Brand and pedigree set expectations. A Mundorf or REL capacitor has more good feelings associated with them than an XYZ capacitor. Yet, that XYZ capacitor might just blow the socks off either brand.
The trick, then, is to avoid the manufacturer’s easy way out: choosing a recognizable brand to delight the eye of the customer without benefit of auditioning the results. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve peered into a high-end audio product and grimaced at the sight of row upon row of the same red Wima caps, or black Mundorfs lined up like orderly soldiers. In almost every case these were chosen because some marketing-oriented designer added them as proof of pedigree, not as a performance-oriented design choice.
When we design product we start with brand name components we know and trust because of our past work. But there the path comes to a quick end. Not all parts sound best in a particular area. The Mundorf might outperform the Wima as a coupling cap but then the opposite could be true as power supply bypasses.
You know where this is going. Audio designers have to listen to their components and make choices based not on eye candy for the customer but performance first.
A pedigree isn’t enough to salvage an ugly dog.
What’s something worth?
My iPhone X retails for $1,000 at the Apple store. That’s a lot. It’s one of the most expensive mobile phones on the market and it could be argued it’s at the top of the expense heap. And yet, if that were a high-end DAC or power amplifier it would be on the extreme low end. And, what’s tough about that equation is the level of technology and parts in an iPhone is a magnitude more expensive and sophisticated than any DAC.
Now, it should be noted that millions of iPhones are manufactured each year compared to thousands of DACs. Economies of scale certainly play a big role in pricing. That said, the chasm between an expensive DAC and a technological wonder like the iPhone cannot be explained entirely by scale.
Pricing strategies have a myriad of formula. Some are priced according to marketplace expectations, some a fixed formula of parts and labor. Still others are boastful of being the most expensive, or the cheapest.
When I judge value I look at a lot of factors: importance of the product to me, other models in the market, need, scarcity or abundance, the company story and its founder’s philosophies.
What a product is worth is up to each buyer and its value to them, not what’s necessarily fair or equitable to charge.