 1950's Hi-Fi (thanks JMGROGAN) and remember browsing in department stores as a young kid looking at console stereo's (with built-in television sets). When separate components came out on display in the 60's i swore i would someday get a nice stereo, too- Fisher, Scott, Marantz, WOW was i excited. One afternoon my dad and I got to hear a demo of Voice of the Theatre speakers! But... they didn't sound much like the real thing to my ears even though you could hear them three blocks away. Finally in my 30's I graduated from a Denon amp to a Hafler and then spent a "small fortune" and replaced it with a used Levinson. WOW all over again. Instruments had real texture, and the notes took on a whole new dimension of liveliness. I was finally able to come up with the enormous amount of money it took, and that it was beyond my reach only a few years ago. I had felt guilty, embarrassed, even silly for wanting such esoteric gear just to listen to my CD's. I just know how great the music sounds these days, and just accept how much I enjoy the experience. So nowadays if people want to know "how many watts" my speakers have, I'll tell them "100 each" and just let it go. But if they really like what they hear, I'll also add that "it's quality not quantity"....
High End, at one time, meant the components that came closest to mimicking the sound of live, UNAMPLIFIED, acoustic music heard in a defined space. The problem is, too many people on forums do not go to live, unamplified music events, so there’s no way for them to know what is closest to the "musical truth." So they proclaim certain equipment "crap" without knowing for certain, that the setup and electrical compatibilities are not to blame.
I heard the ASL Hurricanes at Lyric HiFi in 2003. If I used that ONE audition to conclude the quality of those amps, I would have pronounced them unfit to be called 'High End.' However, I didn’t trust the audition, because the dynamic range was so bad, that after reading the TAS review, I had no doubt that that would have been a mistake to think that this is what the amps actually sounded like. And this, in a room with the IRS V speakers sitting nearby (but not hooked up for the audition). I looked over every piece of equipment in the system, and - except for the Dynaudio speakers - knew that the sound I was hearing just couldn’t POSSIBLY be the way it should sound.
So, I bought the amp, months later, elsewhere (and still unheard, except for the Lyric HiFi audition), set it up in my own system and listening room and turned it on - and was immediately dazzled by the utter realism of it. And by "immediately," I mean I pressed "play' on the remote control cd player over my shoulder, walking back to the listening position. Didn’t even make it to my listening chair (all of 10' away) before I whipped around, astounded, by the sonics. I was expecting, based on HP’s review, a certain "magic" to the presentation, but I got far more than I ever expected. To this day, I still have the amps. And I’ve heard higher resolution components but never anything with more "realism" than the ASLs. (I’d sure like to, but nothing I’ve heard over the years is akin to the realism they produce, although I can outlines their weaknesses easily). So, back to the point: mismatched components - and I have heard dozens of setups that I’d call 'mismatched, if only because the resulting sonic presentation was REALLY mediocre - are all too often responsible for what people hear, rather than the component itself, at its best. And that is also why I only comment on what I have heard, not on the whimsical - or snarky - utterings of others who’ve never heard the component they shower such disdain upon. This is why so many others get it so wrong - and so often. Even some inexpensive components come close to the "musical truth," if that includes tonal accuracy, musicality and dynamic range and contrast. They may not be the last word in sound staging, imaging, high frequency extension, etc, but they’re still truthful to music that was recorded in specific halls. In other words, Carnegie Hall, the hall I know best, sounds like Carnegie on recordings I know well (mostly older recordings, and BY FAR, on vinyl). But if you know live music, you know its rarely "boxy"-sounding, or the surrounding acoustics sound like it was recorded in a hall with a 20 watt bulb, and the dynamic range is...non-existent on the 1812 Overture.
Nowadays, people have hijacked the term "High End," to mean "expensive (which equipment certainly is, these days)! I don't place much faith in their opinions if they only refer to other components, never mention ANY comparison to live music, or, AT LEAST recordings that have minimal manipulation.
+1 And if you do go to live events of acoustic music, and larger scale classical music in particular, you soon realize that what you can reproduce at home is only a postage stamp size version of it.
Fortunately the brain is pretty good at compensating.
You also realize that 'sound stage', 'spatial detail', 'warmth' or 'air' are not necessarily there in live concerts in the best acoustics.
@syntax > We listen first with our eyes, then with our wallets. After taking both factors into consideration, it is then that we use our ears just to "verify" what our eyes and wallets have told us about a product.
Blindjim > how true. That do seem to be the process. Thanks. = = = = =
@Elizabeth > To invest so totally in the stereo. As much as your car? twice you new car? As much as your HOUSE Blindjim > I had a nice BMW 500 series in my living room at one time. A 90s version of the 500 series. the property was worth well, uh, more.
= = = = =
@Mapman > High end means more expensive and exclusive compared to the rest, plain and simple.
Blindjim > sure seems quite relative and not indicative. A new preamp or DAC can run $1K to $60K or more. A PeachTree 300 runs $2K. an HT receiver costs as little as $400. Integrated amps range wildly from below a grand to near $30K in some cases.
Where then, is the bar separating High from Low?
If the answer is always to be a subjective appraisal based on first hand experiences of the goods themselves, the outcomes will be too vague for any particular distinction which would then firmly separate one from the other. = = = =
@Willemj > what you can reproduce at home is only a postage stamp size version of it
Blindjim > stamp sized? Either take off the headphones, or move your speakers farther apart. Lol
I’ll say the recreated sound scape won’t be exact, but it can come quite close depending on the listening room dims and what was captured during the show.
@Willemj > You also realize that 'sound stage', 'spatial detail', 'warmth' or 'air' are not necessarily there in live concerts in the best acoustics.
Blindjim > not sure at all of what you’re thinking posting that last bit.
At a live event the sound stage, tenor, and dimension are in fact present. You only have to look. The players are where they are in relationship to the confines of the venue. They ain’t all standing behind each other or shoulder to shoulder in the middle of the stage. Each player and instrument occupy its own spot. If it is indeed an acoustic recital, separation gets very well defined. If everyone is in tune its usually an engaging outing.
How it is being recorded or how well, will then represent the artificial presentation your system will deliver.
The truth of the performance lives only at the performance. The recording offers merely a particular rendition or capture of it. What a home audio system does with that info thereafter should determine how proficient the home system is with being honest to the recording…. Not necessairily the actual venue’s performance.
If however the concert is all amplified its gonna gbe up to the mixing engineer and or producer to decide which product suits the recording best.
If it ain’t in the recording it sure ain’t gonna gbe in your systems ability to add something in or simply provide for it later.
This is why I’m so skeptical when reading articles on gear which relate not just the tonal attributes of a show or redcital, but where the walls are as well. Really. Were the walls stone, brick, or drywall? Better yet, was everyone wearing socks, or not? Were the chairs metal or wood? Cushioned?
Memories are not the exact pictorial evidence one should rely upon when recounting what is being displayed audibly. A mind can tent to bend or add vague artifacts into the writers memory and consequent testimony. = = = = = =
I sure didn’t realize how difficult a question this was before now.
Applying a price range likely won’t simplify matters. Albeit as price increases the opportunity to experience the magic that exceptional audio’ electronics deliver becomes more commonplace even though the pieces responsible for recreating an engaging presentation often, are not at all common.
Maybe defining High end audio is best done from the top down than aiming directly at every piece of electronics hitting today’s market.
‘Cost No Object’, there should be little or no space for debate here on the it is or it is not.
C.N.O. items are easy to spot. They always have a comma in their prices and usually 2 or 3 digits forward of it.
Likewise, ‘Statement’ and ‘Signature’ lines of equipment should fit into the ‘high end’ enclave with few, if any, detractors. Once more these are readily observed as the tax per device regularly has five digits and the first number is a 3, 4, or higher.
Speakers are the most mystifying IMHO. Checking each models MSRP does very little to separate great performers from incredibgle reproducers. The moving tartget of speaker performance rests on more than the speaker system du jour. What is pushing them, and their resident prison. I’ll cast a vote for any pair exceeding the $9K plateau.
Regarding wires and accessories? Hoo boy! Here’s possibly the biggest bag of worms and most heated, controversial topic in audio. I’m not entering any vote there.
Across these considered areas, everything is open to deliberation. Add in the resplendent factor of complete synergy in arranging separates en masse, which can be much like hearding cats now and then, and the quandary of where does “high end audio’ begin or stop garners still greater mystery.
For me, it's arriving where I have just an hour ago, with a time proven, class A/B integrated and a SACD player tweaked with some fuses, a new pair of speakers based on a decades old design, and after playing around with cables, settling on a simple, 16ga solid core, soft annealed silver wire with a 9 gauge jacket for my speaker cables.
It's the best sound I've ever heard in my room. Scary good in fact. Considering that it's stone age gear with high end sound, does it count?
I like a lot of what @jmcgrogan2 and @elizabeth put forth.
@geoffkait hits the nail right on the head, "high end sound is all about sound, not anything else. Not “solid engineering.” Not blind tests. Not “scientifically valid arguments.” Not cost. It’s about sound."
@nonoise it's stone age gear with high end sound, does it count?
Blindjim > > Thanks. synergy always matters. Tweaking a rig is a part of system arranging that aids performance. What, where, which, aren’t as important. Its results which are the gains being sought. = = = =
@trelja geoffkait hits the nail right on the head, "high end sound is all about sound, not anything else. Not “solid engineering.” Not blind tests. Not “scientifically valid arguments.” Not cost. It’s about sound."
Blindjim > uh. Well, if you say so. Although, don’t you think that statement is simply restating the ideal and not the solution?
Certainly it is about sound. That is how one will subjectively separate High End from Also Rans and less competent fare.
Albeit, I’m absolutely sure those items with better builds and part compliments. Better designs, greater quality assurance control, and so forth will be those who reside in the High End, and not in the lesser groups.
Saying it is all about sound is redundantly distracting. It defines nothing. Settles not one item.
Its like saying you’ll need a measuring cup for what ever recipe, even though the recipe demands you use a quarter cup of this, a half cup of that, and a third cup of something else. .
The question here is hwere physically or most often physically, is the line separating the best in production from the rest of the gear in production.
The quandary is Not concerned with ‘how’, will we figure it out.
A VTL entry level preamp costs around $2.5K or so. the Cheapest Ypsilon preamp made costs $37K.
I’ve not heard either one but I strongly suspect there is a significant disparity in performance between these preamps, but they are both subjectively termed ‘entry level preamps. As such, we can’t even use the term ‘entry level’ as a disqualifier. = = = = = =
@ejr1953 If you ask 100 people that same question, probably 90 or more of them will say "Bose".
Blindjim > LOL. Agreed. However, it seems the other 90% aren’t real sure, or perhaps even capable of determining where satisfactory stops, and outstanding begins.
@ejr1953 If a you own a system that provides you with a lot of enjoyment, to me, that's worth a lot more than someone else's judgement on the components.
Blindjimn > once more you’ll get no argument from me on such notions whatsoever.
I’m gonna state HIGH END begins in general, at or above the mid range of the vast majority of electronics makers production lines. If a maker has several lines of goods, which escalate performance then I’d point to their upper tier line of goods as TRUE High End items. Often, I’d suspect in these cases, the range of products immediately preceeding the top tier array are likely to be added into the conversation commensurately.
Absolutely there are tons of Also Rans out there which if one never enters the big room at the local audio dealership, will survive and thrive in blissful ignorance, as these items and a lack of experience enables sufficient degree of satisfaction.
For me it was or is, like jumping on a 500cc scooter and grabbing a fistful of throttle rapidly. Then lifting a leg onto a 1500cc fire breathing pocket rocket and once again, suddenly molesting the throttle with extreme prejudice.
These are two vastly different experiences. Although, until you’re sitting in the saddle of the second motorbike and yanking its fun handle vigorously ya will never know. You can and or will suspect its better, faster, scarier, but you won’t ever know until you give ‘er a go.
In that case the line HAS to be between the 500cc scooter and those above it possessing greater displacement, as the logical deduction from the very small sampling being utilized.
Lets break it down. There is low, medium, and high. Can you be low end?, or you might be medium end which is normally called midfi. The word End means the final step. So supposingly you can't get better than High End? Which finally begs the question how do you know when your high end?. Is it the cost or the sound quality or combination of both. Just maybe know one really cares about the label in itself.
As roberjerman stated above, the term High End was introduced to hi-fi criticism by Harry Pearson in the first issue of The Absolute Sound. I found the term to be not to my liking, as it smacks of elitism and snobbery. Plus, implicate in it's use is the assumption that more expensive equals better. At the time of first seeing the term, I did not know it was already in use in regards to other types of consumer products, and in that use referred to price more than anything else.
I much prefer J. Gordon Holt's (founder of Stereophile, and creator of "subjective" reviewing) use of the terms "perfectionist" and "high-performance" in critiquing hi-fi. Those terms address the issue of sound quality, irrespective of price. Any given product may provide perfectionist or high-performance sound quality without necessarily being high priced.
@elizabeth Bravo. Thoughtful and poignant as usual. = == = = = = == = = == =
I feel price MUST be at least a part, if not all, of the conversation as makers of nearly everything on the planet set price according to build & performance, in their subjective assessments. This is of course, if they wish to be competitive in whatever budgetary range their item is being offered.
Naturally, audio is nearly always appraised by prospective buyers, subjectively, on performance or cost to performance,albeit such evaluations vary widely due to presentation being demonstrated from poor to optimumly setup and well matched systems and rooms.
I dare say we’ve all heard items being demonstrated we would not buy with someone else’ money, despite its possible lofty price tag and likely upper tier abilities, due to a poor setup or bad sounding room. Yet all too often expensive gear begs be hooked to other expensive stuff all the time. At least in our heads. And hearts. Doing otherwise is backing up and no one does that too often unless they are forced.
Regardless the associated implication and or sales tactics, demonstrating snonbery, elitism, arrogance or what other off putting social or professional attitude, there is a decided inherent disparity from entry level to ‘costno object” goods.
Where that dividing line resides is of course, the thrust of this topic.
The main issue I see with so called ‘high end’ gear is its asking price, not its subjective all too well worn, insinuated lable.
I can not, and will not fault anyone for asking whatever for anything. It is their prerogative to ask. It is mine to pay it. Deny paying it and leave. Or attempt to find some middle ground acceptable, hopefully, to both parties and consummate the bargain.
If I am lucky or unlucky enough to buy it, I’ll not be telling the uninitiated what I paid for it later on. That would be perpetuating the arrogance far too often associated with most anything beyond the line of entry level equipment. It would as well reinforce the idea of just how tenuous and frail is my sanity to others.
Check that. I will tell one person. My insurance agent. My banker will find out incidentally. A few days later still, I’ll be dismayed by the then nearly defunct associated bank account.
Consequently, once more, CNO, SOTA, Statement, and Signature lines of equipment are all long term residents of the so called High end community by default. Price not with standing.
Delving deeper, it appears sane enough to place everything above entry lines or levels of electronic gear subjectively speaking, into the high end as well and let ensuing arguments pro or con, wrest things into or out of it.
One can laud performance. Point squarely towards cost. Or try keeping a foot in each camp. No matter. Claiming something as high end or not, seems as subjective in a majority of cases as trying to describe degrees of warmth a particular loudspeaker exhibits.
If performance is the only measurement, show me a 2.5K preamp which readily out performs one costing 5K! additionally, an amp costing $8K which on all counts out runs one costing $35K.
As said, cost has a large role in this debate. As much if not more than plain and simple, good old outstanding recreation.
The major obstacle indemic to any individual appraisal is experience. Having seen only an elephant from India, then viewing one from Africa, its troublesome to determine which one is possibly best, though quite easy to pronounce each one different in at least one characteristic.
Beyond ‘experience’ lays the pit fall of personal taste or preferences. Setting aside one’s own partiality for how music is reproduced is a tuff enough task as a rule. We do at least attempt to set these devotions aside temporarily so we might gain enough satisfying insight for acquiring a part of the rig being auditioned, or the whole rig itself. each aforementioned task is a difficult endeavor and in fact may become an outright complicated or involved ordeal.
Therefore as the Devil’s Advocate, using MSRP as the sniper to target what is decidedly in the high end, I’ll offer the following items as likely parameters for being in or out of ‘high end’ audio: Amps or floorstanding speakers costing $5K or more individually. Stand mounted speakers priced at $3k and above. subwoofers at $3K.
CDP at $2K and above. dACs running above $4K. streamer/Renderers at $2K or more.
TTs fully workingat $8K.
Digital cables or links at $200 and up. Analog signal cables at $500 or more. Speaker cables at $1K or above. Power Cords at $500 and up.
Racks at $3K. equipment or amp stands at $2K. Iso platforms at $1K.
Power conditioners passive or active costing more than $1500.
HT gear is not listed here to keep the focus on audio.
An Audiophile is a person who loves Music so much that his dog gets fed and the human goes without to improve the quality of thier Stereo. So what is High End? It is the stereo you listen to, because you love music. The best value in your budget and then listen to the Music you love.