OPINION: In the early knockings of November, I attended a demonstration for the Wilson Audio Alexia V, a pair of speakers that cost £80k – or £79,888 to be exact.
Of course, when dealing with products as expensive as this, all the attention is going to be on the price. I recently reviewed an £11,999 8K TV and even that seems small fry compared to the cost of these speakers.
These speakers aren’t for most people, clearly, and many make the mistake of fixating on the price for a product that’s not aimed at them. If you can afford this speaker, then you are the intended target market. It’s as simple as that.
The Wilson Audio Alexia V sounded great, as you’d assume they should when connected to amplification and sources that presumably rack up several thousand pounds in cost. But Peter McGrath, our presenter for session, also said the speakers are “relatively efficient” and could be run off a 50W amplifier, indicating they’re easy to drive – an impressive technical achievement.
They sounded incredibly transparent, almost placing you in the setting where the music was recorded. Anyone who buys the Alexia V will be impressed by the detail, resolution, clarity and lack of noise they afford to music, whether it’s vinyl or streamed from the services such as Tidal and Qobuz.
But that wasn’t my main takeaway from the presentation, though. It was a comment I heard off-hand about people raising their eyebrows about the price (here I go fixating on the price), and that people wouldn’t say the same if we were talking about a kitchen renovation or someone buying a Ferrari.
The gist, I think, is that those things are accepted as being expensive, but when it comes to hi-fi products such as a speaker or a pair of headphones, we have it in our minds that they should be relatively affordable and if not then people tut and shake their heads.
And they would have a point. If you’re the type of person who is after a high-performance speaker and have the wallet to pay for it, then why wouldn’t you?
But the comment also had me spiraling in other directions, so prepare yourselves for a bit of ramble about the hi-fi industry in general.
The music we listened to on the speaker was either highbrow in nature or (great) recordings of live performances aimed at drawing attention to the speaker’s characteristics. It can, however, lead to a slightly elitist perception of these types of speakers and along with the price suggests these speakers are to be appreciated by a certain type of person and that pool is not a big one.
During any demonstration, whenever the presenter asks if anyone would like to suggest some music, it always flashes across my mind that someone should say A-ha’s Take On Me for fun, or maybe System of a Down’s B.Y.O.B – songs people might actually come across on Spotify and Tidal.
There’s always been something of a disconnect, a chasm to jump over in these situations, where you feel as if you have to think of clever song choices so as to not come across as some sort of simple barbarian. When you reach this level it seems to err towards taste, as if you should listen to Tchaikovsky and Bach rather than Britney Spear’s Toxic. You’re in rarefied air and must breathe accordingly.
And that makes me think of whether there’s a generational divide in how hi-fi sells itself, as if it’s a little too stuck in its own ways at times.
It doesn’t feel as if younger people are diving into hi-fi with as much relish as older generations did, and even slightly expensive products seem to cause not just a detachment in terms of their accessibility, but they’re almost for people with an acquired, specific taste. Hi-fi is not a need, but a desire and people often have to debate more expensive purchases rather than simply going out and getting it.
There is, I’d say, a clash between the convenience that customers want – a single or two box speaker system that is a minimum fuss to use – and the utility and high-performance hi-fi manufacturers would like to provide with devices that don’t scrimp on high-quality music or the need for high-quality sources. A 128kbit/s Spotify stream shouldn’t still be a thing in 2022.
There’s room for both convenience and high-quality sound, but I do wonder if hi-fi still has that pull 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 are reaching for is set.
It’s not in their DNA, but I’d love to see what Wilson Audio could do at the other end of the market, and see if they could change some of those younger, impressionable minds.