Opinion: At the beginning of November, I attended a presentation of the Wilson Audio Alexia V, a pair of speakers that cost £80,000 – or £79,888 to be exact.
Of course, when dealing with expensive products like this, all attention will be on the price. I recently reviewed a £11,999 8K TV and even this sounds small compared to the cost of these headphones.
These headphones are clearly not for most people, and many make the mistake of focusing on the price of a product that is not aimed at them. If you can afford this headset, you are the intended target market. It’s that easy.
The Wilson Audio Alexia V sounded great, as you suppose they should when connected to amplification and sources that are supposed to cost several thousand pounds. But Peter McGrath, presenter of the session, also said that the speakers are “relatively efficient” and can be powered from a 50-watt amplifier, indicating ease of driving – an impressive technical feat.
It looked incredibly transparent, putting you roughly where the music was recorded. Anyone who buys an Alexia V will be impressed by the detail, accuracy, clarity, and lack of noise it brings to music, whether it’s vinyl or streaming from services like Tidal and Qobuz.
But that wasn’t my main share of the show, though. It was a comment I’ve heard indirectly about people who have raised their eyebrows about price (here I focus on price), and that people wouldn’t say the same if we were talking about a kitchen renovation or someone buying a Ferrari.
I guess the gist is that these things are accepted as expensive, but when it comes to hi-fi products like an amplifier or a pair of headphones, we think they should be relatively affordable and if they aren’t then people just turn their heads and shake their heads. .
And they will have a point. If you’re the type to go after a high-performance speaker and have the wallet to pay for it, why not do it?
But the comment got me spiraling in other directions, so prepare yourselves for a bit to ramble around the hi-fi industry in general.
The music we listened to on the speaker was either loud in nature or (fantastic) recordings of live performances meant to draw attention to the speaker’s characteristics. However, it can lead to a slightly elitist perception of these types of speakers, and along with the price suggests that these speakers should be valued by a certain type of person and that the pool isn’t that big.
During any demo, when the presenter asks if anyone would like to suggest some music, it always comes to my mind that someone should say A-ha’s Take On Me for fun, or maybe System of a Down’s BYOB – songs may In fact It comes via Spotify and Tidal.
There was always a bit of a disconnect, a chasm to jump over in these situations, where you feel as though you have to think about smart song choices so you don’t come across as some kind of simple barbarian. When you get to that level, you seem to get it wrong with taste, as if you should have listened to Tchaikovsky and Bach instead of Britney Spears Toxic. You are in breathless air and should breathe accordingly.
It makes me think if there’s a generational gap in how hi-fi markets itself, as if it’s a bit stuck in its own ways sometimes.
It’s not as if young people are diving into hi-fi as much fun as the older generations did, and even the expensive products seem to cause not only a disconnect in terms of accessibility, but almost as much for people with a specific, acquired taste. Hi-fi is not a need, but a desire and people often have to discuss more expensive purchases rather than just go out and get them.
There is, I would say, a conflict between the convenience customers want – a single box speaker system or minimally invasive speakers to use – and the utility and high-performance hi-fi manufacturers who want to provide them with hardware that doesn’t skimp on quality music or the need for High quality sources. Spotify streaming 128 kbit/s should still be a thing in 2022.
There’s room for both comfort and high-quality sound, but I wonder if hi-fi still has that allure to draw people, especially those of a younger age, into its orbit. While speakers like the Wilson Audio Alexia V are undoubtedly great, the market they reach is specific.
It’s not in their DNA, but I’d like to see what Wilson Audio can do at the other end of the market, and see if they can change some of those younger, vulnerable minds.