you make some great points ,imo, it's all about the listeners ears in most cases.. there would probably be a few exceptions, the phil bmr comes to mind (as an above price point value , pretty much universally accepted as such)That's a good question. On one hand the end price on retail brands has to get marked up much more due to the middle men. But do they have greater purchasing power and lower manufacturing costs? On the other hand do boutique or ID speakers have to make more profit per speaker because they don't sell as many?
Let's look at some models. Ascend CBM-170 is $348/pair. HSU HB1 is $380. Do they sound, not arguably, but definitively better than Wharfedale 220 for $350? Or Polk S15/S20 for $230/$300? Or Elac B5/B6 S1 or 2 for $300? And let's be honest the aesthetics of the CBM-170 is well...eek! It looks more like a sub I'd want stuck in the corner out of sight than something on my speaker stands.
How about the Sierra 2? I haven't heard it but I'm sure it sounds fantastic. But at $1500 is it definitively better than the Revel Performa M105 for $1500? Or the Kef LS50 for $1300? Or Focal Aria 906 for $1500? Or Dynaudio Excite X18? What else? Axiom Audio M3 for $550? I've owned the previous incarnation and they were good but nothing stood out against any other $500 speaker I've had from Paradigm, PSB, etc.
It's an interesting discussion. Has anyone owned an ID brand speaker that was without a doubt better than a similar priced retail brand they had on hand? Maybe the Sierra 2 is better than those I listed but I bet it would be arguable. Perhaps the RAAL tweeter is more expensive so it alone drives up the costs, so maybe that's not the best comparison. Here's another - SVS ultra bookshelf vs Dynaudio Emit 20. Both $1000.