In The Midst Of An Affordable High End Audio Renaissance
This is happening. Right now. There is a rebirth of creative energy in the high end audio industry and it is aimed squarely at the affordable but high end audio market. A slew of highly regarded manufacturers are introducing products that are absolutely breaking the barriers of old price to performance ratios down.
What is affordable?
Affordable high end audio is not the same as affordable audio. Let me explain. Affordable audio can be found in the mall, at the Apple Store or a Best Buy. It is a mass produced product created by a company that may make TV's, Car Audio and the like. Contrary to that, most high end audio manufacturers are small scale in the realm of consumer electronics. Many still hand build products or at least produce their products in a much smaller quantity. The owners of high end audio companies make only high end audio products. It is their love of music reproduction that started their business venture. Their is a deeper commitment to sound quality over production costs.
Affordable high end audio is the next step in the audiophile journey. One may have enjoyed good sound over their college years with mainstream audio components, and they can now afford something better. They may be exploring the leading online audio magazines, and visiting local high end audio dealers. Their budget ranges from $500 to $2500 for a component and $300-$500 for cables.
The New High End Audio
Below is a list of but a few products I have encountered this year that have rocked my audiophile world.
AcousticImagery Atsah 500 Power Amplifiers - These powerhouse amplifiers offer 400 watts of ultra quiet, low distortion power and sound quality usually reserved for very expensive solid state Class A amplifiers. They are following in the footsteps of their $10,000/pair big brothers, the Atsah 1200. The Atsah 500's have nearly identical specifications to the 1200 into 8 and 4 ohms, with the 1200 being more able to drive a 2 ohm load. The price difference more than makes up for the performance difference in our opinion. The Atsah 500 amplifiers are priced at only $2000 for the pair!
Auralic Aries Mini - Auralic started quite a buzz last year with their Aries wireless music streamer. A component (basically a computer configured for high end audio streaming) capable of streaming high resolution audio files (up to 2xDSD) wirelessly to a DAC. It works with a gigabit enabled wireless router and uses an iPad app called Lightning DS as the interface. They started at $995, turning the high end audio music streamer business on it's ear.
They've done it again this year with the Aries Mini. At $549, the Aries Mini offers the same wireless streaming capability of it's big brother, but also includes a built in DAC. Oh, that $549 price tag also includes a year of Tidal lossless streaming service!
Audience Ohno Speaker Wire & Interconnects - Words really can't describe how good these cables are. One really needs to hear them in their own system to believe a cable at this price point can sound this good. They posses perfect tonal balance, a holographic midrange (HUGE soundstage), extension at both ends of the sonic spectrum, and a relaxed presentation to the music that allows the listener to relax as well. Crazy good cables for the money. I don't know of anything even close to this good at this price or pretty far above it. The interconnects start at $158 for a 1/2 meter pair, and speaker cables start at $329 for a 1 meter pair.
Wireworld Stratus 7 Power Cords - The Wireworld stratus cable are a giant step up from a stock power cord. They don't really do anything wrong to attract attention to themselves, they simply allow your audio equipment to provide more detail and better extension than a stock cord. Well worth the $90 for a 1 meter cord.
ELAC Debut Loudspeakers by Andrew Jones - I don't even sell these, but I own a pair. Andrew Jones used to design the very good and very expensive TAD monitors for Pioneer's high end audio division. He knows how to design a great sounding speaker. He was hired away by ELAC and given free reign to design an entry level high end loudspeaker. He had control over not just driver selection, but every parameter of the drivers for these speakers. This gave him a huge advantage over many manufacturers that are limited to off the shelf drivers. The performance he wrings out of these inexpensive speakers is breathtaking. When I first heard the F5 at this year's Rocky Mountain Audiofest, I assumed I was listening to a $3000-$4000 loudspeaker. The F5's are Ridiculously good, and cost only $600 per pair delivered by Amazon.com. Deal of the century? So far, yes.
Too Cheap To Be Good?
The perception that in order for a component to sound really good it has to be expensive could never be more misguided than at this time. The above products not only make that perception wrong, they make it financially foolish to perpetuate. If you are in the market for great sounding high end audio components, speakers and cables, start your search with these products. I don't care how far down the high end audio rabbit hole you are, there is at lease one item here that will change your perspective on what is possible at this price point.