Sound Advice: With sound systems, big prices don't always mean big sound

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 8, 2014 - 1:34 PM
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If money were no object, a pair of Parasound Halo JC1 monoblock amplifiers would be worth the $9,000 price tag.

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Q: In a recent column you said that very high priced audio gear is often outperformed by less expensive gear produced by larger, better known manufacturers. What are some examples of this?

A: I can think of two specific examples right off the top of my head. Before I go on, I would like to point out that there are examples where the opposite is true, and the big, well-known brand is outperformed by a smaller company. That will be the topic for next week. My main point is that a lot of high-end equipment is overpriced and does not outperform less expensive equipment.

The first example that comes to mind is an experience I had at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show. I had just heard a $20,000 pair of speakers and was not impressed. Across the hall was GoldenEar Technology, demonstrating their new Aon 3 bookshelf speakers at $1,000 a pair. The GoldenEar speakers were simply fantastic, and clearly better than the $20,000 speakers. It wasn’t even close, and I was grinning ear to ear as I listened. I spoke with Sandy Gross, GoldenEar’s president, and ordered a pair on the spot. It’s not like I needed them, as I have plenty of speakers. I just had to have them, and knew they would be a perfect match to the tube amp in my home office.

GoldenEar certainly rates as high-end quality; the prices, while not inexpensive, are reasonable and make these speakers a great value. The equipment is designed by very talented engineers in the United States, manufactured overseas to keep prices down, and sold through an excellent dealer network. You can see them at www.goldenear.com.

A few years ago Lexicon, a premium brand, had a very embarrassing moment when they tried to sell a Blu-ray player for $3,500. The website audioholics.com opened it up and found it was a rebadged Oppo with some firmware changes. It actually performed worse than the unaltered Oppo unit. You can read about it at tinyurl.com/lexiconoppo.

There is also a point of diminishing returns with high-end equipment. Arguments can be made for very expensive speaker systems and phono playback gear, but some of the electronics are absurdly priced. There are amplifiers that sell for $50,000 or more. Even if I had billions of dollars, I would not buy anything like this.

While I don’t believe all amplifiers produce the same quality of sound, I also don’t believe there is anything worth that kind of money, and you max out the sound quality long before you come close to huge five-figure prices. If someone handed me a blank check to buy amplifiers for my power-hungry Ohm Walsh 5000 speakers, I would buy a pair of Parasound Halo JC1 monoblock amplifiers for $9,000, a relative pittance compared with some of the esoteric stuff out there. The Parasounds are designed by a renowned engineer, beautifully made, have almost endless power and are reliable. They are also made by a solid company that has been around for a long time and will be there for support in the future.

Send questions to Don Lindich at donlindich@gmail.com. Get more recommendations and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.

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