Q: In past columns you have recommended both the Cambridge Audio AM5 and Onkyo TX-8020 amplifiers. If both perform well and the Cambridge costs more, why would someone choose the Cambridge (or other high-end brand) over the Onkyo?

A: I often use cars as an analogy to explain this. It isn't perfect, given the many manufacturers and products, but it usually gives readers a good understanding of the marketplace pecking order.

Onkyo and Sony audio gear corresponds to Honda and Toyota and their Accord and Camry sedans. They're solid and perform well but have none of the enhancements that will get an enthusiast's blood pumping.

Brands such as Cambridge Audio, NAD, Rotel, Parasound, Outlaw Audio and Emotiva are the BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus of the electronics world. Compared with the mass-market brands you get a measure of exclusivity, higher quality materials and finish, styling that tends to stand the test of time and higher performance. You also get pride of ownership that is very enjoyable.

At the top are exotics like VAC, Pass Labs, Dan D'Agostino and MBL. These are the Ferrari and Rolls-Royce of audio. It is very easy to build a system costing well into six figures using this equipment. The performance in many cases is not noticeably better than the BMW tier, and most consumers won't consider buying a $60,000 amplifier any more than they would consider buying a $400,000 car. It is either out of reach, against their sensibilities or both.

Technics is hard to classify. Technics sells $1,200 wired earphones, $17,000 speakers and a $30,000 turntable, three products few consumers would consider affordable. Yet Technics also has the $999 Ottava SC-C70 CD music system and the $1,200 SL-1500C and $1,700 SL-1200GR turntables. The turntables in particular outperform much more expensive competitors from the exotic brands. I place Technics between the BMW and Ferrari tiers, though some Technics products do scream "Ferrari" and certainly perform like one.

And about those $1,200 Technics EAH-TZ700 wired earphones (technics.com). Yes, I have heard them, and, yes, they are incredible. We're definitely talking Rolls-Royce.

Shopping list

It's shopping season. Here are some deals to keep in mind, although you'll need to act quickly:

• The Q Acoustics 3020i bookshelf speakers have been a big hit with readers. Through Thursday, select 3000i series speakers are up to 20% off. Visit qacoustics.com/sale.html to learn more.

• Looking for high-end noise-canceling headphones? The $349.95 Sennheiser PXC550 headphones (sennheiser.com) are $199.95 on Cyber Monday.

• ZVOX (zvox.com) is offering a 15% veterans discount, which even applies to special offers like the buy one, get one free hearing aid sale and the two for $199.99 noise-canceling headphones promotion. You must call ZVOX directly to order with this discount.

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