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What Happens When the Value of an AV Product Resets Radically?

by Jerry Del Colliano February 24, 2022
AV Bedroom

AV Bedroom

For most audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts, audio-video essentials and accessories aren’t the only luxury good products that we indulge in. Some audio-video enthusiasts focus all of their discretionary money into their hobbies and passions, but for most of us, we have to balance our consumer spending between our AV systems and other key elements of living well.

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When I was a twenty-something living just above the fabled Sunset Strip in a condo, mere steps from the legendary Tower Records and Wolfgang Puck’s original Spago, I developed my taste for some of the finer things in life, as my income was relatively high and my expenses (although sometimes frivolous and/or foolish) were arguably reasonable. In that era, I was more than obsessed with AV gear, so much so that I actually bought more than one high-end component in any product category, such as a Mark Levinson No. 40 AV preamp with a Meridian 800 AV preamp “on deck.” I bought a pair of Audio Research 300-watt monoblocks to go with my 350-watts-per-channel Mark Levinson amp, because why wouldn’t you have two amps on the floor next to your Wilson WATT Puppy speakers and Revel Sub 30?  Redundant might describe my youthful (maybe moronic) spending, but it was cool to have all of the best gear on hand for audio AB tests whenever the audiophile mood hit me. Today, I see the foolishness of this type of spending, but back in the day it somehow made more sense.

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Can you imagine what a “second” $10,000 plus amp would have been worth if I sold it and bought Apple stock back in these early 2000s? Hell, the 800-square-foot, two-room (with a jaw-dropping 270-degree view) condo that I lived in cost me $229,000 when I bought it. Similar units in Shoreham Towers sell for over $1,000,000 today, and rent for more than $8,000 per month. If somehow I had only been smart enough to hold on to the sucker … Sadly, I was more interested in having backup, reference-level AV preamps back then, thus young and dumb, but I digress.

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One of the non-AV investments that I made as a twenty-something was in the best possible sleep. I designed and had built a big platform bed in bird’s eye maple wood that was tall enough that I could actually see airplanes on approach to LAX from my bedroom, as well as when they looped around downtown Los Angeles and came in for landing. This is the “Boeing version” of counting sheep, because if you can watch a few Southwest 737s land over a 15-minute period and not fall asleep, then you’ve got a very serious sleep problem, friend.

Staying asleep at 1:30 AM with all of the Sunset Strip nightclubs emptying onto the street, with the homies booming their 18-inch subwoofers, is a whole other sleep topic that should have had me invest in expensive Fleetwood windows, which I always regretted not doing. I decided that I would invest in high-end bedding, being an audiophile looking for that performance improvement, but this time, outside of the AV space. I had already made the investment on the custom wooden bed, as well as a pretty pricey mattress, which was quite comfortable. I was on my way to tweaking out my sleep situation as if it was a pair of Bowers & Wilkins on Classe electronics. I just needed some room treatments to go the full audiophile Monty, but with bedding instead of gear. In adjacent Beverly Hills, I found a store called Scandia Down that sold ultra-luxurious sheets, pillow cases, down comforters, and more. Their salespeople were excellent, and I was an easy mark for their high-end goods. I bought a “summer” down comforter for about $1,000, which I still own and use every day even now, nearly 20 years later, so the value has proven itself over time. Where things got tricky were the Egyptian cotton, double-woven 600 thread-count sheets. A top sheet back then was $500. A fitted sheet for a California King bed was another $900. And they were fantastically luxurious at the time. I loved them. I never regretted them. I tried (without nearly as much success as I hoped to have while single) to share them with as many California girls at the time as I could. I thought this was a great expenditure for a young “dotcom CEO” in his 20s, living in the West Hollywood Hills.

Years later, these silly expenditures tell absurd stories of more simple times. Roll the tape forward to 2022, and life with kids, a wife, a live-in mother-in-law (not as bad as it sounds, believe it or not), a job with a Fortune 500 company, and you can quickly see how life had gotten far more complex. After a pretty serious recent surgery, I realized that I badly needed a second set of sheets.

Long gone were the days of Scandia Down (the store is closed, but I think you can get them online if you so desire). Along the way, I got the memo on bamboo sheets. While Scandia Down were the softest, most exotic, most audiophile-inspired sheets that I had ever dreamed of when I was a punk in my 20s, the reality is that bamboo sheets are so much softer than any traditional sheets that I couldn’t believe it. No joke. Those double-woven 600 thread-count sheets felt like sandpaper compared to bamboo sheets. Bamboo lasts longer, too. Bamboo is also more sustainable, if that matters to you. They are just better sheets, regardless of the price. And a whole set of bamboo sheets (fitted sheet, top sheet, and two pillow cases for a California King) was, get this, a whopping $99 on Amazon.

This was a total game changer.

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Resetting the Value Proposition On Modern AV Gear

Resetting the value proposition on a luxury goods category got me thinking about the modern value proposition for audio/video gear. When I moved into my condo, I had an industry buddy who urged me to majorly buck up for a bleeding-edge, first-generation plasma TV, which at the time was $15,000, 42 inches wide and about three inches deep. Those early sets were noisy as hell, thanks to internal fans, and they blew out pixels more often than you might imagine back then. Repairs? Not on those units. Instead, I bought a Stewart Filmscreen 4:3 drop-down video screen, a used Sony seven-inch CRT video projector with an official 11-candles’-worth of light output, and the obligatory Faroudja LD-100 line doubler. Now that was a big TV to fit my crazy from the day bachelor pad. How things have changed on the video front in 20 years.

Today’s $2,000-ish 85-inch UHD-TVs pack 4K or 8K resolution, HDR technology, crazy brightness, no fan noise, and are supermodel thin. Mid-level, $3,000-ish video projectors today are in effect silent, have 4K HDR performance, and vibrant light output. This level of performance, even at 10 times the price, was unthinkable in the 2000s. The game has changed. The value proposition is different, and the need to spend like Kardashian on video is gone, just like the need for a $900 600 thread-count, double-woven fitted sheet.

The urge in the audiophile hobby is to always make the old technology seem better, but what if the old technology is simply overpriced and underperforming? I remember a team of video calibrators who bought the last inventory of the legendary Sony G90 nine-inch video projectors. They stacked them, which is a nearly impossible physical setup, in order to get a tiny fraction of the light output that even a modest DLP or D-ILA projector from that CEDIA show era could produce. Simply put, the Sony projectors were relics, with people doing voodoo to try to make them perform. They simply couldn’t compete.

Technology is moving in ways that makes Moore’s Law seem slow. Expect AV products to get so good or so integrated that what we once saved up for over years is just part of a chipset in your new, consumer-priced AV product. That’s where we are heading. The challenge for the hobby is: can the enthusiasts accept that, or will the lure of “the way it always has been” be too tempting?

 

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Recent Forum Posts:

chapp posts on March 07, 2022 16:31
Subwoofers also take the load off the main speakers so they can be pushed more.
fmw posts on March 07, 2022 12:09
Am_P, post: 1544370, member: 96697
I grew up around vintage high end equipment since my dad was into it big time. I will no longer touch any featureless 2 channel purist equipment that does not have the features built into high end receivers/pre pros (like PEQ for starters!). Atmos upmixing or native mixes seems to beat the daylights out of stereo for music listening in most scenarios for me.

2 channel speakers that are ultra expensive tend to be “full range” (at least the ones I have heard in shows) for the audiophools who think subwoofers will pollute their hifi listening. With the inclusion of subwoofers, many relatively affordable speakers can match or beat those ultra expensive speakers w.r.t the listening experience.
Amen. I have three subwoofers - on in the home theater, one in the bedroom and one on my main computer. No audio system should be without one.
Am_P posts on March 06, 2022 18:36
I grew up around vintage high end equipment since my dad was into it big time. I will no longer touch any featureless 2 channel purist equipment that does not have the features built into high end receivers/pre pros (like PEQ for starters!). Atmos upmixing or native mixes seems to beat the daylights out of stereo for music listening in most scenarios for me.

2 channel speakers that are ultra expensive tend to be “full range” (at least the ones I have heard in shows) for the audiophools who think subwoofers will pollute their hifi listening. With the inclusion of subwoofers, many relatively affordable speakers can match or beat those ultra expensive speakers w.r.t the listening experience.
fmw posts on March 06, 2022 17:38
I'm a reformed former audiophile. I quit worrying about equipment years ago and just enjoy the entertainment they provide. I have spent zero dollars on A/V equipment over the past 7 years. The stuff just keeps working. My 55“ LCD screen is still bright and definitive. My home brew 15” subwoofer can provide more bass than I would ever want when watching a movie. My double blind listening tests from 10 years ago showed me that big heavy expensive amps didn't work any better than the amps in an A/V receiver at the volume levels I find comfortable. All that high end stuff is stored in a closet upstairs. What was once a listening room is now an exercise room. I can listen to recorded music happily in the family room through the home theater.

Perhaps the only thing that has provided more personal freedom than giving up audiophilia was quitting smoking in 1988. Most audiophiles are equipment collectors. Those that admit that is what they are (I was) have a better chance of enjoying freedom from equipment that I have enjoyed. Focus on the software. Most any modern equipment can reproduce it competently. Anybody need a nice high end tube stereo amp with a bunch of tubes that I thought would have a sonic signature? You wouldn't believe the measured harmonic distortion. End of rant.
jeffca posts on March 02, 2022 20:38
While there have been products that lead the industry for a short while, as a consumer, you have to be judicious about what you are buying.

Hey, if you bought a Pioneer Kuro plasma, you might still be enjoying that today and having a great picture. Yes, things have gotten better since then for the same price, but, hey, that's still a damn fine TV set.

When you're buying equipment, you have to go not only for what is the best that you can buy now, but how that purchase will be a few years from now. That requires you to do a good bit of research and not just take reviews on face value.

The more you understand audio science and human hearing, the better the system you will have. Avoid that and you will suffer.
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