Amps and preamps...$6000. CDP and turntables: $6000. Tuners and tapedecks $1000 Speakers $10,000
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What I consider upper limit at retail.
Phono Stage $12,000.00
Although the prices I have listed are extremely high, there are products available that are at least triple the limits I have set. My numbers are based on personal listening experience and ownership as well as what I perceive as diminishing returns as spending approaches the stratospheric level.
To keep your system in balance, there really are no limits, ie if you go to $20K speakers, it could very well be beneficial to up-grade all your other components commensurately. So we can only report on out own experinces, IMO. That said:
Amp: $5K to $10K
Pre-amp: $5K to $10K
Source: $10K to $20K (digital)
Speakers: to $20K
I know its shameful in such company, but I believe in keeping major components (amp, pre-amp, CDP, etc) to under $2000 each and accessories to under $500 each. While I freely acknowledge the this will not produce State of The Art, you can build a GREAT sounding stereo within these limits (especially with used and demo gear).
Well, Ill be shameful too! Along with Fineberg, Ill put my system; $1200 CD/ $800 Amp/ $275 cables/ $450/pr Spkr....Ive
got more in my CDs! And if I put my system next to a $50K system, Ill take mine and the $47 thousand to go, thank you!
Dont get me wrong, I love a high end Magical System and Ill most likely keep on upgrading here and there. But I think you reach a point where its all overkill, even if you are a millionaire!
I always find it interesting that there is so much emphasis on gear and how much it costs in relation to benefit, diminishing returns and the like. What I don't see is much talk about where its going. Certainly gear on the order of magnitude of Albert's limits would make sense if you had a proper room (read "full sized") to place it in. In my space I don't know if spending 100k would be warranted, it would probably be overkill. My room isn't big enough to justify spending that kind of money for presumably a full range system that is not very efficient that would require a powerful megabuck amp to drive it that would REALLY get the bottom octaves along with everything else. Too many variables concerning room and listening objectives IMO. Someone correct me if I'm wrong would you please?
Tubegroover, as far as the very deep low end is concerend, I could not agree more with you. But as far as the other parameters are concerend, which are generally held in high esteem in our circles, if find Albert's limits right on the money, even for smallish rooms. In-field listening can both be very rewarding but also very critical, mercilessly showing up even the tiniest lack in musical coherence or a faulty voicing of your system, whereas big rooms are often quite forgiving, as far as these two aspects are concerend. Here in Europe, living space is generally smaller as compared to the States, so audiophiles here generally have to contend with smallish listening areas and are quite savvy to make the best of that fact.
Albert's limits are out of this world, IMO. Twinsdad and Fineberg are absolutely correct that you don't have to spend megabucks to have gorgeous sound, if you buy used/demo and do lots of auditioning and careful component- and cable-matching--a lot of which has to be done trial and error, unfortunately, which of course contributes to the used/demo market for the rest of us. For myself, after years of listening, lusting, buying, selling, and overspending, I have settled on a tube system that is the best system I have ever owned or listened to--but I don't live in a big-time audio store area so I haven't listened to the best of the best. My system is listed in virtual systems on this site and retails for around $50,000. The limits I would place on various components are based on my experiences building this system over the past 5 years and are as follows (retail):
CD playback $8000-10,000
vinyl playback $8000-10,000
cables and power cords $5000 total
stands and racks $2000-3000
power isolation/conditioning $3000 total
I know I could put together a DYNAMITE system to live with for the ages at the low end of these ranges! I guess it would look very different from Albert's, but to each his/her own, of course! One more thing: I spent $13,000 on a high-end fancy amp a couple of years ago and it was the worst purchase I ever made as a spendthrift audiophile (with a long history of ridiculous purchases). My current amp (ARC VT100 Mk III) cost me $4500 (I bought it right before the price went up $1500) and sounds/operates much, much better. Thus I know I will never spend anywhere near $13,000 on an amp again, even if my fortunes change and would allow for it in the future.
I try to maximize my listening experience without spending the farm on components. catch the cost versus sound quality curve at the apex right before it goes exponential in cost
I typically buy used, I only upgrade when it's a real significant improvement and always strive for musicality and could care less about audio bragging rights
I know an audiophile who scrapped a $40,000 system, the more he tweaked the more uncomfortable he became with the sound
his advice to me "if you are happy with your current sound, hold right there and enjoy it"
that said - price per component limits new (used)
preamp 5000 (4000)
amp 5000 (3500)
cd 3000 (1500)
dac 3500 (1500)
speakers 5000 (3500)
speaker cable 1400 (800)
interconnect 900 (500)
I've actually came in well below that amount with excellent results
I don't know how much I'd spend on a system if my resources were unlimited. I'd get better speakers and source components but I'm not sure I'd bother to upgrade my amp and preamp, because I suspect they represent the level where returns start diminishing very sharply. I might, though, want to try tube amplification and be willing to experiment with cables more.
So far the most I've paid for a single component (counting speakers as one component) is US$1000 for the big Tannoys, but then except for cables and the phono cartridge, I've purchased everything used. The Sony CD player cost me $650 (retail $1900), the smaller Tannoys the same ($2000?); the turntables so cheap they were almost free; the tuner $200 ($650), the Pioneer CD player $235 ($1300), the Monarchy pre/dac $250 ($950), the Meitner pre $550 ($2200), the Meitner monoblocs $900 ($3400), the smaller Meitner $400 ($1500). . .
I've always wanted a pair of Tannoy Westminster Royals and I guess that's about as "crazy" as I'd get if I had the money: US$30K plus a year on a waiting list. But of course I'd probably opt for used at half or a third of the price.
The following itemizes my two systems: one in the living room and one in the bedroom.
Sources: Sony CDP-X779ES CD player, Pioneer PD-91 (used as transport)feeding Monarchy Audio 18B DAC; Thorens TD-125-II, Grace 707, Ortofon OM30; Systemdek (no model name or no., but has metal not glass platter), Signet XK-50 arm, Reson Reca cartridge; SAE T-101 tuner.
Amplification: Meitner PA-6 preamp (factory upgraded), Meitner MTR-101 monoblocs; Bryston 11B preamp, Meitner STR-55 power amp.
Speakers: Tannoy System 12 DMT (biwired), Tannoy 3836s with custom crossovers and cabinets (full-range). Both with custom stands made from cedar 4 X 4s, lead sheet, Corian and other goodies.
Cables: Canare StarQuad, DH Labs SilverSonic, XLO Pro 1200; all power cords stock (all "captive" style).
Happy listening all.
I have to say that of all the posters Audiotomb has come closest to my personal recommendations. Contrary to what owners of super high-priced equipment believe (or would have you believe), complete systems can be put together for under $25,000 total that will provide performance equal to 95 percent of the best possible sound. I have put together such a system and others can do it too.
The laws of physics as they apply to music reproduction are static and the pace of technology is more incremental (slower) than equipment designers would have you believe. State-of-the-art systems from 30 years ago can provide 85 to 90 percent of detail and authenticity of today's best systems.
The most important aspect of assembling a great system is using your own ears and judgement to pick out the components that sound closest to your personal music paradigm.
Being able to audition gear in your own system before you commit to the purchase is definitely a big plus. Nothing is more aggravating to me than spending hard-earned money on a new piece of gear and then, two months later finding a component for half the price that sounds considerably better -- though sometimes this can't be forseen.
Just as an example, there are a few amplifiers on the market at about the $3000 price point that perform as well as many $30,000 amplifiers.
Of course there are those among us that regard audio hardware as another form of jewlery, who pay the big bucks to ensure that their speaker's finish matches their favorite automobile, or their interior, or just to say they have a system that costs $XXX,XXX.XX. And many such systems are poorly implemented and sound far worse than systems composed of modestly-priced gear set up by folks who have a good idea of how live music actually sounds.
How many times have you gone out to audition the latest mega-buck "breakthrough" products only to return home and thank God you didn't spend your own money on that stuff???
Lately I have been very impressed at the performance of some manufacturers' new products at what most of us would consider entry-level prices. Such products do not redefine the current limits of what is possible, but they do offer a surprisingly high level of performance at a fraction of the price of the best available gear.
I rest my case. :)
Plato, to my mind you plead your case very well and I have no reason to argue the point, that for the amount you've mentioned, you can have a high degree of musical enjoyment in your home and can even forget about the system and just listen to the music. But then there is that rare breed of "fanatics", who are intimately familiar with all sorts of live music and strive to come as close as possible to that experience with their rigs and here the curve of deminishing returns ( always in regard to the live event ) rises much less sharply as you might think. That is why Albert's numbers are indeed perfectly reasonable and - should you belong to that "breed" - quite within normal limits.
I have to step in with Detlof's post above -- and with Albert's numbers. I have failed to get a "lower-cost" system transport me with the sound, say, of a symphony orchestra...
Furthermore, my experience has been that, over a certain level of speaker price (and design quality, I suppose), the cost of amplification required to get the "utmost" from the speakers becomes astronomical!!
My most recent experience with this is a 1:2 price ratio between speaker & amplification. Going beyond that didn't yield significant improvement (to my ears, ofcourse).
This said, I wholeheartedly agree that great tunes emanate from well matched, reasonably costing, systems. But I bet that the speakers many of us own could sing even better with amps we cannot afford (or do not wish to purchase).
What is more dangerous? For an audiophile to show the bottom of his wallet (the limit they will not go beyond) to another audiophile (better: to a dealer), or: for a playboy to show a seductress the bottom of their heart.
--For me, Albert's upper limits are exactly on the mark. You could easily spend more, but that is where the parabolic laws of performance set in. --The bad side of spending a fortune on a system is that when one has everything set up and sees that one is not happy with it, it is no longer possible to reverse direction, and these upper limits may increase with time (due to the audiophilic passion, the audio market and to the economy). --The economy is more and more the fever of people sick for fortune, where the agonizing reigns most of the time. The European high-end world seethes with gluttons of Paradise. I know one audiophile with one foot in the madhouse for having wanted to obtain all of the most expensive components for his system within a short period of time. I know a gambler who is in prison for having wanted to obtain his "world-class" system from the proceeds of his roulette wagers. I know a wealthy French man who signed a contract of purchase for a $220,000 audio system at the age of 72 "so that God--and my family--can not get a penny from me when I die." After the purchase of his complete system I can imagine him saying to himself: "Now I've got everything, I have nothing more to desire." But, in fact, when one thinks about it, does this man still belong to himself? --To conclude, Albert's upper limits seem right, even in Europe. I cannot justify to myself spending more than THAT on the basis of my audio priorities.
The most relevant aspect of answering the question is understanding what a person's goal is. There are obviously a lot of people on this site (and with the audiophile passion) who are significantly more involved in the pursuit than I am - they play one or more instruments themselves, perhaps professionally, go to orders of magnitude more live concerts, and are willing to spend a lot more time on their system to find that which is "just right". These are the people who are going to get justifiably more by spending large amounts on their systems. Pls1 has described several times his involvment in music, his wife's common passion, and his financial ability to pursue state-of-the-art reproduction at home - he should spend a lot more than many others. I, on the other hand, listen to different genres of music, and really am just looking for very pleasing sound that is convenient, and am not going to take the time to get that last ounce of performance. I also don't want to deal with amps that heat my basement, or a system that I have to warm up for an hour. I've got a decent room for listening, but it's not that big and far from perfect, which also limits what "makes sense" for me to spend.
So, give me more time and more space, I'd spend more and see it as a reasonable choice. As it is, $20-25K builds a system for me that I see little reason to think about much more and instead just use. -Kirk