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Australian Hi-Fi Magazine

March/ April 2021

Editor's Lead In
Why Is Hi-Fi So Expensive?
Why is it that modern high-end high-fidelity equipment has become so costly?
Editorial By Greg Borrowman


Australian Hi-Fi Magazine March / April 2021


  High-end audio equipment is expensive. I know you don't need me to tell you that, but I will anyway. But why is it so expensive? Mostly it's because the people who design and build high-end components are not trying to build a product that sells at a price- point that their marketing research tells them is the 'sweet spot' for that particular category. They're instead trying to build something unique, a product they'd like to own themselves. Most importantly, they want to build a product they (and you) can be proud of.

I recently had a salutary lesson in component costs myself. After what was a freakish accident that involved a set of 'way too big speaker wires, cable elevators, a cam boot and a cup of tea, I found myself having to replace an internal fuse in a high-end, high-power stereo power amplifier. Disregarding the fact that I thought it a bit odd that an amplifier built in 2021 would be using fuses for protection in the first place (electronics repair technicians are fond of the oh-so-true aphorism that "a twenty-dollar transistor will always blow to protect a ten-cent fuse").

I wasn't particularly fussed, because a standard 3AG fuse is not expensive (though not ten cents any more) so I stuck a ten-dollar note into my running shorts and jogged off to my local Jaycar branch, thinking I'd get some enforced exercise to atone for my sins. As it happened, the amplifier manufacturer had specified that a very specific fuse must be used to replace the one I had blown, and when I priced this fuse at my local electronics store I was rather shocked to discover that my single ten-dollar note was not going to cover it. Nope. That one single 15-Amp fuse was going to cost me $17.95. I suppose you could argue that because the amplifier cost around twenty times more than a typical amplifier, a fuse for it should also cost around twenty times more than a typical fuse, but that would be a specious argument indeed. For me it meant a fuse-less jog home, followed by a return on my motorcycle with a credit card (I'd had enough exercise for one day!).


Australian Hi-Fi Magazine March / April 2021


Frankly, I personally think that a one dollar fuse would have done the same job as the $17.95 one, but for some reason the designer had specified the most expensive option. It's pretty easy to rack up costs fast by using expensive components in your products. Let's say you're a loudspeaker manufacturer that needs a 1mH air-cored inductor for your crossover network. You can buy a very nice, high-quality, brand-name (Dayton Audio) inductor for $12.50. But hey, not many audiophiles have heard of Dayton Audio, and you'd rather use one they have heard of, so you instead specify a Solen 1mH air-cored inductor. Do this and you'll find you're now paying $45 for that same inductor, with the same construction and the same electrical value. And, if you're not exactly sure what an inductor is, it's just a coil of wire or foil — foil being tech- speak for flattened wire.

But what if you also need a couple of 3.3uF 600V capacitors for that crossover network? You could use an off-the-shelf one from Panasonic ($5.50) but that's not an 'audiophile' brand, so you instead specify one from Auricap. However, when you find that that Auricap will cost you $30, you think to yourself, why not pay a little more and step up to a really well-known brand (Mundorf), at $45? But if you really want to make sure that no-one will copy your crossover topology, why not specify an Audio Note Silver Foil 3.3uF 600V capacitor. Cost to you for a single capacitor? $4,276. And no, there are no misplaced commas in that price: that one single capacitor will set you back four thousand two hundred and seventy-six dollars.

The kicker here is whether you really needed a capacitor with a 600-Volt rating for your crossover. If a 100-Volt working voltage was all you needed, I could have picked up four of them for you while I was at the store and still got change from my ten bucks.


Greg Borrowman




Australian Hi-Fi Magazine

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