Gear vs. Music Investment: What’s your ratio?

While being interested in high-end audio is deeply based on an appreciation for gear, it obviously also stems from a great love of music in many audio enthusiasts.  You wouldn’t need the gear if you didn’t have some music you were passionate about hearing in its best quality.  So a natural question that follows is to ask which is more important?  Or in reality, which are you willing to spend more money on?  But things aren’t so simple.  Audiogon user Bonhamcopeland created one self-imposed rule, but after hearing the thoughts of the community ended up changing his outlook.  Read below for more details.

Bonhamcopeland: So for whatever OCD-riffic reason, I have this rule… As long as my total hardware investment doesn’t go beyond what I’ve spent in music, I feel like the hardware costs can be justified. That’s just me. And the great thing about this absurd self-imposed 1st world consumer rationalization is that I can conceivably keep going on forever. Or can I?

I’ve got to believe that folks who are lucky enough to own six figure+ systems have far exceeded what they’ve spent on gear than music. And I’m not knocking that or judging anyone. Because I totally get the quality vs. quantity argument. I just feel like a great system deserves a great collection and vice versa. I have an audiophile friend who’s TT rig is simply stunning. He owns less than 100 LPs. It makes me sick. But more in the way of thinking he could be getting so much more from his turntable. His total spend ratio is in the neighborhood of 85% gear, 15% music (at best).

I don’t keep a spreadsheet, but if I’m being totally honest right now about total cost – I’m at my limit: 50% hardware and 50% software. That bugs me. So one of my New Years resolutions is not to buy any new gear unless I have too (see how long that lasts, junkie). Curious if anyone has thought about their investment this way and what your ratio is.

Jmcgrogan2: I’ve never really done a price breakdown of my software side, so I don’t think I could put a price tag on it. I am limited by space, so I have only about 600 LPs and 400 CDs. I tend to keep it at about that level even while buying more. That means that when I buy more software, some older stuff has to go to make room. The same reason I’ve never owned planar or electrostatic speakers, floor space is at a premium. Now, if my family were to move out…

Mrtennis: It is hard to answer such a question. I would have to count my LPs and CDs and attach an average price to each. I think equipment and music purchases are independent of each other, thus the ratio is irrelevant.

Toddnkaya: Why buy any music? I don’t anymore. My wife and I spend 10 bucks a month and have access to about 3 million albums on Spotify.

Rhljazz: I recently purchased the Decca and Mercury Living Presence boxed sets, 50 CDs each set. The total price was around $240 for both. There is no gear that would come close to matching the value of that music investment! Overall, I’ve spent more on gear. An expense ratio of one to the other never entered into the process of a purchase.

Bonhamcopeland: The more I think about it, Mrtennis is right. Even though I may have spent any ratio of software vs. hardware, it doesn’t matter. I have way more personal investment into the music in terms of time, appreciation, and memory.  I’m less attached to the gear in these ways, so the overall value can’t be truly compared, and I have quite a few vinyl gems that you can’t buy online anywhere for any price. So I’m not sure a monetary scale is relevant. Maybe a better question would have to ask if anyone has ever felt like their collection wasn’t worthy of their hi-fi and vice versa. I know I have felt both ways at times.

How does your budget for music compare to your gear budget?  Do you compare them or just have an overall audio budget?  Any rule you abide by?  Let us know in the comments!


  1. The better my system has become, the more it reveals poor sounding records. I have thousands of CDs, and since turning analog about five years ago, I have about 300 lps. I don’t listen to CDs on my main system any longer, and out of my record collection, I have about 20 records that blow me away every time. Time is more valuable than any amount of money. So for me, it’s quality over quantity. I would rather have 100 blow-your-mind records than… well, with streaming, etc…., the quantity is endless. What’s fun, though, is finding those records, and of course, continuously tweaking the hardware. Happy listening…

  2. Good question.  I have a lot of music, LPs that I bought when I was in college.  Now thy’re being re-issued all the time by various manufacturers. The originals, which I have tried to keep in tip-top tape still sound wonderful (maybe a few more ticks and pops) and have aged well even as my equipment has progressed quality-wise.  The music sounds better and better as my equipment gets upgraded. Why is it I can listen to the same albums over and over again, but very rarely watch a movie more than once or twice? I the end buy what you like and don’t worry about it!

  3. For me, nothing beats digging through endless shelves of used records for the chance I strike gold.  Finding the mint copy of Frank Zappa, Joe’s Garage for $10 makes it all worth it to me. 

  4. Never compared the gear and music costs. Besides at some point there’s the small number rule. If I have 400 albums I should spend on gear just 6000 usd? I think love for music and respect for the musicians effort can make a nice gear purchase even for 70 albums.

  5. My listening time is limited so I opt for quality over quantity as far as software goes , but I break this rule regularly for albums where the music itself trumps the quality of the album or cd , so I have the best hardware I can afford , but my software collection is limited by how much/often I can reasonably play my equipment .

  6. At 16k plus digital songs and 900 plus LPs I tend to break my gear down into digital versus analog. I have given up on digital and have moved to analog. The analog gear by its very nature costs more then then digital gear. The analog format with some shopping and cleaning can be had at $4 per album, including cleaning supplies. That said $3600 barely buys a decent set of speakers. Or a good turntable, arm, and cartridge. But without good cleaning gear and reproduction gear the LPs tend not to sound so good. So it is all intertwined.

  7. Ashwin: This has got me thinking too. I personally don’t feel that the cost of software comes anywhere close to the cost of gear..especially here in South africa everything is imported & subject to duties & taxes. Eitherways there are cd s & lp s which I could not part with & any gear will need to make these sound better for it to find a place in my rack.

  8. I do not keep count of the spend on hardware or software. As my hardware evolve and I hear  deeper into the music and have new experiences there is always the urge to acquire software. New for that new experience. Old Jems based on recommendations. One drives the other

  9. For years I had a mid-fi solid state system which I listened to (mostly CDs) but always left me wanting for more in terms of the listening experience. I was introduced to tubes first (a-la-KT88) and my world was turned upside down. Wanting yet more I turned to SET, but because of the low efficiency speakers I had, I went into 845’s tubes. But yet, I had to have more in the mid-range, so the world of the flea powered 45 tubes at 1.5 watts per channel was a revelation that demanded high efficiency, such as a back loaded horn. For several years now, I have stop purchasing new gear, and concentrated on my music collection, which has grown to about 1200 LPs. I have almost stop buying CDs, because there is so much great music available on the used LP market, that it makes more $$ sense to keep adding to my collection that way.
    I now sit down, not really listening to the gear, but immersing myself and becoming part of the experience (like at a concert hall). Would I like to get new gear? Sure, I would like to replace my CD player. I’ve listened and brought home on loan a modified player that made my old CDs sound almost as good as an LP. But I believe that my days of buying gear for the sake of buying something new are over, as I now enjoy my music more so than my gear.
    I’m not saying mine is the right way; I’m just sharing my audio experience.

  10. I own about 3,000 CDs, 250 LPs and about 600 DVDs and I live in a one bedroom apartment with my wife in lower Manhattan.  Somehow I manage to find room for them. I am sure I have spent thousands of dollars on these various discs.  My audio system includes 2 B&W 802s up front and when I want to use them, I have other speakers around the room (mostly for movies).  Maybe I am insane but this is how I like to hear music, etc.  Total cost of equipment would be over $20,000 I am sure but I really don’t really keep track of it.  I just enjoy it and I am not wealthy.  Happy listening.

    Jesse Joseph
    [email protected]

  11. Had no idea this thread was featured until I started cleaning out my inbox today.

    Just an interesting side note: (and no, I’m not shilling for these guys) I recently discovered a killer app for the iPhone/iPad called Discollector. It works with the Discogs database. You can upload your entire collection from your phone, even scanning barcodes, and it is very accurate down to specific pressings. it all gets uploaded to a private database with photos, detailed info,/ etc. Anyhow, one of the views is a marketplace view which gives you the value of your entire collection from minimum, median, and maximum value. (and for each record). It gave me a much more accurate estimate of the market value for my records – which to my surprise was not even a third of the value of my system.

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