Oh, to be a high end dealer for a year.

I love hifi. But high-end mystifies me. I can't help but think it's my lack of deep exposure.

I'd love to know if $100,000 amps matched to $100,000 speakers really sound so much better than the few-thousand dollar systems in my foreseeable future.

Is the worth of a quarter-million dollar system purely a function of sound quality, or some interaction between sound quality + one's idle disposable funds + time on one's hands?

And lordy, assuming they don't become the next Conrad Johnson, how do these companies that only produce a couple of high-road-to-nirvana-reviewed $50k-ish components fair in the short- and long-term, financially? Do they live long and prosper, and how? If not, are they cleaning up in their short stay, or losing their shirts to their dream?

I'll probably never know.
I have been a "high end" dealer for decades; not at todays ultra level but selling Krell, Classe, B&W, Quad, SME, VPI etc at various times. The market has contracted so much that many companies have had to specialize to an extreme degree and produce a very expensive product to survive. Take it from me; very few are making much money is todays market, no matter how much they are charging. I was talking to Bill Conrad a couple of years ago and he was astounded to the prices now common; he said another friend of his had counted 100 speaker models priced over $100,000. Even if he slightly miscounted there are still a lot of mega expensive gear out there. Believe me, you would not want to be a dealer. Even at dealer price inventory is so expensive even importers limit it as much as they can; and who can blame them? Old joke: do you know how to make a small fortune in audio? Start with a large fortune.
High-end Audio is unique in that, The seller has to make no claims concerning the performance capabilities of the product he sells. All the outrageous claims are made by the buyers themselves. It's perfect.
Any system can only sound as good as the listener thinks it does. It's a
subjective thing that cannot be quantified.

My opinion is that a lot of high end audio is all about perception and
everything that goes into that.

But here is the thing. A knowledgable audio buff focuses on making his
system better continuously over many years. At what point do you hit the
ceiling but still try to improve? What then? Sideways or even backwards
progress maybe? We are so in tune with sound so why is the chase an
endless one sometimes? Kind of like chasing that beautiful girl, getting
her, and then still not being satisfied. It seems to me either an illness or
a business, or maybe both a lot of the time.
Clearly some high end companies have endured while others have not. I cannot even begin to explain what has kept companies like Gryphon, Wilson, Krell, and many others around in these times of economic contraction. I can only assume that there are enough people with money and an interest in this hobby to make this a reality.
Whether or not a mega expensive system sounds considerably better than a well assembled, moderately expensive system is purely in the mind of the beholder as it will always be.
River251: All good points and stimulation for benefiical discussion. You do wonder how so many high end audio brands all survive. I believe that many audio enthusiasts generally stay with the brands they love over the long term. When they upgrade, they are more likely to purchase the same brands in general, not all though. That's one way all of these manufacturers stay in business. It's also not easy operating a successful dealership and retail high end audio store. One innovation that has probably saved most of them is selling home theater surround sound systems and not just pure audio.

Does the $200K system sound that much better than the $3K system? While that is an extreme comparison, many $3K-$4K systems can sound damn good up close and peronal in a smaller room. The room size and contents have so much to do with the system's performance.

I recently listened to a pair of $48K Vandersteen Audio top of the line loudspeakers with a high end CD player and 300 watt mono block amps and cable/wire thicker than a garden hose!! Oh yes, I was transformed to another dimension but that's not attainable for most of us middle class busy working folks. Just for the purpose of comparison, my listening room is approx 13' x 23' x 8' high with two openings out to hallways. I've probably invested somewhere overall in the $7K area net over the past 7 years building the system one component at a time and upgrading as funds allowed. Without describing the system in detail, the brands include B&W, Rotel, NAD, Marantz, Audioquest, Tara Labs, PSAudio, etc. I absolutely love my surround sound system and will continue to upgrade and tweak it which is all part of the hobby. I use it primarily for music and DVD concerts but Blu-ray movies too of course.

So a good topic for discussion. Thanks very much.
I recently visited one of my local high-end audio dealers, a great store which has been in business since 1984.

Looking around the place as well as at him and his only salesman proved downright painful. Needless to say, they were more than gloomy about the current state of the industry. They also felt the collapse of Audiogon has kicked one of the last legs out from under the chair.
Don't you think that the really High End will do OK in a recession? The super rich are always with us and in fact, are growing exponentially. It's us wage slaves in the middle, that are suffering. So it's the sellers of $2 to 4000 that are feeling the pinch.

If you look at the far east, the growth of millionaires and billionairs, is phenomenal. If you ask the high end manufacturers where they are looking for sales, that's where it is. I have mentioned this before, but I heard of A US speaker manufacturer who makes a £1000,000+ set of speakers as advertising, promotion, never expecting to sell any. He went to a Shanghai show, a guy came in, listened for a good while and bought 2 pairs there and then.
Thank you all for the very enlightening discussion.

David12, as to this super rich always being with us, I wonder if startups thinking of taking the risky plunge go for the very high end, thinking it less risky than swimming with the masses, for that very reason. If you are a good promoter and get a hundred customers lined up in that price range maybe that spells survival. Maybe that's why there are so many ultra-expensive components these days.

For what it's worth, vintage audio prices are climbing again (been checking them for my gear). I think the economy is on its way back. And the advent of $1000 iPhone DACs would seem to bode well :-).
I'd say you or I will never now if the ultra systems are worth their cost in the SQ that is achieved. You can probably gain a a bit of insight at the audio shows, or traveling to a quality dealer and hearing their ultra setups. And from what I read online, you would not want to be a dealer in order to find out, unless you want to end up with an empty bank account.
Is a $10,000 Rolex purchased to get a precise indication of time? (it is routinely 3-4 seconds off on a DAILY basis while a $ 100 quartz-powered watch is precise to a second a month).

Is Bugatti the fastest, best-handling car? Or is a "mundane" Porche 911 is all and above-all of what would get you there?

Is a $ 2,000 bottle of wine better than one at $ 200.00 ? Can you really taste the difference? (some can, and they make their living at it).

Will you take better photos using a $ 25,000 Leica S2 instead of a $ 1,000 D7000 ? Could you see the difference?

Will you catch more fish with a $ 4,000 Orvis fishing rod than with one that cost $ 300.00 ?

Now relate those examples to high-end audio. It is no different - only the snobby aspect remains.

If course high-end does get better as we pay more - but not always of course.

But past a certain point and dollar amount, it just depends on the gear-lust factor amd how buyers are motivated by it.
My son makes his living selling automobiles. He is sales manager for two of the largest Audi dealers in the Pacific Northwest. His salary is largely based on comissiions. The last two years, he has made more in salary than he has ever made, with last year being the highest. Audi's are not inexpensive, yet sales records continue to be broken. It makes you wonder, what recession?

Large expenditures of cash can result in extraordinary music listening systems. But not always. There are other ways of acheiving it. DIY vintage speaker systems and components with premium parts and enclosures can sound as good as those in the mega-buck range.

I think it's great that some can afford such expensive systems. I just wish the economy would improve so more of us little guys can afford modest, yet good-sounding systems, and more old-style brick-and-mortar hi-fi dealers could thrive. I miss those days.

Does a 59' Les Paul Standard sound better than a Jimmy Page Signature model...... OH YEAH!! Did Eric Clapton's 58' Explorer sound better after he tweaked it by cutting a big chunk off?
Sorry, getting off topic...
Whow i will never sleep again thinking about this.

It's not when you're sleeping that it's a problem.

It's when you're listening to your insufficiently expensive hifi and imagining that your are satisfied.