Audiophile prices, 2020 edition

Those of you who were C&I readers may remember that I did way too long discussions of how cheap or expensive audiophile-quality systems can be, based on Stereophile‘s Recommended Components lists.

I’m doing it again, but more simply, and I’m adding another source, The Absolute Sound, a competitive high-end magazine that doesn’t do measurements at all and where many reviews feel like pitches for the product and its company.

Stereophile-based systems

Stereophile divides recommended components into several grades, with A and A+ being the absolute best regardless of price, B-E being still great but less expensive. I’m showing four sets of components (turntable, arm, cartridge, CD player, preamp/amp, and full-range speakers): lowest and highest priced in A and A+, and lowest and highest price in B and below. I’m ignoring cables (which could add $100 to $10K or more), headphones, digital streaming and the like. I’m sticking with full-range speakers for simplicity. I’m also using integrated amps (with phono preamps) for B-and-below and separate phono preamp, preamp, and amp for A/A+. All amps are solid-state, although that wasn’t an assumption.

  • Lowest-priced grade A and A+: Turntable: Rega Planar 10, $5.695; Tonearm: Audio-Creative Groovemaster II Titanium, $1,823; Cartridge: EMT TSD-15, $1,950; Phono preamp: PS Audio Stellar, $2,499; CD: ATC CD-A2 Mk 2, $4,249; Preamp: Rogue Audio RH-5, $2,495; Power amp: Schitt Aegir, $799; Speakers: GoldenEar Technology Triton Reference, $10,000; System total: $29,520.
  • Highest-priced grade A and A+: Turntable: Techdas Air Force One Premium with Titanium upper platter, $162,000; Tonearm: SAT CF1-12, $59,810; Cartridge: DS Audio Master 1, $20,000; Phono preamp: CH Precision P1, $80,000; CD: dCS Vivaldi 2.0, $116,495; Preamp: Dan D’Agostino Momentum HD, $40,000; Power amp: DartZeel NHB-468, $180,000; Speakers: Tidal Audio Akira, $255,000; System total: $913,305.
  • Lowest-priced grades B and below: Turntable: Rega Planar 1 (includes arm and Ortofon cartridge), $475; CD: Rega Apollo, $1,095; Integrated amp: NAD C-328, $599; Speakers: JBL Stage 70, $500; System total: $2,669.
  • Highest-priced grades B and below: Turntable: Haniwa Player w/HTAM01 Arm, $15,000; Cartridge, Rega Aphelion 2 MC, $4,995; CD: Bryston BCD-3, $3,995; Integrated amp: Naim Audio Uniti Nova, $5.990; Speakers: KEF Reference 5, $20,000; System total: $49,980.

Yep. The most expensive system with no Grade A components costs about two-thirds more than the least expensive system wit all Grade A components–and the most expensive Grade-A system costs more than thirty times as much as the least. [Unlikely that a buyer would spend less than a $million on that highest-priced system, even without digital streaming.]

Absolute Sound prices

Just a low and a high, since apparently everything this magazine reviews is wonderful. I’m assuming integrated amp with phono preamp at the low end, all separates at the high, and floor-standing speakers.

  • Least expensive: Turntable: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC (includes arm and Ortofon cartridge), $449; CD: Rotel CD14, $799; Integrated amp: NAD D 3020 V2, $449; Speakers: PSB Alpha T20, $649; System total: $2,356.
  • Most expensive: TechDas Air Force One Premium, $145.000; Tonearm: Swedish Analog Technologies CF 1-09, $57,418; Cartridge: Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement V2, $16,000; Phono preamp: VAC Statement, $80,000; CD: dCS Vivaldi series 2, $116,496; Preamp: Boulder 3010, $130,000; Amp: D’Agostino Relentless, $295,000; Speakers: Wilson Audio Chronosonic XVX w/subwoofer and crossover, $373,500; System total: $1,113,414.

Whew. Yes, there’s more expensive gear–for example, Wilson Audio had a limited run of speakers costing more than $800,000.

But wait…

The prices above don’t include interconnects, speaker cables, fancy power cords, special thingies to support the components, or a rack. Just looking at the megabuck system described–noting that the amplifier is really a pair of “monoblocks” (single-channel amps), I see a need for at least six power cables, four interconnects, six sets of thingies, and two sets of speaker cables. And a good rack.

So let’s see–from the same Absolute Sound issue. Power cables: Crystal Cable Ultimate Dream, $15,970 each, so figure $95,820. Interconnects: Nordost Odin 2, $23,625 each, so $94,500 total. Speaker cables: AudioQuest Dragon bi-wire combo, $48,600, so $97,200 total.

I’m just going to ignore a few $thousands for thingies, quite a few $thousands for a rack, and other stuff like power conditioners. Just the items above add about $285,000 more. But hey, it’s only money!

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