By Don Lindich
Week 47, 2019
Q. In past columns you have recommended both the Cambridge Audio AM5 and Onkyo TX-8020 amplifiers. Why would someone choose the Cambridge (or other high-end brand) over the Onkyo, if both perform well and the Cambridge costs more?
-G.C., San Jose, CA
A. I often use cars as an analogy to explain this. It isn’t perfect given the many manufacturers and products in the marketplace, but it usually gives readers a good understanding of the electronics pecking order.
Entry-level Onkyo and Sony audio gear corresponds to Honda and Toyota and their Accord and Camry sedans. They perform well enough, but are common and nothing that will get an enthusiast’s blood pumping. But they do get you there!
Brands such as Cambridge Audio, NAD, Rotel, Parasound, Outlaw Audio and Emotiva are the BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus of the electronics world. Compared to the mass-market brands you get a measure of exclusivity, higher quality materials and finish, styling that tends to stand the test of time, and higher performance. You also get pride of ownership and solid-feeling components that are very enjoyable to use. Though pricier than mass-market brands, most middle-class consumers find these products affordable if home entertainment is important to them.
At the top are exotics like VAC, Pass Labs, Dan D’Agostino Master Audio Systems and MBL. These are the Ferrari and Rolls-Royce of audio and it is very easy to build a system costing well into six figures using this equipment. The performance in many cases is not noticeably better than the BMW tier and most consumers won’t consider buying a $60,000 amplifier any more than they would consider buying a $400,000 car. It is either out of reach, against their sensibilities or both.
Technics is hard to classify. Though premium-priced, Technics equipment is often a bargain for what you get. Technics sells $1,200 wired earphones, $17,000 speakers and a $30,000 turntable, three products few consumers would consider affordable. Yet Technics also has the $999 Ottava SC-C70 CD music system, the $1,200 SL-1500C turntable, and the $1,700 SL-1200GR turntable. Many of my readers have purchased these products and raved about them, and the turntables in particular outperform much more expensive competitors from the exotic brands. I place Technics between the BMW and Ferrari tiers, though some Technics products do scream “Ferrari” and certainly perform like one.
I know everyone is now wondering about the $1,200 Technics EAH-TZ700 wired earphones. Yes, I have heard them, and yes, they are incredible. I let my Uncle Dave, an earphone aficionado, listen to them when I reviewed them and he was smiling ear to ear. When he took them off he said, “Wow, those things are great – what bass. That is a lot for earphones, but those sound as good as anything, anywhere.” technics.com
Noteworthy Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals: The Q Acoustics 3020i bookshelf speakers have been a big hit with readers. From November 20th until December 5th, select 3000i series speakers will be up to 20% off. Visit http://qacoustics.com/sale.html to learn more.
Looking for high-end noise-cancelling headphones? The $349.95 Sennheiser PXC550 headphones are $199.95 on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
ZVOX veteran’s discount: I recently answered a question from a veteran and in my reply I recommended several soundbars, including a ZVOX soundbase. After the column ran I was contacted by ZVOX informing me of their 15% veteran’s discount, which even applies to special offers like the buy one, get one free hearing aid sale and the two for $199.99 noise-cancelling headphones promotion. You must call ZVOX directly to order with this discount. zvox.com