Well, I’m glad that’s over. 2020, that is. For much of last year, most of us remained cooped up, with little chance to hear new gear in proper listening environments. Many of you shopped virtually, ordering equipment without first having heard it, instead relying on reviews, dealer advice, and the goodwill of other audiophiles willing to share their experiences on message boards—hardly ideal, but better than nothing. With no High End show in Munich, Germany, to go to—not to mention all the other canceled audio shows around the globe—many product launches were pushed back or conducted online. The result? I didn’t get to hear nearly as much new gear as I do in a typical year. I suspect you’ve had the same experience.
Last month, I wrote “The Best Loudspeaker Brands for Both Luxury and Performance: The Definitive List,” a shortlist of the best luxury and high-performance loudspeakers on the planet. Only four brands made the grade, though I listed two more as conditional entries. I knew I’d raise some hackles -- the extreme exclusivity of that list put off some readers and posters to various online audio forums. But anytime you state that one thing is better than another thing, or that anything is “the best,” you’re going to alienate some people -- and that’s never more true than when discussing high-end audio. I stand by what I wrote.
The last several months I’ve spilled a lot of virtual ink on luxury purchases, high-end sound quality, and where they overlap. It began in August 2020, with “The Purchasing of Luxury Audio and the Pursuit of Hi-Fi Are Two Different Hobbies,” in which I examined why people make luxury purchases in general, how this global appetite for luxury goods includes high-end audio, and why an audiophile who seeks only the high-fidelity reproduction of recorded music might be completely removed from such an experience.
I was recently in the market for a new SUV. The odometer of our family’s 2012 Toyota Highlander had recently rolled over to 200,000, and I was feeling less confident that the car would hold up through a couple of long road trips we’d planned. I began my search as most people do these days: I went online and read reviews. I’d been super happy with the Highlander, so of course my first thought was to buy another one. I scrolled through comparison tests from YouTubers as well as the usual magazines -- Car and Driver and Motor Trend among them -- to see what others thought of the current-model Highlander and its competitors. Having not shopped for a new vehicle since buying the Toyota new in 2012, I had no idea just how much the market in midsize SUVs -- and the pecking order among them -- has changed.
Luxury audio has recently been gaining market share in an industry that was, at its beginning, about the pursuit of the high-fidelity reproduction of sound and music. I’ve seen the shift in more and more product introductions of the past decade -- components costing six figures and systems costing millions abound.
Last month I wrote “System Finished: MSB Technology Discrete DAC.” In that article I detailed what went into my selecting this fantastic digital-to-analog converter from California as a permanent part of my audio system. Then I gave a rundown of everything in my new audio rig, which I began assembling in July 2017. As stated in that article’s title, that system is now finished, and I can breathe a sigh of relief.
Man, can I drag things out. I wrote the first installment of “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System,” for SoundStage! Ultra, in July 2017. That series of six articles, the most recent published in December 2017, chronicled my search for -- you guessed it -- a new audio system. When I conceived of the series, I was about to move from our former home, had just sold my $400,000 reference stereo system, and was looking forward to whatever might be next. Perhaps the title of the series should have been “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System . . . or Not.”
I wondered -- if I were putting together a system of used components today, what would I buy? So this morning, housebound by COVID-19, I passed some time by going to Audiogon.com and assembling a virtual audio system. Because, well . . . why not?
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