What Do You Get When You Spend Megabucks?

It's my opinion that you could put together a high quality system for about $7,500 (MSRP). For those willing to spend more, great systems can be put together for $20,000 to $50,000. I don't think anyone could seriously question the overall quality of these latter systems, but they would in no way approach the state of the art. My question is, what's that something extra you get when you're willing to push the limits as to what is possible in home sound reproduction and spend major dollars (say $250,000+) on a single system? Another way of asking my question is, what do $80,000 speakers do that $15,000 speakers don't?

My question is a serious question and I have no ax to grind one way or another. I have significant experience with components that cost in the $3,000 to $15,000 range, but not much with products costing more. I'm very interested in hearing from those people who have made that rather large financial commitment to music reproduction.
That's a good question. My response would be; It's all to easy to spend $150k to $250k and end up with a system that sounds like a decent $5000 system.

As a friend told me a few years ago, "This is a hobby that requires one to spend a lot of money to realize one does not need to spend a lot of money."

To a certain degree this statement may apply to many hobbies and passions, but it pertains perhaps more to this particular hobby because the spending can be endless and the results so subjective and minute.

"This is a hobby that requires one to spend a lot of money to realize one does not need to spend a lot of money."

"A lot of money" is very relative. The MSRP of my system is a hell of a lot of money to me, and more than most people make in a year, but others spend more on a two vacation without thinking about it.

I do agree with the statement to a point, but I have yet to hear a cheap set of speakers that doesn't sound like a cheap set of speakers. I think you can find good sounding electronics and for sure cables on the lower end of the scale that approach the megabuck pieces, but not speakers.

Might be because the manufacturer of the speakers know they sound better than average and charge according to the sound quality, not the manufacturing cost.
100% ego gratification and a small but real improvement for the very perceptive and appreciative audiophile and music lover.
I view this as a law of dimishing returns. Its a camel back hump curve where the return on investment decreases after a price point.

What I don't quite get is the propensity to spend obscene amounts on the system without paying equivalent attention to the listening room. Spending a significant proportion on the room itself (perhaps a dedicated well treated room) would yield better results than megabuck amps and/or cables.

Just My Opinion...
She should at least be able to cook.

$80,000 speakers sales keep their distributors driving $80,000 automobiles.
IMHO very little. You do have to spend close to $10,000 retail to get REAL high end equipment. Used, maybe $5000. There is a level you have to reach, after that it's all individual preference. Then as Edainwestoc said, most improvement will come from bettering your room acoustics. I'm not one who thinks you need to spend anymore than this to be totally satisfied, unless money is no object, or your nuts.
I know I'm in no position to answer this, and I think few here are. Brainwater is the only member I can think of off the top of my head that may be able to answer. I love his gazebo-jacuzzi system. He has $70,000 speakers, $26,000 speakers, $7,000 speakers and more. I would think that the answer would be the same as the answer you would get if you took 1 (0) off the end of all your numbers. For instance, many here would be able to tell you what difference a $8000 speaker makes over a $1500 speaker. I feel the answer would sound similar, just the numbers change.

stehno and herman have said it most eloquently.

Yes, the law of diminishing returns rules high end audio. I have owned speakers which retailed for $90,000, amplifiers which retailed for $30,000, a digtal rig which retailed for $26,000, and I can honestly say that they were only slightly better than most other equipment I have owned, retailing for MUCH less. There are so many variables in any given system which determine how the system, as a whole, sounds. Synergy is SO important, and there is no way to tell how your components will "mesh" until it happens. Personally, I have found the quest for the holy grail maddening. Upgrading to $90,000 speakers requires one to spend commensurate sums of $$ on other components to achieve balance. But what about the powercords?? Isn't it now imperative to get $2000. powercords to really let those megabuck components shine? But what about isolation components? After all, can my $30,000 amplifiers really excel without pricey air cushions? My point is that there is no end to the madness if you let it take over. The best thing I ever did was downsize and find reference components at sane (relatively) prices which provide more satisfaction than I used to have. I'm willing to accept that there may be better out there and I'm O.K. with it.
I agree with Stehno ( a friend of mine).You dont need
to spent a lot of money. But If am Bill Gates I will.
Because until now everytime, I think of the Martin
Logan Statement and VTL Wotan, and CJ premier preamp,
and Wadia cdp,combination. I get goose bump.I will hire
Fremmer to set my Analogue, to buy that 70K, turntable,
Robert Harley for my 2 channel,Gayle Sanders for myHT,
I will hire Winston MA and George Cardas for the listening
room.Thats what I will get for my megamillions.Some I will
will give John (Stehno), ship all my old gear to HIM.
Answer:I get to spend my nights on the couch(After my wife finds out) :-(
Thanks to all those who responded. I started with the premises that it takes a certain amount of money to attain high quality music reproduction and I make an assumption that it's at least possible by spending even more money that performance can be further improved. I also assume that people spending megabucks know what they are doing as far as system matching goes and will address room acoustics, electric power, vibration isolation, etc. issues.

I have a lot of respect for those people who are willing to go all out. In a manner of speaking it takes a certain amount of courage (and money) to put together a state of the art system. There's a huge risk of failure, or at least not attaining performance in-line with the financial commitment, but I imagine that success would be very gratifying.
I hear a whole lotta people knocking mega $ systems...I wonder if any have actually owned them...
I get the impression there is a bit of spite here...
No spite or envy of the audio system, But I do envy the money involved. I could buy a really nice airplane.
come on ...who are you kidding...you win the mega-bucks, you'll be the first in line at ces 2005...stop justifying your poor miserable little .... sorry, I could use an up-grade...
No spite here. As one had put it so simply some time ago, "The best thing one can spend on their system is time."

I believe THAT is the secret to making most any system superior in sonics. Almost regardless of costs.

But then again, I can only imagine what I might be able to do with a larger bank account.

If good sound is not an issue, you will get nothing! Many of these posts or claims are just silly.

The consensus seems to be "Anyone who spent more money than me is just trying to gratify their ego."

My system retails for more than I care to think about (I of course, did not spend that much on it.) but I have never regretted a purchase based on the slim margin of improvement.

I am happy with how my system sounds now. Timbre's are more correct the sound stage is bigger, deeper, and more defined. All of these attributes come at a cost. Did I spend too much? Some might say no, a starving man in a Chinese prison for owning a bible might be speechless at the idea that it is possible to spend that kind of money. Who's right?

I had $6000 speaker for a long time and I was very happy with them. I sold them recently to replace them with a $16,000 speaker. The differnce is not marginal or subtle. Ultimately they do the same thing that my very first stereo (bought from Readers Digest around 1976) did. They play back the signal sent to them. The RD system sounded better than my transistor radio. It seems many think I should have stopped there.

At what point have others determined that I need to be satisfied? How good should my system sound?

No system is ever going to sound like live music. Live music is an absurd standard by which to judge a system! Musical satisfaction has more to do with the imagination than the stereo! Determine to enjoy what you have, and you will enjoy it, but don't make silly statements about diminishing returns to condemn what someone else has determined is justifiable.
Typical good post by Onhwy61. I agree with your main premise, that you can get excellent sound for $7500, and beyond that the law of diminishing returns kicks in. What you get when you spend the extra money is, IMHO, (i) top quality bass reproduction, although your room may be a limiting factor here, (ii) effortless power, scale and soundstaging for full-scale orchestral reproduction (which will never equal the real thing, no matter how hard we try, but will at least start to hint at it) and (iii) a bit of naturalness, refinement and nuance in the little things that make music more meaningful to you and which just isn't quite all there in the less expensive stuff. That last point is purely subjective in how much it is worth the extra money. Given the many hours of enjoyment I've gotten from my system, it has been worth it to me, but in all likelihood I could live just as happily with the $7500 system, and will probably have to when I retire to smaller quarters.
"Money, doesn't buy happiness and size, doesn't matter." (Tattoos available on request.)

Maybe and maybe not.

It seems what's important is having the talent for using the quantity you have of one or both, wisely.
I think the answer has more to do with what percentage of what you have that is available to you hobby. Some time ago my 'hobby' was touring on a bicycle. By 'touring' I mean I went so extreme as to circle the world on a bicycle.

So, what has this to do with your question? simple. I circled the entie continent of Africa on my bicycle and in the Sudan I got myself invited to a Safari Camp that was serving just one man and his wife. Over the camp fire the fellow told me that he was paying something like $50,000.00 for just over four weeks in Africa.

I told him that I had budgeted roughly $1,800.00 for six months in Africa (camping, eating from the markets. etc.) The poor fellow....gagged. I had to remind him that his $50,000.00 constituted much less of his savings than my $1,800.00 did of mine.

so, what's the point? Spend what you can afford and...enjoy!
the synergy and room comments above are the most appropriate IMO. My system is in the $25,000 new price range and, to me it smoked a local shops $90,000 reference system. Their $10,000 8 ft Transparent speaker cables left me wondering, not wanting
Often headaches, sometimes a little remorse but ocassionally, a piece of heaven. Some nights everything seems to come together and you can almost convince yourself that you are actually being transported to the site of a musical event. The problem is that high prices do not automatically equate to great sound. It seems to take a significant amount of synergy among components, including the rights electrical and mechanical isolation and even the right wires, the right room and the right software. I was reminded over the weekend that even simple changes can go very wrong and of the benefit of having a friend with an excellent set of ears. Recently, I have been experimenting with mechical isolation devices. Having great luch placing a Neuance shelf under a Lindemann SACD player on a Mana frame, I assumed that the same set up would work optimally in other places. The answer was a rather qualified yes; in one other place, it yielded an improvement but in other palces it resulted in worse sound. It took a friend removing these devices to home in on the mistake.

But back to your question, when everything is right, you would be amazed at how good the sound can be; particularly playing vinyl, late at night.
Fcrowder, great system. Have you set up the Finite Elemente? I'd love to hear your impressions.
The Finite Elemente has been shipped "motor freight" but has not arrived. Will comment when it is actually in the system. Thanks.
regarding the finite elemente--- i have 3 of the master refernce, and after auditioning several other racks and technologies, i came to the conclusion that they are simply the best engineered hifi racks out there!

they are not simple to set up ,but the results are stunnig!
My Finite Element (including the Cerabase feet) finally arrived and resulted in very noticeable improvements in all areas. I was impressed enough to immediately order amp stands with Cerabase feet. The review in the current HiFi+ is very much spot on, including the comments about the Cerabases.
" don't think anyone could seriously question the overall quality of these latter systems, but they would in no way approach the state of the art."

You're 100% wrong.

Money Guarantees nothing, clearly this site proves this out.

And I can think of several under $50,000 system that would eat the lunch of Wilson X-2 and the mega$$$ Kharma's. And although I find the X-2 not so impressive. I don't take the Kharma's so lightly. And yes by just about anyone's standards would these under $50K systems would be considered state of the art, especially for a domestic application.

The more you know the less it cost you to get state of the art sound. Right down to building some of the system or the whole system yourself. Atleast from an actual financial perspective.

My "DIY" (although I'm not sure I qualify for DIY status anymore)active speakers cost about $8500/pr (amps/crossover/box/drivers) and they will hang with $40,000 Kharmas. Fact is they have too since the project was inspired by the need for a center channel for the Kharma Midi Exquisites.

Working on some final box energy issues, total project cost, 10 years of DIY, 10 years audio industry experience, 6 years component design and about $10,000 total investment. And a passion and determination for excellence.

The more you know the less it costs. But if the designer of the system is truely knowledgeable spending more will move the performance up incrementally. But there is a wall.

As a consumer you are not in a position to "develop" the products technology so at a certain point you can only buy a certain level of quality and then the technology maxes out and ones tolerance for price increase versus performance gains creeps in and determines quitting time.

How can an individual without knowledge and access to tools and resources make a new and improved opamp, tube or a DAC.etc. hopefully you're getting my point.

Even if you make minimum wage the most expensive part of a system is getting the experience and knowledge to know what SOTA sounds like. Prioritizing compromises to suit your tastes and understand that the sound you maybe looking for is not state of the art sound.

Always be careful what you wish for.
Cinematic_systems, what are some of the sub-$50,000 systems that would 'eat the lunch' of the Wilson X-2s and bigger Kharmas? I too am somewhat skeptical as to what you get for the dollar, but the Wilsons and Kharmas have a pretty good rep....
Meyer Sound X-10/EMM Dac2/CD transport

The following System is competitive with the Kharma, subjective tastes will sway your decision. Better than the X-2 for sure.

ATC SCM200, SCM150, ATC SCA2, Reimyo CDP-777

Those are two under $50,000 systems that for normal domestic applications are virtually unbeatable.

It may be difficult to accept that pro audio companies can make the best speakers, but the technology built into the Meyer for example, makes it almost peerless, and the ATC's aren't far behind.

When the engineering skills are equal an active speaker will always be better than a passive one. no matter how impressive the cabinet is.

Elite level speaker design is valid no matter what the application or market. I am I no way discounting some home speakers but cosmetics tend to drive the price up and many of the best speakers are made by people who are not strong marketers.

Kharma are Waaaaaaaay over-priced in the US which makes the susceptable to these kind of comparisons.

The X-2 should be active, but its not, so it performs like a $30,000 speaker system, not a six figure one. Sure is pretty though.
Thanks for your response. I have only heard the passive ATCs, never had a chance to hear the active. Meyer is entirely new to me. I will see if I get a chance to hear either of these.

I do believe that you end up paying for cosmetics with home speakers, but the trouble is, I have to look at the damn things when I listen!
Agreed :)

The examples given leave little doubt on the performance end, but there are several other options that are good enough to fall into the "subjective" choice category. Even $6000 Quads can do what they do as well as any speaker on the market.

For light jazz, classical ensemble, Quads with subwoofers would really push the best speakers in the world very hard to prove they had clear audio supremecy.
" What Do You Get When You Spend Megabucks? "

Anything you want!

In the real world, if you were led blind into a dark room (rooms) in this case and asked to rate 10 systems of very un-equal price range but all of very good build quality...the " Megabucks " would fair no better than any of the others.

There is a point (I won't try to pick it) where improvement is more a matter of taste even if we factor in Vinyl based systems of which I think may give the greatest bang for buck spent other than the room itself of course.

In the end...if you got it, why not spend it. I know it's all about the music, but most audiophiles are also gear-heads and tweakers...it's in our blood right along with the music...our systems are our hot-rods and our rooms are our garage!

Sogood, Right on. Very well said.
Cinematic Systems, it is you who are 100% wrong. The systems you offer as proof against spending megabucks are in no way state of art systems. Excellent systems, yes. Pushing the envelop of sound reproduction, no.

I'm always looking for the best speakers, what speakers demonstrate more advanced technology and performance than the speakers I listed?

B&O, Meridian? Give an example of what you consider SOTA so we can communicate.

For someone who had to pose the original question I'm convinced by your last post you have a definitive answer for me.

What would define state of the art performance for you? On a tight racetrack, Go Karts often own the track record. So when we are discussing something open ended like SOTA sound in small rooms what does it need to cost and what parameter can't be reached that it must cost so much In your mind?

List a system that pushes the envelope of ultimate sound quality more than the Meyer/EMM/Esoteric P10 system.

Actually I don't have any definitive answers. My position on this subject is best contained in my earlier post of 3/15. As far as specific systems go, take a look at the Virtual System section titled "All Out Assault". Your Meyer X10/EMM/etc. sysstem is certainly competitive with most of the systems listed, but are you really going to argue that it's better than say Lakefrontroad's getup? One thing that is obvious as the dollar spiral exponentially, setup is the key and you better devote serious money toward room design.
"are you really going to argue that it's better than say Lakefrontroad's getup"

What do you think? :)

Setting the room construction aside.

What in your mind sets that system apart from some of the others? I realize you may not have specifics but in general what makes you feel that system is better than either of the two systems I posted other than maybe bass extension?
I'm hiring a crane to hoist away Albert Porter's listening room (along with its contents) to my favorite seaside town in Italy.
If you concede better bass extension to another system, then how can it truly be SOTA? My concept of SOTA is that it cannot be outperformed in any given performance area. Equalled, yes, but not outperformed. I'm purely speculating about the quality of the two systems. I'm only familiar with the Meyer HD1 and I've not heard any of the most recent Von Scheiwkerts. Your last question is basically my original question, but with a different assumption about the answer.
"If you concede better bass extension to another system, then how can it truly be SOTA?"

Well 10hz for the VSR and 20hz -6 for the Meyer and 25hz -6 for the ATC. We'd have to open the discussion for how much bass extension we need in a speaker system. And both the ATC and Meyer have Subwoofers to add on. VSR has them built in.

'Your last question is basically my original question, but with a different assumption about the answer"

No, I didn't ask your question over. I was asking you why you selected that system to compare to my systems. What was it that triggered a comfort level in you to conclude it was better than my examples?

I Strictly wanted your opinion on that matter and still do.

I would highly recommend reading about the X-10 and the ATC SCM-150. I wish ATC wouldn't have taken down all the technical data off their site, which showed some very impressive (important) specs for their drivers and systems. Meyer's site has more info on their X-10 which is very high tech. What do you think the impulse response of the VSR speaker looks like with 13 drivers mounted front and back on each side?

I made no assumptions other than that manufacturer specs are accurate on their site and I'm using a known source for the assessment of the VR-11.
Part of the reason why I put forth Lakefrontroad's system is that it has been carefully assembled by a knowledgeable audiophile with a written record of the process, it's not clear that the system(s) you extoll have the same pedigree.

I'm actually quite familiar with ATC speakers and I consider them excellent products. A few years ago Mix did a comparison of the ATC 200 vs. Dunlavy VI. A group of audio professionals ended up not having a clear preference. Some definitely preferred the ATC as a professional tool while others preferred the Dunlavy. Some thought the Dunlavy would be better suited for mastering applications. Although no longer in production, the Dunlavys still enjoy a very solid audiophile reputation, but are generally not considered SOTA products by today's standards. My own experiences with ATC monitors (50 and 100s) is that the treble is not as good as a good ribbon design (say, Magnepan) and their amplifiers are no better, or worst, than any number of high power solid state designs, say Bryston as an example. Very good to great, but not excellent let alone SOTA.

BTW, I fully agree with your earlier statement that within their limits the Quad electrostatics are competitive with virtually anything at any price.
Strangely, I just read this thread.

For me, what I get for a large cost is live music. Not in the trite sense, but in the visceral, palpable feeling of living people in the room with real instruments. I've only experienced it once elsewhere, at Andy Payors old shop with the Hyperions and that great room.

On cd/sacd the music is alive about 1/3 or the time, based mostly on the recording. I have yet to play vinyl, but that's coming.

Is it worth it? To me at this point in my life... yes. But, I wouldn't give up a meal for it. I still shrink from the cost. Each part of the total adds something.
And I think of the things not yet done.

But I keep remembering my goal; to bring back the dead back to life. It can be done, it only takes effort, willingness and money.

What I got that was different was the total package and performance. It's stunning without being impressive. It simply shocking that the music is alive. And everyone who'se been in the room has expressed similar reactions.

And by the way, it costs lots less than millions.

I just had a good look at your systems. Not millions, perhaps, but one? :) Very nice!
Keep that pointer away from my "system".
Lakefrontroad, how much time has cinematic systems spent in your listening room, listening to your system? He sure seems to know a lot about the sound of your system!
Who is cinematic systems?
That would be a good question, if anyone cared, but he sure knows a lot about the sound of other peoples systems. He must be like the shadow from old time radio!

You have an amazing ability to think your sarcasm is funny. You posted a question to me. If you didn't mean the question, I believe that you had no business posting it. I wonder about people who ask questions and aren't interested in the answer. I don't think I know cinematic systems, but wanted to be sure before answering your question.
My point was to say that he seems to know an awful lot about your system and how it sounds, but as you pointed out, he has never heard your system. So how could he be so knowledgeable?

Sarcasm is how it comes across but I find it very frustrating have self-proclaimed experts talking about things which they know nothing. I asked the question to point out the fact that I already knew the answer and that cinematic systems comments are a waste of everyones time. There was no attack on you so I'm not sure why you're so sensetive?!?