To Jeff Fritz,
I enjoy your site and particularly appreciate your willingness to express an opinion and to qualify it as your well-informed opinion, as opposed to some who express an opinion and expect their readers to accept it as absolute. I also appreciate your practical side, which brings me to my question. High-end audio is getting outrageously expensive. Even for the well-to-do consumer: speakers costing as much as small houses, systems as much as large houses. Add to that, every few years, on schedule in some cases, the designers have an epiphany of knowledge that brings about a radical change to their product, which brings it "to a whole new level," rendering their previous product obsolete.
For those of us who have lost interest in the ever-evolving (again, at times on a very regular schedule of every 4-5 years) "improvement" of audio equipment, what is a reasonable expected lifespan of high-end audio gear assuming that it has the appropriate care and feeding? Will a pair of Rockports or Magicos last a user 20-30 years? Can an Ayre amp still perform to its level after a similar amount of time? I use these brands only as examples; there are many other names I could put in here. When reading some reviews I will often read statements such as, "the last ***** you will ever buy." Then a few years later the upgrade comes out, which is "leagues better and raises the bar to a whole new level." Well, if I am happy now, and don't need a "whole new level," how long will my speakers last?
The best products of today will last you a very long time indeed. Let's take a look at speakers as an example. Most driver surrounds, including those made by Rockport and Magico, use rubber. In years past many drivers used foam for their surrounds and this would in fact decay over time. The rubber used today should outlast foam by a considerable margin. Same goes with the driver cones: the better drivers eschew paper in their construction for materials like carbon fiber. These high-tech cones will likely outlast you and me. I have no reservations about speakers like Rockports and Magicos and many others. I think they make for a fine long-term investment. Your estimate of 20-30 years is not farfetched.
As for electronics, it's the same situation. If we're talking about a proper design to begin with, a good amp, for instance, should last 20 years before it even needs service. You can take old Krells and Thresholds as examples: these amps of yore commonly need their main power-supply capacitors replaced after a couple of decades, but then oftentimes they are as good as new, perhaps for another 20 years or so. Compare that with any appliance or car and you can see that high-end gear is quite a good investment in terms of long-term use. The only other product I can think of that compares is a fine Swiss watch that's handed down to the next generation. Minor maintenance is required, but nothing too significant.
So to sum up, if longevity is a concern, I'd be confident that your investment in high-end audio gear is a safe one. One thing is likely: the upgrade bug will hit you long before the equipment wears out, as long as it is good equipment to begin with. . . . Jeff Fritz