In my humble opinion, nothing says “you’ve made it” quite like owning high-end music-reproduction equipment. And yet both you and I both know that audio gear is not the first thing people think of as a status symbol, although they should, because it’s hard to imagine anything with a lower practicality- to-expense ratio. Big, luxurious house? Well, unless it’s used only for parties, a house, any house, is very practical simply from the standpoint of being a shelter (both in the physical and tax sense). An expensive car? No matter what it is, it provides the very practical attribute of transportation, which we all know is necessary for modern life. What about a yacht? Again, still practical from a shelter, transportation, and as a second home, from a tax deduction point of view.
Perhaps we get closer along the lines of fine art collecting but even here there is utility associated with this activity that escapes the hi-fi connoisseur: Fine art is expected to increase in value. Substitute watches, stamps, Fender guitars, Pez dispensers; you get the same result. On the other hand a shockingly small sample of audio equipment has proven to increase in value as it ages (and you may not even like how it sounds).
So I say you keepers of the hi-fidelity flame have good reason to feel fairly superior to the benighted masses sprouting little white wires from their ears, or just about everyone else for that matter. Still, even among the enlightened there is a steeply ascending caste system. At the top of the ladder are the high priests of the Single Ended Triode altar, who like any devout individuals have vowed to live a restricted existence, a life of poverty if you will, not of money (although that may very well accompany this lifestyle) but of watts. By nature traditionalists and extremely conservative, some would say that these folks act like the last 106 years (!) of amplifier development never happened.
All the while, sitting at the back of the hi-fi church are people like me who know good sound from bad and search the market often for the best in lower-priced but great-sounding products. For us fancy metal-work, silver wire, even acceptable quality- control are grudgingly dismissed for the sake of good music vibes. We have no problem with plastic knobs, stamped metal chassis, or the occasional missing screw. It’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?
I for one have remained happy in the back pews for years since, quite frankly, much of the “aspirational” gear simply fails my personal cost/benefit analysis. Oh, that’s nice but my NAD integrated gets me 90% of the way there for a whole lot less (or so I tell myself). So I find it really annoying when something like the Ayon Orion II ($3910) comes along and bursts my bubble of self-delusion. Rightfully the Orion belongs to that couple stationed maybe ten rows in front and a little to the left of where I’m sitting. They’ve got money to spend, no small children or pets, are cultured, and appreciate the good things in life. And for this review they let me sit next to them.