The price of scarcity

September 18, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

When something desirable is scarce its value increases.

It’s the old supply and demand theory we learned about in school. If more people want something than there is an available supply, the price adjusts upward.

Think of a vinyl album where only so many copies were pressed. Or, consider that only 58 pairs of IRSV speakers were ever made.

Scarcity can even apply to simpler things. Terri and I were skinning a bushel of our homegrown tomatoes last night. We turned those beauties into a delicious tomato sauce we’re going to freeze and sparingly consume over the winter months. No one else on the planet has the same tomato sauce as do we.

Thankfully, much of what we as audiophiles value with respect to new equipment isn’t scarce. You can grab a copy of a production DAC, amplifier, or preamplifier without much worry about bickering over price. That’s not quite as true with vintage equipment.

What we can say about scarcity is that for most of us, the collection of hand-picked equipment, cables, room treatment, and careful placement is unique in all the world. Your system in your room sounds different than mine because of the environment and the choices made to create that system.

What kind of price would you assign to your hand-built creation?

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47 comments on “The price of scarcity”

  1. Nobody would demand my hand-build creation because the dominating marketing claims promise yearly new breakthroughs in innovation – just see the yearly release of new generations of smartphones. Thus the price of my outdated system is zero. Only my dealer would offer some 50% of the price paid for a trade-in when the components aren’t older than three years. However I still wonder when a significant and audible (!) innovation happened for digital audio. The step from a CD-player to a combo of CD-transport and DAC seemed to be an innovation but revealed new problems (jitter) and was barely audible. Then the optical and mechanical problems of optical drives were highlighted and belt-driven CD-transports and all kind of CD-treatments were advertised. No real progress. And a HDD-Recorder was a cheaper solution with often better sonically results due to a RAM-buffer with was soon found in high-end CD-transports as from Mark-Levinson. But the huge price did never correspond to a huge increase in sound quality. I could continue with the claims for highres formats. In the end I found: GIGO principle is always valid. The most significant improvements in sound quality are found in the accurateness & carefulness of the recording and mastering. And here I accept to pay a higher price. The only technical innovation which made a huge step forward in sound quality was “crosstalk cancellation” and moderate Room-EQ. Exchanging any component during the last 15 years only resulted in “It sounds different” but never in “It sounds better”. And some six month ago I got a jaw-dropping experience of sound quality from an analog medium: an analog recording not pressed to vinyl grooves but cut into a pure copper record available from Stockfisch Records. Wow!

      1. There are audiophiles who pay 10 times more for a single interconnect only for getting an incremental improvement. 🙂 The copper record is worth its price because it is a unique copy of the master and it allows you to get familiar with the top sound quality that can be achieved from a turntable source and let’s you hear how big the degradation already is due to the multi-galvanic & thermal production process of a vinyl copy.

          1. Why? The cutting stylus is much less harder than a diamond. Copper is a preferred material for good electrical contacts if the counterpart is much harder than copper resulting in a maximum of contact surface – audiophile wall-warts follow this concept. I guess the surface of a vinyl groove made from granular vinyl is less smooth than that of the copper groove. And the best: there is no problem with electrostatic charge and discharge for the copper record!

      1. Many thanks for sharing your personal experience. My first reaction when listening to the copper version was: “incredible” and I had to call Mr. Pauler for getting a technical explanation. I expected that there are different mixes or masterings for the vinyl and copper version, but: nope. My speculation is also that there is something fundamentally wrong/unnatural with common digital reconstruction filters and or the way or carefulness of digital mastering. No wonder that Octave Records prefer analog mixing and mastering. 🙂

  2. Well good for you Pauly Mac, our tomatoes were weak this year, tough texture and little flavor. Last year our cherry tree yielded zero cherries, this year by the hundreds.

    Last year birds and insects were everywhere in the yard, this year there were few. Last year large front yard tree dripped sap in October, this year it began in July.

    Climate change in California is real and it’s happening right in front of our eyes!

    1. An old friend of mine and his wife were living in a small trailer park on the Kansas River alluvial plain in Lawrence, KS. She had enough room on their lot for a small garden, but had been disappointed with the usual quality of her tomatoes. They had a young, but big dog: Toby* the Malamute. She tried some canine organic fertilizer at the base of the root zones and the results were her personal best tomatoes. Sub-woofer terroir.

      *In joke: Toby was the acronym for ‘That obnoxious beast [of] yours’. But she wasn’t, she was a big sweety, She was very strong, keep a firm grip on the tow strap grade leash when taking her for a walk.

    2. We had an amazing crop of cherries this year. 2 years ago I thought our tree was beyond giving berries.
      My system is worth top dollar to me alone, I suspect. Much of what I have chosen is slightly off the radar, giving me great value and wonderful sound.

  3. As mentioned in the first line I think the title of this post should have been “The value of scarcity.”
    Price is universal but value is a much more personal concept.

  4. Scarcity…
    The price of copper (the metal; not the e-magazine) good
    quality steel & aluminium (aluminum)
    AKM semiconductors factory fire.
    The reason for the price rise at PSA (& everywhere else)

    My current home audio rig is very good; I’d give it a 7.8 out of 10.
    It needs a better DAC to kick it up another notch, but that will
    come with time & diligent financial saving.
    I’ve said a few times before, “Priorities change as we age”
    & as our income stream turns to a rivulet.

    What kind of price would I assign to my near-wholesale-cost home audio rig?
    Roughly what I paid for it 🙂

  5. To answer the question posed today directly….
    The first $475K cash offer. It can go with the house.
    Otherwise it’s not for sale, as I’m not in the mood right now to start from scratch….
    The set-up may be ‘one of a kind’, but in this case it only has value to me. No demand for it.

    Canning / freezing tomatoes. A fall tradition. Is the snowblower and shovel ready to go?

    1. Mike,
      Do the canned tomatoes sit alongside the canned music?

      To be honest I don’t really like that expression ‘canned music’. To me it implies some sort of second rate experience, when listening at home can be equally and sometimes more enjoyable than a live performance. It’s certainly more accessible. Perhaps a topic for another day.

      1. Good afternoon Richtea,

        To answer your question, only if the tomatoes are stored in the music room.
        I’m not a fan of the term ‘canned music’ either, Canned Heat yes.
        I’m not sure exactly what the term refers to, but here’s a link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canned_music

        At least I now have some sort of definition…
        I’m headed to check out The Tall Dwarfs now ✌️

        I’ve said it before, but for me 2 channel audio is an event unto itself that I enjoy whenever I can.

        1. Indeed, two channel audio is an event unto itself meant for immersive enjoyment. When listening to high quality source material the value of my audio system is priceless. Perhaps this is why Paul does not have a higher end two channel system in the Sprout system in his home. He wants total quiet so he can immerse himself into the music as well so he heads over to his company to listen in total silence. I am envious.

          Nothing like making a good tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes. Yum…Another priceless commodity. Pass the 3 year old Reggiano please.

          1. Stimpy2,

            I fully agree it is all source dependent for the 2 channel system. Find that great recording of music you enjoy most. Kick back and let yourself be immersed. It’s hard to ignore the ‘there’s always better drum beat at times’ but I’m finally starting to get past that part.

            As far as tomatoes, I always have way too many. I finally learned and have lots of a European variety of plums. They freeze well, they can well, and I have enough to make it until the next batch ripens. Of course plenty of slicers for the burgers, sandwiches and BLT’s. And usually an abundance of cherry tomatoes for that fresh salad or just to snack on.

      2. yes! your comment about live versus canned should and could be a great topic. I enjoy studio recordings better than most live performances. I feel like the studio version of a song is as close as possible to the artist’s vision and creation. Whereas live performance is at the mercy of countless variables that don’t share the artists heart, soul, vision, etc. The acoustics of the venue, the noisy audience, the quality (or lack) of the sound crew, the drummer has a hangover, the bass player is in a bad mood, etc.

        Now don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy live as well, but mostly smaller intimate venues. And its the energy, humanity, organics and social experience aspects that stand out – not so much the sound quality. For home listening though, its a pleasure to hear the artist was striving for perfection (thinking of Steely Dan here).

        1. I tend to disagree with you about performing artists not being able to show their true soul in a live performance. On the contrary, this is where they cut loose with one of their compositions if we’re talking about Jazz. These musicians don’t have the freedom to let it all hang out on a recording.They need to feel the energy of the audience to get in the groove the way they’ed really like to.

          1. Great point! I agree – especially with Jazz. That is what I meant about the “organics” of the live performance. I also love the non-verbal communication between the jazz musicians as they take turns improvising, build and release energy, start resolving towards an end of the song, etc. A local drummer here plays with so much emotion, body language and facial expressions. His drumming is an extension of his personality. And you can only experience that live for sure! Now that you challenge me to consider the topic deeper, I guess its the rock and pop stuff that tends to disappoint live more often than not. Especially if its in an arena or stadium where the sound quality is so awful and they burn through songs at a faster pace than the originals – as if rushing to “get this show over with”.

              1. wow! Great video! Thank you. I was not familiar with Billy Kilson. Love his work on the hi-hat!
                My local drummer and friend here looks exactly like the actor Woody Harrelson. It is so funny to see “Woody” playing Jazz drums, lol! I’ll try to upload a video.

                1. Billy Kilson used to be a rock drummer who went to work for Chris Botti for some unknown reason. He was followed by another drummer Lee Pearson who is also off-the-wall incredible. If you check YouTube out you’ll find more Billy Kilson work. He has the great ability to do start-stop playing which I have never seen before. I sent another video of his work to Paul and he sort of liked it.

        2. You said the secret words djB-O-B. Steely Dan. Two brilliant musicians that commanded perfection which could only be accomplished in a recording studio. That’s why they very rarely played live. So many famous musicians wanted to be on one of their recordings. That’s how popular they were in the industry.

      1. No Mike, alas.
        Last Tuesday it was transported from my local dealer to the distributor in a city close to Amsterdam.
        And now it’s a waiting game.
        Based on my experience in the past it always takes AT LEAST 4 or 5 weeks before it’s back in one piece. Depending on what parts have to be fixed/replaced and whether these parts are in the storage facility in Holland or have to be ordered at the USA manufacturer.
        Last time a device broke was in 2017 my DSJ (one year after purchase) and it took almost 3 (three !) months before I had it back in my room…
        And then there is the P10…I am not sure whether I send that device to the Belgian distributor to fix the problem or not. First the power amp back.

        1. That just all sucks jb4. I’m lucky enough to have a back-up if ever needed. 2 months or so without tunes at home must be brutal. I hope things move faster this time.

  6. Ok Audiophile Dad and everyone else, here it is!
    But be warned, I’m taking you all back to 1962.
    Paul said something about vintage audio gear.
    Truth be told, I love that stuff!
    For one thing, it all, was built to last pretty much, a life time.
    The company I’m gonna talk about here, is Mcintosh.
    Because both they and Fisher made the best gear I think back then.
    But for the gear, wishful thinking on my part, but I’d much rather pay the 1962 prices for the gear, if I were to buy any of it.
    I know that won’t happen these days, but a man has a right to dream about such things, coming to past.
    Now, to the little show.
    MC-275, $449.
    C-2200 $349.
    I don’t remember the mottle of this piece of gear, but I can tell you what it is.
    Mcintosh stereo receiver.
    Keep in mind, that you have to use a power amp with this.
    Because it does not have one built in to it.
    But what it is, is a preamp and an FM stereo tuner on one chassis.
    But the price on it between 1962 and 1968, was $420.
    Speakers, my dream speakers here, would be the Bosack Consurt Grands for about $1500 a pare.
    I’ll talk about audio sourses later on, if someone happens to feel like chatting with me about that.

  7. As I upgrade from vintage to merely old fashioned “once were SOTA” gear I stack all those superseded treasures in the attic.

    Because what anyone would pay for them is much less than I reckon their audio value is worth.

    Anyone else with an audio Aladdins Cave ?

  8. Scarcity runs a very wide gamut. At one end we have one of a kind art work. The most desirable of art work are mostly owned by major museums and often called priceless. What would you pay for the Mona Lisa ( assuming you were amongst the riches people in the world ). At the other end the spectrum, some vintage Nakamichi cassette decks sell for more today than they did when they were new.

    Some items develop cult followings, many of which are hard to believe. In 2005 ( or about that time ) I sold a pair of A/D/S speakers that I had bough in 1986. The speakers still worked, but they were about 20 years old. I set the price higher than I thought they were worth so that I would have some bargaining room. They sold in 5 minutes at my asking price. I was shocked, there is a cult following of A/D/S speakers!

    1. I would go for the Nakamichi top tier turntable with automatic correction of record eccentricity! A masterpiece and I wonder why even the today’s 100 k$ and more turntables lack this feature.

    2. I owned a Nakamichi Dragon which I hardly used. I remember paying $1800 for it and I sold it about seven years ago on eBay for $3100. Much of my vintage equipment sold for a much much more than I paid for it. That’s how I was able to trade up and not put too much money out of pocket for new equipment.

  9. I love my vintage BAT VK60 stereo amp with the Russian MIG fighter jet power tubes. I have enough replacement tubes to last until I die. For the signal tubes I use matched N.O.S 1952 Sylvania 6SN7 Bad Boys for their clear tone and deep bass. I replaced the OEM coupler caps with Duelund Copper CAST. I’m sure no one has an amp like this one 🙂

    As for tomatoes, I’ve never been able to grow nice ones in my backyard, so I just buy organic ones grown locally in the summer and flown in from South America in the winter. If they are not tangy enough, I add a little lemon juice.

  10. I think I’m going to make Gazpacho this afternoon. All this talk about fabulous tomatoes has got me salivating. That has a little lemon juice in it according to the recipe I’ve got.

  11. The crazy thing with really good setups is, you’d partly not only not be able to buy them 1:1 on the market, an average buyer would also not have a clue of their setup potential or how to achieve it. It would maybe be possible to get 60% of their magic by buying it without further advice.

  12. Sounds like a marketing opportunity “Stellar Tomato Sauce” ! Logo “Let’s get Sauced” !

    Paul I’m giving this all away today, as I still need just a little grub steak money for the Hawaiian property

    Can you say Tom Mato !

  13. Price of scarcity? Wow you aren’t kidding, Paul.
    Especially when it comes to SACDs. How many of these out of print babies have we all splurged on cause we didn’t buy it right away or we didn’t even know it existed all together for a recording we love.

    I’ll be honest and I am not ashamed to admit it because it was totally worth it for me. I bought a mint condition, way out of print, MFSL SACD of Tears for Fears: Songs from the Big Chair for 118$.
    It was new and sealed and I couldn’t resist. I love that recording and I wanted to hear it at its very best at the time, but now I think the Blu ray audio by Steven Wilson surpasses it. Awe well. I love having both though cause I got the gear to extract what these disc formats are truly worth. 😉

    Scarcity is a real thing and when it comes to SACDS don’t wait around. For instance, Mobile Fidelity just recently released The Alan Parsons projects “eye in the sky” on SACD and it is truly the best version of this recording. Even better than the Blu ray audio and I highly recommend people grab this disc if you love that recording. I couldn’t be happier and for 43$ CAN you can easily take my money. 😉

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