Balancing Your AV System Plan Between Blue-Chip and Consumable AV Components

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Balancing Your AV System Plan Between Blue-Chip and Consumable AV Components


blue-chip.jpgIn the old days you used to be able to buy into a blue-chip audiophile product and know that your investment was safe. In many ways that is still the case today if you stick with the tried and true brands and their top product offerings. However with the proliferation of affordable home theater products that act more like computers than analog audio devices, there is a sea change underway with regards to the value of AV products. A basic PC (think: Dell, Gateway, HP etc.) is basically worthless after only a few years, yet enthusiast expectations for an AV preamp, HDMI receiver or disc player tend to be different, especially when the price tag is higher than what you'd expect to pay for just your basic product.

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All home theater products have a finite lifespan and with convergence in full swing, that lifespan is getting shorter and shorter. Landmark, high-end, AV products with decades long upgrade paths like the Meridian 861 AV preamp are the exception - not the rule - and consumers are starting to catch on and spend accordingly. There is no question you can get that Nth degree of performance from high-end products; however many AV enthusiasts are asking themselves what kind of value will be retained after owning such a product.

For example, if you buy an amplifier that cost $2,000 and keep it for 10 years and then sell it on Audiogon for $500 when it's time to upgrade, that amp essentially cost you $150 a year to own - not necessarily a bad deal. A $100 HDMI cable that lasts the same amount of time cost you $10 per year- also not a bad deal. However a $50,000 power amp that routinely sells for $30,000 on the used market within days of its original purchase may not be perceived as such a value. Not all audiophile values drop like a stone, yet it's easy to get suckered into buying a B or C-list product because it happens to be the "Product of the Month" in an audiophile mag, which oddly enough is how a lot of audiophiles get creamed financially. Ask yourself, "How many people out there are looking to buy the XYZ123 high end product that I am considering now and down the road?" "How many dealers does this brand have domestically?" "Do they advertise to create brand equity?" "How do these products sell on eBay and Audiogon?" These are key questions to ask and maybe even have answered before making any large investment in your AV system.

Things get even more dicey when you look at video or home theater components, for a $5,000 top-of-the-line plasma could likely be worth $500 or less in five years, thus forcing one to look at it not as an investment but as a consumable. Is a top performing HDTV worth $900 per year to you and your family? It very well could be depending on how much time you spend watching TV, but there is always the risk that the set could break a few years into ownership, which could send your bet on a product like an HDTV into peril. This also brings up the question of should you buy an extended warranty? On one side of the equation you can say "I am looking for five years of performance on this HDTV so I will hedge my bet with a warranty." Depending on the cost of the warranty versus the cost of the product you will ultimately make the decision of whether or not to buy, the insurance is worth it. If you are looking at a $799 50-inch HDTV and the warranty is $299, the manufacturer or dealer is asking for a large percentage of your purchase price to cover your risk over the lifespan of a product. But if the display is a larger, more high end, HDTV that is priced at $1,995 with a $299 extended warranty, the hedge on your risk seems better in your favor. The cost of both the product and the warranty need to be considered carefully when it comes time to make your next home theater purchase.

AV preamps are one type of component that has drawn the ire of many AV enthusiasts recently. Respectfully, HDMI has been a poorly executed technology that has been forced down the throats of both consumers and AV manufacturers alike. Early HDMI-anything didn't work very well with widespread "handshake" connectivity issues. In turn, those behind HDMI spawned version after version (HDMI 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3b, 1.4), thus rendering once state-of-the-art AV preamps and receivers somewhat obsolete, for they soon found themselves lacking "key features" needed to fully enjoy the latest formats. HDMI's constant changes and multiple iterations caused many AV preamps and receivers to drop dramatically in value. For some high-end AV manufacturers trying to stay relevant in the home theater business, it just made offering an affordable AV preamp downright impossible.

Some creative-thinking audiophiles have started to configure their systems and AV investments around high performance, blue-chip products including but not limited to audiophile speakers, stereo preamps, stereo amps, top performing cables and video screens while spending less on more "disposable" products like universal players, media servers, AV preamp/receivers and video products. The likelihood that a well-respected $10,000 audiophile amp is going to be worth $500 in five years is very slim. The possibility that a $10,000 video display will be damn near worthless in five years is far more likely.

As enthusiasts, each of us needs to weigh the moves we make as we upgrade our systems en route to audio and video nirvana. The high end has a lot to offer but taking a beating on a big-ticket product is hard for many of us to swallow. Buying blue-chip products, especially from manufactures with impeccable reputations for building and supporting all their products over long periods of time is one way to hedge your audiophile bet. Designing your system around both disposable, short-term products as well as longer-term anchor products allows you to manage your system's value more evenly. Value is the driving force in the market today and with a proper system plan you can have the best of both worlds when it comes to value and high end performance - if you play your cards right.

Additional Resources
• Read more original content in our Feature News Stories section.
• See similar stories in our Industry Trade News section.
• Explore reviews for Amplifiers, AV Preamps, AV Receivers, and Blu-ray Players.

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