In this issue's Letters Section, reader Yogi Saxena raises some interesting points about high-end audio, value, and the role of the audio press in reporting on the
spectrum of high-performance audio products. Specifically, Mr. Saxena deplores
TAS for naming Nordost Valhalla as our Product of the Year in the loudspeaker cable and
interconnects categories because of its high price. He also praises us for recognizing
two less expensive products, the Musical Fidelity A803 preamplifier and Antique Sound Labs Hurricane amplifier, as Products of
the Year in their respective categories. Mr. Saxena's letter makes some good points
but also what I believe is a fundamental error about TAS's responsibility to its
readers — that TAS should not honor products costing more than some pre-set amount.
The question of pricing and product awards has been our minds, too. And we have decided to base all
future Product of the Year selections on technological innovation, value, or both. Product of the Year will honor those products that achieve
some significant breakthrough by employing a novel technology or by delivering exceptional
performance for the money. The criterion will no longer be pure performance without regard to cost. Consequently, some product categories will not
feature a Product of the Year award if there are no worthy contenders. At the same time,
exceptional-sounding products will be acknowledged in our annual Golden Ear Awards, which will consist of components that have been chosen solely on the basis
of sound quality no matter what their price tags.
Which brings us hack to the subtext of Mr. Saxena's letter: Expensive gear is not
worth the money no matter how good its performance. TAS should therefore not
honor products with price tags above a certain threshold. For Mr. Saxena, that amount
appears to be about $4500, the price of the Hurricane amplifiers. Interestingly,
$4500 for a single component of a hi-fi system would strike the vast majority of the
general public as absurdly high. For them, three-hundred dollars might be a more
acceptable threshold. Conversely, there are some music lovers for whom a
six-figure investment in a music-reproduction system is not only reasonable, but one of the
most gratifying purchases they'll ever make. How can you put a dollar value on
hearing your favorite music wonderfully reproduced night after night?
For some percentage of TAS readers, $1500 might be the "reasonable" price
threshold. For others, the figure might be $50,000. This is why TAS will continue
to cover the broad spectrum tif high-end products — ranging, for instance, in this
issue from the $1200 Sugden integrated amplifier to the $24,000 Aesthetix
Callisto/Io Signature preamplifiers.
Our primary goal is this: to connect people with music. Given that simple concept, it makes sense
to us to cover the gamut of high-end products. In fact, because our goal is connecting
people with music, we are biased toward lower-priced, higher-value components, because
the lower the price, the greater the number of music lovers who can afford to enjoy such items. We like nothing better
than discovering affordable components whose performance far exceeds their price tags. For an
example, see Wayne Garcia's review of the $1550 Naim Nait 5 integrated amplifier in
lssue 136, and my comments about this exceptional amp in Issue 142's Recommended Systems.
TAS is an enthusiast magazine, and to enthusiasts in any field incremental
performance improvements are significant. If someone has the financial means to own
the absolute best audio gear, he should be able to explore his options by reading
TAS. And if The Absolute Sound doesn't report on the current
state-of-the-art in music-reproduction equipment, who will?