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The Absolute Sound

From The Editor...
August / September 2003
By Robert Harley

  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?


  Robert Harley      



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