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Audio Jewelry

Sawdust123

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Many ears ago, a fellow AES member shared the story of how the founder of an early pioneer in fancy cables came to an AES event and said he was in the business of selling audio jewelry.

More recently, the founder of a large pro-sound company was relating to me that his father asked for advice on choosing a new home system. His advice was simple; set a budget and buy the best looking system for that money.

A thread on audiophile cables got me thinking about these stories and how relevant they are. We often listen with our eyes. Blind testing is great for science but if a system has a low WAF (wife acceptance factor), it will be relegated to "the man cave" and not the living room.

I used to attend MANY high-end shows to sell audio analyzers. I would see some amazing looking products. The craftsmanship displayed in the cabinetry and metalwork was second to none. Many devices were nearly worth their price as pieces of hand made art. And like any art, the beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Most of the craftsmanship has little to do with the quality of the reproduced sound. But who really cares?

Think about super cars. The Corvette is one damned fine piece of automotive engineering. It outperforms many rivals that costs many times more. However, it is massed produced and not in the same rarefied strata as Ferrari or Lamborghini. A Corvette doesn't grab attention and that is a big part of the super car ownership experience.

In 1982, DeLoreans were still new and turned heads. I had one at my disposal for the summer. I could drive one into exclusive gated communities and the attendants would let me in even though I had no business being there. Women at fast food drive-ins would beg me to take them out in the car. DeLoreans may have looked like super cars but they actually had mediocre performance. One day I found myself at a stoplight alongside an old high school friend in his hand-me-down GM sedan with a big-block V8. He started revving his engine and signalling me to race. I pretended like I was game but I knew the DeLorean wouldn't keep pace. He floored it when the light changed and I just proceeded casually. A few days later he asked me why I hadn't raced him. I replied, "Oh, I thought the contest was to see who looked cooler and I had already won that."

I find the audiophile and automotive enthusiasts have a similar type of vanity. One lusts after products due to their looks and/or price. One justifies purchases by highlighting some arbitrary performance attribute that is nearly meaningless in everyday use. The real reason to buy the product is to become a part of the exclusive "owners" club and the envy of those who are still looking to join. The super car companies are very aware that they are selling this type of exclusivity and that their "performance" will rarely get used. The problem I find with many audiophile companies is that don't understand why people buy their products so the invent quasi-scientific sounding performance attributes instead. This can be infuriating. I wish they would just simply sell their products for what they are; beautiful and functional art forms.
 

cookiefactory

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At the same time, (self) deception runs deep. Oftentimes quasi-scientific performance attributes are needed as an excuse if nothing else. A lot of people in this hobby will balk at upgrades purely on an aesthetics and/or credential signaling basis, but tack on an “objective” pro and one has all the rationale needed to pull the trigger.
 

pozz

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The problem I find with many audiophile companies is that don't understand why people buy their products so the invent quasi-scientific sounding performance attributes instead. This can be infuriating. I wish they would just simply sell their products for what they are; beautiful and functional art forms.
It's a good point. They could state openly that they are in the business of producing enclosures and take available OEM modules to ensure performance. It would even be nice to browse a company's products for visual appeal alone, and to know that different product lines are about that and no more.
 

ahofer

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Electronics certainly have jewelry-like quality. And we substitute alleged sonic attributes for the handmade gears, etc. of expensive watches. But tweaks are another matter. Why would someone spend several thousand dollars for a tachyon field generator that gets hidden away? Quantum Organizers that are just stones or plastic bricks that sit somewhere in the room? That seems like a different phenomenon, although signaling one's disposable wealth is certainly part of it.

https://www.audiogon.com/listings?category=accessories-tweaks
 

Frank Dernie

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Many ears ago, a fellow AES member shared the story of how the founder of an early pioneer in fancy cables came to an AES event and said he was in the business of selling audio jewelry.

More recently, the founder of a large pro-sound company was relating to me that his father asked for advice on choosing a new home system. His advice was simple; set a budget and buy the best looking system for that money.

A thread on audiophile cables got me thinking about these stories and how relevant they are. We often listen with our eyes. Blind testing is great for science but if a system has a low WAF (wife acceptance factor), it will be relegated to "the man cave" and not the living room.

I used to attend MANY high-end shows to sell audio analyzers. I would see some amazing looking products. The craftsmanship displayed in the cabinetry and metalwork was second to none. Many devices were nearly worth their price as pieces of hand made art. And like any art, the beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Most of the craftsmanship has little to do with the quality of the reproduced sound. But who really cares?

Think about super cars. The Corvette is one damned fine piece of automotive engineering. It outperforms many rivals that costs many times more. However, it is massed produced and not in the same rarefied strata as Ferrari or Lamborghini. A Corvette doesn't grab attention and that is a big part of the super car ownership experience.

In 1982, DeLoreans were still new and turned heads. I had one at my disposal for the summer. I could drive one into exclusive gated communities and the attendants would let me in even though I had no business being there. Women at fast food drive-ins would beg me to take them out in the car. DeLoreans may have looked like super cars but they actually had mediocre performance. One day I found myself at a stoplight alongside an old high school friend in his hand-me-down GM sedan with a big-block V8. He started revving his engine and signalling me to race. I pretended like I was game but I knew the DeLorean wouldn't keep pace. He floored it when the light changed and I just proceeded casually. A few days later he asked me why I hadn't raced him. I replied, "Oh, I thought the contest was to see who looked cooler and I had already won that."

I find the audiophile and automotive enthusiasts have a similar type of vanity. One lusts after products due to their looks and/or price. One justifies purchases by highlighting some arbitrary performance attribute that is nearly meaningless in everyday use. The real reason to buy the product is to become a part of the exclusive "owners" club and the envy of those who are still looking to join. The super car companies are very aware that they are selling this type of exclusivity and that their "performance" will rarely get used. The problem I find with many audiophile companies is that don't understand why people buy their products so the invent quasi-scientific sounding performance attributes instead. This can be infuriating. I wish they would just simply sell their products for what they are; beautiful and functional art forms.
I disagree.
A car may be a bit of a thing to pose in which lots of people see.
A HiFi is a bit of fun to have at home and is a self satisfaction thing. I admit I buy electronics for looks and functionality but until the internet forums nobody knew what hifi I had, so zero posing and zero showing off.
 

suttondesign

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When I was a kid, medical devices were purely functional. In the developed medical marketplace today, even hum-drum medical equipment has a nod towards industrial design. Some of it is even nice looking. There is no reason it should be. However, in a crowded market, where people make decisions to buy what are just boxes with connections, a nice industrial design can sell a boring piece of equipment. I am reminded, also, of the "Box" and "Box 2" in the show "Silicon Valley." The company Hooli labors over the design of a black box designed to fit into remote slots in server farms, where it will never be seen.
 

JeffS7444

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What's the point of being ultra-wealthy if you can't buy next-level experiences? :p
 

Killingbeans

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Nobody walks through my room marvelling at the speaker wire or looking for magic stones - it is in my house not the street.

I think the OP is more aimed at things like amps that look like the mothership from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
 

anmpr1

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In the '50 and '60s, gear was pretty functional in appearance. There was nothing special looking about a McIntosh or Marantz tube amp. In fact, the relatively inexpensive Hafler/Laurent Dyna ST-70 looked nicer, layout-wise.

My first recollection of 'design' was probably the Ira Gale/Sao Win Lucite and chrome turntable. Ira claimed engineering reasons behind it's appearance, and not just cosmetic design (although it sure looked sophisticated and aesthetically wonderful). At about the same time you had Transcriptors record players, made of green edged leaded glass, Lucite, chrome, etc.

Literal jewelry happened when Yoshiaki Sugano figured out he could wrap his hand made phono cartridges in semi-precious stones (and exotic wood), and sell them at a premium to well-heeled audiophiles.

Some electronic manufacturers decided that a walnut sleeve wasn't interesting, or exclusive enough, and began offering gear in lacquered rosewood covers--Accuphase comes to mind.

Loudspeakers from higher-end brands (Altec, JBL, AR, Rectilinear) offered furniture grade finishes for a price--typically an optional thing, as many sold the same product with a 'utility' finish, that could either be left as is, or finished by the customer. In some cases, the speaker was actual furniture, as in the JBL Paragon.

Then you had 'fashion houses' whose object was mostly high-tech looks. Bang and Olufsen was/is probably the best known of that bunch.

gale.jpg


koetsu-tiger-eye-cartridge-1.jpg


accuphase.jpg


JBL-01.JPG


todd.jpeg
 
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Sawdust123

Sawdust123

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But to whom?
Nobody walks through my room marvelling at the speaker wire or looking for magic stones - it is in my house not the street.
It is not that everyone actually sees your gear that counts. It is that one can talk about it from personal experience that makes you a member of the club.

As I said in the first post, I have been to MANY hi-fi shows. There is an interesting bonding ritual that takes place when you meet someone new at a show. There is a brief discussion of old gear that takes place. You will hear people say, "I had one of the original (widgets), back (before something happened, while someone still worked there, etc)."

I have attributed this ritual to being a form of membership test for entry into audiophile club. Your "rank" is determined by how well you know the old gear, the designers, or the industry as a whole. This historic knowledge as well as the gear you own proves your passion for hi-fi. Can you imagine if there was a real club and you had to pass the Harman listening software test, the one they use to determine if someone really has a golden ear? It would be a darned small club.
 

Frank Dernie

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It is not that everyone actually sees your gear that counts. It is that one can talk about it from personal experience that makes you a member of the club.

As I said in the first post, I have been to MANY hi-fi shows. There is an interesting bonding ritual that takes place when you meet someone new at a show. There is a brief discussion of old gear that takes place. You will hear people say, "I had one of the original (widgets), back (before something happened, while someone still worked there, etc)."

I have attributed this ritual to being a form of membership test for entry into audiophile club. Your "rank" is determined by how well you know the old gear, the designers, or the industry as a whole. This historic knowledge as well as the gear you own proves your passion for hi-fi. Can you imagine if there was a real club and you had to pass the Harman listening software test, the one they use to determine if someone really has a golden ear? It would be a darned small club.
None of this is familiar to me. Maybe it is different where I am.
 

JeffS7444

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For sheer "wow" factor, a gold Nakamichi 1000 cassette desk in glossy wood cabinet ranks pretty high in my book.
 

pozz

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I disagree.
A car may be a bit of a thing to pose in which lots of people see.
A HiFi is a bit of fun to have at home and is a self satisfaction thing. I admit I buy electronics for looks and functionality but until the internet forums nobody knew what hifi I had, so zero posing and zero showing off.
I think @Sawdust123 's point is more about the social relationship between all the industry participants, including consumers, and the kinds of decision-making attitudes it produces.

It's fairly simple to insist that certain participants be honest about what they're selling: looks and status. There's no reason to suggest or confuse the link with performance by insisting on geometries, materials selection, damping, bracing, grounding and so on. At audio shows especially performance is somehow bound up in looks and the status, as if the best gear will have all attributes: best performance, best looks, and of course belongs to the best people (who incidentally have the most money)...

There was a link in old gear between the way it looked overall and its function. These days, with the functional pieces shrinking and modular, the gear can look like anything, really. The car analogy holds. There used to be a reason for the location of the trunk vs. that of the engine and the seating compartment. Tesla's skateboard of an engine shows that there's no need, really, for the sedan or any other well-known shape.

I don't see why a company would be unsuccessful if they began selling products whose guts are outsourced to known, reputable company, and whose exterior is the main selling point. It would help disambiguate everyone's intentions and assertions.
 

MattHooper

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I find the audiophile and automotive enthusiasts have a similar type of vanity. One lusts after products due to their looks and/or price. One justifies purchases by highlighting some arbitrary performance attribute that is nearly meaningless in everyday use. The real reason to buy the product is to become a part of the exclusive "owners" club and the envy of those who are still looking to join. The super car companies are very aware that they are selling this type of exclusivity and that their "performance" will rarely get used. The problem I find with many audiophile companies is that don't understand why people buy their products so the invent quasi-scientific sounding performance attributes instead. This can be infuriating. I wish they would just simply sell their products for what they are; beautiful and functional art forms.

I disagree.

I don't find that to be an accurate depiction of my psychology, of any audiophile I know, or of the attitude I've seen from countless audiophiles on line more generally.

First of all, yes the cool factor of a piece of gear certainly does induce "gear lust" in many audiophiles. But I've also lost count of the amount of audiophiles who value sound over looks (and boy, their set-ups tell that tale, IMO). Most audiophiles are motivated by changing/upgrading their sound in some way. What you seem to be dismissing as "arbitrary/meaningless" performance differences are, to the mind of many audiophiles, SIGNIFICANT and motivating differences. (The fact that tiny sonic differences can have subjectively impactful consequences for a listener can be seen in any number of examples. A very slight upper frequency emphasis can drive one audiophile nuts, where it pleases or goes unnoticed by another. Even people here will discuss their like or dislike of sonic phenomena in gear, especially speakers, which to the non-audiophile seem inconsequential).

I recently purchased among the most beautiful looking speakers I've encountered. They truly are in the audio jewlery category of fit, finish and style IMO. And I love that aspect. But, was THAT my motivating factor for purchasing? No. There are plenty of great looking speakers I have not decided to purchase, because the main criteria driving the decision was the sound quality. There are plenty of truly excellent speakers at the price point of the ones I bought, but it was some subtle, but very important-to-me sonic characteristics that kept me coming back to this particular speaker.

Gear aesthetics, in particular speakers, ARE very important to me. As they are for a number (but not all) of audiophiles. But there is fortunately a nice range of good looking gear to choose from, in which I can narrow down my choice based on the sound I like, which remains the driving factor. And it's not "ego-boosting." Cripes, if anything I'm embarrassed by how much I spend on my system! The last question I want anyone to ask me is "how much did that cost?" Do I enjoy sharing the experience of listening to my system? You bet. But jeeze...I wouldn't desparage such a social desire as mere "vanity." And I believe that the stance I've outlined for myself here is shared by many audiophiles. Certainly all that I know personally.
 

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MattHooper

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This video is aimed at car audio. But I still think it paints a pretty relevant picture. You two obviously belong in the connoisseur end of the scale, but are you saying that exhibitionists doesn't exist in the world of home audio?

Sure it does, as in any hobby.

The question is how prevelant is this motivation? I do not find it to be prevalent.

But the OP seemed to be making a more sweeping generalization, implying that it was a significant, prevalent attitude among audiophiles.

The prevalent motivation I see is one of audio enthusiasts chasing audio performance - that is chasing their own personal audio goals vs "I want to buy this to impress other people."

Sure some set ups are pretty blingy, and sure many of us like to share our systems and take pleasure in the fact other people enjoy the experience.
But I think it's too cynical to paint that as mere shallow form of vanity.

Note that this is another case of someone making claims about the psychology of people. And it's often the case, it's a claim about the psychology of why other people are "doing things/buying things I wouldn't buy." That type of psychoanalyzing is fraught, because we tend to impute to others shallower or less reasonable motivations than we impute to ourselves. (Or, alternatively, we may have our own motivations we impute to others).

Note that when psychoanlayzing why other audiophiles do things people here look down upon, it's "the other guy" who is always has the dubious motivations, not "me."
 
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Killingbeans

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I imagine the other far end of the scale as nouveau riche people with more money than brains and no real interest in the workings of audio reproduction. Might be an ill conceived stereotype (no pun intended)... don't know.

I really can't understand why anybody would buy a high gloss polished billet aluminium monstrosity of an amp with enough blue LEDs to light up a small village, if the person didn't have a great deal of peacock DNA in them.
 

pozz

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The psychological part is just an example. The point is the ambiguous link between aesthetics and performance that many on the sell side use to convince many on the buy side to seal the deal and buy. "Trust me: it's so well made it's beautiful."

Buy all the beautiful stuff you want. There's been more than one thread about wanting something for the way it looks or what it reminds you of. What would be good is if you could actually buy that stuff without having to think about performance at all, because what you're buying is the work put into the aesthetics, and the performance is guaranteed good. Instead what you have is some mash of reasoning that links rare dense wood to sound quality, or silver solder in a silver enclosure to brightness and liveliness, or that good enclosure work is a sign of excellent innards, or some such thing.
 
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