Are we the exception?

A good read in Stereophile:

I had assumed that big-dollar buyers were audio experts. Listening to their component auditions taught me otherwise. I got a little bit cynical. By the time you’re rich enough to buy it, I concluded, your ears aren’t good enough to hear it.

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Are we the exception? We meaning contributors to this forum and not just dCS customers?

Yes we are. I have had many similar conversations along the lines of those cited in the linked piece with dealers serving the most expensive end of our hobby with shops located in the most expensive areas of London. Tales of Wilson speakers ( with dCS front end) just shoved up against the wall or hidden behind sofas.Guys who buy , show it off to their friends ( the high price paid being the main “benefit” that is appreciated) then , once the 9 days wonder has worn off, more or less leaving it to gather dust.

One other dealer said that for most of his very rich customers it was not necessary to demonstrate or even explain the system that they were buying. After many years experience he basically had three “pre-packaged” systems for them, a £30K one, a £75k one and a £110K one ( or some such price points). " When can you deliver the £30/75/110k one" being almost the sole “sales” discussion.

Talking to a (then) dealer in Edinburgh ( not a dCS one) a few years ago he reminisced about the 1970s and selling what was then probably the most expensive system in the UK ( the Linn/Naim active PMS system). When he went to install it he found the guy only had about 10 or so LPs. Around twelve years later he was called to give the system a service of some kind. The guy still only owned the same 10 LPs.

After all you don’t expect the guy who buys a £30m Sunseeker to know anything about how to sail it do you? He hires a captain and crew. When he buys an audio system he isn’t likely to be interested in frequency response, distortion figures, what is the best length for a digital cable etc. That’s left to us hobbyists and a small and diminishing in numbers bunch we are.

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Very true!

The emphasis on “statement” casework in a lot of the higher echelon components is a nod to the above mentioned customer segment: Let that be the many Bespoke preamp material choices (vs bespoke audio component choices), Dag audio jewelry casework or even Vivaldi One custom cases. Dont get me wrong, I appreciate visually stunning objects, but if given the choice I would always prefer to reroute design/mfg costs into features that directly benefit audio performance.

Agree with you both here @Ermos @PAR that the intersection between folks that can purchase something like a dcs DAC, have the ability to hear the difference in performance, have the aptitude to inform themselves about the underlying technical design and have the time to show up on forums such as this is pretty small and self limiting. On the other hand, I would assume many of us here influence the purchase decisions of others - certainly I have in my circle of friends and acquaintances.

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Stereophile just came up with a follow-on article, with some ominous quotes about our hobby:

“Don’t sell them what they want; sell them what they need” was one of Kay’s shared mantras.

“High-end audio is not a growing market. Our customers are graying.”

“Nobody young is buying stereo, or very few young people. They all listen to music on their phones, and Sonos in their homes. They don’t know what quality is, and they’re not interested.”

When the earthquake that was high-end audio shook the American audio scene, Lyric was its epicenter. Now Lyric, like much else, is passing on.

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There have been times that I was at an audio shop almost every weekend, to help friends find what they wanted. Past tense. Just very few are still listening to good SQ. Most shops have disappeared.

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Maybe the global headphone market growth with >20% CAGR presents a ray of potential hope. Some folks will eventually move on from AirPods. I think we probably have a lot of Bartok owners here who came into this hobby/community via headphone listening

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@slange00 I am curious to know what percentage of Bartók owners has opted for the headamp variety.

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That’s an interesting question, Erno. I started the hi-fi hobby as a mainly headphone listener, back in the '70s, as it seemed a low cost way of getting into an expensive hobby (for a teenager only earning money from the usual part time jobs). In the last five or ten years there has been an explosion of activity in headphone listening and the equipment to support it. That has been good to see. Less so has been the fact that the manufacturers soon starting treading the well worn path of increasing prices: call the product a ‘statement’ and add a round thousand or two to the price. See if the market will bear it. Encourage the audio public to expect to pay several thousand for a good pair of headphones. I call it “circular pricing” (there are cruder expressions): exclusivity justifies high prices, and high prices maintain exclusivity. The enjoyment of music, and value for money, got lost somewhere along the way.

I’m sure Pete is correct about the pricing of these “boys’ toys” that we buy, and the attitude of the owners - they want just to know they have the best, and price is a simple measure of that, for them. The anecdotes my dealer tells certainly support this view. dCS too: I once asked whether putting some kind of shield (a metal plate) beneath my dac would be useful as a screen, because the power amp was on the shelf below. The reply included the comment that I ought to see how some owners just stacked all the boxes one on top of the other, apparently without anything as sophisticated as a shelf in between.

It does bother me that manufacturers of the best sounding equipment build and set their retail prices to the very high levels that Pete gives examples of. I include dCS in this group. I expect that I’d be horrified if I knew what the casework cost as a fraction of the total product price. Like Sebastian, I’d prefer more of my hard earned cash be spent on performance, and less on appearance, when I buy a new piece of kit.

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Sorry, I didn’t hear any of that. I was listening to music. Sorry, seriously, the snarkiness is only meant for amusement. Personally, I would be thrilled to see the death of the Uber-wealthy-audiophile-as-proof-of-wallet hobby. My own sense is that we have too many manufacturers who are catering to this segment. There are days when I long for a good old Dynaco ST-70 and PAS-3 (both of which I built and loved). Somewhere along the way, this hobby lost its soul. If it craters, something new will be born out of it.

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I bet one of them was Steely Dan Gaucho 180g half speed master!

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Unlikely. Gaucho came out in 1980. Pete’s story was from the 70s. Aja maybe. :wink:

I doubt that’s ever likely to happen :wink: …Besides, I’m not sure we want them to disappear, they help fund the necessary R&D for flagship platforms.

Granted there are the odd manufactures out there selling mediocre products at exorbitant prices specifically targeting these fat cats, but the Audiophile media is just as complicit; almost universally, the higher the price of a component, the bigger the praise from the likes of The Absolute Sound, PFO, etc. with no basis in real-world engineering fact. :roll_eyes:

I know, and I was mostly being facetious. It’s always true that the top end requires the top end. And purely from an economic perspective, the market distinguishes little between the passionate buyer and the superficial one. The passionate consumers, which is how I see the people in this a community, help to drive the designers, engineers, and manufacturers, and provide word of mouth enthusiasm. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we were actually outnumbered by the people who unknowingly subsidize the passion. And without them, prices would likely be higher, and some of these products would not exist at all.

Expensive casework does not necessarily help the bottom line as it is expensive for the consumer and the manufacturer who would normally buy it from a specialist CNC milling supplier albeit to the audio company’s design . BTW did you know that dCS chose a different company to supply each type of special finish for Vivaldi One in order to ensure that it was the best? So few if any economies of scale there. You might be surprised if you knew how much the case of your Bartok costs dCS . And for us Vivaldi owners…

There is a real marketing issue here based upon normal human psychology. If a product inherently costs a lot then the consumer expects it to looks as if it cost a lot. Would dCS sell more or less products if the pieces came in cheap, powder coated, folded steel boxes which, though cheaper than milled from solid billets of aluminium, the complete product would still cost several grand to reflect the internal engineering?

As a thought experiment imagine how many of us would buy a car made by Ferrari ( had we the money :frowning_face:) with the same performance and price of a Roma but with a body that was indistinguishable from, say, a Ford Focus ( as excellent as the latter is) ? What if that Focus clone body meant the Roma was now £20K cheaper? Who worries about saving $20K when they have the wherewithal to spend £171K on a car ?

Remember too that the price paid by the consumer is not simply the full cost of manufacture ( including wages and other benefits, insurance, heating and lighting etc) plus a reasonable profit. There are further costs added by distribution, retail, taxes etc. meaning that there is a rule of thumb for the audio industry that the shop price will be around 5 times the cost at the factory gate.

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A number of dCS DAC customers have “upgraded” from the PS Audio Direct Stream DAC - which has an excellent reputation for its Roon and MQA implementation, utilising their bridge network card. PS Audio have internal build quality as one of their primary sales pitches; emphasising that milled external casework would ramp up the price to consumers excessively. I would certainly think that dCS customers who have upgraded appreciate the visual improvements as well as the sonic.

I posted separately some time ago about the appeal of the Vivaldi case design and finish. And I love it. I upgraded from a PSA DirectStream DAC, which I continue to believe sonically punches well above its price class. I happen to think that PSA equipment is attractive, if a bit bland. Their screens are, for the most part, more attractive and functional than dCS screens. I think the integration of their case work is also smoother. If Vivaldi’s fascia were part of a single billet design, rather than “bolt-on”—which is how they appear upon closer inspection—then they’d be legitimate MOMA candidates. But the sides and back integration don’t quite have the same sinuous heft and elegance of the front. In a cabinet, as opposed to a more open rack, these “shortcomings,” if one chooses to call them that, evaporate. Sonically, they leave little to be desired.

Agree with what Greg said above. On both my Bartok and Rossini I was surprised to find the dCS casework comprised of billet aluminum parts which were bolted together. Perhaps I am spoiled coming from (and still owning) a Linn Klimax DS which is CNC machined from a solid chunk of billet (see the interesting video linked below).

I always wanted to post and inquire about the bottom plate of my Rossini - is it aluminum as well - or some other material?

Best
Gregg

I always wanted to post and inquire about the bottom plate of my Rossini - is it aluminum as well - or some other material?

Gregg, interesting video. Especially the shots showing aluminium parts being bolted ( screwed) together :wink:.

Actually the construction of the Rossini v. the Klimax DSM are bound to be dissimilar given the differing amount and type of components involved. Just compare an interior picture of the svelte Klimax with Rossini.

I knew the cost to dCS of the Vivaldi front panel ( and no doubt approximately for Rossini it being similar but with the addition of the fluting) 36 months ago. I cannot reveal this but the idea of the whole casing being milled out of a huge block of aluminium would I anticipate add so much cost that I ( and I expect many of us) would be displaced as customers. One also has to think of access for servicing :thinking:.

Pete
Is the bottom panel the same billet aluminum as the top and sides?

Best
Gregg