Diamonds rock the world of audio buffs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2005, 12:00am

This top-of-the-range product gives out a sound that is as natural and as dazzling as the precious materials incorporated in its design

Diamonds might be a girl's best friend, but they can also be a bosom buddy for the man whose idea of a perfect evening is sitting at home listening to music on a top-end hi-fi system.

A dome-shaped diamond diaphragm tweeter has been incorporated in the top-of-the-range Bowers & Wilkins 800 series loudspeaker, a fact reflected in the price tag of up to $200,000 a pair.

According to Antony Yim Wun-chuen of B&W Loudspeakers in Duddell Street, Central, the top-of-the-range speakers give out a sound that is as natural and dazzling as the precious materials incorporated in their design.

The range of sound delivered by the speaker was beyond what the ear could actually hear, he said. It was a sound you had to use your other senses to experience - and while that might appeal to purists, it did not suit everyone's budget.

'The reaction of customers has been quite good but, unfortunately, the new product is priced high compared with the previous range - 30 or 40 per cent higher, in fact,' he said.

'Most people feel the difference in price is too great. But they are impressed by the sound performance of the speakers and we have had good reviews from the hi-fi magazines.'

The diamond diaphragm speaker was for the 'experienced audiophile', Mr Yim said.

'It will not be their first speaker. It might be their second, or maybe after they had a very good experience from the previous [B&W] ones they had.'

At a time when Hong Kong's economy is in better tune than it has been for years, you might think that the market for top-end hi-fi systems was enjoying a similar surge in fortunes, but that is not the case.

'There has not been a great increase in business,' Mr Yin said.

'The hi-fi market is quite stable at the high end of the market compared with last year.'

William Tam Kwok-cheong, of hi-fi specialist First Impression Marketing in Duddell Street, Central, agreed.

'The market is not so very good. The high-end market especially is quite low,' he said.

'Sales of normal audio equipment have done well. Amplifiers and speakers are still selling well but not as well as some years ago. For lower-end products there has already been a big improvement. At the top end we are doing maybe 10 per cent better than last year.'

However, there has been an evolution in the market centred on the arrival of Super Audio Compact Discs (SACDs) - a technology which Hong Kong appears to have embraced enthusiastically.

'Right now it is very easy to find many SACDs on the market,' Mr Tam said. 'Many audiophiles are already interested in this new format and if you compare it to the normal CD sound there is quite a difference.

'Many budget SACDs are on the market and the prices are going down to about $120 a disc. It is not much different to the price of normal CDs.'

As a result, one of the hottest new products being sold by First Impression Marketing is an $80,000 digital audio converter to enable systems to make the best of the SACD technology.

Aldous Chan, marketing manager of the Excel Marketing Group, which sells Meridian equipment with prices for a top-end hi-fi system ranging from $100,000 to $300,000, said Hong Kong appeared to have taken to SACD discs more readily than other places.

'Even some local pop singers have released SACD software so it is becoming more popular in Hong Kong, but in other countries, maybe not,' he said.

Meridian hi-fi systems are renowned for their high quality reproduction and stylish, cable-free designs - a combination which, with their admired DSP loudspeakers, makes them a connoisseur's choice for use with home theatre systems.

Mr Tam said the trend towards home theatre had helped create more audiophiles in the past decade.

'People have found out that a quality sound system is important for home theatres, so they have become keen to improve their systems,' he said.

This is particularly good news for dealers in high-end loudspeakers like Mr Yim, although he stresses that, for the speakers to be effective, the remaining components in the hi-fi system must be of a high quality.

'Ten years ago, when people had systems with only two channels, they only needed two speakers,' he said. 'Now they need seven speakers for one system because of the multichannel set-up.'

All of which makes it something of a riddle as to why, now that Hong Kong is enjoying its brightest economic outlook since the 1990s, there is not brisker trade in the better things in life, such as top-end hi-fi systems.

It may be buyer caution - or it may be, as Mr Yim suggested, that not everyone in post-recessionary Hong Kong gives the priority to music that audiophiles do.