Are High-End Sound Systems Worth The Price?

Audiophiles claim that their fancy-schmancy sound systems serve up rich melodic delicacies that our crud-laden ears just don’t appreciate. Slate asked if their high-end systems were anything more than effete indulgences.

The question was posed in response to two incendiary articles in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times which argued that improvements in compression technology have made sound quality irrelevant. Slate answered by redefining the question:

If you want the mere gist of music; if you like music wafting in the background; if you want to carry around 1,000 songs in your pocket; if you want to hear a beat and a melody while you jog or ride on the subway–and that’s often what any of us want (even me)–then MP3s are plenty good enough. Convenience doesn’t merely trump quality; it is quality.

But there are some things that only a really good home stereo, playing well-recorded CDs or vinyl LPs, can give you: the texture of an instrument (the woodiness of a bass, the golden brass of a trumpet, the fleshy skin of a bongo); the bouquet of harmonics that waft from an orchestra (the mingling overtones, the echoes off the concert hall’s walls); the breath behind a voice; the warm percussiveness of a Steinway grand; the silky sheen of massed violins; the steely whoosh of brushes on a snare; the undistorted clarity of everything sung, blown, strummed, bowed, plucked, and smacked, all at once–in short, the sense that real musicians are playing real instruments in a real space right before you.

Rain playing on high-end systems can make you reach for an umbrella. Or as Slate extols, it is the difference “between bodega swill and Lafite-Rothschild, between a museum-shop poster and an oil painting, between watching a porn film and having sex.” The right research can uncover very acceptable systems for very reasonable rates. What do you think? Are these systems worth the price? Tell us in the comments.

In Defense of Audiophiles [Slate]
(AP Photo/Hans Punz)

Comments

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  1. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    Except for speakers, high end audio is a rip-off. I have a pair of B&W 201′s.

  2. GreatCaesarsGhost says:

    See Slate, that’s just the point. People who claim they care about “the fleshy skin of a bongo,” are being pretentious.

  3. meadandale says:

    Above a certain price point, I think that the systems are more about ego and looks than about price.

    Face it, those 20k speakers, 10k monoblock amps and 6k speaker cables are worthless unless you have a dedicated listening room with extensive accoustic treatments.

    For me, a set of midrange B&W speakers was fine. I have great sound and I didn’t break the bank. I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the higher end B&W’s because my house has horrible acoustics (hardwood floors, etc).

  4. num1skeptic says:

    they are definately worth it

  5. num1skeptic says:

    i don’t like subs very much. but some high quality speakers to replace your factory speakers is worth the investment to some. if i listen to crappy speakers for to long, it gives me a headache as my hearing is so sensitive i hear all the distortion and rattles that other people don’t notice.

  6. num1skeptic says:

    i replace the factory speakers on all my cars. i have kicker 4.25′s in one, and alpine 6.5′s in my other. crystal clear at high volumes, no need for an amp or subwoofers.

  7. clevershark says:

    It must be awful to not be able to enjoy music unless you pay tens of thousands of dollars to hear it. Won’t someone think of the poor audiophiles?

  8. Grimspoon says:

    Forget the high end sound systems, get some high end headphones (Grado, Sennheiser, etc) and you’ll have the same high quality sound at a fraction of the cost.

    A good $200-$300 pair of headphones will match the audio quality of a 10k home stereo setup easily!

  9. meadandale says:

    @Grimspoon:

    From a pure physics point of view, this isn’t true. There’s no way that the small driver in the headphones can every reproduce the low frequencies in the music.

    Headphones that boast 20-20k Hz frequency response are a joke. If you believe that, I have some Bose to sell you.

  10. Trai_Dep says:

    There’s a difference between porn and sex?!

  11. WTRickman says:

    No highs? No lows? Must be Bose!

  12. num1skeptic says:

    my home system is a bunch of homade speakers made with foil and paper plates. lol. although i did try that experiment, and, my speaker wouldn’t play. damn youtube tricked me again. and btw, my t.v. didn’t power off of a triple a, nor did my ipod charge off an onion.

  13. SuffolkHouse says:

    That LPs or “well-recorded” CDs give you something extra is a myth. Besides, the MP3 holds the same data that the “well-recorded” CD imparted to it, so they are identical.

  14. RottNDude says:

    Quality costs money, but there is a point where the gains for the dollar eventually diminish.

    I’ll admit, I have about $5k invested in my own system – but this was spent over time and with careful research. I bought some of the gear secondhand which saved me even more. It can be amusing to invite folks over who blew $20k on some esoteric speakers nobody’s ever heard of, only to have them leave feeling totally ripped off mere minutes into a movie or DVD-audio concert.

    I would say the majority of the population doesn’t give a shit about audio quality – at least not enough to spend the cash required to obtain quality components – and are perfectly happy with their $400 Sony Home-Theater-In-A-Box.

  15. meadandale says:

    @SuffolkHouse:

    False. Mp3 is a lossy format which means that the conversion from the original WAV file on the CD to mp3 implies ‘throwing away’ some of the original audio data.

  16. youbastid says:

    @num1skeptic: So ya tried all those tricks, and your name is “Num1skeptic,” huh?

  17. youbastid says:

    @SuffolkHouse: The MP3 does not hold the same data, it’s compressed and extreme high and lows are cut out. Not the same. Big difference.

  18. timmus says:

    Well, make sure you get some of those $800 Monster cables with neodymium-yttrium alloy plating.

  19. huadpe says:

    @SuffolkHouse: If you want a lossless codec to encode your music to, and keep all the quality, Mp3 is not your ideal. Try FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) instead.

  20. scampy says:

    @GreatCaesarsGhost:

    Or you could just be a cheap miser

  21. afterimageB says:

    Is it worth the price? It depends on whether or not you can hear the differences and you think the price of the quipment and media is justifiable. Some poeple just can’t tell and think a BOSE Wave Radio sounds great others have golden ears that can pick apart even the finest equipment. I’ve been exposed to high-end audio equipment since I was born because my dad had all Marantz gear and Altec-Lansing speakers so I grew up with an appreciation for good sound quality.

    I started putting together my first respectable system in my early 20′s when I had a NAD preamp, Parasound amp, Sony DAT, Denon cd player and a pair of Carver Amazing speakers. I slowly kept upgrading components over the years and buying used helped me save a ton of money. The current components I have now I’ve owned for a few years: Parasound P/LD 2000 preamp, Parasound HCA 1200 II amps (2) and B&W Matrix 802 series 3 speakers (biamped). I’ve also got a Denon 3910 dvd player, an AKAI GX-77 reel to reel recorder, 3 DAT decks (Sony PCM-R300, Sony DTC-670, Fostex D-5) and a couple Sony Minidisc decks. I have a mix of Kimber Kable, Vampire Wire and Audioquest interconnects and I built my own speaker cables out of CAT5 wire following Chris VenHaus’ design using 27 twisted pairs for the bottom half and 9 twisted pairs for the upper half. For the amount of money I have invested it sounds incredibly good. If I had bought everything new I wouldn’t have been able to afford nearly as nice of equipment.

    I started buying cd’s at the age of 13 back in 1984 and have built up a collection of over 2600 cd’s over that time. I spent a lot of money in the 90′s on 24k gold remaster discs by labels like Mobile Fidelity, DCC, Sony/CBS Mastersound, Sheffield Lab, etc. and have over 300 of those gold discs, many of which are the definitive versions when it comes to sound quality. A couple years ago I broke down and bought a Denon dvd player to playback SACD, dvd-audio and DualDisc discs and I’ve got around 100 hi-res discs.

    Between the components and all the cd’s, SACD’s dvd-audio discs, etc. I’ve got a lot of money wrapped up but unless the house burns down or it all gets stolen I’ll have it for years to come. Some people blow more each year on alcohol or cigarettes or other dumb purchases so I feel I’ve spent my money somewhat wisely. It all boils down to what you enjoy and for me I enjoy great sounding music.

  22. TexasScout says:

    There WAS a time when this was improtant to me…

    Now, I can’t hear a damn thing above 13,000 Hz. So it really doesn’t matter anymore. To many loud cars, guns, and rock concerts.

  23. afterimageB says:

    TEXASSCOUT, that’s another good point. Many people, even younger kids, have abused their ears and are already suffering from hearing loss in the upper frequencies. Thankfully I had a little sense in my 20′s and wore earplugs at my old job and whenever I was at the dragraces, firing guns, mowing the lawn, riding the motorcycle or anything else with high SPL for an extended amount of time. I’ll be 37 in a few months and despite all the loud noise I’ve been around in my life I can still hear up to around 19,000hz which is pretty damn good for being a man (females have better high frequency hearing) and my age.

  24. dlayphoto says:

    @ConsumptionJunkie: B&W FTW.

  25. Fry says:

    @RottNDude: $450 (Canadian) Yamaha Home Theater in a Box here.

    That HTS has lasted me 2 years without a single problem. I just wish I had a second optical input, but otherwise, perfect.

    And my computer has a set of 5.1′s. Altec Lansing’s with a dual woofer. Bought it on sale for less than $200. Two speakers stopped respoinding (the jacks on the base), so I used a PSP from Future Shop and got a new set, exactly the same.

    Total spent on audio: Less than $1,000 after taxes AND product service plans.

  26. quail says:

    Whatever works for you, works for you. Don’t go disparaging my home theatre in a box and I won’t laugh at your 20K sound system. The sad thing is that if you don’t configure your room properly you won’t get the full effect of any sound system.

  27. KillingMyBrainCells says:

    If you listen to classical, jazz or maybe even the blues, then maybe higher quality speakers would be worth it. If you listen to Britney Spears, then you want the cheapest speakers you can find.

  28. LESSTHANKIND says:

    “The fleshy skin of a bongo.” heh

    *ahem* ANYWAY… most of us here in NYC aren’t able to play music loud enough in our homes to appreciate or justify such an outlay on a sound system. So anyone who has one in their undoubtedly shoebox apartment is either wasting their money or is the most unpopular tenant in the building. Probably both, since these things tend to represent yet another big-fleshy-bongo substitute anyway. Hard, driving, thumping bass and all that.

  29. lemur says:

    Yeah, well I’m one of the folks who are skeptical about the pursuit of high-fidelity. Sure there is a relationship between quality and price but it is not a linear relationship. And then there’s a point at which more quality may not make any difference in how you enjoy the product. And the fact that quality is an aggregate of multiple factors.

    What I’d really like to see is someone conduct a rigorous blind study about these things:

    1. Can professional audiophiles really tell the quality difference between super pricey audio systems and more reasonable ones?

    2. Same as 1 but with regular folks.

    I do believe that people can seriously fool themselves when evaluating the quality of their experience. If they know that the experience was delivered by a system which other people have already labeled “high quality” or by a pricey system, they adjust their evaluation accordingly irrespective of whether it was really more enjoyable than average to them.

  30. DaleM says:

    Can the discerning ear hear a difference in high end systems? YES, much like a discerning ear can hear the difference between a Steinway and a Baldwin piano.

    Is there a difference between a $200 and $1000 stereo system, YES.

    Is there as difference between a $1000 Stereo system and a $10,000, Yes.

    Is there a difference between a $10,000 and a $50,000 stereo system, yes; but a much smaller yes. In other words, as dollars go up the audio return on investment diminishes.

    Some people are happy with something that makes musical noise; under $1000. (upright piano)

    Others want a but more reality and depth to their music; $1000-10,000. (Balwin baby grand)

    Others have a huge budget and an excellent ear; 10,000-50,000 (of course a dedicated music room to go along with it). (Steinway concert grand)

    Then there are those who are bizarrely rich and and wipe their butts with $100 bills, over $50k (bosendorfer concert grand with an extra octave of bass notes)

    Personally I can hear the difference in a 256kbs MP3 and a CD when compared AB. Mp3′s require compression and compression results in loss.

    I have listened to $100k systems in dedicated rooms with chairs bolted to the floor for best listening position and they are simply amazing. Three dimensional imaging and infinite depth to the sound. The draw back to these systems are – if you are not sitting at attention with your head facing forward you will lose all this dimension.

    Ultimately an iPod does not equal Mark Levinson but an iPod is a lot easier to carry around. Ultimately, different tools for different needs.

  31. uricmu says:

    @KillingMyBrainCells: If you listen to Britney Spears, you’re probably reading PerezHilton, not the Consumersit :)

  32. afterimageB says:

    @lemur: Sure there is a relationship between quality and price but it is not a linear relationship.
    —————————-
    It’s called the law of diminishing returns and it applies to just about anything you can buy. A $100,000 car isn’t going to be twice as fast as a $50,000 car. The same applies to audio equipment. A $10,000 pair of speakers isn’t going to sound 5 times better than a $2,000 pair but to a lot of people the difference in price is money well spent because they can hear the difference.

  33. Musician78 says:

    It all depends on how much you like music. If I could afford it, I would totally spend that kind of money on the obligatory audiophile arsenal. But that is me. I think it is ludicrous to spend the amount of money they spend on sports (world series tix, superbowl, etc.). But I don’t like sports. Not even a little.

  34. super_nova says:

    At work we have $2k Mackie monitor speakers and they’re really fantastic. The sign of good speakers is when you don’t have to crank up the volume to hear everything in the music.

    At home I’ve got a Klipsch 5.1 system that runs about $400 and does everything i want in a system for a room… any kind of music sounds great. One caveat about Klipsch 5.1′s : their electronics heat up and will die after a year or so (learned the hard way). You can get modded ones off ebay (stpeteshepherd) that have fans inside them, but make a small noise.

  35. str1cken says:

    Well, I don’t know about price range or specific systems, but I have a Marantz Model 1060 with a pair of bose speakers and a record player. I didn’t seek this out, my father gave it to me when he stopped listening to music(!?!).

    Not too long ago I bought a record that I already had on MP3 because I like having the artwork and the physical object.

    I was skeptical that playing it back from a record on a good set of speakers would make any significant difference from listening to it on my ipod with headphones. I just thought it would be a fun experiment.

    I couldn’t believe it! Of course, the songs were the same, the content was essentially identical, but there was a richness of depth and tone to the instruments that were just absent from the mp3 version. (We also tried playing the ipod through the marantz, rather than headphones, and got about the same quality as the headphones.)

    Now, some jackass up by the top mentioned that anyone who cares about the “fleshy skin of a bongo” is just being pretentious, and it might feel that way to read it. But before you get too judgemental, keep in mind that’s just a verbal attempt to recreate the feelings and sounds one experiences through a good stereo. It’s one thing to read about, but it’s something totally different to actually hear it first hand.

    I don’t know that I can hear the difference between a $500 stereo and a $20k stereo, but there is definitely a world of difference between Mp3 and vinyl. I can’t discount the idea that there is a sound quality difference on a better system that can be a great experience.

  36. Zombietime says:

    They are absolutely worth it. My father was a big audiophile with cary tube preamps, krell monoblocks, some kind of expensive speakers and with a good quality recording, music sounds 3-dimensional.

  37. Sudonum says:

    @num1skeptic:
    “my home system is a bunch of homade speakers”
    Is that the nappy headed kind?

    My audio systems over the years have run the from high end Marantz to low end RCA with everything in between. Right now everything in my home theater system is Denon, with the exception of the Panasonic Plasma, and the Polk Audio speakers. Overall however I’m in the same boat as @TexasScout: I can’t hear anything in the high range anymore

  38. lemur says:

    @AfterimageB:

    A $10,000 pair of speakers isn’t going to sound 5 times better than a $2,000 pair but to a lot of people the difference in price is money well spent because they can hear the difference.

    That’s the kind of statement I’d like to see proved by a blind study. The fact that there exist people who will say that their $10,000 pair of speakers has a better sound quality than a $2,000 pair does not prove that they can in fact hear a difference in quality between the $10,000 pair and the $2,000 one. Somebody who’s paid $10,000 for speakers will not admit that they could have obtained the same quality for $2,000 because that would amount to saying “hey, I’ve just wasted $8,000″.

  39. s35flyer says:

    I prefer high-end sound systems, they sound better, they look better and the quality of the equipment is much better. It’s a lot like the article. Wine is wine is a 10$ bottle better than a 200$ bottle, oil painting vs poster, they all do the same thing, just depends on your level of quality.

  40. bohemian says:

    Since we both have some minor to moderate hearing damage I would think that anything over a mid range in quality sound system is just going to be wasted.

    I just want a way to auto-mute or sound adjust TV commercials. The audio they do on most of them is just obnoxious.

  41. EthnicRedneck says:

    I think what the price difference illustrates as much as anything is how artificially-priced the low-end equipment is. A $400 dollar All-In-One was probably assembled in a 3rd world country on an assembly line and likely contains numerous flaws in casing and wiring which would lead to distorted audio. A $2000 speaker is much more likely to have been made by hand, quality tested, and (gasp) have customer support. If it doesn’t offer those things for the higher price, then yeah, it’s an ego piece for overly wealthy hipsters, but none of those read this stuff right?

  42. num1skeptic says:

    beauty is in the eye of the beholder. same with music, only with ears. absolutely some have better ears than other. no arguing that. but weather more bass or more treble or more mid sounds better?, it depends on what you prefer. i prefer more bass but it all varies on the style of music you like. i like rock. but if i was listening to jazz or classical, i’d change my eq. but none of that matters if your speakers suck. you have to have a quality head unit, wires, and speakers.

    btw, i have a much better system in my car than home, because i live in an apartment and can’t turn it up loud anyhow. but i don’t belive in sub-woofers. just high quality speakers to replace the crappy factory ones.

  43. Doug Nelson says:

    Let’s compare apples to apples.

    First of all, any discussion of audiophilia cannot contain any mention of MP3.

    And dismissing the superiority of vinyl over CD isn’t fair unless it’s determined whether either has been compressed (most mass-market CDs are compressed to death, but most vinyl isn’t. However, there are exceptions to both).

    There has already been adequate coverage here about speakers, players, and amps. But they do need to be well-matched. A weak link in a good system could very well sound worse than a well-matched mediocre system.

    A good $1000 will get you 95% of the way there, but from there on the price difference is geometric for each additional percentage point.

    If you doubt any of this, just go to any elite sound store (most larger cities have at least one) and go into their top-end listening room and sit in the center chair. A good system can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, and not from air movement.

    As in appreciating anything, the more experience you have about a subject the greater your range of appreciation. I once worked for a chef who correctly identified 20 high-end bottled waters while blindfolded.

  44. Beld says:

    There really does exist a difference between high end and low end equipment. The biggest problem that consumers experience when dealing with high end equipment is what I like to call “Bose syndrome”. Since Bose advertises a huge amount yet producing thoroughly substandard equipment for the price, I think a large amount of fallout comes from the lack of results that such products provide. These purported high end audio companies produce terrible products and blacken the whole industry. The 7000 dollars/foot digital cable industry is a black mark on audiophiles all around.
    If you really want to get proof that equipment quality matters and price is reasonable, focus on headphones. A decent headphone setup can run 1/10 of the price of a comparable speaker setup. Granted, you do make sacrifices with headphones, but, the price difference makes it far easier to approach. I have not met a person who did not say “Wow” after listening to FLAC (a lossless audio file that creates a duplicate of the CD track, unlike the MP3 format) through my setup. A Bel Canto DAC and a nice homebuilt PPA amp with very moderately priced reference headphones like the Sennheiser HD650 or Beyerdynamic DT770 produces amazing results. Based on my experiences in forcing anyone I can at college to listen to my setup, I can say with satisfaction that it is not a placebo.
    Ignorance is the biggest enemy to the idea of audiophilia. People who pay 400 dollars on a new iPod do not want to know that is possesses a substandard DAC and amplifier. Likewise, people assume that expense equals quality (Hence the white iPod earbud/Bose issues) when quality can be found at great savings.

  45. ExecutorElassus says:

    For those of you who want to try the difference between mostly-audiophile and your iPods, but – like me – aren’t going to blow the cheddar on something that might be made up, try this: build your own speakers. It’s seriously a lot easier than you think. Forget the high-end for now: go look for some full-range drivers by Tang Band, and look for designs for speakers called “Tuned Quarter-Wave Pipe.” For the amp, you can buy a totally cheesy $30 T-amp made by Sonic Impact, or get a much better version for about $120 from diyaudio.com (which is some totally cracked out dude in Malaysia who makes souped-up ones himself, and names them after Charlize Theron).

    The T-amps make tube-amp owners cry: they sound better than most anything under $2k. Same goes for the speakers. I have NO experience with carpentry, and the speaker cabinets look like something a retarded middle schooler made in shop. But MAN. I spent probably $400 for the whole thing, including buying the power tools, and solid oak for the cabinets, and the system beats out stereos costing ten times that much. Absolutely worth it. Partsexpress.com sells most of the stuff you need, and has tutorials.

    Oh, and I agree with whoever busted on CDs. I bought a super-audio CD on a lark, and you can absolutely hear the difference. CDs are all compressed to hell, and sound brittle on a good system. Haven’t tried vinyl, ’cause I’m skeptical. And I’m not a shill for any of those websites.

  46. Tank says:

    if the amp doesn’t go to 11 i don’t want it

  47. SSJPabs says:

    I can barely hear the difference between 1000 speakers and my earphones. I guess I’m just a barbarian.

  48. SSJPabs says:

    $1000 speakers that is.

  49. Sudonum says:

    @Tank:
    You win the thread

  50. parad0x360 says:

    @Grimspoon: headphones could never hope to match the entire range of a home theatre speaker system, if you believe it then you have fallen for some great marketing.

    its all about the Hz!

  51. parad0x360 says:

    @str1cken: it really depends on the bit rate. Are you comparing quality or the unique sound of music being played off of vinyl?

  52. num1skeptic says:

    slow news day! this post is purely opinionated. this isn’t nothing more than a pissing contest.

  53. jarchie219 says:

    This discussion reminds me of the tale of the audiofile that built the ultimate system. He had the best of everything in an acoustically isolated room. He finally discovered that his presence affected the sound field so badly that he could not stand the distortion. He wound up happily watching a panel of oscilloscopes and meters which displayed the conditions in his perfect listening environment.

  54. benko29 says:

    @Grimspoon:

    not true. true stereo sound places the image in front of you, with the right and left speakers separated by a 60 degree angle radiating in front of you. sticking headphones on puts each speaker directly on each of your ears, negating the effect of the “phantom centre image” that is created by the stereo field.

    not only that, but as another commenter mentioned, the tiny drivers in your cans can come nowhere near the frequency response of good full range speakers.

    as to whether high end systems are worth the price, I’ll have to echo num1skeptic’s comment just above this one. it’s completely subjective. saying it’s pretentious to want to be able to hear the nuances of the skin on a conga or the woodiness of a nice classical guitar, or the breath of a vocalist is like saying it’s pretentious to like to go out and eat a nice plate of pasta at a good restaurant when you can just have a 99 cent box of kraft dinner.

    live and let live, people. is an audiophile’s $20k system making music less enjoyable for you? i’d wager that it isn’t.

  55. racermd says:

    @parad0x360: “@Grimspoon: headphones could never hope to match the entire range of a home theatre speaker system, if you believe it then you have fallen for some great marketing.

    its all about the Hz!”

    You’ve apparently fallen for some great marketing, yourself.

    Headphones, assuming they’re more than the cheap $10 earbuds you’d find accompanying an iPod, can produce the same (or better) frequency range than a full-sized home theater setup. In fact, it’s much easier to do so.

    Why? Well, for starters, the distance that the sound must travel from the diaphragm to your eardrum is much less. As a result, less energy is needed to cover that distance. Secondly, it takes much less energy to reproduce any given wavelength, which means it’s easier to cover the extreme ends of the spectrum. No need for hundreds (or thousands!) of watts of power.

    Of course, what you lose is the other sensory input – like the chest-thumping you’d get from a powered sub filling a room with bass notes or the spatial imaging you’d get with a multi-speaker setup.

    The way headphones and home speakers are measured is completely different. Typically, home speakers are measured at 1 meter. Headphones are measured at a much shorter distance. This is to account for the typical listening distances for each type of device.

  56. num1skeptic says:

    oh yeah well my dad can beat up your dad! ha! that trumps all! I WIN!!!!

  57. czarandy says:

    In one study, regular listeners were unable to tell the difference between 64kbps MP3s and 256kbps MP3s.

    Given that, it seems that for most people some $100 speakers are plenty, and $100 headphones would sound as good as they would notice.

    It’s very difficult to perform comparisons between different speakers yourself. Differences in loudness of less than 1 dB can cause a perceived improvement in quality. Often stores will set up the more expensive speakers slightly louder so they sound better and people buy them. Given that, I don’t believe that anyone can claim for certain that $10k speakers are better than $300 speakers unless they’ve done a rigorous study. Your own opinion is interesting for you, but irrelevant for everyone else.

  58. czarandy says:

    Also note that as you get older your hearing declines substantially, particularly at the higher frequencies. After age 20-25 you will never hear as well as you used to. So you shouldn’t take advice on sound quality from anyone older than you, because they don’t hear the same things :).

  59. Televiper says:

    I would say the average person is simply not familiar with the level of texture present in music that they never hear because of the limitations in their sound systems. Slate does a good job of describing those sounds with words. I think I get plenty out of my high end sound card, and mid range surround sound speaker set. I could get more bang with more buck, but I simply prefer having more CDs. That being said, if you own less than 100 CDs and you spend the majority your time listening to the radio, then a high end system isn’t for you. But, definitely don’t go out and buy a high end system and then start buying music you’d never listen to otherwise just push your system.

  60. swalve says:

    I think someone else mentioned this- it has to do with the equipment, not the price. I’ll put my $250 Panasonic receiver up against any $1000 receiver out there.

    If it sounds good to you, buy it. But if you care, compare first.

  61. ARPRINCE says:

    It’s worth it only if it’s made by KLIPSCH.

  62. EtherealStrife says:

    I love my buttkicker + sennheiser hd202 earphones combo. For under $50 I have a multipurpose movie-watching, music-listening, and gaming sound system.
    @czarandy: BS. That’s like comparing radio to a cd. Was the test group all above 40? Was it head banger music? With intact ear drums and quality music there’s quite a difference.

  63. McMaggot says:

    As someone that has done a lot of thinking about this subject, and has a lot of opinions both in theory and practice, all I can say is: “it’s complicated”.

    Speaker design, phase linearity, room acoustics… bit depth, recording, mixing, compression artifacts, bla bla bla bla times 100,000. Never ends.

    If music reaches your heart, it really doesn’t matter what speaker or head phone it came from. The music is the important thing.

    [ Disclosure: I mostly use either cheapo $40 Sony headphones or a pair of Genelec 8020a:s because I have grumpy neighbors and travel a lot .. ]

  64. Cam/ron says:

    Something to keep in mind: A large portion of sound quality goes beyond the control of any audio format or sound system – it boils down to how well the recording was recorded, mixed and mastered. A lousy recording will sound horrid no matter what. It’s often difficult for me to listen to many 1980s recordings since it was trendy for engineers to drench the music in reverb. There are also many recordings that are meant to be heard through headphones since the artist or engineer mixed the recording using headphones as monitors. Of course, sound quality is arbitrary – I’ve enjoyed music played on a cheap Fisher Price 45 player as much as music played on any club system.

  65. no.no.notorious says:

    it’s worth it depending on the input

  66. suburbancowboy says:

    I used to own a mid-to-high end AV store. Equipment is worth it to a point,and the law of diminishing returns certainly applies.

    I think the differences are more apparent on a 2 channel system then on a home theater system.
    There is nothing quite like putting on an album you are familiar with, and hearing details you never noticed before, and a great soundstage where the 2 speakers place all of the instruments in front and around you like you are in the studio.

  67. dirtleg says:

    Price and quality are going be governed by your budget. Like wise your tolerance for lesser sounding equipment is going to be determined by how much you can spend on your system. That said, not everyone has the same expectations for the sound quality the hope to produce from their stereo, whether it is at home, in their car or in their pocket. If I am out of the house, my requirements are much lower than they are at home. I am perfectly happy with the factory stereo and Infinity speakers in my car, my first generation iPod with Sony headphones and even my ancient clock radio at work. At home I expect a little more. I don’t claim to have “high end” equipment at home, but after doing my homework and determining where to spend my dollars, on which pieces of equipment, I have a system that makes me very happy when I put on some tunes and crank up the volume. I am a vinyl nut, so I have a nice turntable, a Vestax 7500. For power, I have a nice mid-range Pioneer receiver. It doubles as our 5.1 system for the TV and we like it just fine. Speakers are where I spent the most money, a very nice set of, again mid-range priced, Paradigms with a powered sub. We did not spend a ton of money, no where near the $10k that has been tossed about in this thread, but again, we are very happy with it. And after all, isn’t that the point?

  68. ckolony says:

    If you really enjoy LISTENING to good music, then spending the money is well worth it. However, equating price with quality is silly. Bose makes some stuff for well over $1000 which isn’t worth the cardboard it’s packaged in. You are just buying the brand. On the other hand, you can get some vintage gear for cheap on craigslist which sounds ten times better than a set of Polks from Circuit City.

    Personally, I have about $1200 in my system and it sounds better than anything one could get new and packaged. I spent $200 on a set of Acoustat electrostatic panels. These things about 30 years old and sound amazing. Nowadays Martin Logan are about the only people making electrostatics, and the mids and highs amazing. I spent $200 on a 150W per channel direct input amp. No tone controls, no digital sound processing–just volume and input selection. Very clear signal and virtually no noise. I use a reasonable Denon DVD player and splurged on a REL subwoofer ($800). After spending a while getting everything setup right, it sounds fantastic.

    Do your research, say out of Circuit City, and you can get some great deals.

  69. Atomike says:

    Unless you can point to a multiple specific double-blind studies, then you can’t say that expensive speakers are better. You’re just parroting advertising slogans. 98% of the posts above me are completely worthless because they are merely opinion – without a shred of fact to stand on.
    Here are the FACTS:
    1. Most “normal” people in studies can’t tell the difference in audio quality.
    2. Most people think that they’re audiofiles, when in fact, they’re just normal people.
    3. Therefore, YOU cannot tell the difference, even though you think you can. So shut up.

  70. erratapage says:

    Me <— Normal hearing, supertaster… For me, that means saving money on my audio equipment and spending money on food. My home theater in a box setup is good enough for me to enjoy movies. My IPod is good enough for me to enjoy music. However, I’m never going to enjoy store bought baked goods or fake vanilla extract or fake or canned crab. Heck… I can’t even stand ice in my water or softdrinks.

    For me, it’s about value. The only luxury aspect I’d like in a soundsystem is to build in my speakers so that I don’t have to have my rear speakers cluttering up my room. I don’t need Bose or any other luxury name to do that.

  71. grizzman says:

    Funny, I thought all the “LPs are better than CDs” dinosaurs had died off. Sure, if you have a brand new LP freshly unwrapped it *might* sound as good as a CD, but that’s it.

    And to everyone saying that CDs sound better than a high quality MP3 (256 kbps), I’d love to be able to do a side by side comparison with you and watch not be able to tell the difference. You’ll all go the way of the LPs sound better than CDs dinosaurs soon enough.

    Everyone has their personal preferences, what makes them comfortable. In 1987 it was LPs, as my audiophile friends insisted CDs didn’t have the “warm sound” of LPs. When in actuality, the physical CDs didn’t give them that “warm feeling.” It had nothing to do with the sound. Same with MP3s today.

  72. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Echoing what many of the commenters said, there’s a difference, but only up to a point and as the price gets higher and higher, the difference in sound quality becomes less and less.

    You can tell when it crosses the line into BS when the advert of an amp says something like “Our comprehensive active-passive coupled gold-titanium sonically matched FET’s provide a cleaner and more aesthetically pure sound which infuses your music with spectral resonance, warmth, and tonal color not found in less expensive amps.” If your bullshit detector hasn’t gone off at the end of a statement like that, I have some Iowa beachfront property I’d like to sell you.

    As for the MP3′s vs. CD’s vs. vinyl goes….MP3′s sound fine to me. Vinyl holds nostalgic memories, but it’s certainly not more acoustically correct than the CD. The fact is, humans seem to like distortion..which is why some people like tube amps. It’s not about accurate reproduction, it’s about distortion and frequency cutoff (high and low), and about the production of harmonics.

    Personally, I have a really nice set of Boston Acoustics computer speakers, and those sound great to me.

  73. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Oh, and my home speakers are a pair of circa 1972 Radio Shack 3-ways in walnut cabinets. Even after 35 years, they sound great.

  74. scoosdad says:

    Nothing says “lossy compression” like being stuck sitting at a wedding reception dinner in front of the DJ’s speakers, when he’s playing MP3s off a hard drive at full volume all night long. I had a chat with him later on that night and he was clueless that there was any difference. He just said it was easier than playing his CD’s. Ironically, he brought his CDs and all his players along just in case the hard drive crashed.

  75. backbroken says:

    You do realize that audiophiles are the joke of the ‘-philes’ community, right?

  76. LTS! says:

    Any comment on audio reproduction in terms of quality of sound is pointless. What is pleasing is completely subjective. The only true way to measure sound reproduction accuracy would be to test the sound produced at the recording environment and compare that to the environment where the sound is being reproduced and I’m not even sure that can be done without any “equipment interpretation”. There is no “true sound”. Any electrical instrument depends upon circuitry to create the sound in the first place. Any acoustical instrument is influenced by the unique features of that particular instrument. One scratch, one dent, one pad out of place will create a different sound. Different lacquer, different reeds, all of them influence sound. Since NONE of us are at the recording environment it is impossible for us to know what is accurate in terms of reproducing the sound that was captured.

    We’ll take that, then add sound engineer, sound equipment in the studio, etc. and say we still don’t have access to that, so the best we can do is hope to output something close.

    Well, the CD fails at that. It’s limited sampling rate means that no regardless of how much you’ve spent on your system you will not come close to accurately reproducting the sound of ANY instrument. Higher definition equipment certainly lessens that gap, but there’s a gap nonetheless.

    If you make it past all that I believe that you can hear differences between a $200, $500, $1000, $50,000 system and the simple reason is that each system creates it’s own interpretation of the signals it is being sent. Each system is going to influence the sound one way or another. The only question is, does it influence the sound in such a way that is aesthetically pleasing to your ears?

    Now, you can certainly measure frequency response an all that crap, but what’s the point? The bottom line is that all of it is irrelevant as you may be able to provide a more robust listening environemtn that is still not pleasing to you.

    As for those who say you cannot hear the difference between a CD and 256 MP3s, that may be true. It also depends on what system you are listening on as some will be able to “show” those audio holes where others will not. On my crappy speakers I can guess the bitrate of an mp3 9 times out of 10, from 64 – 320kbps.. there are differences. And I can certainly tell the difference between a CD and an mp3 at any bitrate in most cases. I have to say most cases because some recordings are so shoddy that it really doesn’t matter you’ll never hear it.

  77. XianZomby says:

    People with money need to spend it on something. So induldge them by telling them how fabulous their system sounds. Then stop being friends with them, becasue they are douches.

  78. glass says:

    this article doesnt actually have any valid arguments one way or the other. fail.

  79. KJones says:

    I wish people did NOT have those expensive systems. Too much bass gives me raging headaches.

    As for sound quality, from what I’ve seen most of those who want them don’t understand or play music. Anyone who thinks all songs are written in 4/4 time doesn’t need or deserve expensive speakers. There are nuances and there are nuisances.

    And as for recording quality, there may be a slight difference if MP3s are recorded above 128kbps, but it’s negligible; CDs are recorded at 160kpbs or better with little difference in quality. It’s only below 128kbps that you notice any big difference. Less than 128kbps (48-96) is fine for spoken voice.

    Another good thing about MP3s recorded at 128kbps: they equate to 1MB of space on disk for every minute of song. If you know your CDs have ten hours of music, you’ve got (roughly) 600MB of files; you only have to remember song lengths (many people do), not file sizes.

  80. Cary says:

    I have had people come to my home and ask who was playing the piano in the next room. When I said it was a recording they said “I’m a musician and I know a recording versus a piano.” Imagine the look on his face…

    Yes, I can tell the difference between an original CD and a copy… blind test… 100% of the time.

    Yes, different analog cables sound different. Tested blind… 100% of the time.

    No, different digital cables do not sound different… 100% of the time.

    Yes, there is a clear difference in sound if my amp has been powered on 3 minutes, 3 hours, or 3 days. (It really does take that long to fully warm up)

    If you enjoy listening to a characture of the music, MP3′s 10% of the original bits on your $400 HTIB are sufficient… and a Chevy Cobalt will usually get you where you want to go. (okay… you should probably WANT to go to the mechanic)

    Just don’t pretend to know what the rest of the bits sound like or what it feels like to drive a Ferrari unless you’ve actually heard an obscenely good system or actually driven a Ferrari. That $2,000 HDTV was a complete waste of money without the audio to go along with it, too.

  81. iamme99 says:

    @EXECUTORELASSUS-For those of you who want to try the difference between mostly-audiophile and your iPods, but – like me – aren’t going to blow the cheddar on something that might be made up, try this: build your own speakers. It’s seriously a lot easier than you think.

    Yes, I agree. But I built from a kit years ago (see below).

    I can easily tell the difference between MP3′s and CD’s. I guess this is one reason why I don’t own an MP3 player. Really, most people are just looking for background noise to keep their minds occupied and not be bored, so good sound doesn’t register for them. It’s like trying to explain to a couch potato how diferent an an elite athlete’s body feels.

    I like my music but never really had the budget to go high end. I listen only to Jazz & Classical.

    In 1993 I brought a speaker kit from VPMS. This company is local to me, so I went to the owner’s house/factory (at the time) in El Sorbante, CA. The equipment he had there and the listening experience was incredible. And yes, I could tell the difference A/B’ing between the lower end and the higher end stuff.

    But with my limited budget, I could only afford the low end of his line which was the Minitower IIa (which while mini, is nearly 40 inches tall. SOme of his speakers were 8 ft tall!) . With options that included extra damping, ribbon supertweeter’s, Wondercap crossover’s and focal Superdome’s, these were a great change from al the run-of-the-mill speakers I had before. All together I spent around $1200 on these speakers and they are still going strong today. And I just checked, the company is still in business ([www.vmpsaudio.com]). I also picked up a pair of those 1 inch thick oxygen free cables for something like $150 on closeout. I only have a mid-range Yamaha receiver now but compared to the Kenwood I had before, the sound is much better.

    If I ever hit the big bucks, I will certainly buy a real high end audio system.

  82. audiogeek says:

    @meadandale: Absolutely. Not so say that $18k cables and such things CAN’T make a difference – but to really be able to accurately hear the effects a very quiet room with at least the first reflection treated, as well as any standing waves and bass anamolies addressed, good clean power present has to happen.

    Often treating a room well can be very expensive, much more than a high end stereo system.

  83. taka2k7 says:

    If you have a purpose built theater room with good acoustics, then sure, throwing down a couple of thousand for a good theater system will make a difference (until you go deaf). Otherwise, for 90% of us, anything over a $1500 including speakers is really a waste of money. Of course a $1500 system is better than a $400 system. Then again, I’ve got a $400 system (including speakers) and I’m mostly happy with it. I’ll upgrade to new speakers primarily to go with a smaller size that fits next to my TV cabinet. HDMI inputs are another reason to upgrade. And going to 6.1 from 5.1. Other than that , I really don’t think the audiophiles are better off than me.

  84. jimconsumer says:

    @swalve: You said, “I’ll put my $250 Panasonic receiver up against any $1000 receiver out there.” Go for it. You’ll lose. I have a relatively inexpensive, $1000 Harman/Kardon receiver that blows away the arguably decent $300 TEAC receiver I replaced. Sound quality is subjective so we can argue this all day but everyone who has watched a movie at my place, in full 7.1 channel surround, with speakers driven by this receiver, has left thoroughly impressed. My speakers are cheap KLH brand junk bought from Costco and desperately need to be replaced yet the receiver change still made an amazing difference.

    You’re right, however, that it is about the equipment, not about the price. I can pick out $500 speaker sets all day long that will best anything Bose has to offer, even at quadruple the price. That said, with notable exceptions such as this, you generally do get what you pay for.

  85. humorbot says:

    @backbroken: The “philes community?” These would be… philophiles?

  86. RvLeshrac says:

    @youbastid:

    “Skeptic” doesn’t mean the same thing as “Cynic.”

    @audiogeek:

    All I see is “BS, BS BS BS, BS BS BS BS. BS BS. BS BS BS, BS. More BS.”

    Your listening environment *CAN* affect the sound – but not enough to bother with for anyone with normal human hearing (unless, of course, you have the entire room carpeted or have a room with steel walls).

    @iamme99:

    Look, more crap!

    Was that a *double-blind* A/B test? What quality were those MP3s?

    ——-

    I see this BS spouted all the time. Sure, you can tell the difference between a $5 pair of speakers and a $100 pair of speakers – that’s because there are tangible, measurable electrical and mechanical differences.

    Here’s a prime example:

    [www.performanceaudio.se]

    (Original article is at [www.stereophile.com] , but the stereophile site appears to be down as I type this).

    “On the SACD of Bruno Walter’s recording of Beethoven’s Symphony 6 (Sony SS 6012) I heard more of the same: The sound was more open-this time a bit bigger, too-with an easier, more natural sense of movement from note to note. As a bonus-and forgive me, please, while I go back on what I wrote in this space last month about “audiophile” recordings-when I switched over to the JPS power cord, I was startled by the sound of someone’s sheet music hitting the floor 34 seconds into the first movement.”

    If only you could test using the same recording in a home setting.

    OH, WAIT, YOU CAN!!!

    “05 Symphony No.6 in F ‘Pastorale’ – Op.68 – I – Allegro ma non troppo.flac” , taken from “Beethoven – Symphonies 4 & 6 – Bruno Walter”, playing on a set of Cambridge Soundworks FPS1800 speakers, front-channels only. Realtek AC’97 Audio, Biostar i945G-M7 on-board.

    I know what you’re thinking. That’s not a fair test. Comparing Art Dudley’s vastly more expensive audio setup with my cheap-as-hell crappy on-board sound and ancient FPS1800 speakers that sometimes lose volume for no apparent reason and have a mild hum from some unknown source? We need to even this up a little.

    Here’s what we’re going to do: The first thing to go is those speakers. Speakers which won’t hold volume are never going to do. Instead, I’m going to use this quality ‘Inland Pro Headset 1000 with Microphone’ ($699 [no, wait, there's a decimal in there. $6.99], [microcenter.com] ).

    The next thing we need to do is download the 4Music transcoder. Lossless audio is never going to do, it is simply unfair to Dudley. We’ll take that down to 128kb MP3.

    Further, we must do something about the power to this system. I’m going to replace the stock interconnect with a Belkin Components ‘Pro Series AC Power Replacement Cable’ ($12.99, [microcenter.com] . This had better be good, this power cable cost me twice as much as the headset!)

    MUCH better. Now we have:
    “05 Symphony No.6 in F ‘Pastorale’ – Op.68 – I – Allegro ma non troppo.mp3″, 128kbit joint-stereo playing on the powerhouse described above.

    At *34.5* seconds in, I’m startled as some idiot manages to lose their sheet music. ‘USE THE CLIPS ON THE STAND, THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE FOR!’ I shout, before realising that no one can hear me scream.

    Perhaps I ned to start an audiophile magazine…

  87. RvLeshrac says:

    @RvLeshrac:

    I decided to run this test again using my FPS1800 speakers, and to my shock I discovered that I could no longer hear the sheet music hitting the floor.

  88. RvLeshrac says:

    @RvLeshrac:

    Oh, wait. You have to plug them in.

  89. iamme99 says:

    @RVLESHRAC
    @iamme99:Look, more crap!

    Was that a *double-blind* A/B test?
    Yeah, I was wearing a blindfold.

    What quality were those MP3s?
    Crappy, as all MP3′s are.

    Hey, maybe my ears are just a lot better than yours?

    Don’t feel bad, you still have a place in the world. Just as long as it doens’t involve sound or music. So no, don’t go start that audiophile magazine….

  90. RvLeshrac says:

    @iamme99:

    “Wearing a blindfold” isn’t ‘double-blind,’ a blindfold isn’t even *single* blind.

    And I think you missed the *entire* point of my post above…

  91. flackman says:

    With most things digital, your source tends to make more difference than the actual renderer. Of course, playing an excellent source on your cell phone likely will not be an exquisite listening experience either.

    Most MP3s are encoded at 44100 hz. According to Nyquist’s law, that creates a maximum audio frequency of 22050 hz, out of the normal range of hearing most people can hear.

    However, and this is where it gets technical (read: more BORING):

    Adding two waveforms together creates an output waveform that is markedly changed from the original. This is harmony. Whether the waveforms are created from instruments or voices–which have harmonics of their own–adding waveforms results in a different waveform.

    This is what we tend to describe the “fullness” of a particular sound. More harmonics.

    So, the waveforms that are in the inaudible range–over 22050 and under 20–will still cause the resulting waveform to change. It will be more “full”.

    If we no longer record these changes, the result is a “flat” sound. The bulk of the job of the engineer is to be sure these “flat” sounds are minimized when played on a cd with a mid-range speaker, for example.

    This is the reason most digital masters are recorded at 192KHz. We cannot hear 96Khz sounds, but the harmonics, “fullness”, will come through on higher sampling rate recordings.

    Most people do not see digital artifacts on lower bitrate HD broadcasts (DTV HD-lite anyone?). The reason they pass muster is because there were numerous consumer trials and surveys done. Most people either don’t see them or do not care.

    Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. Once a person actually reads about or learns about such things, they truly are ruined forever, where they may have lived their entire life being happy with what they already had.

    Like drinking a Latour or Lafite, as referenced in the article. Suddenly, you learn what your $12 Mouton Cadet is missing. The perfect balance of tannins, fruit and alcohol make you realize why some people spend $400 for 26 oz of consumable liquid. Now, what was perfectly delicious is now “not as good”.

    Of course, there is always a middle ground. For most people, it is not worth it to spend $400 for wine or $10k+ for a sound setup. Just as one may get very close to a $400 bottle of wine in a $30-40 bottle, that last 10% of performance in audio will normally equal 10x price.

    If you are not looking for those harmonics, not looking for blocking or motion artifacts, not searching for the richness and depth of a “perfect” blend of grapes, whatever you have is perfectly fine!
    It is certainly eons beyond what we had 100 years ago. Stay off expert forums, stay far away from the people who say what you are using is not good enough. Otherwise the faults that ARE there may ruin your enjoyment of a perfectly good product.

    No matter what you can buy right now, that last 10% will be 10x cheaper in a few years.

  92. I’ve heard some spectacular sound systems, but rarely have I heard one that I couldn’t tell was canned. Moreover, even the best speakers in a bad room won’t sound that great; the room makes a big difference.

    Personally, for me, it’s just not worth it for digital recordings. Analog captures nuances (and flaws) that even very high-end digital doesn’t.

    If I were going to spend big bucks on a sound system, it’d definitely be for vinyl. :)

  93. @RottNDude: “I would say the majority of the population doesn’t give a shit about audio quality – at least not enough to spend the cash required to obtain quality components”

    I give a shit about audio quality, which is why I invest my dollars in tickets to the symphony rather than high-end home audio equipment. ;)

  94. @DaleM: “Then there are those who are bizarrely rich and and wipe their butts with $100 bills, over $50k (bosendorfer concert grand with an extra octave of bass notes)”

    And it is true that an $80,000 Bosendorfer in a good room is enough to make you cry. :) Good God, those are beautiful instruments. But yes, an upright is more than enough for the living room. Save the ‘dorfer for the acoustically-wonderful concert hall. :D

    @ExecutorElassus: “Haven’t tried vinyl, ’cause I’m skeptical.”

    For the true glory of vinyl, get a 60s jazz recording and listen to it with all the musical tricks of jazz (burrs, growls, slides, bends, etc.) and the “dirtiness” of the sound. Then listen to the same recording remastered and re-released on CD. Sounds cleaner and prettier, but a heckuva lot less like live jazz.

  95. Televiper says:

    @grizzman: Anyone who listens to a lot of music and doesn’t have destroyed ears can tell the difference between most 256k Mp3s and their CD originals. The Mp3 algorithm imperfectly filters and removes what it judges to be inaudible, or noise. The result is a more compressed sound from the Mp3. The Mp3 algorithm also introduces various artifacts that a good ear can pick up in the sounds of hi-hats and other high pitched sounds with a long decay. Mp3 provides excellent quality for portable devices, but it’s really somewhere between the CD and the cassette. Certainly no where near SACDs or Audio DVDs. If the MP3 is dominant for practical reasons. Quality wise it was exceeded by other formats like AAC (aka Mp4) and FLAC a long time ago.

  96. Grimspoon says:

    @racermd:

    Great too see someone contributing here who isn’t a complete asshat.

    For the rest of you who spend retarded amounts of cash on home audio setups, you do whatever you gotta do to justify your purchase. More power to ya!

    I’ll sit back and enjoy my “audiophile” quality sound from my sub $200.00 headphones.

    Grado. Look it up.

  97. mrosedal says:

    I agree for the most part. If I am listening to something on the top 40 than an mp3 is more than enough. But if I am listening to something serious or something that has a lot of highs and lows Than it must be high end and lossless encoding. I have noticed a lot of problems with mp3s over the years.

  98. ppiddyp says:

    Amen to building it yourself. There’s nothing magical about high end speakers that can’t be replicated by some wood working skills. You can very easily put together a complete sound system for under $500 that will sound as good as something costing 10x that much. Braid your own cables from ethernet. Get a t-amp or buy a used NAD 1020 and couple that with something like this: [www.quarter-wave.com]

    Super easy, cheap, un-ugly and great sounding.

  99. cerbie says:

    Of course it’s worth it. Just remember that diminishing returns always apply. That $10,000 amplifier, even if it is legitimately worth $10,000, isn’t going to give 10x better sound than a $1000 amplifier of otherwise similar quality (10% R&D, materials, and labor cost). Personally, I’m cheap. It’s all going to headphones, and nothing special at that. I want it to sound good, but there’s always more out there to listen to, and it competes with dollars for listening gear.

    Lossy compression is an amazing technological development. The Walkman made us think like that, but it took the Rio (sorry Apple, you weren’t first :)) before it was genuinely convenient. You can pry my DAP from my cold, dead, fingers. Of course, that’s with a 40+dB noise floor…

    But, there are some albums with passages that even 320k just doesn’t cut it for. Quiet listening will only show more of it. Foobar2000 having integrated ABX functionality is cool, too.

    @clevershark: many people do think of the poor audiophiles, and are poor audiophiles. There is help out there. Used, DIY, people willing to buy and review to save you from spending 2x or more what you need to…it’s all out there.

    @meadandale: …and I have frequency response graphs to show you. Reproducing the low frequencies isn’t uncommon. However, headphones cannot make them like actual speakers can, since you get much of the lower end, actually starting in the hundreds of Hz, from feeling it more than your ear drums. Also, most headphone drivers can’t do low frequencies in free air. Your head, as a load, helps it do its thing.

    @SuffolkHouse: first, google up, “loudness war,” maybe adding, “vapour trails,” or ,”californication,” into the keyword mix. Good recording and mastering is no myth. Second, the MP3 has, at most, about 1/5 the information. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. IME, there’s no good predictor as to what will, and will not, be transparent.

    @lemur:
    1. Of course they can. Wooden knobs, hand-finished aluminum, and calligraphy on the front. Oh, and exotic materials in the capacitors and resistors (my amp has a plastic knob–w00t!).
    2. It was Sony, Bose, or Monster, right? :P

    @czarandy: you’re listening to music, not high frequency sine waves. high frequency components are minimal. Really, most music exists well under 3k, save for some harmonics here and there that spike on up there. 90%+ of it is your mind, and training. Er, and placebo.

    @RvLeshrac: $13 for a power cable? That’s crazy cheap. Take a spare one (you do have a bin of IEC power cables, because every PC upgrade nets at least one spare, right?), stuff it in a cotton tube, wrap a new ground around all spiral like, add two different colors of techflex, heatshrink the ends (printed heatshrink, too, mind you), then stick a $1000 tag on it. It will make your system sound like God was playing for you!

    For reference, my main rig:
    Philips Aurilium (soon to be DAC707 USB w/ a TREAD PSU)->mini IC from a TV tuner card (soon to be DIY)->Xin Feng Supermini-3 (ST-WV, no buffer)->KSC75.

    Thus far, the lowly Koss have been good enough that I’ve desired to spend more on CDs, and now a new source (spurred by Linux support being crap, but my sound card has been lacking to me, so that’s sort of a good excuse :)), than nicer cans (or move to speakers). I’ll get on up there eventually, but it will be a slow journey. Gear is not the point; it’s a bottleneck.

  100. Geekybiker says:

    In blind ABX testing people can tell the difference between a cheapo system and a good midrange system. What I find ironic is that some people prefer the sound of the cheap system simply since its what they are used to, and think music is supposed to sound like.

    As others have said, quality isn’t linear with money spent. They is exponential gain right away from the bottom of the line, which rapidly levels off. So its a log function? heh.

    Anyhow on the headphone question. Yes they will never be as good as a nice speaker setup. However, pick up a pair of grado sr80′s for $95. I’m pretty sure they’ll have better SQ than most people have ever heard.

  101. Gesualdo says:

    @DaleM: A new Steinway will cost you a lot more than $50k. Last time I priced them, it was around $75k for a B series, which is a bit smaller than the D series concert grand. Steinways also tend to hold, and actually increase in value, over time. As expensive as they may be, it’s not as absurd to spend a metric crapton of money on them as it is to spend a metric crapton of money on a stereo system.

  102. HuckNPluck says:

    @Atomike: Feel free to point out the facts from studies that you have mentioned, as to differentiate them from the previously stated “opinions.”

    I’m no audiophile, per se, I have a simple set up but I do refuse to listen to iPod earbuds unless I’m on the train, I use my Sein’s when I’m at home.

    Also, as someone who records music and loves some of the less compressed musics (jazz, classical, electronic (not techno…)) I can tell you flatly that I would never spend $7,000 on speakers but to suggest that I can’t hear the difference in truly quality equipment or hear the difference between 64 vs 256 or a CD is quite simply INSANE. If you can’t hear it, don’t buy it, but everyone should at least test it if they want it, right?

  103. lostalaska says:

    I have an inexpensive 5.1 surround sound system made by Logitech. From my experience the cheaper systems like my $300 surround sound tends to have good sound from the speakers, but the subwoofers tend to be too boomy in most the cheaper systems. Still, it comes down to “It’s good enough for me”. Yes a $2k to $3k amplifier and a good set of $1k to $2k 5.1 speakers would sound better, but I can’t justify the expense for the upgrade in sound quality.

    While I was in college instead of getting a high end sound system I purchased a pair of $150 audio technica headphones I’ve had them for about 10 years now and they still sound amazing. A good pair of headphones will get you closer to great sound for your dollar than spending $10k on a huge sound system of course the drawback is you can’t share the quality with other listeners.

  104. Spotpuff says:

    No it’s not worth it. Super high end audiophiles are the worst kind of self delusional person. How exactly can bass be “rich”?

  105. You can get pretty good quality for not very much anymore. These days, you can set your price and find a quality level to match. I’m an audiophile on a budget, so a Kenwood THX receiver does just fine for my surround sound, and some Sony headphones (earbuds and a DJ remix set) for portability.

    I know someone’s going to knock me for liking Sony, either because they’re overpriced or not audiophile enough, but I think they’re great. For the money I’ve spent, I’ve always been pleased with their quality, and they’ve been extremely durable. I intend on replacing them eventually, but they’ve held up so well that they’ll have to find a new home before they are replaced.

  106. iamme99 says:

    @GRIMSPOON – So what do you do when you have people over? Give them all headphones? [lol]

    Then again, maybe that makes sense to the iPod generation which is so used to listening to what passes for music through their pretty white headphones, While they completely isolate themselves from everything around them. I feel there is something socially negative about people who MUST have constant noise (music?) in their ears at all times.

  107. billy says:

    @KJones: CDs are not recorded at 160K or better. That number (96K 160k etc) is the bitrate of an mp3 (or kilobits per second). Mp3 bitrates are a function of how much or little you compress a sound file (like a CD). The higher the bitrate, the less compression, the more they are supposed to sound like the source CD.

  108. Benstein says:

    If you can hear the difference between an MP3 recorded at 256kbps and the source, I have a bridge to sell you.

    Yes, MP3s suck at 128kbps, but at 256kbps they are not differentiable from the source.