Don’t Fret Over Investing in Electronics

Criticisms regarding spending choices for A/V and automation products don't account for long-term payoff.

B&O's new H6 headphones, in the foreground, with the Form 2's still going strong

I recently attended an event at the Bang and Olufsen showroom in Boston, in which the stylish company was showing off its latest headphones. The Danish manufacturer’s beautiful H6 headphones (and their New Zealand cowhide) cost $399 and sounded quite nice as I briefly listened to them in the store. However, it’s what store president Oliver Pennington said not only about the H6 headphones, but also relating them to the company’s Form 2 headphones, that really resonated with me.

“It’s the details that make you feel like you have a quality product, and that you’ll have it for years,” he says. “The value of a product to me is not just the enjoyment of it, but how long I enjoy it.”

Pennington recalled how he worked his way up at the local B&O shop—the location on Boston’s swanky Newbury Street has become the company’s most successful store in the U.S., he says—and that he still owns the pair of Form 2 headphones he purchased 25 years ago. The headphones have been in production from 1985 to present, and in 1991 were selected for permanent exhibition in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “We have customers who come in and will tell me about a B&O product they’ve had for 25, 30 years,” Pennington says.

In one respect, B&O has fostered a great deal of brand loyalty throughout its long history because of its quality and distinctive designs. But I could relate to what Pennington was saying in a wider sense. Quality electronics are not cheap, and people tend to complain about the high cost of audio, video and automation devices … but when you consider how long you will enjoy them, as Pennington notes, it should change your perspective.

This is especially true of audio products. I bought my first A/V receiver, a Marantz unit, in 1987 and ran it countless hours until it finally died on me 12 years later. Then I got a Sony receiver, which is still going strong. While the upfront costs might have made a dent in my bank account at the times, the bang for the buck has been off the charts—and exemplifies why decades-old audio products like amplifiers and turntables are still sought, and why some audiophiles don’t bat an eye over five-figure price tags.

Even video technology, as sexier TV sets are thrown at us year after year, can offer enjoyment for ages; just ask my TV-loving parents, who have been more than happy owning a mere two different sets in their living room over the past 23 years. They still haven’t joined the ranks of the high-definition world–sticking with their 55-inch behemoth Samsung set for more than a decade now–but that’s not really the point; they spend most nights in front of the TV and the rate of return on their original purchase has been far exceeded.

Pennington has good reason to think that people who shell out what some might deem a substantial amount of money now for a pair of H6 headphones (admittedly, $399 headphones are not going to be for everyone) will still be listening to them in 2038 … 2038! Again, I can relate, because the set of Marantz speakers I bought with my Marantz receiver still work perfectly fine (I’ve grown out of them, but I do still have them), as does my dad’s 40-plus-year-old Garrard turntable and Fisher hi-fi system. And from what I see at electronics tradeshows–including most recently T.H.E. Show last month–there’s good reason to think that investing in a pair of monoblock amps, processor, cables and loudspeakers will provide similar enjoyment for substantial lengths of time. Will you have to add a component here or there? Sure; but with every investment there’s bound to be some amount of incremental upkeep (I’m guessing Pennington switched from a Walkman to an iPod at some point).

We all try to justify our major expenses … houses, cars, education, vacations. For some reason spending on electronics, whether it’s a $400 pair of headphones or a $40,000 pair of speakers, often gets a bad rap, even though the products could bring years, even decades, of use and enjoyment. I hear people decrying the cost of products, or questioning the investment of systems (and the labor to install them) like automation and lighting control all the time, and I just can’t agree with it. I’m not addressing whether items are overpriced or not—that’s all relative, because something that might be cost-prohibitive to some people might be a drop in the bucket to others—but when you’re considering purchasing individual electronics items or investing in entire technology systems like those we showcase on, don’t overlook the real value that is the long-term enjoyment. Chances are, you’ll get your money’s worth.

See Also:
12 Questions When Planning a Home Tech Project
3 Audiophile Systems for 3 Budgets
Wilson Audio Goes Inside an Audiophile’s Journey


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