Millionaires and Polymers

To Doug Schneider,

I read with great interest your blog about [the Polymer Audio Research MKS] speakers, but I humbly disagree with some of your comments, and I would bet so do many of your readers. You stated “I don't think that the word ‘affordable’ should even be muttered with products that cost this much since the only people who can afford this stuff are likely to be millionaires.”

I would also bet that many people who buy products in this price range are certainly not millionaires; instead, these are people who cherish music reproduction and are extremely passionate about these products. Millionaires buy Lamborghinis and 100’ yachts. I myself have through the years invested over $100,000 into my system but make only an upper-middle-class income. I save up and hustle the best way I can. Yes, I would probably have to be a millionaire if I had to spend as much as I have all at once but I built my system one component at a time, year after year.

Regardless, you are talking about a $42,000/pair of speakers here. Would you say that one has to be a millionaire to drive a $42,000 car? I know at least a dozen people who drive a $100,000 Mercedes or BMW and none of them are millionaires, just struggling ordinary folks like you and me. I think the difference between them and a serious audiophile (like me) is that I would rather drive a Honda and have a $42,000 pair of speakers than have a Mercedes and a Bose (which is the case for most people).

And when you think about bang for the buck, having an awesome music system that recreates live music in your home is far more rewarding and fun than driving a Mercedes or even a $5-million yacht. So as a hobby, high-end audio gives far greater reward than the really expensive toys that the real millionaires buy -- at least for me.

So I just thought I would write you a note because I think you should correct this notion that only millionaires can reach for the stars in high-end audio. Start with the most you can afford, say $10,000 speakers, and then upgrade each year by adding the most you can afford each time. Before you know it, you will get to the most exotic and expensive high-end-audio toys.

Happy listening,

I agree with your point that you don’t have to be a millionaire if you prioritize your spending a certain way, meaning that you can certainly own the Polymer Audio Research MKS speakers if you really want to, but I think that most people don’t spend their money this way, even audiophiles. For most people, their house is their most expensive purchase followed by a car. If they have children, then a large chunk of change is also likely to be spent on education. Vacations are also priorities for most families. The other things in their life, such as a stereo, become an afterthought after all that.

But it’s true that if someone wants a certain item and will forgo other things, they can get what they want. For instance, a friend of mine with an upper-middle-class income just spent a fortune on a used Bentley car. He told me that only three other people in our city have one -- all millionaires. He joined that club by channeling all his money a certain way at the expense of other things, such as a fancy house or even a vacation this year. Likewise, I’m pretty sure that if I looked hard enough I could find someone who spent $2000 on a pair of sunglasses or $5000 on a handbag to join the ranks of the rich and famous, even if that’s the only item they have. Recently I saw the movie The Bling Ring, which did a wonderful job of showing how much the “haves” in Los Angeles have versus the “have nots,” and how much you really need to earn if you want to spend freely on expensive goods.

My main point in saying what I did in that blog is that these really expensive items aren’t “affordable” for most people, which runs contrary to what many audio reviewers have written in reviews in recent years about the cost of such gear ($4200 isn’t even affordable for most people!). The other point, which I made in this response, is that these products are very expensive and are mostly purchased by those with high annual incomes who can afford not only to spend $42,000 on a pair of speakers, but perhaps $100,000-plus on a car and a million dollars or more on a house, and still have enough left over to fit the education and the vacations in. There are certainly some exceptions, such as the way you spend, but I believe what I described is the rule. . . . Doug Schneider