Snob Appeal Letters

Recent letters on the same subject and a comment from John Atkinson appeared in the February and April 2001 issues (Vol.24 Nos.2 & 4):

Too rich for his blood?

Editor: I love reading Stereophile, but the prices of most of the items reviewed are usually beyond my desired outlay. Have you ever had requests for something like "Best systems under $1000," "Best systems under $2000," "Best systems under $3000," or "Best mini-systems under $500"?

I realize Stereophile is not Consumer Reports, but I hope you might have a better ear. [This kind of coverage] would be appreciated by us regular folk.—Tom Eske, Milwaukee, WI,

Not for his

Editor: I like to read about extremely expensive components.—John,

Review affordable products, please

Editor: I've been meaning to send in my vote for Stereophile reviewing mostly low- to midrange-priced high-end equipment, so when I saw that the February issue's "Letters" led off with two letters on the topic, I finally got out of my comfortable reading chair and made it over to my computer.

Unlike John, who says that he likes to read about expensive components, I like to read about components I can afford. I really have no interest in reading about a pair of speakers that goes for $70,000 (or even $20,000, for that matter). My total system outlay needs to remain a small percentage of the price of the house that I keep it in.

Apparently, there are some people who cannot afford such big-ticket items but still enjoy reading about them just for the vicarious thrill. I do not. To me, that's a waste of time. I understand that you do have some readers who can afford these prices, and you need to run some reviews for their benefit. That may be. But I bet they comprise a small fraction of your readership.

The more reviews of high-priced equipment that appear in your pages, the less useful the magazine will be to me. That's why I subscribe to Stereophile and not to The Abso!ute Sound.—David Salahi,

Stop the whining

Editor: It seems that every month in Stereophile's "Letters" column there is some whiner complaining about Stereophile's decision to review astronomically priced equipment (eg, the Rockport Technologies turntable in August 2000). I've had enough: I'm concerned that if there are too many of these whiners, Stereophile may actually listen to them and stop doing what it does best—review hi-fi equipment.

The best of the best is always outrageously expensive—that's why it's the best. Does anyone out there really think that the new four-door Bentley is a steal at $353,000, or that diamond Rolex a good value at $88,000? Absolutely not. But these products create a benchmark, a class of quality of their own, which most others can only strive to approach.

Do you want to see a day when the top-of-the-line automobile is a Cadillac, or you have $20k to drop on a line of speakers you have been eyeing for 10 years but the manufacturers in this price range are gone? I know I don't.

Flip through magazines that offer seven-figure yachts and draw up some mock plans on that 18,000-square-foot mansion—who does it hurt? I read Michael Fremer's review of the Rockport turntable and I don't even own one LP...

Stereophile, continue reviewing any darn product you want and there will be at least one guy here who will not whine once.—Name withheld,

It's nice to dream

Editor: As a member of a minority in the world of audiophilia—I'm a 22-year-old college female—I feel my opinion concerning complaints of high-priced component and equipment coverage might be of a tiny bit of interest.

I was introduced to the High End by (as one might expect) a man—my father. He gave me the undeniably amazing gift of hearing a song, usually on an LP, and allowing me to close my eyes and feel as if I were right there in the concert hall or club, tapping my feet and bouncing my head to the music.

What an amazing thing! With time I began my own endeavors in finding a way to reproduce music in such a way that I feel it, not just hear it. That's what is important to me. So, I've compiled a rather meager collection of gear and recordings.

The point I'm getting at is that I absolutely enjoy reading a review of $40,000 speakers. Hell, I haven't made that much money in my entire life...but I'd like to think that someday I will, that someday I'll be able to buy cables on a well-researched whim and put the old ones in a closet.

When I listen to Dad's setup, I think, "Wow, this sounds absolutely freaking great." Then I go back to my apartment and my system and think, "Wow, this sounds absolutely freaking terrible." It's good to have a frame of reference, to know what is available...even if it costs more than my college education, Ph.D. included.

It's nice to dream, even if that's all it is—a far-fetched, musically induced dream.

Dreaming on...—Emily Hess,

The eternal conflict

You'll find in this issue's "Letters" a plea from reader David Salahi that Stereophile review more affordable components and devote less attention to the ultra-high-end stuff. "I understand that you do have some readers who can afford these prices, and you need to run some reviews for their benefit," David writes, "but I bet they comprise a small fraction of your readership."

Two readers, including 22-year-old Emily Hess, respond that they do like to read about expensive gear, but to gather more than anecdotal information, we ran a poll on the Stereophile website in February in which the subject was confronted head-on: We asked, "Do you like to read reviews of really expensive equipment in Stereophile?"

Over the years I have been editing Stereophile, and Hi-Fi News & Record Review in the UK before that, what I have felt important was that a magazine cover a balance of equipment. Yes, it is important to review affordable components—we all have to start somewhere, and it will be the death of the audio industry if "high-performance" becomes synonymous with "high-priced." At the same time, it is undoubtedly true that it is at the expensive end of the spectrum that the true advances in sound reproduction are made, advances that trickle down to products that regular Joes and Josephines can buy only after some years' delay.

The results of our online poll suggest strongly that the balance is what is important to Stereophile readers: 37% of respondents stated that they "love the expensive equipment reviews," while 32% felt that "a few are fine." Another 20% felt they could put up with reviews of the pricey stuff "once in a while," while only 3% wanted the magazine to eliminate such reviews altogether, with another 5% voting for the erstwhile Audio Cheapskate, Sam Tellig, "from cover to cover!"

Eric Sherbon, for example, wrote that "Reviews of really expensive gear provide a benchmark. Letting readers glimpse into the 'drool only' range is a great feature...if balanced with down-to-earth and budget reviews." But I will let Kurt Christie sum up my position: "Balance is one of the keys to living. I am sure it must be the same for a magazine. A balanced mix of high-, medium-, and low-cost equipment covers the market for the magazine, the advertisers, and the buying public. Everybody wins."

Amen to that, Kurt.—John Atkinson