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How much should I spend?

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  • How much should I spend?

    I've been reading through the latest threads regarding amplifiers, and I really appreciate how Alan has broken common questions down with very simple answers.

    My question is this, what guidelines would you use for how much you spend on an amplifier? The same amount you are willing to spend on speakers? As little as possible? Would love to hear input.

  • #2
    How much to spend?

    Originally posted by Gascho View Post
    I've been reading through the latest threads regarding amplifiers, and I really appreciate how Alan has broken common questions down with very simple answers.

    My question is this, what guidelines would you use for how much you spend on an amplifier? The same amount you are willing to spend on speakers? As little as possible? Would love to hear input.
    I just happened to look in and maybe I could venture a first response?

    I'd draw this comparison. When the time comes to replace your car, how much do you fret and fuss? What's first in your mind? Image - how you'll look being seen on around and about on the road? What the neighbours will think? Do you agonise over colums of performance numbers (some of which have perhaps been faked as we've read) in WhichWhatMotaJon? Do you read the forums of existing users and long to join them? Nothing wrong of course with any of those strategies. Or do you do what I did recently: had a figure in mind of how much I wanted to spend, mileage and history (I never buy new: another mug can take the depriciation hit for me/you), the rough colour, took it for a spin and the deal was concluded in an hour? I didn't look at forums, I didn't read LoverleeMotaMonthlee, I didn't ask anyone - I couldn't care less. It's not important to me. It's a tool.

    What I did do is put the lump in proper perspective - a depreciating asset from the moment the ink dried - and that its basic function - no its sole function - is to convey me from A to B as safely and inexpensively as possible. What I have learned over the years is that it just might, for a modern (German) car of some complexity, pay to have it looked after by a main dealer under a service plan, and in that respect it's no different from buying quality audio from a real, physical bricks and mortar specialist dealer. If you buy audio gear on the internet you take the same sort of chance - perhaps worse - as buying a fancy car stuffed with dozens of motors, computers and technology just begging to go expensively wrong, and with nobody to turn to for after care.

    Could I have bought an alternative car for less cash? Definitely. Something with wheels that met the basic criteria of getting safely from A to B I suppose with similar very low mileage and perfect order could have been bought from another brand for a less - perhaps 40% less. I uncharacteristically didn't waste the $3 on CarPriceGuide because if a main dealer is so irresponsible that he over-prices his stock, HQ would be on his case pretty smartly. Price was not the driving factor. Was the 40% worth it? I think it was. This is the finest car I've ever owned, and I recently counted-up that I'd driven over 30 cars (average each one 18 months use) in my time. So here I have this fine lump that I've paid more than I absolutely needed for. And I'm delighted with my investment.

    The difference is, of course, that I put after-care first. I bought from a brand that has sold me three previous models (some years ago) and is likely to be around in another 100 years. That gives me the greatest comfort. So why not apply the same logic and put out of your mind all that specification nonsense and go for something that you like the look of, the colour of, the power output of and is comfortably in your price bracket. Convince yourself that the makers are in it for the long run, the beast is not stuffed full of already virtually obsolete fancy parts, and that your dealer can warrant it and look after you.

    Then enjoy the music.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

    Comment


    • #3
      Certain essential features

      I really appreciate you responding so promptly. As I read your comment, it occurred to me that how I purchased my car is exactly how I purchased my amp. Where and how it is made is important to me, certain features are a must, and I'm willing to spend a bit more if it's exactly what I want. That, and always play within my limits. Edit: It's important to differentiate between needs and wants. I don't need heated seats but I'm very happy to pay for them.

      I'm quite frugal at heart, so quality and longevity are key, but never luxury. I think that's an excellent summation without having to give an actual number which will be different for most people.

      Comment


      • #4
        Caution

        Originally posted by Gascho View Post
        I really appreciate you responding so promptly. As I read your comment, it occurred to me that how I purchased my car is exactly how I purchased my amp. Where and how it is made is important to me, certain features are a must, and I'm willing to spend a bit more if it's exactly what I want. That, and always play within my limits.

        I'm quite frugal at heart, so quality and longevity are key, but never luxury. I think that's an excellent summation without having to give an actual number which will be different for most people.
        You'd have to go a long way to be more financially cautious than me. When I got into audio in my early teens, my hobby was financed solely from my pocket money, performing little errands and so on. I sought out, and still do, the absolute best value for money - real value - not marketing BS. That attitude of not minding spending money if it yields real, tangible value is at the core of my ethos, and Harbeth's.

        The problem you consumers have is that it is impossible for you to separate out the marketing tease from the technical capabilities and even financial stability of a supplier. You just have to make a little effort to sniff around the options, constantly asking yourself, 'if I hand over my hard earned cash to these people can I be certain that they will be around in a year or two just as my new acquisition starts to play up'. Just to add to the complexity of your options, many suppliers in the high-end audio scene are in a perilous financial situation because there are far too many of them and far too few customers willing to pay top money. The shake-out is long overdue. Now is not a time, in my opinion, to invest in advanced technology products made by micro-businesses unless they have the wits to integrate themselves into our organisation.
        Alan A. Shaw
        Designer, owner
        Harbeth Audio UK

        Comment


        • #5
          Cheapest watts

          I drive a mid size 18 year old French car that was given to me by my father when he was no longer allowed to drive. It is maintained by a generic garage because it is their business to keep such cars on the road for not too much expense, rather than tell you to get a new one. It has always been outdoors and there is still not a spot of rust on it. It gets a good and complete service once a year, and that is it. No serious issues at all thus far. It is big enough for the family holiday, and fast and comfortable enough to blaze to Switzerland or Italy along the Autobahn.

          By and large I try to buy things for the long haul, and not look back once I have them. So I still have my old (but now refurbished) Quad 303 from 1971. I only just replaced it by a refurbished Q606-2, having learned from Alan that ample amplifier power is a good thing (and it proved to be). My view is that electronics are not worth fretting too much about. In fact if you do, you may well end up with an expensive but flawed design by some snake oil seller.

          Spend your time and money choosing the best speakers you can find and can afford, given the room they will be playing in, figure out what facilities and how much power you need, and then look for the cheapest watts from a reliable manufacturer.

          Comment


          • #6
            After-care

            An emphasis on after care is very wise.

            My wife and I bought a VW TDI last year with the intent of driving it into the ground. Despite all of the negative press currently, I still suspect we will be driving our car happy and safely for the next 10-15 years. It's certainly worth the premium in my mind.

            When it comes to electronics I don't know if any company is safe these days, maybe Apple will build a digital amplifier and it will all be over.

            Comment


            • #7
              Supply continuity

              Originally posted by Gascho View Post
              An emphasis on after care is very wise.

              My wife and I bought a VW TDI last year with the intent of driving it into the ground. Despite all of the negative press currently, I still suspect we will be driving our car happy and safely for the next 10-15 years. It's certainly worth the premium in my mind.

              When it comes to electronics I don't know if any company is safe these days, maybe Apple will build a digital amplifier and it will all be over.
              If they do, they're unlikely to have my recommendation for one primary reason: complexity and restricted service arrangements.

              As Willem noted, QUAD amps, even those made 30+ years ago, were built from standard electrical catalogue parts from suppliers that specialised in selling simple basic components to schools, universities and small businesses. The beauty of such is that those simple components are still available, and are likely to remain available for generations of engineers to come.

              Contract that with exotic bits and bobs that have a design shelf life of a year or two and are completely obsolescent after five to ten years from which our modern home entertainment products are built. The deadly cocktail is of a financially under-resourced 'man in shed' with ambitions building an advanced electronic product using rare and exotic parts in insufficient quantities to be able to negotiate supply-continuity arrangements with his suppliers. The big IC (chip) makers don't get out of bed for quantities counted in less than millions (I know, I used to work in that industry) and no amount of pleading from a man in a shed is going to have the slightest impact on their willingness to keep the production line running for a day longer than there is a viable market for the part.

              In my view, simpler is better, and if you can make a passive preamp do the work, you've cut the complexity and risk hugely. For reasons of simplicity and longevity, we absolutely will not use exotic components in our speakers - excepting the RADIAL cones which we make and control ourselves - and for that reason, there are plenty of 25+ year old Harbeth speakers still working in peoples audio systems. And certainly no dubious 'USSR Military grade' bits and bobs that are promoted for their exclusivity when in fact they may well be churned out by disinterested slaves for peanuts.
              Alan A. Shaw
              Designer, owner
              Harbeth Audio UK

              Comment


              • #8
                Spend on speakers

                At the source side we cannot avoid the modern technologies like (UHD) Bluray, streaming, digital connectivities etc. Here technologies move fast, and standards and their implementations are obsolescent before you know. So inevitably units in this part of the chain are disposables. Fortunately, they can also be very cheap, with the new Chromecast as the ultimate example.

                A volume control (a term I prefer to using 'passive pre amp' for a unit that does not amplify) can be dirt cheap, and will last for decades. Power amps do not need to be particularly expensive and should last a long time. Apparently even their only deteriorating parts, the big capacitors, are now also much better than they used to be.

                Recapping a power amp after perhaps 20 years will remain an economical option, extending a power amp's life by another 20 years. And if the power amp does fail for some reason a replacement does not need to cost a fortune either. So spend the money on the speakers: I can think of many systems where the electronics do not cost more than a quarter of the total system price (or less), with the rest indeed spent on speakers.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Spending priorities

                  Gaucho, it seems that the simple answer to your question is that a Quad 405, 606 or 909 will probably see you out. In the UK/Europe you are looking 500/€700 for a serviced 909 Stereo amp. After-sales service is second to none and cheap in hifi terms - I purchased a 909 online, it was sent direct to Quad, and a full service, re-cap, new box and delivery was 128. I use it on P3ESR.

                  I have used a cheaper solid state amp (built in to an all-in-one unit), 30wpc, it was insufficient for the P3ESR. The best advice is to email Rob Flain, who runs the service department in the UK. He will advise on the service and supply of 120V units.

                  Alan's response raises some more philosophical issues. There are some people who gladly pay $10,000 or $50,000 for an amplifier because, to quote Anthony Quinn, "it pleases" to sit and look at it and show it to their friends as much as listen to the music it can produce. After-care is vital. The UK is littered with small, financially weak or insolvent audio companies. Will they be around next year? For the financially literate, UK accounts can now be obtained for free from from the UK government.

                  From painful recent personal experience, computer audio appears to have a much shorter shelf-life than speakers, amps and CD machines. 3 years, I would suggest, although a DAC should last as long as the digital input connections remain up-to-date. I go with Willem - treat digital items as computer consumables and pay accordingly.

                  You can get caught out. I mentioned to AS the camera company Leica, a global hi-quality business now over 100 years old. In 2009 they introduced their new main consumer range (the M9 series) with the key component, the sensor, supplied by a third-party, Kodak, who then went bust. It then transpired the sensor was faulty (it corroded). It's a long tragic story that severely damaged the brand and would have killed most companies. (Some customers were forced to pay $3,000 for a repair - now refunded - the company spent 3 years developing their own replacement part.) So it is worth considering whether the unit is all supplier manufactured, oem etc.

                  I have bought more second hand (usually dealer ex-dem) than new. The second hand market is a very good quality indicator, in that current models rarely come to market and usually sell close to retail price. Harbeth is probably the prime example, and the rare items I've seen listed are people selling one Harbeth speaker having purchased another Harbeth speaker.

                  Some people are naturally frugal. I'm not, probably because my dad was and it drove my mum mad (we are all scarred by our childhoods). That said, on principle I do not understand spending money on cars, clothes and cigarettes. We all have our priorities. The wife and I went to a fabulous performance of Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet at Covent Garden last night. The tickets cost more than I have spent on clothes in the last year. We go to several shows each week (across the arts) and some might think what we spend on tickets to be excessive. It's a free world.

                  My suggestion would be that if you like audio as physical works of art, set a budget, buy a Quad or similar price/quality amp and then go to a gallery and spend the rest on a sculpture by a struggling artist. There is no doubt that if you spent your budget on an amp it will rapidly deflate, whereas the sculpture will both give you pleasure and hopefully increase in value.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Spending

                    Originally posted by ssfas View Post
                    ...Alan's response raises some more philosophical issues. There are some people who gladly pay $10,000 or $50,000 for an amplifier because, to quote Anthony Quinn, "it pleases them" to sit and look at it and show it to their friends as much as listen to the music it can produce. After-care is vital. The UK is littered with small, financially weak or insolvent audio companies. Will they be around next year? For the financially literate, UK accounts can now be obtained for free from from the UK government.

                    Some people are naturally frugal. I'm not, probably because my dad was and it drove my mum mad (we are all scarred by our childhoods). That said, on principle I do not understand spending money on cars, clothes and cigarettes. We all have our priorities. The wife and I went to a fabulous performance of Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet at Covent Garden last night. The tickets cost more than I have spent on clothes in the last year. We go to several shows each week (across the arts) and some might think what we spend on tickets to be excessive. It's a free world....
                    Indeed it is, and the Arts desperately needs patrons like you. Keep investing!

                    There is a world of difference between stingy miserliness and being careful with hard-earned resources. I am not interested in audio equipment as a substitute for artisan patronage: it's necessary physical hardware to get the sound to my ears, and not something I could ever fall in love with. That department in my life is fully sated and the miserable, relentless and ruinous audio-upgrade hamster wheel others can easily slip into is fuelled by the mistaken belief that lumps of tin, plastic and wood are a meaningful substitute for physical interaction with other humans. They are not, no matter how many $$$ are blown on them.

                    In my book the driving motivators to a successful hi-fi system are expectations of longevity (folk don't mind paying more providing the investment seen in the long term is truly great value for money) and the actual technical core. Bling adds no value whatever to me. In fact, I don't actually like the styling of my car, much preferring the softer lines of the previous model, which ideally distances me from becoming seduced by the depreciating lump.

                    Oh, that reminds me as I zip up my case to head off to Barcelona.... I was visited by a pro-audio manufacturer recently, with ambitions to enter the audiophile market for commercial gain. Upon probing his product, with a retail price tag of $12,000, he reluctantly admitted that the price was arrived at 'because everyone knows audiophiles have no concept of value for money and splash cash willy-nilly' and that 'in truth, the circuit board inside is identical to the pro version in a plain Jane 1U rack case which costs just $2500'. The difference, and only difference, is that he 'deliberately made the audiophile version as big and heavy with as much shiny milled aluminium as possible because that suckers audiophiles...'. Apparently no other marketing research had been undertaken other than skimming through the nice, perfectly lit photos in BlingItOnHiFiMonthly from which it was observed that there was a perfect correlation between styling, price and review accolades.

                    My advice, based on a few raised eyebrows from a couple of attendees at the KJ launch recently, where I was (practically) heckled at the perceived price mismatch between the electronics and the speakers, was 'cut the price and you might stand a chance'.

                    What a state for a technical industry to find itself in!
                    Alan A. Shaw
                    Designer, owner
                    Harbeth Audio UK

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Bling, but live bling

                      Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                      Indeed it is, and the Arts desperately needs patrons like you. Keep investing!
                      Opera and ballet is often about bling - in that it is often intended to be a wonderful and spectacular visual spectacle. Live feeds to cinemas are a great idea. My local cinema does live feeds from the Met, New York.

                      Last night was bling on steroids, incredible costumes and sets. I recall my wife's university thesis was about costume design at Ballet Russes - Natalia Goncharova, Leon Bakst, Sonia Delaunay etc. I remember seeing a Firebird with Goncharova's designs faithfully reproduced.

                      Spend less on hifi and more on live performance, it is much more rewarding and without those performers we would have nothing to listen to and watch at home.

                      I hope you get to see a bit of Barcelona. The great Catalan musician, Jordi Savall, is performing in London on 13 December. Can't wait for that.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Tarted teases

                        If I may offer a bit of advice. When buying a used car I have asked my mechanic (who I have developed a close relationship with) about specific models and long term serviceability and reliability. He knows them inside out and can offer me objective information on design, reliability and cost of ownership.

                        Same is true for electronics. I have asked the technician who repairs these things day in and day out for advice and he says what Alan has said is absolutely true. Many of these uber expensive electronics are little more than basic stuff with lots of added bling on the outside. And at worst many of them are tweaked out designs that offer less stability, reliability and serviceability.

                        In my own case I chose to just get a basic $300 Yamaha with enough power and features I want that should be easily serviceable down the road. But if it dies in 5-10 years and can't be fixed no big deal. I am not out a lot of money. And it performs great.

                        And the last bit of advice is if any of you have an opportunity to see Jordi Savall perform do not miss the opportunity!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Priorities

                          I have actually bought an amp already that I'm very happy with, it was about the same price as my C7ES3s. It's more than I thought I would spend until I started tallying up different components that I would need for my complete system and finally realized that a single unit was actually cheaper. I do worry whether they will still be around in 10 years, and I would rather have a second set of Harbeth's and cheaper amp but.. here we are.

                          I think I will stick with my choice and simply enjoy the music now. My next project is building a home, really no time to worry about electronics for awhile!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Keep at it

                            True. We all have what we have. Building a house will keep you busy (been there).

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Heavenly voices

                              Originally posted by grandwazoo View Post
                              And the last bit of advice is if any of you have an opportunity to see Jordi Savall perform do not miss the opportunity!
                              Savall's wife, Montserrat Figueras, sadly recently deceased, had the most heavenly voice ever.
                              I took a couple of tracks from this (below) to the London M40.2 demo, but they could not get an 18,000 digital player to play from a usb stick.
                              http://www.allmusic.com/album/montev...i-mw0001367753

                              The Savall Hesperion XXI programme is here.
                              https://wigmore-hall.org.uk/whats-on...l-201512131930
                              He's thrown in some English music for the locals, which is rather nice of him.
                              It sold out months ago. I'm double-booked that evening with a charity supper quiz. Not a difficult choice.

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