With more than $2 billion worth of music downloaded from iTunes in the first quarter of 2012, there is little doubt that people love listening to a good song. But for true audiophiles, the pursuit of perfect sound reproduction comes at a high price: A pair of speakers at this level can cost as much as a luxury car; the Anat III model by YG Acoustics, for example, sells for $119,000.
Wild hi-fi also includes items made for listening to music via computers, TVs and even headphones. The designs are often futuristic or retro, but they reflect one thing: a passion for flawless sound that’s as old as music itself.
Those obsessed with sound quality are likely to shun standard MP3 audio files in favor of higher-resolution digital files that can be found on dedicated websites. These sites use digital formats with techy names like Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) and Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF), but think of them as the equivalent of upgrading to a DVD from a VHS tape. (Hdtracks.com gives a good tutorial.)
Audiophiles engage in heated discussions about arcane matters, like the impact sound frequencies beyond the range of human hearing have on audible music. But the answers to these debates are often addressed by audio gear displaying superb performance characteristics.
Take the turntable, replaced by most in favor of CD and digital music players. In the hands of Kronos, a small company based in Montreal, it becomes a nearly unrecognizable engineering marvel (pictured above)—with a $28,000 price tag to match. While one platter spins the record, a second platter underneath spins in the opposite direction at precisely the same speed, a methodology designed to eliminate distortion-creating torsional forces and to give the record additional stability.
New York’s Woo Audio transforms over-the-ear headphones with its WA22 headphone amplifier, which uses vacuum tubes and other technology to maximize sound quality. And though there are still plenty of traditional big speakers made with wooden cabinets out there, there are new shapes and designs that rely on innovative manufacturing methods and the use of exotic materials. O’heocha’s otherworldly D2 Saturn Speakers are one example. Another hails from KEF, which was founded by a BBC engineer in 1961 and makes a sail-shaped speaker called the Blade ($30,000), which is available in many finishes and could easily be taken for a sculpture in its own right thanks to a partnership with Eric Chan of Ecco Design in New York.
Here’s a look at some of the wildest hi-fi gear out there.