Anybody tired of inflation yet? I sure as hell am, and I bet you are, too. I refinanced my home-equity loan to help get FutureAudiophile.com funded and off the ground. Less than a year later, the cost of the interest on the HELOC loan is over $1,100 more than it was—and that’s just the bank’s interest-rate increases. Ouch. Luxury hotel rooms in Southern California that for 20 years were priced seasonally between, say, $459 and $659 per night now range anywhere from $1,750 to $2,000 per night … plus tax, and resort fees, and $55-per-night parking. You can forget about taking that trip.
The inflationary pressures on nearly every aspect of the economy have slowed in recent months, but prices are still so high that, in many cases, companies must be profiteering because they can get away with it. Today, after a roughly four-mile walk by the beach, I decided to treat myself to a large iced tea and two hash browns from McDonalds. It cost $7.50. Seriously, what is the fixed cost for water, a few tea bags, a cup, and a straw—even factoring in $20-per-hour labor? Not $2.50 for a hash brown or an iced tea. Sorry.
Wanna know the solution to gross profiteering? It is a two-letter word that starts with N and ends with O.
The good news is, nobody is forcing you to buy anything today—excluding products like life-saving pharmaceuticals and commodities that you simply can’t live without. My fat ass doesn’t need a hashbrown from McDonalds, but I was hungry and Jonesing for some caffeine. Still, I should have just kept on driving. I could have said no, but I rewarded McDonalds by paying its absurdly bloated prices … and now I am a little bit bitter.
A few months back, a legendary PR agent in the audio industry told me to “pick any electronics you want for review and we will send it to you.” I looked at some of their products and selected a stereo preamp and power amp designed by an also-legendary audiophile designer with ties running back to the early days of Mark Levinson. What I didn’t look at was the price of those products. The Class-AB amplifier was $10,000. Before COVID, it was $5,000. OMG. I quickly retracted my request. At $5,000, the amp was a solid value; but at $10,000, it had to compete with a whole world of much better, much more compelling products. But that’s inflation, and I get it. Shipping costs, manufacturing inefficiencies, chips, labor, massive dealer profit margins, and so much more factor into the price of audiophile goods.
The Mother’s Day Brunch at my country club here in Southern California is something to behold. I’ll never forget watching my wife and mother-in-law talking with fellow (social) member Tom Hanks (as nice a guy as you think he is and THEN some). In the past, I would invite our close, personal friends and their families to attend this buffet brunch that features every exotic food you can dream of. The price pre-COVID was about $55 per head. Today, other nearby social clubs charge $70 to $75 per head (which is up significantly over their past rates), and my club charges $170 per head! There is no way on God’s green earth that any of the adults in my family could eat the amount of food required to justify that price. We ended up dining at a restaurant in Santa Monica Canyon, and it was absolutely fantastic. Fun drinks for the moms. Red and green chilaquiles. Breakfast nachos that got eaten up in mere minutes. Brunch for six was $220, including a 25 percent tip. We had a great time, and I saved easily $500 by saying “no” to the new prices.
The word NO is a powerful statement.
Why should any company stop raising prices when demand says that people will keep paying? I’m a capitalist at heart, so I get it. But I don’t have to be part of everybody’s crazy price gouging, and neither do you. Never forget that you hold the power. You vote with your wallet, and you can send a message.
Yes, today’s audiophile world is clouded with absurdly high-priced gear at every turn, but there are also great values to be found. Unless you’re a Russian Oligarch, do you really need $400,000 speakers to be happy with your music playback system? Likely not. The rise of Chi-Fi has upped the value factor, and there are other brands delivering high value that aren’t Chinese OEMs like Topping, FiiO, S.M.S.L and others. Younger consumers, even when they have the money to spend, put such a high premium on value that they gravitate toward brands like Schiit, SVS, NAD, Monoprice, and the like.
Concepts like esoterica, scarcity, expensive labor, and beyond-insane build costs make for cool audiophile gear, but they don’t make for high value. And you don’t have to buy any audiophile product unless you want to. “No” is a perfectly reasonable answer if you think the value isn’t there.
2023 might be a year where we all continue to suffer from the effects of inflation, but we’ve got options and power. Put old stereotypes aside and focus on fact and science, and you will be led to the best values in the audiophile world. Some of the best values may still be expensive overall (think: a Bricasti product, which is a fraction of the cost of the uber-high-end gear and often equal or better in terms of performance), while others may be highly affordable. But they are all worth your consideration.
It may not always feel like it, but at the end of the day, the consumer (aka: YOU) always wins. You control the game. You control the price. Enjoy the power, my friends. Money managers and friends who are high up in the world of finance seem to think that The Fed is done raising rates for the rest of the year. Let’s hope that’s true, but we don’t control The Fed. We do control our spending, and that is the special sauce needed to deal with inflation and especially price gouging.
What are some of the worst examples of price gouging that you’ve seen in your world? Where have you found specific value, both in audio world and outside of the audio world? What have you said NO to recently? We want to hear from you in the comments below. Post away!!!