As a publisher, the world of social networking has opened me up to all sorts of people that I haven't heard from (or ever heard of), from places like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Forums and beyond. Many of these people are loyal HomeTheaterReview.com readers and the more I hear from them - they are getting pretty agitated about really expensive audio and video gear.
They've been burned by HD DVD, SACD, DVD-Audio, HDMI and some of them even start talking about Beta. They've bought AV preamps for $5,000, which become worth less than $500 in five years. They've bought projectors for $9,000, which do not have the latest HDMI connection or internal video processing thus rendering them worth a tiny fraction of the original retail price. Without question these enthusiastic readers spend money on audio and video (as well as inspire others they know to do the same) but with housing values down in ways that few of us could have ever predicted - today's new luxury in the world of home theater and high end audio is value. As HomeTheaterReview.com's editor, Andrew Robinson says, "$2,000 is the new $20,000!"
Consumers who are actually buying audio video products today are demanding many more features for less money. Companies like Lexicon have dumped their trade-up program leaving their clients exposed and angry. Other companies have made their entry level AV products priced at $10,000 plus per component. Yes, they are "blue chip" but only a tiny fraction of people can play in this millionaire's playground and it's pissing off the people who really love home theater the most. Today's more value oriented customer doesn't really care if a product is made by $1.50 per hour laborers in Malaysia if the end product is high quality and affordable. It's not that people don't want to "buy American" - it's more that they aren't willing to overpay for manufacturing inefficiencies that run the price of products through the roof. And who can blame them?
Affordable brands are gaining specialty audio video market share like never before. Oppo Digital is a perfect example as their affordable disc player can play every silver disc not called an HD DVD with fantastic results. At the same time - companies trying to add very high profit margins (think: Lexicon BD30 Blu-ray player with the Oppo inside) get the ire from home theater enthusiasts when little is changed from a $499 player en route to a $3,000 disc player.
Value also comes in the high end too but in these economic times it often can be hard to convince a reader of that. For example, Krell's $18,000 Evolution 402 stereo power amp is without question expensive but the amp can go head to head with $50,000 power amps and beat them like a rented mule. The Audio Research's REF 5 tube preamp is as good as any audiophile preamp sonically that you will ever find and with resale values at 70 to 80 percent of retail price - your investment tends to be safer with ARC than many other less "blue chip" audiophile brands where it isn't uncommon to see someone lose 50 to 75 percent of the retail value of the product in the first year of ownership.
Value is different for every kind of consumer. Balvenie 21 Port Wood single malt scotch at $200 per bottle could easily win a taste test over Macallan 25 at $700 per bottle. Some people think the Hyundai Genesis gives a Mercedes S-Class or a BMW 7-Series a run for the money at a fraction of the price. Anybody who has ever chartered a small Lear jet like the Lear 35 knows that a one-hour trip can cost around $6,000 to $8,000 round trip. Chartering on an Embraer Phenom 100 "very light jet" with new, gas-sipping engines can cut that cost in half and get you there faster with more style and with more comfort.
Luxury and value are to be sought after at all levels of the market. What I tell many of our readers is that we are always seeking high value products for review at HomeTheaterReview.com - perhaps more so today than ever before. At the same time, it's also fun to read reviews of Wilson Audio Sasha WP speakers or Audio Research 40th Anniversary Preamps or 70 inch Sharp LED HDTVs - even if we have no intention of buying them. (Publisher's note: all of these reviews are coming as are a host of more affordable product reviews including Samsung's edge-less LED, more Oppo Players, Noble Fidelity in-walls, Episode Speakers and dozens more). Part of the fun of being a home theater enthusiast or an audiophile is the dream of owning the gear and much like the $1 investment in a Powerball ticket - the real value for most of us is in the dream. The reality is also important just as Road and Track with a Ferrari 456 Itlaia on the cover - it also has a VW GTI and Subaru WRX shoot out inside. We get that balance just like our readers do.