High-end audio is a class of consumer home audio equipment marketed to audiophiles on the basis of high price or quality, and esoteric or novel sound reproduction technologies. The term can refer simply to the price, to the build quality of the components, or to the subjective or objective quality of sound reproduction.
The distinction between the terms high-end and high-fidelity (hi-fi) is not well defined. According to one industry commentator, high-end could be defined as "gear below which’s price and performance one could not go without compromising the music and the sound".
High-end audio equipment can be extremely expensive. It is sometimes referred to as cost-no-object equipment. Audiophile equipment can run the gamut from budget to high-end in terms of price range.
The human sense of hearing is subjective and difficult to define. Psychoacoustics is a division of acoustics that studies this field.
Measurements can be deceiving; high or low figures of certain technical characteristics do not necessarily offer a good representation of how the equipment sounds to each person. For example some valve (vacuum tube) amplifiers produce greater amounts of total harmonic distortion, but this type of distortion (2nd harmonic) is not as disturbing to the ear as the higher order distortions produced by poorly designed transistor equipment.
Items often questioned[by whom?] are accessories such as speaker wires utilizing exotic materials and construction geometries, cable stands for lifting them off the floor (as a way to control mechanically-induced vibrations), connectors, sprays and other tweaks.
Some of the subtle causes for the degradation of fidelity have been attributed by physicist Milind N. Kunchur to temporal smearing of signals in components and cables. By way of formal psychoacoustical testing, Kunchur found that auditory temporal resolution in humans to be around 5 microseconds, which exceeds the nominal single-tone high frequency limit.
- Branch, John D. (23 May 2007). "Postmodern Consumption and the High-Fidelity Audio Microculture". In Russell Belk, Russell Belk Jr., John Sherry (eds.). Consumer Culture Theory, Volume 11 (Research in Consumer Behavior) (1 ed.). JAI Press. pp. 79–99. ISBN 0-7623-1446-X.
- Perlman, M. (2004). "Golden ears and meter readers: The contest for epistemic authority in Audiophilia". Social Studies of Science 34 (5): 783. doi:10.1177/0306312704047613.
- "Finnish hi-fi and high-end guide: terminology" (in Finnish).
- Szabady, Paul (January 2008). "The Rega P3-24 Turntable". Stereo Times. Archived from the original on 21 November 2013
- SOUND; How About a Pair of Loudspeakers Priced at $65,000?, New York Times, 1987
- The Truth About High End, As We See It, by J. Gordon Holt, October 1982
- Cables, Interconnects and Other Stuff – The Truth. Sound.westhost.com.
- Speaker Wire. Roger-russell.com (28 January 2012).
- Kunchur, Milind N. (2007). "Audibility of temporal smearing and time misalignment of acoustic signals" (PDF). Technical Acoustics, 17 (2007) ISSN 1819-2408.
- Kunchur, Milind N. (2008). "Temporal resolution of hearing probed by bandwidth restriction" (PDF). Acta Acustica united with Acustica 94, 594–603 (2008) ISSN 1610-1928.