If you asked 10 people for their definition of luxury, you’d probably get 10 similar but also wildly varying answers. For some, it might mean a five-star vacation; for others, it might be a chauffeured ride in a Bentley; for others, flying First Class in a plane; while others would describe luxury as popping open a cult Cabernet.
But what differentiates something that is luxurious from something that isn’t?
Consider a Rolex timepiece.
By nearly any metric, a Rolex is a luxury product. But what actually makes it luxury?
Is it simply because the least expensive model—the “humble” Oyster Perpetual 34—sells for just north of $5,000? Does the high price define it as a luxury product?
In part, maybe. By commanding such a price, it means fewer people can own one, thus creating more brand cachet and demand.
Does the $5,000 Rolex do more than other watches? Hardly. In fact, the OP 34 has but one function: It tells the time. As those in horology would say, it offers nary a single additional complication. No date, no alarm. It won’t take your pulse. It won’t display text messages. It just displays the time—via old-school analog hands.
But surely, as far as timekeeping goes, a $5,000 Rolex is unequaled, offering accuracy rivaled only by laboratory-grade atomic clocks. Umm, again, no. In fact, Rolexes are notoriously inaccurate, frequently running several seconds fast or slow—per day. A $10 quartz watch would trounce any Rolex in timekeeping accuracy.
So, why would anyone possibly choose to spend 100 times more on a Rolex than another watch, making it the Number Four top-selling watch brand in the world?
Because frequently a large part of luxury goes beyond performance and into things more tangential, like pride of ownership. The Rolex owner is proud knowing they own something that was crafted by hand, in limited numbers, with higher-caliber components, and with superior craftsmanship. They feel good about owning it, wearing it, checking the time on it, and showing it off.
The superior craftsmanship does offer some actual performance benefits, such as being truly waterproof, with a sapphire crystal that’s virtually impervious to scratches, and a 28,800 beats-per-hour movement that produces a lovely sound and that—if well cared for—will provide decades of service so the watch can be handed down to the next generation. (Also, since
Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual movement never requires a battery change, the watch will practically pay for itself after like 500 years!)
These same analogies can certainly be applied to luxury home-entertainment components.
Do the iconic glowing blue lights and dancing VU meters make a McIntosh component perform better? Does a Meridian speaker sound better for its meticulously finished cabinet? Does a movie collection navigated via Kaleidescape’s gorgeous interface look and sound better? Do these products costing hundreds of times more than entry-level models in the same category deliver an experience that is 100 times better?
But these luxury products have a very necessary place in the world of home entertainment.
Luxury is often a feeling that comes from purchasing something superior to the norm, when striving to attain an elevated experience. It is part of a commitment to having far more than just a passing interest in your entertainment experience. And in the home entertainment world, luxury components often come with improvements—sometimes incremental, sometimes considerable. But it is often many little things that add up to a better whole.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at
@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.