The Price Event Horizon
But . . . Rockport's enclosure-within-an-enclosure Lyra costs $149,500/pair, and YGA's four-enclosure Sonja XV costs $266,000/system!
On the drive home from GTT, I thought long and hard about the implications of these prices. Yes, we have reviewed speakers that cost more than the Rockport LyrasWilson Audio Specialties' Alexandria XLF, which Michael Fremer reviewed in January 2013 (and subsequently purchased) currently retails for $210,000/pairand at the times of my visits, both Rockport and YGA had full order books for their new models. But I couldn't help wondering what relevance such speakersone costing more than a quarter of a million dollarshave for readers of Stereophile.
I've written before that while I worked full-time as a musician before taking my first magazine job four decades ago, my formal education was in the sciences. I try to keep up with what's happening in that world, particularly in physics (footnote 1). And while I'd always accepted as logical the fact that the postBig Bang universe is expanding, I'd also accepted as logical that the gravitational force produced by all the matter in the universe would cause the rate of that expansion to slow. It came as a shock, therefore, to learn, in 2011, that the universe's rate of expansion is accelerating. It's not just that the farther away anything is from us, the faster it is receding, but that the faster it moves away, the more its velocity increases. Physicists have postulated that this is due to something they call Dark Energysbut giving an unknown a name doesn't explain how it does it, or what it means.
What do these cosmological musings have to do with audio?
Think about it. In an increasingly expanding universe, there will come a point when a distant galaxy's speed of recession from us equals the speed of light. From that point on, light from that galaxy will therefore never reach us, and that galaxy will, to all intents and purposes, cease to exist for us, just as we will cease to exist for it (footnote 2). Similarly, if the prices of cost-no-object audio components are not merely increasing, but growing at faster and faster rates, those at the highest level will also, in effect, cease to exist, as far as readers of this magazine are concerned.
I make no moral judgment here. I discussed the ever-increasing prices of the highest-performance audio components in "The Upward Price Spiral," my April 2011 "As We See It." As I said in that essay, if an audio manufacturer has to gross a certain amount of revenue each quarter to meet payroll, cover fixed expenses, invest in parts for the next quarter's production, and pay the interest on any capital they've borrowed, the least risky business strategy is to bring to market a very small number of very expensive products. But, as I said in a talk I gave at the late Brooks Berdan's store, in Monrovia, California, also in 2011, if all someone is offered is a $150,000 pair of speakerslet alone speakers priced at a quarter-million bucksthat person will walk away from this hobby, or build his or her system by buying only used equipment. Either consumer choice turns the price spiral into a death spiral for manufacturers.
Where is the boundary? At what price does a high-end product cease to exist for the "normal" audiophile? In the November 2016 issue, Art Dudley said of the Auditorium 23 Hommage Cinema speaker, which uses re-creations of classic Western Electric horn-loaded drive-units and costs $55,490/pair with its field-coil power supply, that, "given the work and materials that have gone into the Cinema, the price seems fair." In this issue, Michael Fremer reviews a Boulder amplifier that costs $99,000/pair, and even my frugal self waxes rhapsodically about a pair of Magico speakers priced at $42,750/pair in the high-gloss finish featured on our cover. Heck, in the December 2016 issue, I nominated, as my Editors' Choice of 2016, Vandersteen Audio's Model Seven Mk.II speakers ($114,000/pair with dedicated M7-HPA monoblock amplifiers)! On the other hand, Wilson Audio's Sabrina loudspeaker, which costs a much more affordable $15,900/pair, was our Loudspeaker of 2016, our Overall Component of 2016, and the Editors' Choices of two of our Contributing Editors (Audio).
All I can say is that Stereophile will continue to cover as broad a spectrum of audio products at all price levels as possible. As we always have done.John Atkinson
Footnote 1: To this end, I enthusiastically recommend Hidden in Plain Sight, the series of inexpensive e-books by British physics professor Andrew Thomas, available on Amazon. With a minimum of math, Thomas brings clarity and comprehension to modern physics.
Footnote 2: Reader Alan Schwartz, of the Physics Department at the University of Cincinnati, correctly pointed out that I am ignoring Special Relativity with this statement, which states that the speed of light is a constant regardless of the motion of the object emitting the light. Like all analogies, this one evaporates when examined closely.