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Glotz
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A stranger question...

Will you, Steven, be satisifed reviewing "lower-end" gear... in 5 years?

Stephen Mejias
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Yes

Thanks for the question, Glotz.  You're referring to a section of my August column (page 43). 

First of all, after this post, I would like to forever redefine "low-end" as "shitty."  If anyone ever asks me if I'd like to review shitty gear, the answer will be no.  However, what I think you mean by "low-end" is "affordable."  For some background, I refer anyone reading this post to John Atkinson's November 1994 essay, "The High End, Mid-Fi, and Pretend High End," in which my man JA writes:

Components primarily designed to meet the needs of audiophiles and music-lovers are worthy of the appellation "high-end," no matter what they cost. The much wider range of products whose genesis lies purely in the need of their manufacturer to fill a gap in their product line or attack a previously unoccupied niche in the market, or even just to flesh out their business plan, are "mid-fi" by definition. It's as simple as that. The next time you find someone equating the words "high" and "end" with "high-priced," or feeling that low-priced is automatically equivalent to "mid-fi," remind them that it ain't necessarily so.

So: Will I still be satisfied reviewing affordable gear in 5 years?  Hell yes, so long as that affordable gear makes music.

I come from a very modest family, with a very modest background; and, while I do have the ordinary dreams of winning the lottery (I don't play) or somehow striking it rich, all I ever imagine doing with that money is spending it on my friends and family.  I don't dream about expensive hi-fi.  When I look around my little apartment and see all the things I own, I'm sort of shocked.  Twelve years into working with Stereophile, having seen and heard the world's most expensive and audacious gear, I'm still appalled by some of hi-fi's prices.  I'm not charmed by the expensive stuff; more often, I'm turned off by it. 

Remember: While the column is still only a little over a year old, I've had the opportunity to listen to whatever I'd like since 2005, when I first started writing the blog.  The most expensive product I've had in my home was the Moscode 402 power amplifier, which, I think, sold for $5000 at the time, and taking that on involved a bit of an ethical struggle for me.  I decided to do it for a few reasons not really related to hi-fi and, ultimately, because I thought it would be a good learning experience, which it was.  The Moscode is an awesome amplifier.  Still, I was happy to have it out of my home.

This is who I am.  It's not that I don't have goals; I just don't see myself changing too much.  I like the world I live in and I only hope to get better at being who I am.

Anton
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I'll pop in....

I admit to having a lower end price bias.

I would rather find a piece of gear that sounds better than it has any right to than a pricey piece of gear that may be slightly better but a logfold or two higher priced.

I would prefer to find excess virtue in a budget component than spend time finding the flaws in an outlandishly priced piece of kit.

If that makes any sense.

My time is better spent finding beauty in the unwashed, a diamond in the rough, than it is discovering what's wrong with the elite.

I guess there are different aspects of connoisseurship, when ya think about it.

For my part, I shop the used marketplace looking for my value.

Stephen has to choose new, by virtue of timely reportage, but I could totally see him as a world class Hi Fi "picker!"

tmsorosk
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not changing

Interesting response Stephen, the part that got me thinking was when you said, " I just don't see myself changing too much ". I think most of us say the same thing a some point in life, but pretty much all the audiophile/music lovers I've known have upgraded there audio systems greatly. It happens slowly enough that we hardly notice it, but when I look back at pictures of some of my first funny little music makers and then at the living room now I can only say, holy cats.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                     Regards  Tim

Stephen Mejias
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holy cats

There are some things you just know, right? I've been a Mets fan all my life. I will always be a Mets fan, as stupid and painful as it sometimes seems. For me, this is the same thing.

Every purchase I make -- whether it be on clothes, food, beer, gifts, whatever -- is weighed against a potential purchase on music. I'm sick in the head that way. If I had $100,000 that I had to spend on my hi-fi, I would spend at the very most $7500 on gear and the rest on music.

So, in the future, I think I'll have a much larger record collection and a modestly upgraded system. Having said that, I really like my system as it is now: PSB Alpha B1 loudspeakers ($299/pair), NAD C 316BEE integrated amplifier ($380), NAD C 515BEE CD player ($300), Rega P3-24 turntable with Elys phono cartridge (around $1200), Parasound Zphono phono preamp ($350), Kimber 8VS speaker cable ($260/10ft pair), and Kimber PBJ interconnects ($110/1m pair).

(I bought my turntable a while ago, well before we started "The Entry Level" column, and I've held onto it. But I could easily live with a Rega RP1.  I've seriously considered moving down to the RP1, but I like the idea of having my P3-24 as a reference for other similarly priced tables. For that same reason, I've held onto my Exposure 2010S integrated amp and CD player, even though I've used them exceedingly rarely since starting the column. When I do begin contributing more full-length equipment reports, I'll have them on hand for comparisons.)

The only other thing I've really considered changing is the phono cartridge. I'll be working through some reviews of phono cartridges in upcoming issues, along with my full-length equipment report on VPI's Traveler turntable (the latter scheduled for November).

All in all, I'm much less interested in upgrading my system and much more interested in seeing exactly how long I can continue to find and be impressed by truly high-quality, affordable components.

remlab
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Technology and low priced Hi Fi..

Low priced Hi Fi is quickly closing the gap on the expensive stuff. When a big company has millions of dollars worth of state of the art testing equipment, what they can do at a certain price point is astonishingly good compared to the small "ultra high end" companies. It's just a matter of time..

BlueFox
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Lower cost is good, but will never be the best.
remlab wrote:

Low priced Hi Fi is quickly closing the gap on the expensive stuff. When a big company has millions of dollars worth of state of the art testing equipment, what they can do at a certain price point is astonishingly good compared to the small "ultra high end" companies. It's just a matter of time..

 

This has been going on since the 70s. Lower cost gear has gotten better, but the state of the art continues to advance.   The end result is that companies only interested in the bottom line will make gear "good enough".  While that is a moving target, it will never be adjacent to better gear.  The real issue is what satisfies the end consumer.  

FSonicSmith
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A stranger outlook....

Ahhhh young Mr. Stephen Mejias;

You will find a woman. Children will follow. Then a modest house in Brooklyn and a immodest mortgage. And then young man, all thoughts about continuing to live a financially uncluttered existence will be long gone, like one of Tom Waits' cigarette butts. Your gig at S'Phile will become one of three jobs, two of which you will absolutely hate but try to convince yourself you don't. You will develop a paunch where you used to have some semblance of a six-pack. Your guitar will be buried in a dark closet and not see the light of day. Buying more expensive "high-end" equipment with money that is not yours to keep will be a coping mechanism, among others.

If you wish to avoid this fate, sir, which happens to be my own, think (hard) about getting a vesectomy or changing your sexual orientation.

Stephen Mejias
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not so young anymore

Damn, I've already lost whatever six-pack I had and, saddest of all, my guitars are already buried in the closet. I cope by buying records. I know this.

But I will never move to Brooklyn. (I like my Jersey City girls better.)

FSonicSmith
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A stranger's outlook

Stephen; thanks for referring to my attempt at humor on the main page of this site. I am flattered. I started to think perhaps you lacked a sense of humor, but upon re-reading your reply my perception has changed. You have one.

Stephen Mejias
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sense of humor

I enjoyed your post, Sonic. I'm not really so humorless. I just don't like using smiley face emoticons.

HalSF
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Wordy Rappinghood

Audio journalism and marketing needs a new vocabulary. I gave you a little grief a while back, Stephen, about Stereophile using "The Entry Level" as the name of your column, given the strong accompanying connotation that your beat covers the baby steps, the rank beginner's zone, an audiophile equivalent of the "entry-level" job that comes with grunt work and low-man-on-the-totem-pole status before you graduate to the real thing. You made the good-natured point that the entry level can also be the life-long final level, and you seem to be making the argument again along with describing yourself as someone who'll be happy with modest (in terms of cost) upgrades for the duration.

I'm extremely sympathetic to your point of view, but I admit I'm a crank on this topic— I just find the whole lexicon of "affordable," "entry-level," "budget," etc. to be hugely off-putting and inescapably condescending. It's a dire symptom of the virtual disappearance of general-interest high-fi journalism. What survives are two mutually uncomprehending camps: the "high-end" audiophile world, and the plasticky, gadgety, portable-centric world of audio accessories (earphones, desktop speakers, DACs, iPods, smartphones that play music files, networked home audio, etc.) that is the exclusive focus of the only audio coverage most people ever see, in the New York Times or Wired or computer magazines and digital-lifestyle websites like Head-Fi. 

It's just an enormous mistake for the hi-fi world to relentlessly use words that define the vast region of reasonably-priced, high-quality, great sounding gear as either a cut-rate price-defined discount-cheapo zone, or as the place where pitiable newbies must cycle forlornly before the training wheels come off.

tmsorosk
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Crank

He may be a crank on the topic, but he makes perfect sense to me.

geoffkait
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Entry level and the high end

I would have thought everyone knew by now there's no particular correlation between system cost and performance, as cliche as that might sound.  There is no reason why a modestly priced system cannot outperform a very expensive system, in every way.  One can get an inkling just how badly things can go awry by listening to many of the supremely beautiful, enormously expensive systems at high end shows. It all comes down to how well one does his homework, tricks of the trade, attention to detail, things of that nature.

 

"No matter how much you have in the end you would have had even more if you started out with more in the beginning."  - old audiophile axiom

 

Geoff Kait

machina dynamica

tmsorosk
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Re: Entry level verses high end

Wow Geoff, " there is no particular correlation between system cost and performance ", LOL, took me ten minutes to stop laughing. I take it you have a monetary reason for making such a statement.

 Maybe you could mention a budget system that would compete with my Revel Salons, Levinson #532 power amp, Ayre KX-R preamp, Ayre C5MP CD player, Audio Research DAC8 and SME 20/12 turntable. I've been into quality audio for nearly four decades and belong to an audio club so I've experienced many many systems and can say without prejustice,  you don't get remotely close to this for less money. 

I see your an audio insider, I take it you sell inexpensive gear? 

                                                                                                Regards

geoffkait
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Correlation between price and performance

 

Tmsorosk, I suggest you take a minute and read my post again as I'm pretty sure you missed my point entirely. 

 

Cheers,

 

Geoff Kait

Machina Dynamica

tmsorosk
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Guess I missed something

Sorry Geoff, no disrespect intended, I've read your post several times, listened to a few CD's, had a drink , put on an LP, ( Eva Cassidy: Songbird )  and read your post again, I'm afraid I'll have to stand by my post. If you'd care to explain I'd be happy to listen, er read.

Your last few words about paying attention to detail, doing ones homework, and tricks of the trade, go with out saying, but when that's all been done and done correctly it still takes a ton of coin to create a system that stops you in your tracks, impresses you, caresses you, and makes you smile. There were times when Melody Gardot felt so close I had to look around to make sure the wife wasn't in house.

                                                                                                                                                             Regards                                     

geoffkait
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Melody Gardot

Of course the real test is if your jaw hit the floor.

:-)

 

Geoff Kait

machina dynamica

Stephen Mejias
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The Entry Level

HalSF wrote:

 I just find the whole lexicon of "affordable," "entry-level," "budget," etc. to be hugely off-putting and inescapably condescending. It's a dire symptom of the virtual disappearance of general-interest high-fi journalism. What survives are two mutually uncomprehending camps: the "high-end" audiophile world, and the plasticky, gadgety, portable-centric world of audio accessories (earphones, desktop speakers, DACs, iPods, smartphones that play music files, networked home audio, etc.) that is the exclusive focus of the only audio coverage most people ever see, in the New York Times or Wired or computer magazines and digital-lifestyle websites like Head-Fi. 

It's just an enormous mistake for the hi-fi world to relentlessly use words that define the vast region of reasonably-priced, high-quality, great sounding gear as either a cut-rate price-defined discount-cheapo zone, or as the place where pitiable newbies must cycle forlornly before the training wheels come off.

In a comment to this blog entry, a couple of other readers question the title of my column, "The Entry Level."  As I've explained, I came up with the title and I have no plans on changing it. I like it a lot. What I would like to change is the notion that price has a direct relationship with performance and/or value.

I've heard lots of extremely expensive gear that didn't impress me at all. And I've heard lots of truly affordable gear that has impressed me. And value is a very personal thing, greatly dependent upon individual tastes, needs, and limitations.

I constantly refer to John Atkinson's excellent essay, "The High End, Mid-fi, & the Pretend High End," in which he writes:

Components primarily designed to meet the needs of audiophiles and music-lovers are worthy of the appellation "high-end," no matter what they cost. The much wider range of products whose genesis lies purely in the need of their manufacturer to fill a gap in their product line or attack a previously unoccupied niche in the market, or even just to flesh out their business plan, are "mid-fi" by definition. It's as simple as that.

Stereophile is not concerned with mid-fi—the "plasticky, gadgety, portable-centric world of audio accessories" you've mentioned. That stuff is hardly on my radar. What I'm attempting to do with The Entry Level is show that "high end" doesn't have to mean "high priced."

The Entry Level is also dedicated to providing an entrance into the audio hobby,  celebrating and documenting our great beginnings. In my mind, there's nothing condescending about it. It's a wonderful place to be.

quadlover
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The entry Level

Stephen,

I would like to thank you for your excellent columns.  Too many audiophiles have forgot the moments that led to the passion we all have in our search for musical enjoyment.  For whatever the reason, you have the right to find enjoyment in this hobby at whatever budget you choose.  While Sam Tellig was once "the audio cheapskate" you have embraced your love of music and search for wonderful products at a real world price.  I hope you continue your column for a long, long time.  And using your friends and relatives in the column makes it especially worthwhile.

Stephen Mejias
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thank you

Thanks very much, quadlover.

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