My sense is that form, fitness and function need to be balanced in any engineered product. Well made components should be designed to last, and skimping on the chassis or the casing would seem counterproductive to that goal. Perhaps there are some blingy approaches that don't add real value (expensive automative paint jobs on Wilson's products?), but when I look at my Manley or Krell components, my feeling is that they got it right in providing the right balance of form factor relative to the sonic qualities delivered.
I think that was part of the approach that McCormack and Wyred4sound amongst others have taken. Whether they actually hit the mark is questionable. But, I wonder if such a product actually hit the bulls eye, would it actually get the respect it deserved, or just be dismissed as a good value overachiever? It seems as though for many, so much of this hobby is about pride of ownership.
When someone DARES to A/B the performance of a HEGEL product (or similar) with a Rowland, Burmester, etc. amp/preamp that will be a great day for the hobby. but no one wants to do it. funny how that works.
It doesn't come with much less fancy than my Symphonic Line Kraft 250 monos:
The resident female says they look like air conditioners without the knobs.
I agree with the Unsound's comments above, and I look forward to hearing a Hegel product sometime. Another product that provides true high end performance with extremely sound engineering and no bling to drive up the price are the Musical Reference amplifiers (RAM Labs): RM200 and RM10. These perform way beyond their price point,
I think there's the false assumption that using lesser quality metal work will result in a dramatic lowering of the sale price. If a manufacturer went this root, would a $10k amp suddenly cost only $6k? I think not!
A high powered class A or A/B amp will necessarily be on the large and heavy side. Couple this with the fact that vibration and resonance control become increasingly more important factors as the quality of equipment improves and the high end amp manufacturer has little choice but to go with substantial metalwork. Once you're stuck with a big piece of metal to begin with the laser etching or mirror polishing doesn't add that much incremental cost.
Do you know the tale from "The Emperor's New Clothes"?
High End Pricing is based on that.
+1 to what Unsound said. There are manufacturers out there that spend more on the innards than the outtards per se. However, if it's not in an impressive looking case, will the audio journals give it their highest ratings.....doubtful. Most want to pay for the jewlery/name. If you don't, you can find small manufacturers that don't play the game, like PBN, Bear Labs, Music Reference, Quicksilver, TRL, CODA, etc.
Agree with French_fries above. At Axpona the Hegel 200 drove Sony top of the line speakers beautifully at all volumes with all of the music demo'd. A drum solo that led into a live "Take Five" set was especially well done. First time the group of us that went to the show heard both and we came away very impressed.
The reviews have been very kind to Hegel. Spending a couple grand on fancier cases would not necessarily make the electronics better...just better eye candy..
On the other hand there is an old advertising/marketing saying regarding cosmetics, "catch the customer's eye and you'll catch their pocketbook".
That's the beauty of DIY. You can make it as bling-infested or as utilitarian as you desire. Spending more on the components than the casework should result in better sound and a heavier wallet. Hell, if you're only making one, you can even spend 6 months on the casework to make it a masterpiece, for no more cost than that of your spare time.
I generally agree with your position that function should be more important than form. As an example of this, I just bought a rather plain and unimpressive looking class D amp that has very impressive performance (Class D Audio SDS4440SC amp). But, while I am thrilled with it's sonics, I still wish it looked better.
On the other hand, I also agree with Stevecham that a product should be not only be well engineered, but well styled as well. Many try to minimize it, but pride of ownership is an important factor to most of us, especially in things like cars and audio equipment. We see and use these both on a daily basis and are reminded of any shortcomings in looks and performance on a daily basis, too.
Personally, if I was considering buying 2 amps and they were about the same price/warranty and their sound was equally good, I would not hesitate to buy the better looking amp. Of course, amp manufacturers probably have been aware of this human tendency for a long time.
I agree with Peter S. Music reference makes great stuff without the bling factor or the bling price.
Hegel stuff is expensive and raved about in reviews, and I'm sure they thought about the way the stuff looks...its design is every bit as intentional as a Rowland or Pass amp.
If it fell out of an ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down, some, not all wouldn't care as long as it sounds fantastic. Others, the looks brings you in and the sound captures you.
You may want to check out Blue Circle audio - they manufacture a wide range including hi-end products that would certainly compete with the best. Gilbert Yeung has carved out a niche market with his custom designs. Cosmetics is never a priority, the focus is internal - not many manufacturers build power supplies like they do.
Just another happy customer.
I personally like gear that a good industrial designer got hold of...many speakers are especially ugly without grills so I appreciate ones that cover the screw holes at least...retro style amps with exposed tubes...nice...and all amps should be forced to include little meters (like McIntosh, Pass) as they indicate that something is alive in there.
One could argue the majority of high-end audio components embody what you ask for.
Just off the top of my head AtmaSphere, Air Tight, B&K, Bryston, Cary, Creek, Conrad Johnson, Jolida, Music Hall, Music Reference, NAD, Naim, Quad, Quicksilver, Rega, Rogue, and Shindo strike me as getting the chassis done while exercising fiscal prudence.
Personally, I think the AtmaSphere Novacrons rank among the most beautiful audio components ever produced, and yet Ralph's chassis get done at quite modest cost.
Please also take note of Decware Torii Mono amps at Decware.com. I have no affiliation except happy customer.
Always considered the industry to be very conservative. Would like to see more creative bling and design, other than blue lights. Halcro was unique.
You do need a minum quality casing, or the sound will be impaired. Take Conrad Johnson for example. I used a premier 17 Pre for a few years and very good it was too. However the thin, resonant top plate did'nt do it any favours at all and needed some weight on it, to improve the sound.
I do take the point though, cases milled from solid obsidian with diamond inlay, would be overkill.
There is a company like you describe ... take a look at Blue Circle Audio. They manufacture a range of products including high end gear that can compete amongst the best. I don't know of many established manufacturers who will offer the level of customizations that Gilbert does, which is unique IME.
Blue Circle doesn't place much priority on cosmetics and largely focuses on what goes inside the case. Cosmetics are really up to the customer and how much they want to spend for eye candy. Gilbert is not shy about using PVC pipe for those customers who only care about the performance.
I wouldn't underestimate the cost that goes into audio jewelery. When you don't have large fabrication runs of faceplates/cases (which is most high-end audio companies) the costs can be very high. The custom faceplates for my monoblocks added an additional cost of $2k for both amps - and I know that is low compared to the exotic casework you often see. You could argue that is only 6% of the overall cost of the amps, but that $2k would buy a lot of CDs. For myself, it was important to have something that looked nice but I have seen one of their customers who choose not to have any faceplate at all.
Just another happy customer.
The names you mentioned in the OP are higher end brands . Would you want a high end car with an exterior that only Mr Bean could love ?
To be honest I've done my share of weighting the tops and adding insulating liners to the interior's etc etc to components to dampen there flimsy containers , but I'd just as soon have structural integrity up front and pay for it .
Check out Digital Amplifier Company. Very high end minimalist in nature.
Sorry for the double post. Thought my first one didn't make it through.
One area I'm familiar with where design has become more fun is the guitar/bass amp world. Mesa "Transatlantic" tube heads are GORGEOUS (little LED lit innards, very hip and sophisticated designs), and lots of cool ass "boutique" tube amps are beautiful retro looking art, and great sounding things. Tons of reissued 50s and 60s style classics, stuff that looks like old radios...it's nuts, and all good.