The Cost of High Fidelity, My Transition to Streaming & Defining Value and Affordability

When I browse audio forums and social media, I often see absolute nonsense posted about the fidelity you can achieve with a phone, claiming it is not "audiophile" or whatever. Reality is if you stream lossless music through a phone and use good headphones, the listening experience is extremely high fidelity.

One of the most amazing things to happen in audio is how corded earbuds have become incredibly competent at very affordable prices. And it is in that vein that I bring up the KZ ZS10 Pro X, a five-driver in-ear monitor (four balanced-armatures and one dynamic driver) I have used to listen to some truly demanding music and heard reproduce elements that are masked by all but the most resolving and capable full-size speakers and headphones.

Long story short: The cost of true audiophile fidelity is having a phone, a pair of $63 IEMs, an inexpensive USB headphone adapter (Apple's is $9), plus the price of quality content (I use Tidal HiFi).

Physical Media Meltdown
A recent social media discussion reminiscing on the Blockbuster Video days got me thinking about the whole streaming vs. physical media thing, and the notion of ownership.

I used to be a die-hard advocate for the “own-your-content” camp. Blu-rays lined my shelves, I had those CD towers and then books full of discs. The notion of watching my favorite films only once? Blasphemy! Rewatching films to catch details used to be one of my favorite things. But times have changed.

Here's the deal: I appreciate the tactile satisfaction of holding a collector's edition. But I've found myself leaning into the world of streaming and Video on Demand (VoD). Why? It’s simple: The quality is good enough and keeps getting better. The key point is I value access to an expansive library and the convenience that comes with it over the stability of an owned, static collection.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the collector's drive — there's undeniable satisfaction in "owning" your favorites. But let's face it, how many times are you rewatching the same movie? For me, now, once is often enough, even for cinematic gems. In fact, what I have found is that buying a movie is practically the kiss of death — it's almost like I'm dooming it to never be rewatched.

Dubiously Defining Value
In the AV editorial landscape, opinions on "value" and "affordability" abound. However, I find "cost-no-object" gear less problematic than products claiming high value for the price but failing to deliver. This latter category often amounts to putting lipstick on a pig. These products may boast superior aesthetics or origin stories, suggesting they offer a great deal. Yet, a closer look at the competition reveals a heavy marketing spend to push this perception.

This issue isn't unique to AV gear; it's evident in various product categories. For me, it's most obvious in photographic equipment on Amazon. There, identical products from the same factory are sold under different brand names at vastly different prices, sometimes double, based purely on branding.

In the audio world, it's absurd when a product, doing nothing special and costing two or three times more than a comparable item, is marketed as "affordable." But it's so common it's basically the rule, not the exception.

Happy Holidays
As Earth completes another orbit around the sun, we’d like to wish you Happy Holidays wherever you are. To celebrate, we’ve put together our annual Blu-ray Holiday Gift Guide, featuring more than two dozen picks, and a few other holiday-themed posts worth checking out:

12 S&V-Approved Holiday Gift Ideas for 2023, featuring a dozen of our 2023 Top Picks, at prices ranging from $70 for a set of noise-canceling wireless earbuds to $2,000 for an 85-inch mini-LED 4K TV.

Holiday Gift Guide, featuring Chris Chiarella’s eclectic mix of unexpected gift ideas.

Where to Watch Your Favorite Holiday Movies: A Comprehensive Guide

Lucas020's picture

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James.Seeds's picture

I understand the satisfaction of holding the physical copy of a disk, especially for those who choose not to be collectors, it makes perfect sense, I on the other hand prefer the physical. Because I come from a large family unit we often share the blu rays we purchase and share after viewing with each other and ripping CD's, that way we ensure multiple viewings before the disk is returned. This might not work for everybody, understandable, but it works for us. Delayed gratification.

3ddavey13's picture

For me, most of the expense associated with streaming hi-fidelity music lies not with the equipment, but with the streaming service. On average, I spend around $500 a year on hi-res downloads (24-bit PCM/MQA/DSD), predominantly from A streaming service offering similar quality would cost around $300/year. I'll always have my digital files, but with streaming I'd own nothing. As for video, I have Prime and Max by default. The quality is fine for things I don't really care about, but for the one's I do I'll go with the 4K bluray every time.

Ehto's picture

I think it's great that access to high-fidelity listening is becoming more affordable. We always listen to music on the job and this improves the experience so much. From the team at Gutter Cleaning Cost.