Thursday, October 26, 2017

Stereophile Recommended Components List

I started reading S'phile in the mid-1990s, and have stayed with it over the years. Its combination of technical coverage, decent writers (Art Dudley, particularly), new music, and sheer commitment to the sonic arts make it an easy choice each time renewal rolled around.  I also happen to like magazines as a medium and S'phile has always been well-presented. I know the nay-sayers, and sense there's a lot of hate and suspicion out there on the forums for all audio mags, but I feel I get my money's worth.

The regular recommended components list alway gets my attention, and in the early days of my subscription I thought I'd  never get much beyond the Class C category as Class A was just too damn expensive. Well, I've grown older and the 'A' gear still seems a little out of reach, but I don't care anymore as I am not convinced there are huge sonic differences between components that warrant such sums of investment anyway.  And yes, I have heard a lot of it - am sure the differences I do hear might even be less if heard blind, but best not go down that path with audiophiles lest they contort themselves unhealthily in denial.   All that said, I've noticed over the years a huge variability in prices within categories, to the point that I play a little game every time a new list is produced. That is, can one still assemble a Class A set of components for 1/10th the price of another set?

The answer, as usual seems to be yes.  In fact, so robust is this conclusion, that I'd invite interested folks to peruse past lists and play the same game for any time period. It's fun, safe, and you can do it in the privacy of your own home!

So let's see what we have in the latest, Oct 2017 listing. Now leaving aside the silly school grade inflation of Class A+ being distinct from Class A for some component categories (instead of Class A being consistently true to the magazine's own definition of it as the "best attainable sound for a component of its kind"), you can find the same 10:1 (approx) range in pricing across all categories of component.

Take turntables. The highest priced Class A table is the Dohmann Helix 1 at $40k. The lowest is the PTP Solid12 at (currency adjusted) $3200 plus shipping.  Fancy a Class A tonearm? Try the Acoustic Signature TA-9000 at $18k, or the Abis SA1.2 at $1800...and so it goes.  Need a preamp? The Boulder 2110 is recommended class A at $55k but if that's too rich, the Parasound Halo JC2 will only set you back $5k for Class A performance -- what a bargain!  And there's more, the Parasound guys can give you class A monoblocks at $9k a pair which is proportionally about one tenth of what a pair from, yes, you guessed it, Boulder will set you back, with their 2150 monos going for $99k a pair.

Yes, it's fun....spend half a million for the best of the best...or don't...get the best of the best for $50k.. So what does that extra $450,000 actually get you if not better performance?  Normal folks with roll their eyes but you can point to the mag and show how you're a connoisseur of audio, and a savvy purchaser too. Now that's what I call good value.

I know, you cannot assume components play well together, and S'phile never intended this to be a basis for system building but come on...people love rankings and use them to determine everything from college attendance to cars.  It is still the case that these regular issues sell more than any others during the year? Surely so.


Anonymous said...

Stereopile and it's Editor in Cheap, Mr. Asskissin' make me hurl.

They and their ilk put the fraud in frAudiophile. Why advertisers stay with and suck up to them is beyond reason.

PatrickD said...

Ah, like I said, S'phile does seem to draw the ire of some folks.

Anonymous said...

Stereophile is a voice of reason and rationality compared to its main (only?) competitor

Anonymous said...

Stereopile draws the ire (and justly so) of those that think for themselves versus those that don't think at all. People to whom subjectivity is a small part of their audio experience and most often reserved for visual aesthetics and musical preference much prefer the opinions of non-sycophants and lemmings, both of which work at and are drawn to Stereopile.

Save perhaps the exception of speakers, equipment should not possess a "sound" of its own. Rather it should simply convey the sound as it was recorded. Stereopile is all about listening to the equipment in a rather anal retentive manner. I don't listen to equipment, I listen to music.

And that's why I will never subscribe to, purchase or even for free, read Stereopile.

Unknown said...

either way, normal folks "will" roll their eyes…

Greg F said...

All this angst and ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ attitude is exactly why I read Stereophile and avoid the forum gang bangs.

PatrickD said...

Thanks Greg -- spot on, but then, I do find some of those gang bangs to be entertaining in small doses.