Audio Arbitrage


#1

Brett66 asked whether it’s worth visiting an audio store in London, mentioning KJ West One, which happens to be my first port of call. It’s a fabulous store since a refit about 5 years ago, with two rooms, one large and one small, intended to represent the type of space their customers might have. Not sure how keen they would be to have listening rooms occupied by tourists, they are usually used by appointment.

There were a few complaints about UK prices, part of which is probably because we pay 20% sales tax, about average for Europe.

I wondered whether people in the UK/Europe and USA have different perception of prices. So I compared the cost of my Devialet Expert 250 with the equivalent PSA kit, which would be BHK250, BHK Pre, DSD DAC, Bridge II and Phono converter. The Devialet 250 includes a sophisticated streaming card and the PSA system would need some cables.

Anyway, comparing UK and USA prices, in the USA the PS Audio system would be 13% more expensive than the Devialet, but in the UK it would be 60% more expensive. That’s a massive increment.

There are obviously freight and duty costs, but in the USA the Dev costs 10% more than in the UK, whereas in the UK the PSA costs 29% more than in the USA. So there is a much bigger premium for PSA customers in the UK.

Add to that PSA servicing in the UK is non-existent, there are no trade-ins and resale is difficult. Devialet provides free door-to-door collect and return servicing.

The other big issue is space. Looking at system pics from the USA, most Londoners could only dream of such space because of real estate prices (in our suburb around $1,000 per sq. foot is typical), and that’s before purchase taxes (10% when buying over £1m and it gets worse). So many people don’t move and wonder how their kids will ever afford to buy. So you either have to be very wealthy, single or have a very devoted wife to have the luxury of filling a room with multiple boxes of audio equipment. People move out of town, but then you lose the cultural life. That’s the big compromise as far as I’m concerned, that we’re not prepared to make.


#2

I’ve noticed these differences for a while between the two cultures. American and European. Some Americans admire and love the idea of European minimalism and nondescript mantra, completely disregarding exactly what you’ve stated. The perceived culture are limits on space, cost and a static form of living. Inversely, the abundance of such parameters in America, can easily give the idea of excess and tackiness.
Jeremy Clarkson was always poking good fun about that. In short, the environment drives the culture, the amplitude and magnitude of human behavior(behaviour).


#3

A thoughtful post and great summary, stevensegal. We have been told for years Europeans prefer smaller, tidier systems both for sound and because of limited space.

I have always accepted space is an issue, but have long wandered if various groups of people prefer different types of sound. English reviewers refer much more often to PRAT and there appears to be less obsession with bass slam.


#4

Correct, you don’t hear a lot of people talking about bass slam, as a whole we are probably more midrange merchants. Long gone are the days when every audiophile had Tannoys or ESL’s, there are a lot of very slimline designs that are domestic friendly.

I had PMC Fact.8 before Harbeth, they are a fraction over 6" wide and use a transmission line to extend the bass. A very fine loudspeaker.
https://pmc-speakers.com/products/consumer/fact
Their new Fenestria is about $60,000 and is only 14.6" wide, but has serious slam from 4 6.5” transverse-weave, carbon-fibre, multicellular-core piston drivers per channel, derived from their pro piston drivers that are available in an 8,825w version that apparently can reach 132dB. I understand that they are installed at Capitol in LA and are limited to 116dB.
PMC’s bad boy speakers, basically monitors with a consumer veneer, use a proprietary 15” 380mm Radial driver that was developed around 1990 for the BBC and been used ever since. It has more slam than you ever need, and razor sharp.

Don’t forget that REL subwoofers are designed and made in Wales and probably the best 2-channel subs anywhere. I had one, now use a 400w BK sub (REL used to subcontract manufacture to BK). Here is my sub, sitting quietly in the corner and serving as a plinth for other things.

There are excellent full-range products from B&W and Focal (in France).

I’ver no doubt there are far more audiophile multi-purpose boxes available and in use in Europe and the Far East than in the USA.


#5

Another consideration beyond cost is the mass of our audio equipment. I am in the process of replacing my old Thiel speakers perhaps with Burchardt S400 currently in their stead. I can carry the Burchardt’s under each arm, moving the Thiel’s requires help. My Audio Research amp is another back breaker. Today I’ll carry my M700’s down from my office and try them in the main system. If I can get equivalent or better sound from less mass and using less electricity while spending less money I will consider that a win.


#6

Please let us know how they compare in your opinion.


#7

Culture as an active force drives behavior and shapes the environment as well. There are interesting anthropological case studies which highlight the salience of culture as a variable from the New Guinea highlands. Each of these cultures inhabit a very similar “environment” yet the way they organize society, their ethos, and practices are highly diverse. Geographical determinism was a popular intellectual system in the 19th Century (Humboldt) producing stereotypical, and often racist, notions of “tropical peoples” “southerners” etc. The interactions between physical space, ecology, history, political economy, culture etc are highly complex.


#8

I do agree with that valid perspective. Some cultures do shape their environment as well.


#9

My wife was telling me the other day that in Bhutan government policy is to maximise GNH - Gross National Happiness. Seriously, I looked it up. They have no real interest in money and certainly not capitalism. They are the only carbon positive country in the world.

I’ll report back - we’re going there in March.


#10

i’ve had the Buchardt for a couple of weeks. Most of this was in my office system for break in. In that small room the mid base was overdone. As I have no flexibility in speaker placement I had to live with that. More troubling was a veiling or lack of excitement in voices, especially female. The soundstage was wide and very enjoyable however. These observations were in comparison to my KEF LS50. Amps were Stellar M700. After sufficient break in hours (I Think) I moved them to my main listening room where they replaced THiel 2.2. Amp was now audio research VT 130. Again wide soundstage and overall nice sound, with the exception of voices. I have a history with electrostatics and miss that etched almost electric reproduction of voices which the thiel’s come close to. I brought the Stellar M700 down and wow voices were now very exciting and etched in a good way. So I think the Buchardt’s are sensitive to amplification. Why was the sound so different from the office, not sure. I am using an Ifi pro dsd in the main room and stellar gsdac in the office.I think I will keep them. Now i need to find an amp for them. The Stellar’s have a buzz and thump sound when used with my JL Audio subs. Maybe new tubes and caps for the old audio research.


#11

I would probably hold on to the VT 130. It’s old. So, it needs new electrolytic caps and tubes. I owned an ARC VT100 MkIII for several years, and regret selling it. The M700’s are very nice, powerful, and easy to carry, but they don’t have the tube magic of the ARC amps. Audiophile regret is common and can very painful. -Just my opinion.


#12

Thanks, good advice. Last I checked new tubes and a recap from the factory with shipping is about $2000. But I’ve had the VT 130 since it was a baby. No way of knowing if the veiled vocals will be cured with the surgery.


#13

There are two VT 130’s for sale on Audiogon right now. I think that both were modified by “Great Northern Sound” in Minnesota. I would check them out. Apparently these were big improvements over the stock model, and may fix the vocals issue?
Weight issues? I agree. You also might try different cables to address the problem with vocals.
Cheers,
John


#14

Great Northern Sound went out of business, at least for new mods, a few years back. The owner, whose name I cannot recall, was a former tech with Audio Research. His mods were highly regarded, but not cheap.


#15

Well, that’s new to me. -Thanks.
Anyway, I don’t think one would need an expensive ARC tube amp to drive the Buchardt speakers. Technology marches on!


#16

I do not recall Steve Huntley being associated with Audio Research, but I know he was an engineer with Wadia. His mods are superb. He also owns a Porsche and is a fine driver.


#17

Going on my memory … which is never a good thing!:roll_eyes: I did a quick search and didn’t find anything supporting my position, but did find some information supporting yours. I will never win a trivia contest against you! Just for reference I did see one comment from 2012 saying they were closed, so it’s been at least six years since they closed.


#18

It is pretty easy for me as I know Steve. :slight_smile:


#19

I’ve owned at least 10 different pieces from ARC and never used GNS. -Maybe I should have.