One of the most common misconceptions in the technology world is that there is just one general accepted price range for each piece of electronics, or even for a whole system. Customers often ask, “how much is a good TV?” or “how much for a good home theater?” These are difficult questions to answer, unfortunately. The response almost always begins with, “it depends on many factors…”
The Car Analogy
To clarify my point, we might ask a similar questions: “how much does a good car cost?” Anyone who has been car shopping recently realizes that the answer is somewhere between about $3000 and $300,000, depending on what your definition of “good” is. My first car was a 1973 VW Bug. I paid about $2000 for it and promptly spent another $1000 on upgrading the wheels and the stereo system. (Hey, we all have our priorities – mine were cool looks and great sound!) But was that a “good” car? Frankly, other than the awesome stereo, it was a horrible car – no air conditioning, the floorboards leaked due to the rust, and the 40-horsepower engine barely got it out of its own way! But I thought it was a really good car at the time. Over the years, however, my definition of what defines a “good” car has changed and evolved dramatically. The almost brand-new Honda Accord we had 25 years ago was certainly good back then, but I wouldn’t even consider an Accord now. While they are very nice, capable and reliable cars, I’ve come to appreciate the performance, aesthetic and other improvements that cars, like BMWs, Mercedes and Jaguars can offer. Call me a car snob if you will, but there are definite advantages to certain cars. I appreciate those differences and am willing to pay extra for them. Once you reach a certain level of appreciation for a thing – whether it be cars, wine, clothes, handbags, or whatever – it’s hard to go back to the old, lesser items. In my case, I really would rather go another level or two up in cars and drive a $300,000 Ferrari or a Bentley, but I simply can’t afford one at the moment. Nevertheless, I appreciate and respect why those cars cost considerably more.
Levels & Grades
So, just as with cars, wines and handbags, there are also various levels or grades of quality and performance in electronic systems. In general, the more you pay, the higher performance and quality you get. The electronics industry is extremely competitive, so it’s pretty safe to assume you’re getting more performance and/or quality when you spend more money. If they don’t give you more, the company won’t be around much longer. It’s as simple as that. Competition works!
The price vs. performance curve is definitely not linear, however. Figure 1 below shows a typical price vs. performance curve for a hypothetical home theater system. On this curve we can divide the range of price and performance into 10 arbitrary grades – from the $100 Grade 1
Figure 1. Price vs. Performance for a hypothetical home theater system
Bluetooth speaker to the $1,000,000 Grade 10 ultra-high-performance home theater. (Yes, it is very easy to spend that much money on a theater if you want to!) As you can see in the graph, we start reaching a point of diminishing returns as we climb up the curve. Performance improves rapidly for not spending a lot more money at first. But after a while you have to spend a lot more to get small gains in performance.
Using my car analogy as a comparison, a new BMW may cost double what a new Honda costs. Is it twice as good, however? Probably not. But are the improvements worth the extra cost? Absolutely, in my opinion! With electronics, it’s exactly the same situation. Online and large warehouse stores generally carry equipment that is towards the left side of the curve – decent performance at a very low price. These are the Kias of the electronics world, if you will. Using our 1 to 10 Grade scale, these would fall anywhere from Grade 1 to Grade 3. Your performance is low, but you get a lot for your money. The next step up are the big-box electronics stores. You can get more performance, but you’re going to have to pay slightly more. These are the Toyotas and Hondas of the electronics world. These typically fall into the Grade 3 or Grade 4 category. Above this are the local specialty electronics dealers and system integrators like ASL. We tend to focus on what I call the “knee in the curve”. This is equipment that maximizes performance without being overly expensive. These would line up with Grades 4 through 7. Finally, there are select boutique stores that offer only the very best in performance products, where cost is no object. These are the Grades 8 through 10 of the electronics world. Unfortunately we don’t have any of these stores in Tucson, but I encourage you to visit one if you ever visit Scottsdale, LA or a similar large city. Even if you will never achieve that level of performance, it’s good to know what is in the art of the possible! Some of the Grade 10 products are downright amazing!
It’s important to realize that there are many levels of quality and performance when it comes to electronics. Even though it’s easy to just choose what our local warehouse store or Amazon has to offer, we should consider whether we would appreciate another level or two of quality and performance. In my experience, I’ve never complained about buying something that was too good! I highly recommend striving for something that is just at the knee in the price vs. performance curve, or slightly higher. At Arizona Sound & Light, we focus on the knee in the curve – it gives our clients the most bang for their buck!