What Is High End Audio?

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I had mentioned on our forums that there were several companies I did not believe aspired to produce high end audio products: McIntosh and B&O among them.

Ok, ok, I can see the fur flying already. Take a deep breath. This is not a put down. For the record, I admire both of the aforementioned companies: McIntosh for their superb build quality, measurement excellence and customer loyalty, B&O for style, innovation and leading edge ideas. But I don’t believe either aspires to produce high end audio products: McIntosh aspires to be the best built, greatest measuring luxury audio brand, while B&O the leader in style and innovation. Nothing wrong with either of those goals.

I don’t think there’s an industry standard, a qualifier to suggest this is high end audio, and that is not, so I wanted to open a dialog on the subject.

Where do we draw the line? What parameters do we use to define these categories so we’re all speaking a similar language? We can agree it isn’t price. There are plenty of pricey things that aren’t high end audio, as well as plenty of cheap things that are. We can likely agree it isn’t looks. There are plenty of snazzy products that don’t qualify, and an equal number that look like DIY kits, but few would argue they are not high end audio oriented.

No, I would suggest it is intent plus success at achieving a level of performance we can mostly agree upon (as Audiophiles). When the intent of a company is to design a product based on sound quality first, everything else second, I would suggest their intent is high end audio. On the other hand, if a company pushes specs and build quality first, it may be second to none, but that doesn’t a high end audio product make it.

Take a mass market product like Sonos. Their intent has never been sound quality that matters to Audiophiles (at least I can’t see it). They are the gold standard for usability, ease of operation, and hassle free music. But they are not high end audio, nor do they seem to aspire to be.

Or, take B&O. This is a great company, but their focus is style. I am guessing they style a product first, make it sound as good as possible second.

I am certain this is going to spark much debate, and that’s good. I didn’t write this as a put down to anyone or any company. No, quite the opposite. I own a Sonos system, I have owned B&O, I have lusted after McIntosh, and I am an Apple fan boy (and Apple is about as far away from high end audio as you can get).

But when it comes to high end audio there’s a line I draw that suggests this and that qualify – and these others don’t. And my standard is intent and performance. What were they trying to achieve and did they get close?

What’s yours?

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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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