As we head into the final week of 2008, it may be tough to see a silver lining in today's rocky markets -- but you can certainly hear one.
Audio is confounding today's dark economy. To my eye -- or ear, rather -- there has never been better sound at better prices. You can hear the value seemingly everywhere.
It is no secret that major consumer electronics vendors like Samsung and Panasonic (PC) have not been shy about bundling and discounting their televisions and other media products with decent sound systems. Best Buy (BBY) in particular loves to push these so-called bundled packages. Recently, the retailer featured a Sony (SNE) 32-inch 720 P LCD HDTV matched with a five-speaker so-called 5.1 surround-sound home theater system, both for $699 or about $450 off list. The audio quality from these sorts of systems, while not at the tip top of my impossible-to-satisfy standards, are respectable given the spend.
What is getting overlooked in these no-go times is that there is plenty to listen for from smaller, less-well-known audio makers. These companies have their roots in the hot house world of audiofile sound. That is the place where sound junkies -- like me -- try to justify that, yes, spending $200,000 on a two-speaker sound system is reasonable.
The names l know -- and have audio love for these days -- out of the flocks of these makers is Joseph Audio, Bel Canto Design, Jeff Rowland Design Group, Sumiko, Von Schweikert Audio, Manley Labs and Pass Labs.
But even these once lofty brands are offering some nice equipment at reasonable prices. I have been testing one such, entry-level lux audio product: THIEL Audio's SCS4s loudspeaker ($1,000 each).
What you get. A very high quality speaker for not a very high price.
Leave it to speaker wiz Jim Thiel, co-founder and product designer of Lexington, Ky.-based THIEL Loudspeakers, to create the first deliciously annoying speaker. It's not that the SCS4s are bad -- far from it. The quality here is flat-out excellent. The annoying part is, THIEL sort of sneaks that excellence upon you.