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. 

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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.