The Audio Cynic

Is It Worth It To You?

Issue 12

During election season, we hear a lot of talk about “values”. We are not (thank goodness!) going to pursue the subject of personal values, the much-abused term that is at the heart of way too much campaign rhetoric. Instead, we’re going to take a look at a different sort of personal value, namely: how much is that thing worth to you?

The question obviously applies to most aspects of life. Just for the sake of avoiding an outburst of existential angst, we’ll stick to the subjects of audio, and music.

There are a lot of elements involved in determining value: the intrinsic worth of an item (the materials and workmanship required to make it), the deal offered (relative to the deal offered to everyone else), the immaterial influencers (is it just like the one dad had? Have I wanted one since 9th grade?—that pesky emotional baggage), and the market influencers (are there a million just like it? Is it the only one?).

Unless you’re emotionally frozen, there are triggers or associations that make things worth more or less for you. For example, in the vintage audio world, if I never see another Phase Linear 700 amplifier, I’ll be perfectly happy. The combination of an edgy sound quality and the experience of having seen several 700s after they’d burst into flames, ensure that I’ll never consciously seek one out. For others, reading Julian Hirsch’s rave review of the 700 when they were 15 might have marked it as an aspirational item, and propelled them into mowing lawns all year in order to buy one. Seeing one 40 years later might cause an overwhelming bout of nostalgia, and that person would likely pay more than any rational soul would.

Rarity, of course, has a major effect upon an item’s worth, and ironically, rarity is often more of a measure of societal rejection than of actual scarcity or merit. Consider the Dylan song, “It Ain’t Me, Babe”. Originally appearing on the album Another Side of Bob Dylan, it can often be found in Goodwill bins for 50cents or so, in either album or single version. But what if you simply must have that same song performed in the dulcet tones of actor Sebastian Cabot? Cabot’s 1967 album, Sebastian Cabot, Actor/ Bob Dylan, Poet in which he renders a recitative version of “It Ain’t Me, Babe”, is harder to find than Dylan’s original.

The whole issue of worth is one that almost all audiophiles encounter sooner or later; who amongst us has not heard the incredulous outburst from a friend or neighbor, “your stereo cost HOW much??”

Ironically, such comments often come from someone who just bragged about the cost of their new car or vacation house. Worth is reflective of personal priorities, and as such is highly personal: at the time I owned a system which included Magneplanar Tympanis tri-amped by Audio Research gear, a Nakamichi Dragon cassette deck and a Nakamichi Dragon turntable, I was driving a $200 Fiat sedan which looked as though it’d been run over by a semi. My wife didn’t care for the situation, but I was momentarily happy.

Clearly, there’s no accounting for taste…or worth!

Bill Leebens is Editor of Copper and Director of Marketing at PS Audio. He has been in and out of the audio business for over 40 years. Each time he returns to it, he becomes more cynical. He does not intend to go quietly.

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