What makes up an

Wondering what makes an audio system "high end". Is it name brand, price paid or simply what your ears discern as quality? In the current issue of TAS several budget systems are also described as "high end". Most of the components in these "budget high end" systems looked very enticing to me. What do you think?
This has come up time and again in one form or another. High end audio begins with good equipment that does not necessarily cost a lot.

In my opinion you're in high end with something as simple as used Vandersteen 2C, a Jolida (or equivalent) and a decent CD player. That means investing as little as $1500.00 and your miles ahead of the boom boxes sold at electronics stores.

Of course you can spend almost any amount of money, the sky is the limit. I'm sure there are systems at 2 million and above. However, I've heard entry level systems that I could listen to all day and $700,000.00 systems that made me grit my teeth.

What's hard is getting high resolution pieces that integrate properly, have pleasantly accurate tonal balance and dynamics but still immerse you with the emotion of the music.

Often as we spend more and more money we get resolution and bandwidth at the expense of musicality. Maintaining all of these factors in an expensive high resolution system is a challenge and those that fail at the balancing act wind up with a very expensive system that's less fun than a starter system.
Albert, well done! To my mind you set the right accents just where they belong and as you so rightly say, the balance between resolution and bandwidth and forgetting all about sound and being drawn into the music is the more difficult the more revealing your system becomes to be. To my mind, the right balance can only be achieved, if you are intimately familiar with all kinds of live music and only after a lot of hard work.
I can't tell you what it is or exactly what it takes - but it is immediately recognizable when you hear it.
there should be some objective criteria, including construction and parts. there should also be some standards of performance.

otherwise, it becomes a matter of opinion.

for example, i don't consider an oppo dvd player as "high end". however, there may be some disagreement .

without some "hard" confirming evidence, the term could be added to a list of debatable and ambiguous audiophile terms.

I've spent some years building my system so that it is what meets my requirements for high-end listening. The only place I spent big money is on speakers, (5K, demo pair). The rest is pretty much mid-fi, (Marantz, Aragon, Musical Fidelity, using a Sonic Euphoria passive pre, bought used). What has made my system a cut above tha sum of its parts, is extensive mods on all my two channel gear. World of difference between what it sounded like stock, as opposed to what it sounds like now. It's another way to the high end, and you can do it over time, as money permits, send one component in a year, and before long, you've got a system that is very high end, yet musical.
Just another approach, but it worked well for me.

Easy. If you happy with what you spent and your happy with the sound then its fine. On my last system I spent $80,000 on and spent more time worried that it was performing as it should rather than enjoying it.
Now Im trying to do it with what I call "My Best Bang for the Buck System". Dont try to keep up with the Jones and GET what you like! Whats in a Label?
I think that's an expression that can be filed away. One time it meant products that were produced by dedicated engineers and designers who wanted more than the commercial electronics of the 60's and 70's and developed a following that became an underground market of sorts. They took financial risks, some became rich, some gone broke, to redefine the audio art. Today, mega companies such as Marantz and Sony push out comparable - if not better - products for less money. Products that heavily borrowed concepts from these high end loners but with the economies of scale they could only dream of.

Today, there are some following the same independent, risk taking such as Magico and YG Acoustics attempting to go one above the commercial fare, but they do not comparably blow the socks off the larger Wilsons, Thiels, etc., the way Levinson and Pass trounced amplification back in the 70's.

That's why IMO it doesn't apply any more - the market is saturated with excellent gear, accessories and services at every price point making you hard-pressed to justify price equating to performance. One only has to look at all those Stereophile Class A components to realize that almost anything you buy nowadays is based on preference rather than a definitive pecking order.
Gs5556 you make a good point. Midfi has become much better and to buy by highest price will more often lead you astray than not. On the other hand I would be hard pressed to take all those Stereophile Class A components seriously. As Albert has pointed out in his initial post, it is the right combination of gear, not the gear per se, which makes for the "high end" sound of your rig.
who would have thought it, we are actually in complete agreement, but Albert's post, as I understand it, lies in the right mix of components, not in components per se. A component by itself, be it as good as can be, will easily be ruined by the weakest link in your chain and we all know by experience that a chain made up of highly touted class A gear can sound like hell. It is as in a good cocktail, a perfume, a wine or a cigar, even a woman, to be gleefully incorrect, it is the blend of different qualities that makes it.
One of the very best ways to achieve a hi end sound is to place your system in a smaller room. Avoid the need for a PA system. Seriously....
I think that in less expensive gear that tubes can create magic that solid state often misses. Now with a tube integrated amp and a used pair of -------you fill in the blank but I would go for monitor speakers here. Better bang for the buck. Even if you get floor stander that promise deeper bass you will probably not like that sound, often muddy, and slow, etc...
if the stereo system as a whole is to be assessed as to its merits, assuming that each component satisfies some standards of construction, some objective criteria for performance is necessary.

again, it is easier to specify standards than to specify implementation. it would be wonderful if errors in perception could be eliminated by designing some method which takes the listener out of the equation.
This has been done, as you suggest Mr. Tennis. As I mentioned in another thread, there is at least one high end manufacturer who actually prides himself that his designs are purely based on measurements. His gear is so "revealing", that it sounds most terribly wrong, sterile and cold. If you do not have a valid basal conception on human hearing and its reaction to music, all your best measurement will lead you astray. Especially the interface between the physiology of our aural makeup and our emotional responses to music is still a complete blanc on the map as far as I know.
Detlof, I don't take the Stereophile list seriously:) You know how many dealers can tell you stories about customers walking in with that as a grocery shopping list and stubbornly refusing to consider advice about alternatives or incompatibilites? You could, with ease, put together an atrocious system with just those Class A components. As I'm sure many have done.

Mrtennis: I think that the listener can never be taken out of the equation and acheiving the objective standard of a hierarchy is futile. Different people experience the same event with a different perspective. There are physiological differences, tastes, perceptions, prejudices and different levels of satisfaction entailed in all that. You would have to have a perfect human being as a point of reference to build the scale. What sounds great to a speaker designer voicing his product may sound like fingernails on the blackboard to some regardless of the specs as Detlof states above. I personally have never been partial to Krell products. Great stuff and nothing against them, but just not to my liking. And they out-spec my teeny 2A3 amp in every way. But I'll never part with that because it gets me to where I want to be. That, to me, is how I would define 'high-end' to begin with.
RESOLUTION, THREE DIMENSIONALITY, AND SUBTLE NUANCE regardless of cost. Many expensive systems can't and some modest systems will!
agreed, although 3-dimensionality per se is not quite enough, the placement of instruments and voices in that sound field must be stable and more or less correct. (Phase-stability).

What to my mind could be added to your list is BLOOM, the aura around instruments which is fiendishly difficult to reproduce and PRAT (pace and rhythm and articulation), that which will make your feet tap or make you want to dance. (has to do with the correct rendition of transients)
does anyone feel insecure if one's stereo system does not satisfy the requirements for the designation "high end" ?"

status is one thing, enjoying one's stereo system may be another.
Getting off the subject a bit.

Does some of the audio systems we own sound better than some live performances we hear in terms of sound quality? I know an audio hi fi system can not normally reproduce the emotion of a live performance (at least nothing I have heard personally) but does home hi fidelity sound better than a public address system?

If you attend a live rock or pop type concert in a stadium, concert/theater hall or even in a smaller club setting do you actually hear instruments separated from each other or do you only hear the sound field emitted by the PA system used?

Another consideration for home audio is that a typical room in the average home creates a close monitoring situation.

What about the equipment used for some of these live events? Are they of the same quality and price tier of equipment made for home use?

The typical PA gear you find does not seem to come near the price of the hi end audio gear.

Recording studios may be a different story. Studio gear can get into the money.

Seems to me the only time you can hear true separation is from acoustic instruments that are not amplified through a common PA system. Once electronics and amplification are applied it seems that you start losing separation except what you get through further electronic manipulation in the form of panning sound to the left or right channel.

Just my thoughts as a lay person.
No, to my mind you are absolutely on topic. Much of what has been said above only applies to concepts taken from the experience of live music without electronic amplification. Some professional gear, especially for the digital domain must be excellent I hear and can be had at much less cost. Seems we "high-enders" have to pay more for all the hype. And yes, if you only managed to get a lousy seat in concert hall, your ears swamped with unwanted reverberations, your rig at home will be a relief. A rare occasion. Generally it happens the other way around, that coming home from a concert, you foolishly fire up your rig and are brought to wonder why you had spent all that money for such mediocre sound. Better to wait at least a day or so to keep up the illusions....(;

Speaking of hype, the term " high end " has been so much misused, has often become synonymous with cost inflation that as a term it has become just as useless as all those infamous "best"-lists in the mags, I feel.
Besides, what has the striving for some sort of aural perfection to do with status?? Not all first class and perhaps also expensive systems are owned by snobs.
Besides, let me point out that status is something given to you by your peers and Darkkeys original question there was not aimed at that. If you build up a system which should sound right to your ears you are after enjoyment, not after status. If your peers enjoy it as well, you may get some status as an aftereffect, which is nice but that is all. Systems just built for status generally sound lousy, simply because its owners are after prestige and not after music. So p l e a s e come off it, think better of what you might be implying and hence stop dragging our efforts into the mud by giving them an unjustly alluded twist under the guise of common sense and reason which in effect alienates all that what others here and I are trying to achieve.
this hobby has psychological underpinnings. i can't ascribe motivations to anyone but myself. i am an iconoclast. you may disagree with me, but i believe there are audiophiles who feel insecure if they consider there stereo system not "high-end". there are others who don't care.

what is the purpose of a term if it doesn't have meaning to a number of people.

i asked an innocent question, regarding the attitude towards one's stereo system. as yousaid, it's no big deal, but yet, i am curious.
Mr. Tennis
I completely agree about the psychological underpinnings of our hobby. Tell me a human edevour which hasn't! And yes, actually I like iconoclasts, because in destructing they create and I would sincerely apologise, if I should have read your motives wrong. But please allow one question: As an iconoclast what idols are you up against?

What has gotten my back up, and of course not only in this thread, but in most of the others we happen to share and which by the way more often than not gets a lot of dung thrown into your direction by other members and mostly for the same reason I would think, is that in the midst often of heated and interesting discussions you state the obvious, that no matter what topic is being discussed, it is fine if one likes ones stereo and that is that. In other words, all what others and I talked about before is bull and lets forget about it. If that is your motive, fine, but then you run danger of being ridiculed again more often than not, as happened in the other thread we posted in together. In a sense you seem to me, that you are taking the side of the "weak", the newbees and those who simply cannot afford "better". That would be a noble motive and in fact I would support you in this, but then how can those people learn? You seem to obstruct, not to help educating those, who possibly might be in need. There is more, but I think I'll stop here. If you wish, we can continue that conversation in private, however it would help and probably not only me, because obviously I am not the only one you occasionally irritate, what as an iconoclast you are aiming at. Perhaps then one would be able to understand you better and would galdly afford you the respect you most probably deserve, not only as a seasoned audiophile and reviewer, but also as a Quad-lover (: and fellow hobbyist.
Cheers and happy listening,
Detlof, Re......"that you are taking the side of the weak, the newbees, and those who simply can't afford "better".

He ain't taking my side, not that I noticed, and I'm weak (in the head, perhaps), I can't afford better (whatever afford might mean), and I'm certainly Newbee!. :-)

Seriously, with regard to Mt T's posting habits, from the very beginning of his appearance in these forums he has made it clear that he enjoys arguing and is crafting his posts to create controvery (the good, the bad, the ugly, I don't think he really cares) and arguments so he can, in his mind anyway, argue and prevail. Some might consider him nothing more than a troll, but I consider his posts to be nothing much more than inept attempts to be a devils advocate, a profession I can respect when executed effectively. We learn far more by arguing than we ever learn by agreeing.

Re the original question 'what makes a system 'high end'. I haven't read all of the posts in this thread, nonethe less, with due respect to all, IMHO the answer resides in what the term 'high end' means to the user. For the most part when I have seen it used it has been a vague reference to often undefined audio products used by audiophiles in creating their systems with an allusion to either superiority or grandiosity depending of the users percieved status. I doubt that the term 'high end' is often used between peers (at least with my peers that is so). At the risk of 'sounding' PC, this is a phrase I find totally unuseful. To the contrary, I think it can get in the way of meaningful communication.

More simply said for the word weary, "High end" means no more, or less, than what you want, or percieve, it to mean. It is IMHO actually descriptive of nothing with which I am familar. I suppose some use 'high end' and 'good stuff' interchangably. Thats OK.
Hi Newbee (big grin)

Now I was very careful to NOT use the Caps lock when I typed out that ominous word, but thanks for taking the time to write your view on Mr. you know who. I don't think he is just trolling, that's why I avoided invectives and tried to address and take him seriously. Curious to see what may forthcome......(for an advocatus diaboli and yes we do need them also here, he would indeed need a tad more depth, but let's see)

Regarding the term "high end", I reckon you have hit the nail on the head.It is certainly a subjective term serving some users and it DOES get in the way of meaningful conversation as you so rightly point out. We never use it either, come to think of it but on the other hand it was quite understood what Darkkeys was alluding at of course, namely what makes a system sing, sound musical, what should I look at.....

Oops Newbee, I just realised, a greenhorn is spelled "newbie" not "newbee"; you see English is not my mother tongue, so these things happen, but then it gave us a chance to exchange a couple of friendly grins didn't it? (:
I wish English were not my mother tongue....then I'd have a great excuse for my absense of skills. And I wish pigs would fly! :-)
yea, being inept has its advantages .......(((:
In the spirit of this question I much enjoyed TAS September issue, in which HP interviews Lyric HiFi's 85 year old owner Mike Kay on the evolution of hi-end retailing since the golden age of the 60s. Kay is a grand curmudgeon who deplores what customers have become. He is dissolutioned by the trend toward buyers of statement systems who plunk down $50K-$200K a pop and care not a whit about music or how a system performs. He mourns the general disengagement of retailers and manufacturers from live music and traditional venues like Carnegie Hall. He is of course elegaic on the subject of industry pioneers like Mark Levinson and Saul Marantz and Harvey Samson. He grudgingly admits that the erosion of HT may have run its course & that a minor renaissance of interest in 2CH audio represents hope for the future.

He makes me think about my own emerging interest in the hobby as an adolescent, and how difficult it is today to find a system that satisfies like the Altec 604 & Sansui receiver of youth. I wish I still had that set-up for reference.
it's a good thing that i have a thick skin, so i can absorb all of the brick bats thrown at me and come back.

let me make my position perfectly clear as applies to this and other threads.

i am a an iconoclast because i disagree with what i see as dogmatism disguised as knowledge. there is very little knowledge in audio in the strict definition of the word.
there are a lot of opinions that masquerade as knowledge.

it is my hypothesis that many feel insecure if they don't buy into the conventional wisdom espoused by audio professionals. i don't . thus, i frequently disagree with many of the premises asserted here and in other threads.

i will continue to object when i see hype and opinion masquerading as knowledge and/or dogmatic thinking.

i think the above statements pretty much explain my "behavior" on this and other threads.
Thanks MrT, you position has become perfectly clear.

Hi Dgarretson,
Thanks, that was interesting, I didn't know MK was still alive. I used to know Lyric in the old days. Mike Kay, as I recall, was an impressive personality, outspoken, tough and shrewed in business but always helpful if he felt that you were sincere...and he was a true music lover.

Hi Newbee,
Your analysis was again right on the dot. You live and learn.
Dr Floyd Toole during his NRC days found three things were important to listeners (they performed rigorous tests). Wide Dispersion, flat frequency response and low distortion. I'd propose that this is a basic requirement but there is a lot of cheap stuff that does this well at low volumes. (For example...even Audioengine A5's sound pretty good!)

So perhaps "high-end" is mostly distinguished by the fact that a "high end" system will do these three things well at realistic live music SPL levels. Just two cents...
I always thought of it as hi-resolution. Problem is when hi resolution gets in the way of the music. Then is it still hi-end?
Also a matter of opinion and comparisons. What were hi-end speakers in the 60's would be mid-fi at best today.
I agree with Albert, and I disagree with Sounds real audio. To each his own.

Not Quads though....(:

Glad you got back to Albert.
After reading all the post I walk away with the following about hifi:

Hifi is not based on cost but rather more of an experience and can be achieved at low to moderate expence.

The goal to achieve is to obtain equipment that achieves high resolution, plesantly accurate tonal balance, wide dispersion and low distortion, etc. Fill in the blanks as someone said.

Regardless of the equipment we end up with, it is also at the mercy of the skill and passion of the musician/artist. Our favorite tune can sound good on transistor radio just because we enjoy the skill and passion of the musicians and yes on a hifi system it will sound that much better. It’s the song, musician’s passion and skill more than the equipment.

On the other hand human nature may kick in, which is never to be satisfied. Once we have reached the threshold of hifi we may want better. Our ears may never reach the stage where they don’t want to hear something new. It is a fundemental part of human nature to want a new experience or reach beyond to higher goals.

Thus, equipment manufacures supply our wants, desires and demands.

Now the term “budget hifi” used in the current issue of TAS is clearer to me.

All of you guys/gals are very insightful and I enjoy reading the post. Thanks.
Wait. They actually used the term "High end" budget systems. hmmm
hi darkkeys:

there is no guarantee that accurate will be pleasant and there is no guarantee pleasant will be accurate. the recording and the stereo system can contribute to a pleasant sound.

if a stereo system is minimally inaccurate, there will be instances in which it does not sound pleasant, as a consequence of the quality of the recording.
However, Darkkeys not to worry:
Case in point: I listened to an old DECCA recording from 1963 of basso arias with Nicolai Ghiaurov just now, a LP, which got several distinctions and which is in perfect synergy with the analog part of my system. I then listened to the reel to reel tape (Columbia M2Q 516, 1963) of Mahler's 9th with Bruno Walter, a recording which is anything but perfect and also the tape machine is not quite up to the standard of the rest of my rig. Actually I should have listened the other way around. The mediocre first and the "perfect" afterwards. The point is however, Bruno Walter's conducting of the symphony was so outstanding, that after a few bars into the music, you completely forget what was alluded to above:
"if a stereo system is minimally inaccurate, there will be instances in which it does not sound pleasant, as a consequence of the quality of the recording".
If you like the music as is, you get drawn into it, forget about the system and the rest is just talk and that goes for any kind of music, not just for the classics as in my example. Condition for this to happen is of course that you are a music lover, just as much as you are an audiophile. But even if you are just an audiophile, fixated on how your rig sounds, you will find that your ears will adapt to the changes in rendering more often than not, which can make things difficult to judge properly, as we all know.
I agree with mrtennis.. If only we could take the listeners out of the equation. It does raise the question. "If a system is playing music and no one is present, can it really be called music.?? One way to take the listener out of it is to send his wife to shop for the system. Think of the money that would save. You would have a lousy little system and she would have a dozen new pair of shoes.....

Anyone coming to the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest????
I feel that the musicians/artist make the song pleasant to the ear. Not necessarily the equipment. As stated above in various ways in the various post, a great song on a lousy system still sounds good because of the song itself. A lousy song on great equipment is still a lousy song although the performance capability of great equipment is still evident.

For comparison sake, I believe this applies to a musical instrument also. If you put a lousy musician on a instrument of proven quality, the lousy musician will make this quality instrument sound lousy. Put a very skilled musician on a lousy instrument and the song will still sound great. Put a skilled musician on a quality instrument and it sounds even better.

This is only my opinion as one who listens to and appreciates music.

Is there a general agreement that the term "budget high end" gear is a legitimate term for inexpensive gear that crosses over the threshold of hifi sound?
"Is there a general agreement that the term "budget high end" gear is a legitimate term for inexpensive gear that crosses over the threshold of hifi sound? "

To my mind and ears absolutely yes.
I very much liked the musician-instrument comparison. Right on the dot. Thanks Darkkeys!
Darkkeys, An excellent analogy, I think. Why not 'budget high end' when what is being discussed is inexpensive equipment capable of high quality reproduction, especially when incorporated into a system with similarily inexpensive components, synergistically. I've heard some pretty fair systems that didn't cost a fortune. IMHO, the pursuit is as much about 'flash' and 'expectations' (albeit unreasonable or unobtainable as your analogy suggests with an unskilled idiot who buys a Strad and then takes music lessons. A disease not exclusive to audio. Think cameras, race cars, ad infinitum).

But to save Mr T the effort, apart from the TAS' collection, what really defines the term 'budget' or 'hifi' sound, or 'budget hifi sound'? Within my budget I have no problem putting together a 'hifi' sound. Or do I?

Sorry, the devil made me say it! :-)

But here you have the definition. You only need to exchange a few words from what Mrtennis has said in his last post. It is actually an equation with two unknowns, a formula which I've found can be used for many different instances.

To wit:

"there is no guarantee that budget sound will be hifi and there is no guarantee what you have spent will be budget. the hifi and the budget can contribute to a pleasant sound.

if a stereo system is minimally budget, there will be instances in which it does not sound hifi, as a consequence of the quality of the budget."

Get it?
Cheers and thanks Mrtennis
Detlof, Excellent observation. The possibilities are infinite. Just fill in the blanks and profound insight is on display once again. :-)