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"Diminishing Returns" and the Price-to-Performance Ratio of High-End Gear

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by TronII, Apr 28, 2019.
  1. TronII
    A Youtube channel called "Tek Syndicate" made a video back in 2014 debunking audio myths and mentioned amps and headphones in the second part; they said that the point of diminishing returns for an amp is $300 and for headphones that it is $500. However, this was 5 years ago, and both amps and headphones have gotten significantly better in their price to performance ratios {eg: the Schiit Magni for $100 and the Sennheiser HD6XX for $220 on Massdrop}. (Although, the reduced price of the HD6XX compared to the HD650 seemed to have no effect on the rest of the headphone industry, and amp price has become practically irrelevant in terms of audio performance.) Regardless, what would you say is the point of diminishing returns on headphones, presently? At what point should I bite the bullet and go directly from headphones to speakers of equal or greater price?
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2019
  2. castleofargh Contributor
    those were arbitrary numbers then, and any given number now would be the same.
    even if someone dedicated his time to measure a ****load of gears and try to correlate various fidelity variables with price, we'd still have the issue of first deciding what those variables should be, the relative importance of one over the other, and of course decide on a value over which we'd consider improvement unworthy of the expense(if money actually correlates with those specs!!!!!! it's the audiophile world we're talking about here).
    even when we set limits like audibility that should be pretty clear cut, you notice or you don't, the thresholds will in fact change(at least a little) depending on the testing methods considered and maybe the people tested. so if even something like audibility requires some form of arbitrary decision, you can imagine the mess and vast amount of subjectivity involved in deciding the worth of a product and the idea of diminishing return. IMO, you decide such things for yourself and that's about it.
    TronII likes this.
  3. bigshot
    It depends on the amp. If you need power to push a multichannel speaker system, you would probably need to spend a bit more than $300. If you just need a headphone amp, I don't see why you would need to spend more than $100 unless there are specific features you need that cost more. A $75 Cmoy would do the trick perfectly for most people's purposes.

    As for headphones, I would agree that $500 is as much as you would ever really need to spend, but I would add the caveat that you might need to EQ to hit the exact response you are looking for. More expensive cans tend to have tighter manufacturing tolerances, so there isn't as much sample variation. When you buy a high end set of cans, you know exactly what you're getting. That may not be the case with midrange ones. But if you use EQ, you can probably apply a correction that makes even midrange headphones sound about as good as high end ones.

    In general though I think people spend WAY too much on home audio electronics, chasing abstract specs that are just inaudible numbers on a sheet of paper. They would do better working with EQ and other forms of signal processing and spend the money they save on music.

    I think if you were smart and planned out your system carefully, you could achieve great sound quality for much less than $800. Cost isn't the limiting factor. Putting together a smart efficient system is the trick. But there's no one size fits all for that, because different people have different requirements of an audio system.
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2019
    TronII likes this.
  4. ev13wt
    Reality is, that anything above 200 bucks (2 channel dac/amp AND headphone) is getting ... into that territory.
    When a gap in perceived supply exists, products (high priced) will fill that void.

    The last 50 years have done "nothing" for speaker design. Computers have accelerated production, because things can be simulated much better (response, enclosures, filters)
    The last 10 years have only added zeros to the products.

    Anyone that sees a headphone for 120 bucks these days will automagically be triggered subconsciously to say: "That is so cheap, it must fully suck." I mean I cannot buy a 1000 Euro+ headphone, which is "the best". I can however settle on a 500 buck headphone - it's probably way better than the 120$ one, but only slightly worse than the 1000+ one.
    A typical, and also wanted / "made" behaviour. It's how marketing works. Make certain levels of products. The bottom one (101) is complete **** and the totl (1001) is "good enough". People will fight tooth and nail to buy 401 over 301, because it has a response of up to 35KHz instead of only 30KHz. "I know I can't hear it, but it must mean the product is still better ... overall ... :)

    Thin is, the 120$ headphone is a 1200 headphone if you just believe in it and listen longer than 120 minutes.
    Last edited: May 2, 2019
    TronII likes this.
  5. Whazzzup
    now you tell me:))):blush:
    ev13wt likes this.
  6. bigshot
    Speaker design has totally changed in the past few decades. I remember when I first started getting interested in audio, speakers were big, efficient and full range- giant box speakers with huge woofers. They're still full range, but now they are small and not efficient- stacks of six or eight inch drivers in a tower setup. Speakers have changed so much, we even have different amps now. The amp I had back in the late 70s had a fraction of the power of the amp I have now. Plus, you have specialized speakers for different purposes... center channels, rears, side channels, subwoofers. The basic fundamental principles of speaker design is the same as the old days, but the way those principles are applied is quite different now.
    TronII likes this.
  7. Glmoneydawg
    Yep....just after the invention of the wheel...sigh....good times bud:wink:seriously though i think cabinet construction/vibration may sadly be the biggest improvement in the last 30 years.
    Last edited: May 2, 2019
    ev13wt likes this.
  8. TronII
    Would you say new speakers are worse, then?
  9. bigshot
    No, not necessarily. There are some things that old style speakers do well, and some things that modern speakers do well. I have both old and new speakers in my system. I grew up on that old JBL sound and a lot of music was designed to sound good on that kind of speaker. My mains are old school JBL studio monitors with the bullet super tweeter and the 15 inch woofer with the cloth surrounds. They aren't as accurate as modern designs, but they sound warm and gorgeous with a real dynamic punch in the bass and highly directional sparkling treble. They can get really loud and sound good too. Since I use a center speaker, the directionality isn't an issue. My center is a horn loaded design, which is also very directional and helps for dialogue to cut through in movies. This combination makes for a very powerful front presentation. In the rear I have a new style nested radial design. These speakers have super wide and very even dispersion and they are very accurate. This is good because the rears don't have a center, so they need to cover the whole back side of the rectangle evenly all the way across, and they need to keep up with the punchy fronts.

    If I was going to do a traditional 2 channel stereo setup, I'd probably use a modern tower style speaker because they are very clean, accurate and are easy to balance, and they have more even coverage and can sound good from a wider range of listening positions. But there are reasons to use other types of designs too. Balancing the dispersion pattern to the shape of the room can be tricky sometimes.
    Last edited: May 3, 2019
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