June 30, 2010

So you can't afford it? Are you sure?

I'm noticing a trend amongst some audio enthusiasts. Some buy in haste, then sell quickly at a loss. Others are not so extreme, but are in a regular cycle of upgrading. I have a few ideas that could put that speaker you lust after within reach, but it could challenge your patterns of purchase. But if it means you can now afford something that was out of reach ...

Lifecycle costing

Over time, the quicker you upgrade, the more the item effectively costs. Ten one grand amps in ten years costs the same as one ten grand amp in that time. This is where some self control brings a return. So it's important to consider the lifecycle of your items.

Digital sources:
Medium term purchase.

Your DVD player is now obsolete and Blu-ray is now affordable. Buy one that is decent quality and run it as a digital transport and you should have no need to upgrade as long as it's working without problems. At least, not until it's lacking support of important features or Blu-ray becomes obsolete.

Long term purchase.

Power amps:
Long term purchase.

Surround processing/AV receivers:
Medium term purchase.

Surround processing is always changing, so a processor will never be long term. If you buy a receiver, the amps will have a longer life cycle but in many cases will be of limited capability. So it makes sense to buy a receiver for it's processing ability and features or buy a dedicated processor.

Long term purchase.

Speakers and power amps go together, and should be considered together. Your speakers should determine the amplifier chosen, not the other way around. Fortunately both are long term items and in many cases will be upgraded simply because you want better. If you have to cut corners, do it elsewhere.

  • Limit spending on items with a shorter lifecycle
  • Focus spending on longer term items and if necessary delay purchasing speakers and amps until you can afford what you really want
  • Choose speakers and amplifiers at the same time, even if you can't buy them both at the same time
Focus spending where it makes the biggest difference

It's very easy to spend your money in a diffused way so that very quickly it disappears. The result is often a compromise on the items that matter most. If you become seduced by fancy cables and expensive well reviewed digital sources, it becomes difficult to invest seriously in speakers. As a general rule, your speakers should cost more than everything else. The more you spend on your system in total, the bigger the gap. For an entry level system around AU $4k, you should spend about half the total on speakers. For a higher end system over $20k it should be more like three quarters. In reality you can't go by the numbers, but this is a broad suggestion. If you have a $4k system where the cables cost more than the speakers, then sound quality has taken a back row seat.

* to be continued *

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