Is "entry-level high-end" an oxymoron?

Is "entry-level high-end" an oxymoron?
53% (88 votes)
8% (13 votes)
39% (65 votes)
What's an "oxymoron"?
1% (1 vote)
Total votes: 167

According to some, audiophile nirvana can be reached with only a few hundred dollars. But is "entry-level high-end" an oxymoron?

David's picture

Every hobby has its entry point. With high-end audio, that entry point may just be a little "higher" than it is for some other pursuits. Face it, high-end audio is a costly, if not expensive, hobby. Keeping this in mind, I am convinced that many of your readers would be able to have all the high-end sound they want for about $5k. Stereophile could help by running a yearly feature where the reviewers are asked to name what would be their favorite systems at various price points (eg $kK, $10k., $20k. $50k., and price no object). This would also help to provide a real-world context for reviews of the very cheapest and the priciest components which appear in your pages.

Mike Chernay's picture

To a point, entry-level high-end is an oxymoron, however just like a BMW is a noticable step better than, say, a Toyota. An entry level high-end stereo is a noticable step better than its mass-market counterpart.

Al Earz's picture

I believe you get what you pay for in most cases. With audio gear you don't get "audiophile" sound unless you pay for it. Granted, you can buy a system for less than $2000 that will sound extremely good and detailed but as time wears on you will realize that you got a $2000 system and it won't sound like a $25k plus system. The componentry just isn't there.

tonyE's picture

No. I don't think it is at all. Imagine, for a five hundred bucks you can get a huge, awful sounding mass market speaker or a small, good sounding shelf speaker from a "high-end" company. Similarly, for a thousand bucks you can get a great sounding, no frills integrated from a high-end company or a loaded to the gills receiver from a big consumer electronics firm that sounds like dreck. Entry level high-end is about concentrating on the sound, not the features.

craig's picture

If you are really talking "only a few hundred," you are kidding yourself if you think you will end up with anything close to a quality listening experience. You may be satisfied with the sound, but don't expect anyone else to share your high opinion of it. If on the other hand you are successful in convincing others poor sound is actually good sound, maybe you should look into selling audio gear or at least home theater.

H.  Williams, Hollywood Hills's picture

Music is life; we all have to crawl before we walk. Viva entry-level hi-fi!

Paul J.  Stiles, Mtn.  View, CA's picture

An oxymoron? Not at all. The term "high-end" spans a range of equipment quality and price. Entry-level just means being at the low-end of the "high-end" range.

Dave Bennett's picture

High end shouldn't be about cost, but about performance. The two tend to go together, but low or reasonable cost doesn't necessarily mean poor performance.

Stephen Curling's picture

Entry level to me means that significantly better audio without having to spend thousands of dollars on gear. This could simply mean a used iPod (Apple Lossless encoding) with $300 headphones. That would considered entry level compared to Krell's Inferno system well over $300,000. Entry level may also indicate that the person purchasing the gear may be getting started in the world of high end audio. I'd like to think that one would not spend several thousand dollars to start experimenting in trying to attain musical nirvana.

Mag's picture

With headphones you could get great sound for relatively cheap compared to having loudspeakers.

JR's picture

No. Isn't that why one reads Stereophile? The greatest gift to an audiophile is what Stereophile does each and every month.'s picture

What's a few hundred dollars? I'd say if you know what you want, you could put a small musical system together for under $5000, that would be very good and not outgrow. If you don't need the bottom octives you could do it for around $3500. look to companies like System Audio,PSB, Joesph Audio, or AAD for speakers. Manley, Music Hall, or Rega for your amp, and Rega, Goldring, CEC, or Music Hall for your sources. Cable go for Vampire.

WalkerTM's picture

Is there junk out there? Absolutely. Mass-market offerings leave little in sound and build quality. Nevertheless, with improvements made in the technology that goes into both amplification and speakers, you would be surprised at the sound quality of some systems that are less than $1000.

Freecloud's picture

You can have good sounding entry-level equipment, but high-end is just that, and represents what is considered state of the art.

Al Marcy's picture

You can't buy it, but, many sell it.

Travis Klersy's picture

I am short on cash right now, and my Shelter 501 II was worn out, so I bought a Grado Gold. As much as I miss the Shelter, I still enjoy listening to records as much as I ever have. The Gold is a product that proves to me that very decent sound can be had on a tight budget. The DH Labs Air Matrix I/C cables also come to mind as sounding much better than the price would suggest, and in my system better than some much more expensive cables. I think shopping smart can get one a great sounding system without a massive investment.

Douglas Bowker's picture

You gotta start somewhere right? That is the "entry" point of high-end. Now, define high-end.

Mike Agee's picture

A used headphone setup could get you there, as long as you can cope with headphones. (I had forgotten until I recently took up headphones again. Being tethered in the presence of great music means more self-consciousness over the occasional dance move and an absolute ban on the odd sing-along. Air guitar departed with maturity, unless alone and then should be regarded as the masturbatory act that it is, but it is somewhat inhuman to prohibit an inspired quiet harmony or heart-felt movement of body and feet). While money is no guarantee of great sound, the parameters that define great sound are widened by the wise use of it. A great room and an existing vinyl collection can help keep the process (relatively) affordable. Sure, there has to be an entry-level, but I think, sadly, a "few hundred dollars" would suffice only with a very lucky tag sale find.

David L.  Wyatt jr.'s picture

So far as I know, no one's first system was composed of components from Wilson Audio, Krel,l and so on. There must be an entry level, equipment that gives you a glimpse of what can be done once you've paid off your student loans. If not we're all just a bunch of snobs.

Dale Smith's picture

It simply means that some compromises (especially with speakers) have to be made. You simply cannot have everything, but a very worthwhile improvement over mass market equipment is easily attainable if some effort is put into the search.

djl's picture

Yeah, a lot of us are on limited budgets and those entry level hi-end items do exist, but they are few and far between. I've counted on Stereophile to let me know about those products! Now I kinda know what brands that are better than others! In the end though, I trust my ears!

Glenn Bennett's picture

Everything has to start somewhere. With "high end" it's better to have a set of quality components that cost several hundred dollars than a Wal-Mart boom box that is supposed to be good just because "look at how big it is." High end represents quality regardless of cost...but it isn't cheap.

Mark D's picture

There was a day when this did make sense. We had commercial, mid-fi, and high-end. Even our magazines covered them as such, Stereo Review, Audio, and Stereophile. The quality levels were pretty clear. Entry-level high-end and upper-end mid-fi were where the line blurred( IE Rotel and NAD come to mind). However, with the middle pretty much catching up technologically we have commerical( best buy) and high end. And the law of diminishing returns has been greatly increased to the point that it is either high end or its not, its commerical.

DAB, Pacific Palisades, CA's picture

Music for the masses . . . .

Andrew Maher's picture

There is some very good quality gear for just a few hundred dollars, and I have had the privilege of hearing spakers that cost more than my car, but audiophile nirvana is still a seat in the concert hall or opera house.

Chris Partaik's picture

The first system that began the journey into hi-fi was one's entry into high-end. Cost is limited by one's enactment of the law of deminishing returns

Dismord's picture

If it is an oxymoron, the industry is doomed.

Peter's picture

High end is both an incorrect and dangerous term. In a lot of cases, it simply indicates something that is very costly and therefor "at the high end of the (commercial) market." Music (or sound) reproduction equipment could be a useable term. It does not devide the hi-fi market into price/cost segments and that is of course a good thing. A lot of high priced equipment doesn't seem to 'deliver' while a growing number of -relatively- affordable equipment can perform very well indeed. This does not mean however, that a high price is never justifiable. Some more costly gear actualy has an excellent price/performance ratio, mainly because it manages to truly satisfy sonically and last a lifetime, which makes it a good investment. By the way, Music Enthusiast would probably be a better (and less geeky) term than audiophile.

Nodaker's picture

Why would entry-level high-end be an oxymoron? That's a silly question. At some point the consumer enters the high end, he probably doesn't start with Krell and Wilson's. He/she is much more likely to start with Adcom, Rotel, Parasound, etc. I believe much of their equipment would be considered entry-level high-end. Hope that answers the question.

Tom Warren's picture

Entry-level high-end” is a rite of passage. As with everything in life, you learn from experience.