When Naim announced at the recent CES exhibition that they would be launching a preamp and power amp combo that would leave purchasers with a $200 000 hole in their bank account it was inevitable that there a certain degree of backlash from some quarters would come…and come it did.

Now we live in a world that is full of injustices for better or worse, but claims that the introduction of the Statement amps from Naim are “obscene” and “bad for the industry” just doesn’t register with me I’m afraid. What Naim has done here with the introduction of the Statement amplifiers is say to the world “Look at this, it only plays music but it costs more than a sports car. Take notice!!” and that is just what people out there will do – they will take notice.

As a marketing exercise the Statement amplifiers will ensure that Naim (and high-end hi-fi in general) is spoken about beyond the hi-fi media and this is a good thing. Let’s face it, the audiophile community can be very inward facing and more than a little of a “closed shop” and so anything that creates attention for the hobby from the outside world has to be a positive surely.

I’ll explain my thinking and I’m aware some will disagree: If Mr and Mrs Bloggs are reading their Sunday supplement , or watching yet another home design program on the television and see an article about a beautifully furnished home that has (God forbid) something other than an iPod dock and pair of lifestyle loudspeakers in there, then perhaps they may just think “why don’t we have a decent way to play back our music”. It’s true that for the vast majority of people $200 000 is a sum of money that they would never contemplate spending on a “music centre” but that’s not the point here! Mr and Mrs Bloggs could say “Well I can’t afford to buy into that level of hi-fi, but what I can do is have a look around and listen to something that is in my price bracket that will surely sound infinitely better than what we have at the moment. After all, it seems everyone else has a good hi-fi”.

This is what I would call the trickle down effect in action. We see it in other markets and so why not in hifi. In the fashion industry the haute-couture fashion items we see on the backs of models strutting the cat-walks of London, Paris and Rome are unbelievably priced and well beyond the means of all but the most well healed of individuals, but put your latest creation on a celebrity or top model and get it photographed in the right magazines and it will get talked about by a wider audience. Now this wider audience may well not be able to afford the latest Dior creation from the show so they buy the ready-to-wear range and if not that then they buy a bottle of the brand’s perfume at Christmas. Likewise an individual reading about the Statement amps may not be able to afford to nip out and buy them, but they will see them as being the pinnacle (I’ve not heard them so can’t comment) of what is achievable and may well consider buying something from Naim’s other more affordable range of products…and if not Naim then perhaps another brand. Good for the industry as a whole!

Within the audio world beats by Dre have managed to create a huge market for themselves and a whole new market in general for relatively high-priced headphones. They have given the world cans that are perceived to be better than anything the average kid on the street would have thought previously about buying and they’ve got celebrity endorsement behind them. Said kids on the street can’t afford to buy the jewellery and cars that the celeb’s can, but they can (at a push) afford the same cool and perceptively better headphones their idols are sporting this week…and so a whole new market was created.

I’ve seen people, some with a vested interest and some without, say that the ticket price of the amps is disgraceful as there can’t be more than $15 000 worth of components in there, but they’re choosing to ignore the huge sums of money that go into research and development. And anyway, so what if it costs $200 000? A product is worth what an individual perceives it as being worth and if there is a market for an amplifier costing $200 000 then someone should jump in and supply to that market… and good on Naim for stepping up to the plate! The average person buying hi-fi doesn’t have the same buying pattern as the mega wealthy person has. The wealthy want what is the perceived best and they want it because not everyone else can have it.

Personally I wish Naim nothing but success for having the bottle to put the Statement amps out there. I hope they sell a good few to those with the money to splash and I hope that they create a bit of interest in high-end audio outside the audiophile world.


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