The Snob Appeal Premium

I have learned that speakers are a typical victim of "Designer Label Syndrome".  Supposedly an $8 billion a year market (hard to believe) speakers are fairly simple beasts with little substantive improvements over the last 50 years. Ever since Paul Klipsch ( a character in his own right) read the Bell Labs 1934 papers and revolutionized speaker technology there have been few similar revolutionary improvements to the speaker. So- if you are an enterprising manufacturer of speakers (which are relatively cheap to build) how do you extract more and more money from the consumer ?  Answer: Synthetic demand driven by cachet' !  Like a pair of Louis Vuitton sneakers @ $650 a pair vs. New Balance runners @ 60/pr. It's snobby bragging rights stuff I'm describing here- perceived vs. actual value in a product. 

Here's an anecdotal example: 

I recently set out to build a high end mid-fi system (ARC preamp, power amp, Dac 9) for a large room "main house" (not a listening room) system. The goal was big, full, rich sound in a room full of furniture, chow dogs, kids and untreatable other things like 20 foot ceilings, multiple openings such as a balcony to the upstairs bedrooms, etc. Basically an audiophile's nightmare. 

I auditioned a number of speakers- Perlistens supported by JL Fathom subs, B&W Signatures, Bryston Model Ts, Vienna Acoustics Mahlers and Bethovens. IMO all of these are somewhat similar towers (except the Perlistens). The price point was not as important as the sound- given the limitations of the application. 

In the shopping for new or used I found a number of odd prices. The most unusual finding was a brand new set of Model Ts here in Audiogon advertised for $4K with a 20 year factory warranty. The dealer had one slide around of his hand truck and it put white paint smears on a corner of the Boston Cherry cabinet. Hmmm- 4 grand vs. 12 grand for a small fixable cosmetic flaw? I bought them. They sound fantastic. Some elbow grease and a furniture marker pen made the flaw vanish. 

I asked the dealer (Paul Kraft in Easton PA- great guy BTW) why the Audiogon Blue Book for a Model T was so low. His answer was "snob appeal". Apparently there is a big bragging rights  premium paid for having the UFO looking B&W Signatures vs what the snobs call the Bryston Model Ts "Axioms in a fancy suit".  I later learned that there are some prominent reviewers who refuse to listen to A/B speaker comparisons behind a silk curtain unless they know what brand is being scrutinized. To me that means "payola". 

Do the Model Ts sound better to me than the Mahlers, Bethovens, B&Ws? No. But they don't sound worse either (in my application). Do the above sound $8,000-$14,000 better than the Brystons in the listening rooms of the dealers? IMO NO WAY. To be fair price/value does color my perception much like a bottle of $40 Rumbauer Zin tastes better to me than $200 Silver Oak expense account wine. 

I'm guessing this post will anger brand snobs and garner snarky comments because their taste in sound is different than mine. Although this missive is really about personal perceptions of value v. sound I found my education on pricing fascinating and I feel great about finding amazing value in the brand new Model T's that needed 30 minutes of TLC to be at home in my family room. 

Moral of the story: Try em before you buy em, and look for value. It's fun and rewarding with no buyers remorse. 

128x128Ag insider logo xs@2xyesiam_a_pirate

I will assume that you are fairly new to high end from your comments, since everything that you said is commonly known to anyone who has been following high end gear for any amount of time.

It's a little strange that you would be surprised though, especially since you make the comparison with designer sneakers, which we know are essentially the same functionally as any good sneaker.

What is different about high-end gear is that while some very fancy looking products are only average in performance, some of the fancy ones actually live up to their looks. I am like you, I would be happy with the plain looking speaker that performs well.

Congratulations on your new Bryston Model T's, I think the Active versions would also be a good choice. As far as speaker choice it is all about synergy with your components, your room, and your taste. 

I'm being picky, but using the term "high end mid-fi system" basically downgrades anything else you stated.  High end is a marketing term.  Mid-fi is another marketing term.  You then tie them to snob appeal?  To me it's non-sensical.  Other than that, congratulations on buying a good loudspeaker at a good price.

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Highway 61; I never really thought of it like that. In my mind the gear I fell in love with in 1978 was ARC and Magnapan. I never stopped loving it, and I'm happy to own it.  I'd say compared to Daniel Hertz or the like, ARC is upper end mid-fi though. Again just one old man's opinion. 

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Here is the thing… if I buy a Lamborghini… there are some people that will be impressed when they see it heading down the road. 

On the other hand if I buy a pair of $100k snob appeal loudspeakers… virtually no one will notice them or give a cr$p if they see them at my house. 

Overall, speakers are a bad investment if snob appeal is important to a person. 

My system resides in my basement where virtually nobody knows about them. You do seem rather of your new kit tho"

If someone wants to spend a lot of money on speakers I'm happy for them, I don't think there is much, "my speakers are bigger than your speakers" among the crowd that buys luxury goods. 

Generally speaking. For me, It is a pleasure when I can find the right amount of value for what is, by my gauge, the right amount of money.
Finding the right amount of value for the right price is a subjective exercise. It is so much a subjective experience that I see it as almost impossible to compare. Almost an infinite range of differences separate us from an objective comparison.

I’m not an audio snob. But, I have learned in my last purchase that cost does lead to quality and quality does lead to differences in experience that push me to spend more than I ever expected. I buy used. I shop hard. I listen. I accept the tradeoffs my budget requires of me, and appreciate the QPR I have achieved.

Those model T speakers do look nice. Are they made in Canada or farmed out to China like Paul’s company in Colorado?

In my case, you are preaching to the choir as I have always chosen performance over presentation.  Reason is simple, fancy looking designs always add to the price of any items regardless of their performance. And I am not talking just audio, it is usually true for any field.

Here is the thing… if I buy a Lamborghini… there are some people that will be impressed when they see it heading down the road.

On the other hand if I buy a pair of $100k snob appeal loudspeakers… virtually no one will notice them or give a cr$p if they see them at my house.

Overall, speakers are a bad investment if snob appeal is important to a person.


when i owned my 2016 Porsche CS2 for 18 months it was a garage Queen. a trophy. i drove it a few times a week in the summer. put 3000 miles on it. made me smile.

but i listened to my system with multi-6 figure speakers 3-5 hours a day. every day of the year.

no contest. the speakers had an infinitely higher ROI.....both in use and snob appeal and visitors to my room seemed to enjoy them regularly too.

just my 2 cents.

I don’t have any complaints regarding the question or premise of the question in the post, so I’ll stay quiet.



I'm pretty sure these are 100% maple syrup and frostbite made- but who really knows these days?  There is so much shell-game switch-a-roo now... largely because it's really hard to make a North American product economically. There is a video of the Axiom plant in Canada and it looks like the product is made there. I'd guess that the Bryston product is North American but who really knows anymore...

The fit and finish is really good, and feels heavy and local. The packing is definitely North American. The Asians have some terrible cardboard. These came in some stout big arse boxes with hard foam blocking. They didn't feel Asian FWIW. 

I learned that the dealers are forced to buy the product outright- much to the frustration of the dealer I dealt with. Gun-to-head guess is that the cost to the dealer is about $4K. Speakers uniformly have massive mark up. 

My listening conclusions: The sound is muscle car big block in your face. Not delicate like the Vienna's. The Brystons are boring at low volume. Flat and dull. But with some volume (dinner party conversation volume after some wine and laughs) they wake up. Pushed to loud talking level they really start to sing. At higher volume levels they are just plain rowdy and fun. Me- I like quiet, but when nobody's home it's party time! They are a joy to listen to when they are loud. Subtle as a jack hammer and just as punchy. 

I have no doubt there is payola happening. A while back there was a review in Stereophile for a brand of speaker I'd never heard of and the reviewer admitted the same. A few short pages later, guess what? That's right, a full page ad for those speakers. Of course they deny such a thing happens but Lil' Donnie says he doesn't like too. 

@mikelavigne congrats on being able to build an off-the-chain system. I'll be able to use your incredibly detailed virtual system to prove to my wife that I'm not crazy.

OP. The Louis Vuitton analogy is weak; they wear out (or rather, become soiled) just as fast as New Balance. A better luxury-goods analogy is a fine time piece. My watch tells the time, but it's 15 years old, looks brand new having been factory refurbished once, and will outlive me. The same could be said for high quality audio gear; R&D, quality materials, workmanship. These attributes don't come cheap.

The difference is bragging rights, or lack thereof.

As an example, this long weekend I'd had a few friends and work colleagues over for a cook out. None of them are into hi-fi (or mid-fi). 

They were intrigued by my new tube amp. Some had seen the prior one. One person asked if the tubes were functional or just for looks!

There was no discussion about brand or cost. No one asked and I didn't tell.

There was a discussion about the music I played though.   

"Don’t waste your money on a new set of speakers
You get more mileage from a cheap pair of sneakers”

B. Joel, in case you've forgot...

*wry sigh*G*

...still true, but in varying and varied degrees, as pointed out above by those who can afford the entry tickets..and I'm not in competition by any means...

,,,nor interested anymore, either.

I only have to impress myself at this time and place with the means 'n green I've for the pursuit.  And 'being happy' means more than impressing those who'll never hear where I've been and currently am....

"I took off in thе dead of night
But before I did, got my affairs in ordеr and my boots on
The Hallelujah choir needs a score
And they're knocking at my door, let them knock some more

They're saying I need a little, direction
But following the leader gonna turn me off the religion...."

Spoon, The Hardest Cut

Deal....but I do wear long sleeves...;)

Enjoy the music, not the method.

"Like a pair of Louis Vuitton sneakers @ $650 a pair vs. New Balance runners @ 60/pr. It's snobby bragging rights stuff I'm describing here- perceived vs. actual value in a product."

Perceived value is more complex than that.  If I can sell the LV sneakers on eBay for $550, surely their real value is $550?  And what is the real value of a fake pair of LVs that sells on eBay at $200?



Are you sure that's real?

OK I don’t want to insult you, but you really did listen to a lot of cheaper mdf partial board or wooden speakers. These sound like boxes.

B&W is kind of bottom or the Barrel with Dynaudio and KEF and all that stuff and is lower tier. Good speakers tend to cost the same as a luxury BMW or Mercedes for a reason. My speakers were $58,750…So about 10%-15% goes to the distributor, 50% goes to the dealer…they cost about 10,000 to manufacture and 2000-3000 to ship on a pallet on a crate.
So now you understand how everybody’s getting paid, they need to make that kind of money to be able to sell you these things because at the higher end, there’s less and less volume. A BMW or Mercedes is only make about a 12-16% profit because they sell almost a million cars a year. A Lamborghini has about a 30% profit built in and they only sell a couple thousand cars a year.

The ultra high-end speakers is only a couple hundred a year and the crazy 100k speakers are a few dozen a year sold. As you go up the ladder, now you understand why the profit has to be high for it to make a business case.

When you spend over $10,000 in parts just to make a speaker you’re gonna get some great speakers….when it’s 1500-3000 your speakers are going to be over 10-15 grand and be made with midfi parts.

A reviewer for the absolute sound only makes about $500 for the review by the way! The industry is really full of people who love music. Most audio reviewers have other jobs.

@mikelavigne I agree! I use my speakers more than my useless in the snow BMW convertible! Now I drive a Subaru Ascent!

I listen to speakers more and have my main system hooked up to my television to get more ROI!

Yes, there is satisfaction in owning something special, and expensive, but bragging rights?  I never say how much things cost, and because my gear is “ugly,” by conventional taste, most people who see it have no idea how much it costs.  I would be embarrassed if people knew the truth.

I just replaced my YG’s with Vivid Audio Giya G2 Series 2

Kubala Sosna Realization Cables

Modwright KWH 225i integrated amp that’s a hybrid…it’s amazing and just so real sounding. It is a hidden gem and 220w into 8 and 400w into 4 ohms. It can compete with the big boys and beat most separates under 20-30k.

I have a Lampizator Baltic 2 that was modified by VuJaDe Audio and recapped with V-Caps and Audio Note caps, new resistors and a steel cover over the transformer and a huge clarity cap on the power choke. I use a Sophia electric 274b rectifier. Streamer is an Auralic Ares G1 I am upgrading to a G3 when they are available.

My system is not plug and play from big box stuff and I had to do a lot of work getting the sound I want.

I went through 4 amps, 3 pairs of speakers and 3 sets of cables and 2 dacs and one sound engineer moding my gear before I got it the way I want. This took me over 3.5 years to get done.

The ROOM has so much more influence tham (one poster above indicating '10,000 to build') vs say 1,000 cost to build. Consequently, the 58k speaker will potentially sound WORSE than the 5k speaker in that same room. 

And A vs B is the ONLY way (as in EVERY subjective (the definition of TASTE) competition) to find out what you LIKE better (there is no "IS BETTER" when it comes to TASTE or any other subjective field). And THAT opens the EMOTION
AL part of what the OP describes. The speaker is NO different than any other 'luxury' item. The jeans is said to be of higher quality and certainly cost a LOT more to make (they select great thread colors :-) just like that 'fancy' speaker. Yet there is a market for those jeans. The ROLEX by the way started out as a measurably superior PRODUCT demanding a higher price due to quaity. And the MERCEDES demands a (slightly) higher price for the same reason. But for obvious reasons not 10x or 100x the price of a similar Cadillac. So that GREAT (in the eye of the beholder) 58k speaker might be worse 5.8k and compares well to the 'lesser' 4k speaker. Just like that that 200k Ferrari compares well with a 80k Audi. Factor 2 to maybe 5. In the Audiophile world, the 'overpriced' (pixel dust) factor is more like 10x to 100x. And all of that is well known, and applicable to most other 'esoteric' (100% subjective, non measurable) fields. And A-B are most definately frowned upon in that universe (no one likes bubble busters). So the best way to NOT fall victim of pixel dust overspending is take 2-5 (or 2 then 2 then 2 as I continue to do it) speakers home to YOUR room. Listen to them A-B for days or weeks. Then pick the one you like best. Start over with the next. A-B. You will gradually come to your ideal (the ONLY one that counts) and likely spend 1/10 or 1/100 of what others spend. 


@yesiam_a_pirate Here ya go!

Canadian Craftsmanship

It's incredibly difficult to produce loudspeakers that are of such substantial quality yet price them so competitively. Many other companies try to do so offshore. Bryston has managed to engineer and produce such remarkable loudspeakers right at home in Canada makes them even more impressive.



A wonderful system! I’ll bet it sounds great! What other speakers did you try ? Do you have a dedicated room as well? I felt that getting into this hobby at almost sixty I would just go for my end game from the start and not spend years finding what I preferred best. I did research and listen to my speakers and amp at my dealer first though.  I am completely happy with how it turned out. I also built a dedicated room designed by an acoustician. 

@yesiamapirate,  if everything sounds similar, it is probably you listening room.  If not, just stick with some cheap speakers, you'll be just as happy.


Other speakers I heard and tried

YG acoustics Carmel 2, YG acoustics Hailey 2.2, YG Sonja 2.2

Vivid Kaya 25 & 45, Vivid Giya G1 and G2

Dynamikks Athos 10 (best bang per buck)

Magico A5 & Magico S5

Kharma Exquisite Midi 3.0

Wilson Alexx V, Wilson Alexia V, Wilson Sash DAW

Raidho TD 3.8, Raidho D3

Borreson 05

Should I say I have a dedicated listening apartment? Lol 😂

I have a house too I am fixing up and might sell and move south…or make a dedicated room if I move back in there.


That is quite a few speakers you have heard. I listened to Sonus Fabre ,  Wilson DAW, Magico S5, B@W 801, but I liked the Rockport Avior ii the best. There might be some tweaks here and there but for the most part I am done. I would like to give tubes a try but my room is smaller and I thought it would heat it up too much. Maybe one day. 




For those of us with the skills and tools many of the posts in this thread are good arguments for DIY speakers.

there is a great deal of price differences for the same value (based on size, components, design, etc.)

E.g. Monitor Audio vs. Boenicke

@ronboco New Sonus Faber Aida is great! Rockport as well makes amazing speakers. On tubes…Preamp/DAC with tubes won’t cook the room. A tube power amp you can roast marshmallows on and if you like Rockport you will need a solid state output. My Modwright only has 2 tubes on the balanced preamp buffer. The rest is solid state. 225watts into 8 and 400 into 4 ohms.


I heard the Aida at Axpona last year (22) and they were nice. A coincidence they were running Boulder amps as I have the 866 integrated powering my Aviors. I would be curious how a hybrid like you have would sound. Maybe some day. 

I watch a lot of reviews on Youtube and have recently been struck by how many listeners - whether they be high-enders or stubborn mid-fi sympathizers - seem star-struck by recent Wilson offerings. However, what spoils the party is the additional cost of the components worthy of driving them in the manner to which they are accustomed. Still, you can see them mentally dreaming and scheming about stratospherics more than I remember.

Guttenberg High on Alexia V.

Cheap Audio Guys At Axpona


@ronboco "please list your system. Curious minds want to know."

" A picture is worth a thousand words "

Hi @ronboco I did not mean you!!

"please list your system. Curious minds want to know."

@ronboco The Boulder is decent. The Modwright has a little bit bigger power transformer and tube preamp is going to give it a slightly wider and deeper sound stage. If you upgrade to a Lampizator Baltic 4 I can help you get into one that will be all the tubes you need for now. That will be a bigger impact than the amp. Sophia electric tubes and LinLai will be what you need for the Lampi.

When I look at a Wilson, I always think that someone designed a relatively ugly looking speaker and then they called in the "finisher" to make it super unpleasant to look at.

When I look at a Wilson, I always think that someone designed a relatively ugly looking speaker and then they called in the "finisher" to make it super unpleasant to look at.

When my wife came with me to a top of the line Wilson demo of what was back then $250K speakers, she listened to the system and liked it. While I was talking with the head Wilson guy she came up to us and asked him why the speakers look so ugly, like Darth Vader. The Wilson dude was not too happy about that comment.

She recently told me she was happy I sold my 2 penis’s, my Thiel CS3.7’s.

Myself,. I like to get speakers from companies that do a lot of research and have manufacturing scale. I think you get a lot of bang for your buck that way. The 2 speakers that I currently own that fall into that category are KEF (LS50 Meta + KC62 sub) and Yamaha (NS5000).


"She recently told me she was happy I sold my 2 penis’s, my Thiel CS3.7’s."

I’ll bet that she’s glad that you kept the third one...

"I recently set out to build a high end mid-fi system (ARC preamp, power amp, Dac 9) for a large room "main house" (not a listening room) system. The goal was big, full, rich sound in a room full of furniture, chow dogs, kids and untreatable other things like 20 foot ceilings, multiple openings such as a balcony to the upstairs bedrooms, etc. Basically an audiophile's nightmare. "

So basically you can't spend enough to get a decent system and can't afford to have a dedicated sound room of high quality. You compensate for this lack by pithy word salad comments justifying why you can't afford to do it right I guess. Really enjoying this weekly AG update as it is fraught with nonsense.

Here is what I have learned. There is no reason to keep up with the Jones. I am gifted and built my own speakers. I always have. Why, because I have never made the kind if money to afford ARC, Bryston, B&W. I did hear B&W at Best Buy being played from an expensive higher end reciever.  They were in the $2,000 / pair range and were dual 6" model. I laughed,  shook my head and was quite pleased I built my own. I walked in to another room, heard Martin Logan, with a built in sub. Now, that was very nice, better than mine. But, not for the cost difference, and, I still liked mine very much when I got home and cranked on music.. Would I trade mine for logans, of course. Are they worth the money to me?  No, but if I had a ton of extra cash, they would certainly be great to own. So I don't blame people with money wanting quality.  Some people just want expensive when a cheaper equivalent would be better. This includes speaker wire and cables. Look what I have, one up on Jones.  Not all high end speakers or electronics sounds good. I have heard many over the years.  I live in MN. I own 2 kayaks. No boat, no 4 wheelers,  no jet ski. I am happy with what I have and need to be. I will never have a yacht, or a butler either. I don't need it to be happy. If I come into a lot of cash, then I can have nicer things. Right now, I have a great family full of love.  And a  great budgeted audio system.