You Really Can Help Save the Stereo

Save the Stereo, a Web-based project dedicated to developing and promoting the best ideas for leading the next generation of music lovers to component-based high-fidelity, launched at the start of the year. Although we have seen a number of prior organizations dedicated to the cause of spreading the gospel of high performance audio wither and die—see John Atkinson's 2005 essay on the subject—this one is different. Because its founder, Gordon White, is soliciting feedback from the audiophile community and developing a grounded action plan before proceeding, perusing the project's website and filling out its all-important, short survey seems more than worth the while of both high-performance audio consumers and industry members.

As White explains on the website's "About Us" page, he alternates his time between publishing Truck Camper magazine, whose avid readership includes Gene Rubin of Gene Rubin Audio, and heading to his basement, where he listens to LPs and digital files of everything from Vivaldi to Daft Punk through "tubes, tubes, and more tubes." He developed Save the Stereo's website with the assistance of his music-loving wife, Truck Camper magazine editor, web developer and "social media expert" Angela White. Given that Angela is "not an audiophile," Gordon has worked hard to develop a project that speaks to the entire music loving community.

"I've been a music lover and passionate audiophile since my early '20s," he explained during one of two intense phone chats. "Based on everything I've read in Stereophile and other publications since 1992, including your recent essay, 'As We Listen, So We Are,' I realized something has to be done to reach the next generation of music lovers. I'm doing this for fun. I love the challenge, and I want to give back to a hobby that has been an important part of my life ever since I was a teenager."

Before launching Save the Stereo, Gordon devoted three months to researching challenges to the survival of high performance, component-based stereo. While asking what the solutions might be, he constantly confronted the questions, "Why is high-end audio important? Why not let it die? Why is it relevant to music lovers who are not currently audiophiles?" These concerns and more he attempts to address on the page, "Why Save the Stereo?" While his rationales for the importance of music mostly emphasize the practical and merely hint at its spiritual import, there is no question that White hits much of the nail on its head.

Nor does he pretend he has all the answers. "I'm asking people to take a look and give me their feedback," he says. "I know the site isn't perfect, and I really want to hear from everybody with ideas. I want to get everyone on a single page so we can move forward collectively."

Gordon White's goal is to receive enough responses and suggestions from community and industry members alike to put together an action plan. After that, Gordon and his friend, electrical engineer and Lancaster Audio Club founder Rob Czetli, hope to move the ideas forward.

"First we need to figure out if everybody thinks Save the Stereo is a good idea," he says. "Then, we need to integrate new ideas and feedback. This is why we must gather ideas from as many people as possible before proceeding. Finally, after an action plan evolves and we vote on it, it will be up to the industry to fund the project.

"The biggest challenge I think we face is that most music lovers who have been walking around with Beats headphones have never experienced great sound, and don't have a lot of opportunities to access that experience," he laments. "The $4 million ads for Beats and Sonos during the SuperBowl show that interest in music has not diminished. But it seems these companies are the only ones reaching out to music lovers."

The next step is up to you. There are no dues involved. White asks that you simply take the Save the Stereo survey and spread the word. As he writes, "Somewhere out there are young music lovers starving for a deeper connection to recorded music . . . We need to do what we can to reach these young music lovers and share our incredible hobby with them. They are looking for us, even if they don't know it yet. Let's give them the opportunity to experience the magic of recorded music on a component-based high-fidelity stereo system . . . Component-based high-fidelity stereo is important and worth fighting for."

Share | |
Jason Brett's picture

I have to think that these type of initiatives are doomed to fail as long as the high-end industry continues to try to adapt new customers to the products they make, rather than making products that new customers want to buy.   Look at the new products made by Bluesound, recently reviewed at Audiostream.  Bluesound's product line includes small, attractive, inexpensive components that perform very well and can be controlled from a tablet or smartphone.  This is the way to get new people interested in the hobby, not nebulous "action plans."  When the high-end industry wakes up to this, they'll start attracting new people to the hobby.

jimtavegia's picture

You must package hi-rez and quality into convenience, other wise no dice.  This may be computer driven audio into high quality powered speakers.  Mass of wires have to go. 

Maybe time for some powered floor standers?   This could eliminate the sub and more connections. 

Littrell's picture

A poll is not going to work.  This industry for the most part has killed itself with outrageously priced compoents.  Everthing from the power cable to room tuniing devices are way overpriced.  The industry seems to be fine to catering to the wealthy.  $1K for a decent power cable, $2K for a power conditioner, have you looked at preamp, amp, and speaker pricing (holy sh!t) lakely? 

Don't give me the line that you can buy an entry level set with good speakers and and integrated for relatively little money.  This may be true, but what happens when one wants to move upe to large floor standing speakers and separates?  Look at what is being reviewed and marketed and try to honestly tell me the average working man can afford this stuff. 

Don't tell me either that quality costs money.  I've learned over the years that some high priced components actually perform to their price, but one needs to be experienced enought to pick out the real deal from the imposters.  Most infuriating is that some high end stuff is made in China, but excessively priced (that's you Classe) which gives the impression that the manufacturer is more concerned with making a profit than manufacturing a quality product overseas to sell at a more reasonable price.  Isn't that the whole point of moving production overseas?  To make the produce more affordable?  Seems like in the high end, that answer is no. 

My favorite power cable is a Shunyata Anaconda and my favorite interconnect is the Kimber Silver Streak.  At retail pricing, those cables cost $2.5K - juist for the cables!  I got sick of the high prices, sold my amp and preamp, and got a good surround sound receiver and descent "mid fi" speakers.  Audiophiles would look down at my system, but let me tell you from owning components from Proceed, Classe, VTL, and B&W that my Onkyo receiver and Polk speakers give me more pleasure than those other components ever did.  Why?  Because I knew given the pricing that I was not going to get top tier performance and I could listen without analyzing and just enjoy the music or movie.  I get almost all of the performance of the megabuck stuff without the high cost.  Sure my receiver is not as controlled and powerful as a separate amp, sure my receiver is not as transparent as a good preamp, but then I spent a fraction of what I would have on the hi end stuff, and guess what?  That Onkyo receiver actually can put out some kick ass bass, tonality is good, and the imaging is very good.  Sure I can get more controlled bass, higher frequency extension, and more transparncy with separates, but those modest improvements are gong to cost A LOT more money. 

My impression is that the high end looks to the snob appeal to get sales.  Before the onset of home theater, one would be willing to spend more on components because only 2 channels were needed.  With the advent of home theater, one must must pay for 5,7, or 9 channels.  Add up the pricing for that with the traditional hi end companies and home theater receivers and "mid fi" hi efficiency speakers become much more attractive.

Unless I win the lottery or start makinig a lot more money, goodbye separates and hello Onkyo, Oppo, Polk, etc.

John Atkinson's picture

Littrell wrote:
This industry for the most part has killed itself with outrageously priced components.

I think you are confusing the symptom for the case. As I wrote a few years back - see - as the middle class in the US has less and less disposable income, manufacturers, faced with fewer unit sales but  increasing fixed costs, are forced into increasingly pricey market segments. A less than virtuous spiral.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Littrell's picture


I don't know why the industry won't listen to their target audience.  I am the industry's target audience.  I got the high end bug at 18 and I am currently 44.  I am not confusing the symptom for the cause.  The prices of high end products are too bloody expensive.  That is the reason the industry is failing.  Not the sole reason, but the main reason.  Want the number 2 reason?  #2 - high end dealers refuse to negotiate on price.  I have been able to dicker on pricing since I bought my first pair of Klipsch KG3 speakers in 1987.  I learned in the late 90s and 2000s that hi end dealers would not negotiate on pricing and guess what?  During that same time, the internet as a marketplace exploded so I started buying hi end stuff off the internet from reputable people that would dicker on price.  This has led to the demise of the brick and mortar store.  Raising two kids, with a mortgage, two car payments, and a studen loan, saving 10 to 30% had a tangible effect on the household budget.  I would go listen to hi end stuff at the local dealer and if I liked something, I tried to buy from the dealer.  When the dealer would not negotiate (hi end pricing is like car pricing - negotiable), I went to the internet.  Siimple economics at play.

Back to point #1 - I have been reading Stereophile since 1995.  Back then one could buy a pretty good amp for $1,500.  In 2002, a pair of 1 meter Kimber Silver Streak cost $240.  Now, they cost $510.  I happen to think Kimber Silver Streak is a very good product, but the price causes one to pause.  The market is proliferated with $10K amps and $25K+ speakers.  Only doctors, lawyers, seasoned airline pilots,  executives, etc. can afford this hobby.

Sorry, but the increasing fixed costs argument does not hold water.  What increased fixed costs?  Labor?  I doubt those working for Classe (made in China) or Bryston (made in Canada) are earning a descent middle class wage assembling components.  Material costs?  The cost of raw materials may have increased, but not to the order of magnitude hi end pricing has increased.  Advertising costs? 

I think you hit the nail on the head with fewer sales.  Manufacturer:  We are not selliing as many widgets as we used to!  What to do?  Aha, raise prices in the hopes that each theft, er I mean sale, will keep us in business.  Minions:  Yeah, that is a good idea and will work.  Do it!  I want to point out a particular example in the industry, Classe.  At one time, Classe used to be made in Canada. Their stuff was expensive, but of good quality.  A purchase led to one owning a fine piece of electronics.  I waited for the day I could buy a high power Classe amp.  I was shocked to learn Classe now manufacturers in China, but they still ask an ultrapremium price for their stuff.  From a consumer standpoint, the whole point of buying something made in China is to buy something that cost less money.  So why is it that Classe, which still makes good products, moved manufacturing to China but still charges Nort American or EU pricing for their products?  Is it because they want to keep their old profit margin with fewer sales?  Or do they just want to make more profit per unit?  The consumer sees it as Classe wanting to make more profit per unit.  If Classe's goal is to keep their profit margin with fewer sales, why not think about manufacturing a less expensive product or if the dealer network is keeping the retail pricing high, rethink the dealer network.  Traditional marketplace rules indicate that if demand goes down, so should pricing, but the hi end is a niche market so the traditional rules don't apply so it seems.  I think the high end is killing itself through high pricing and they have only themselves and their dealer network to blame.  It's about time the hi end ACCEPTS this fact.  Their really is no reason a Magico Q1 speaker with a single 7" driver should cost $26,500. 

As the consumer, I can spend my money on whatever I want.  If I really want that pair of B&W Diamond speakers or a Krell (now made in China) integrated, I will find a way to do it.  However, the outrageously hi pricing of hi end components minces that motivation to almost zero.  Lexicon dropped an Oppo player complete with the Oppo chasis in fancy Lexicon casework and had the nerve to ask a boat load of money for the Oppo with a Lexicon badge.  This act amounted to fraud in consumers' eyes. 

"If you, as an audio manufacturer or retailer, have to gross a certain amount of revenue each quarter to cover your fixed expenses and enable you to meet your payroll, you have three choices of how to do it: 1) sell a very small number of very expensive products; 2) sell a larger number of midpriced products; or 3) sell a very large number of inexpensive products. With an impoverished middle class no longer able to find the scratch for $5000/pair speakers and the large amount of capital required to make or sell large quantities of beer-budget products not being available to small businesses (as 80% of high-end audio companies are), the only viable business strategy is Option 1: move upmarket to service the very small number of very rich customers."  Enough is enough.  If I can afford a $3400 plasma TV, I can afford a $5,000 pair of speakers.  Problem is that the $3400 plasma TV reprsents the pinacle of design and good value for what you get, whereas the $5,000 gets you a two way speaker with a 5" or ^'6 woofer that does not represent the pinacle of design or good value from the aspect of performance.  If the hi end wants to cater to the megabuck crowd, let them do so, but don't lament the downturn in the hi end industry.  Good luck with your ultra-niche market and congrats to those who can afford it.  I will stick with my mid fi stuff and I suspect the majority of Americans will too.  Thank you Oppo, Emotiva, Golden Ear, Def Tech, SVS, etc for bringing excellent products at sane pricing to the hi end target consumer.

The paradigm is changing.  Sick of reading about the same products in the mags that I can never afford.  Sick of having companies like Nordost which used to have high, but yet attainable pricing move their upper end products into defense department pricing.  $1K for 4 footers with a laser level (wow, a laser!) or $4,599 for a meter pair of Tyr speaker cable!  Odin save us!

John Marks's picture

That, plus a Grace m903 DAC/HPA ($1,895.00 street price), a TASCAM broadcast-duty CD player as a transport ($216.00 street price), and a pair of ATC SCM19s ($3,699; coverage in the works) plus entry-level Cardas cables plus a pair of 20" stands will total under $10,000 and be an amazing system. And another $1,600 buys you Grace's improved newly DSD-ready m905, review next issue.

What about Winslow Burhoe's Direct Acoustics SIlent Speaker II, at well under $1,000 a pair--a loudspeaker that surprised JA for how listenable it was, and how canny engineering from a lifetime of lessons learned (my words not his) resulted in a bargain loudspeaker that was greater than the sum of its parts (his words).

This is a Golden Age of Value for Money in audio.

So, when you tell me that you are sick of reading about products you can never afford, I suppose I can only conclude that neither Stephen Mejias nor I can count you among our loyal readers.

My coverage of affordable gear is not window dressing and it is not a hush-puppy; it is central to my mission as an audio evangelist.

John Marks

Littrell's picture

Yes, I read that amp review.  Your examples are more of the exceptions than the rule.  Walk into a retailer and try to find the products you quoted.  Good luck.  Walk into a high end store and tell me the brands you are likely to find.  Look at the prices for Kimber, Cardas, Nordost, Audioquest, Shunyata, Synergistic Research, Classe, Simaudio, Mark Levinson, Krell, Bryston, VTL, Plinius, Lamm, Luxman, Parasound, Esoteric, YG Acoustics, Rockport, Joseph Audio, Thiel, etc and you want to tell me that this stuff is affordable?  Don't even get me started on phono cartridges.  That's the problem, even reviewers stick their head in the sand about the high prices.  The hi end is doomed if even their reviewers argue the hi end is affordable.  Remember this is a response to the save the stereo campaign.  I'm giving you my two cents from a consumer standpoint why the high end is in the doldrums, yet you want to make the argument the high end is affordable.  Golden Age of Value for Money in Audio?  Are you still drunk from the cocktail you were drinking?  smiley  Have you looked through a Music Direct catalog or an Audio Advisor catalog lately to peruse pricing?  If so and you think the hi end is affordable, keep sticking your head in the sand and wish your industry friends good luck.

I used to subscribe to Stereophile and was a "loyal" reader for years.  You know how many times Musical Fidelity was covered as opposed to say the likes of Lindell Audio?  Way too many.  I liked the writing of Corey Greenberg, Sam Tellig, and Michael Fremer, but come was more of a fantasy read than anythng based in reality given the price of stuff you guys reviewed, especially the items Mikey reviewed.   I found I could get better value form my money in the home theater arena and started reading Stereophile's home theater mag among others.  I dropoed the Stereophile mag because of too much coverage of stuff I could never afford, DCS for example.  Yes, there was coverage of more affordable products, but the VAST majority of coverage wnet to the big $ manufacturers.  Sooner or later, when you want to buy something, you drop the Du Pont Registry for Car and Driver.  Get it?

By the way, I outfitted my home theater for way less than your $10K stereo set up.  Samsung 64" F8500 plasma, Oppo 105D, Onkyo receiver, Polk LSI speakers, and I can buy a great bluray for $7.99 to $9.99 vs. $24+ for some audiophile recording.  You see, the whole family can enjoy 2 hours of a hi rez bluray in full surround sound vs. only me sitting by myself listening to Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, or Sibelius which brings up another issue.  Most of America watches TV and goes to the movies.  America is used to watching video and audio together.  When was the last time you saw your grandma listening to the stereo?  When was the last time you saw your kid listen to a stereo system?  TV has taken over listening to music as a pastime.  The high end has an awesome opportunity to integrate thier products into the living room of America, yet they squander this opprtunity with outlandish pricing.  Simaudio has a home theater receiver priced at $19K that is essentially a Denon.  The Lexicon bluray player I previously gave is an example of outright fraud. 

If you are an audio evangelist, you better start preaching to the high end manufacturers and stop making excuses for their high prices and the sorry state of the industry.  Amen. 

Maybe the high end manufacturers need some much needed sobriety when it comes to market penetration, expansion of market share, developing new markets, etc.  They sure need some help because they are failing.  I'm for hire on a consultant basis smileyenlightened.

John Atkinson's picture

Littrell wrote:
Sorry, but the increasing fixed costs argument does not hold water.  What increased fixed costs?  Labor?  I doubt those working for Classe (made in China) or Bryston (made in Canada) are earning a descent middle class wage assembling components.  Material costs?  The cost of raw materials may have increased, but not to the order of magnitude hi end pricing has increased.  Advertising costs?

With respect, you're missing my point. Every company has an overhead it needs to cover before it invests in parts for the products it makes: rent on the factory, R&D, payroll and payroll taxes and health insurance, interest on borrowed capital, the costs of attending shows, etc, etc.

Let's assume that for a typical audio manufacturer, those costs come to $500,000 per year. Add another $500,000 for the costs of raw parts. In earlier years, this company has been making a loudspeaker that sells at retail for $800/pair, which means they sell it to their dealers for $500/pair.  The company therefore has to sell 2000 pairs each year just to break even on their overhead and cost of parts.

But with the decreasing disposable income of the middle class the past 10 years, it becomes ever more difficult to sell that essential minimum of 2000 pairs each year. So the company decides that the safest business strategy is to move upmarket. Their new speaker is priced at $8000/pair, with a commensurate increase in performance.  Now (and disregarding the increase in parts cost to keep the numbers simple) they only have to sell 200 pairs at the wholesale price of $5000/pair each year to cover their overhead. Even at the higher price, it is more likely in the depressed market that they can sell 200 pairs of speakers than 2000.

As I said in my linked essay that you don't appear to have read, this mechanism results in an upward price spiral - their next speaker might be priced at $80,000/pair and they only have to sell 20 pairs to stay in business. This not because the company's principals are crooks or ripoff merchants, as you imply, but because they are adopting a business strategy that is more likely to keep them in business in a depressed market, particularly when the market for luxury-priced goods is actually expanding.

Please note that I am neither condoning nor condemning this strategy. I am merely explaining a mechanism behind the price inflation that bothers you.

And regarding your point about large-screen TVs...

Littrell wrote:
If I can afford a $3400 plasma TV, I can afford a $5,000 pair of speakers.  Problem is that the $3400 plasma TV reprsents the pinacle of design and good value for what you get, whereas the $5,000 gets you a two way speaker with a 5" or ^'6 woofer that does not represent the pinacle of design or good value from the aspect of performance.

...this is an invalid comparison. Partly because the TV benefits from being made in large numbers compared to the high-end speaker but also because a) the wholesale and retail margins on the TV are tiny and b) the manufacturer might even be selling below their manufacturing cost, making money only because that manufacturing cost is in Korean currency and the return from the sale is in US dollars.. 

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Littrell's picture


I undnerstand your arguments.  I obviously read your essay because I quoted from your essay in ane earlier post.  We both have valid points.  You are correct in that the disposable income of the working class American has shrunk, but you must realize that increasing a product's price to make up for decreased sales is a strategy that caters to those who have more disposible income.  Hi end manufacturers are intelligent people that have consciously chosen their market strategy.  Based on market forces, no poll is going to influence manufacturers to change their strategy.  The only action plan that is going to work is one that hi end manufacturers are going to embrace.  Given where the industry is now, I seriously doubt the vast majority of hi end manufacturers are going to adopt a strategy that will entail more sailes at a lower price point to meet revenue objectives because the action plan would be so radical compared to what exists in the he end marketplace today.  The only hi end manufacturer that I have seen trying to adopt to market economics for the benefit of the average consumer is Martin Logan.  At one time, Martin Logan could only be found at a hi end botique.  Now I can find Marfin Logan at my local big box store.  I am not going to find their top of the line electrostaic speaker at this store, but I can find the entry level electrostatic panel speakers and their cone speakers as well.  Unless other manufactures embrace the same strategy, their products will remain a niche available only to the few or these manufacturers will eventually go out of business. 

I do want to make some comments about your price point example because I think the issue is important.  First, if a company can't sell 2000 pairs of speakers at $800 per pair a problem exists.  Either the product doesn't represent good value for the price, ie its crap, or the manufacturer doesn't have the needed number of retailers to sell 2000 pairs and needs to increase their dealer network.  A reasonable person will be willing to spend $800 for a pair of speakers that perform well.  However, Joe the plumber is not going to spend $8000 on a pair of speakers because no demo is going to illustrate that spending 10 fold more on the new model of speaker is worth the performance increase over the $800 speaker.  A slick brochure, audio jewelry looks, and marketing the spoeaker in a hi end botique gives the illusion that the $8,000 speker is actually worth $8,000 when the performance of the speaker more often than not can not come close to the 10 fold increase in price.

I don't think the TV comparison is wholly invalid.  If the wholesale and resale margins on TVs are so little, how can my local electronics store sell a Sharp 70" top of the line 1080p (857 series) for $1,999 on sale when the regular price is $3,299?  Look at the Sharp Elite brand that modeled itself after the hi end audio industry.  The Sharp Elite was the best LED panel in the consumer market, but Sharp priced it at botique levels.  Not too many people chose to buy a $6,000 60" LED TV, which led to Sharp dropping the product line.  Even with the marketplace failure of Elite, Sharp could have chosen to apply their R&D knowledge to their lessor models and made up the losses by selling a lot of superior displays at slightly higher price points than their competitors.  I would gladly pay $500 more for Quattron and Elite like performance over a Samsung or Sony LED display.

What about the botique amp manufacturer who makes their stuff in China, but sells at outrageous prices in US dollars?  Can't that manufacturer lower the prices of their products and make up any difference increased sales due to the lower labor costs of manufacturing in China?

When the hi end consciously chooses to move their price points upward to offset decreased sales rather than critically analyzing how to adapt to the marketplace, don't lament the disappearance of the hi end.  I really wanted a Sharp Elite and even at closeout priciing, the cost of a Sharp Elite was more expensive than all of its competitors.  I was sad the Sharp Elite went away from the marketplace, but realized the disappearance was due to their pricing and marketing stragety and got over the sadness.

iosiP's picture

Dear Mr. Atkinson, you wrote:


Now (and disregarding the increase in parts cost to keep the numbers simple) they only have to sell 200 pairs at the wholesale price of $5000/pair each year to cover their overhead.

Well, this is exactly where the whole thing becomes crappy: the $5000/pair speakers won't have commensurably more expensive parts or technology, so this is an increase in pure profit!

As a guy with a Master Degree in electronics I can tell you a Boulder amp or a MSB DAC deserves the list price, and so are speakers such as Wilson Audio, Magico or Raidho. But paying premium money for what amounts to little more than off the shelf drivers nicely packed in glossy furniture... well, thanks but no, thanks!

DaveinSM's picture

It is good to see John Atkinson here defending his points, and I do agree that he has something there with the shrinking disposable income of the middle class.  That said...

I always thought that audiophiles came more from at least the upper-middle class.  People who even in down times have more disposable incomes than working class folk.  

I do see the point of those who decry the $80,000 amplifier and speaker manufacturers.  I always thought that those 'statement' products were their way of showing what is technically possible given no restrictions on budget, practicality, or even a market.  And trickle-down technology from these statement products benefits everybody, eventually... or so I'd like to hope.

Let's face it: good, high quality gear is EXPENSIVE by your average American's standards, even used and if it is represented good value used.  I'm not talking 1/2" aluminimum faceplates and gold plated tuning knobs.  

Two manufacturers in particular whom I think have sold out recently under new management are Thiel and especially Krell.  Though their products were considered very expensive by the mainstream, what you got was essentially a hand-made, high quality, no-frills piece of audio equipment that REALLY PERFORMS.  Anyone who has opened the hood and looked at complex crossovers, thick baffles, or the giant toroidal transmformers and massive capacitor rows would know that.  And those things weren't readily apparent by looking at the products' exterior.  Sure, Thiel's beautiful wood veneers also definitely lended a feeling of American-made, handmade luxury.  And you paid for it.  But given all that went into them, I don't think that you would say that Thiels or Krells were overpriced in a way that an $80,000 amp might be.  

I understand that if the volumes aren't there, then you get an inflated per-unit price.  But the idea is to build a brand, then gradually offer lower-end, more affordable models with some of the trickled-down technology.  Magico started off that way with some stupendously expensive models, and now they are finally getting near to prices on their lower models that I might consider... used... $.02

DaveinSM's picture

Really not a fan of this message board format.  Sorry for all the repostings.  Doesn't seem to confirm that it got posted, and I didn't want to waste all that typing...

DaveinSM's picture

using this message board on a mac mini is absolutely painful. 

John Atkinson's picture

DaveinSM wrote:
using this message board on a mac mini is absolutely painful.

I am not sure why you were having problems posting comments. (I deleted the duplicate postings.) What browser are you using? I use Firefox on both a Mac and a PC and after I press "Save" at the bottom left of the posting page, the comment is published immediately and the browser displays the updated comments.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Save The Stereo Project's picture

I agree with many of the points above, but I do not believe products are the complete answer, nor are they completely to blame for the problem.

Excellent products that are marketed poorly fail.  Average products that are marketed well often succeed.

No matter what marketplace we're discussing, high quality affordable products, by themselves, are only part of the solution.

I also believe the high-performance audio industry already offers some excellent affordable products, but could certainly do a lot better.  

Complete the survey on  Get involved.  Offer constructive feedback.  Things are just getting started.

- Gordon White, Save The Stereo Project

marcusavalon's picture

I am an Audiophile and have some nice entry level audiophile equipment and essentially love music of almost every genre. However apart from my longest standing friend and myself I don’t know anyone who shares my obsession.

It’s not actually about equipment anymore there’s a whole generation out there that loves music every bit as much as their Mothers and Fathers however they don’t spin vinyl Frisbees (the only choice when I was young) or stick shiny silver discs in a magic box.

They stream music over the net and have access to vast libraries of music totally for free via Spotify they just have to put up with some cheesy adverts every so many plays. They also carry around in their pockets portable players that have replaced the wrist watch the camera the radio, the Walkman oh and it makes phone calls and sends e-mails pretty neat huh. I think the younger generation has more access to music than I ever did at the same age just the way it’s delivered has changed.

Yes they have sacrificed quantity for quality and availability. The future as I see it will be streaming services delivering vast libraries of music to people over high speed internet connection wired or wireless to either higher quality streaming devices linked to home entertainment centres which will most likely serve as home communications TV and video phones and play music as well or to mobile smart phones or tablets for people on the move. I have by most people’s standards a huge CD collection but It does not even begin to scrape the surface of the staggering amount of music you can access over Spotify and the like.

No it does not sound as wonderful as my Hi Fi system,yet. However I am sure as bandwidth increases and hi definition files become available the reasons for not downloading or streaming will disappear. It might not save the Stereo as we know and love it but the Music has not died just the delivery system is evolving.

The stereo might need saving but its all about the Music.

Archimago's picture

Okay, so another article comes on CNN claiming the death of the traditional hi-fi component system...

Big deal. It doesn't mean it's true nor should anyone go alarmist over it.

IMO, there will always be high-performance audio equipment just as there will always be upscale watches, fancy cars, top-of-the-line anything! I'd like to see some stats as to what "issue" is being addressed here; otherwise this is all hot air signifying nothing.

As an aside, what's with "walking around with those Beats headphones have never experienced great sound"? Seriously? What Beats models did Mr. White listen to? While I agree that for the price, one could get better Sennheisers (for example), and one should avoid the Beats Solos like the plague, some of the lineup like the Studios aren't bad IMO and certainly enhances enjoyment for some kinds of music. To say something like this without further qualification just highlights the absurd elitist opinions held by some audio ethusiasts, unfortunately. (And this in itself does a disservice to promoting quality audio.)

dalethorn's picture

Look at computer software companies, for example those who make accounting and manufacturing systems. They've been scrambling to get as much functionality from their systems to run on mobile devices as they can, with Cloud functionality being just a part of that. Audio companies need to follow suit. They've already lost a generation to the 'Beats' sound and their pricy headphones, not to mention the many years of bass-heavy audio systems for cars. But there are a few people working to make high fidelity a reality for mobile users. Harman and Philips have recent projects running, and Dirac has been providing DSPs for use in cars. The numbers are mostly in mobile, even though there's a core of big-ticket sales to non-mobile users.

earwaxxer's picture

Here's the thing about Stereo vs. mutichannel. You can focus your energy (money) on 2.1 speakers vs. who knows how many. Its a pure sport. Nobody does multi channel well, well 98% anyway. Headphones - another debateable issue. Personally I like speakers. Can you get 'better' sound from headphones for the same coin - sure. Who cares. Do you want to FEEL the sound as well. - Bottom line 'stereo' is alive and well. Nothing to sweat. I lived through quad and all the other shit. Aint going to happen.

charlesfosterkane's picture

Save the Stereo?  That's not my job.  My job is to listen to music.  But if you really want advice to save the stereo?  Stop with the snake oil and admit that the $10,000 amplifier is just a way to separate a fool from his money.  There is no perfect sound, there is no reproducing sound "as the artist intended".  To believe otherwise is ludicrous.  The problem is that too many people depend on fleecing the rubes to make a living.

iosiP's picture

When I buy a car with 250HP and a top speed of 150mph I know that what I get will be pretty close to those figures. Or else, all car magazines will boo and that specific model will rust in peace (or be heavily discounted).

Why is it the same does not apply to stereo equipment? Some of it costs as much as a decent car, so customers should be entitled to the same respect. But nope: I still remember reading a rave review in Stereophile about a pair of tubed monoblocks selling for $275,000 and miserably failing to deliver even 10% of the stated power. Or of a $20,000 DAC that could not credibly reproduce any frequency below 50-60Hz.

I understand "shit happens" but my expectations would be:

- for the reviewer, to spell it loud and clear, without being affected by PC (that's Publicity Correctness);

- for the manufacturer, to offer a full buy-back and apologies for selling lowly junk at the price of gold bullion;

- for the legal system, to enforce the same customer protection rules as for any other product, including penalties for misrepresentation.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm not talking about sound (which is subjective) or fiability (most high end products come with usage restriction, whether it's a Lamborghini or a Patek Philippe) but about measurable things. And I won't fret over a difference of 5-10%, but in sone cases the silly box with a silly price delivers less than 20% of what it claims to do.

So this is it: manufacturers should be much more dependable, or else...

John Atkinson's picture

iosIP wrote:
I still remember reading a rave review in Stereophile about a pair of tubed monoblocks selling for $275,000 and miserably failing to deliver even 10% of the stated power. Or of a $20,000 DAC that could not credibly reproduce any frequency below 50-60Hz.

I can't excuse those products. But I think it fair to point out that the reason you knew that they underperformed so woefully was that this magazine's reviews told you so.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

iosiP's picture

However, what happened next? Did the manufacturers offer to buy back their pieces of crap? Did the unsuspecting owners get any relief? Are the laws protecting customers somewhat "suspended" when it comes to hi-end audio?

And then, how comes the "golden ears" at stereophile did not figure out the pile of crap? Suppose I'm a lawyer or a brain surgeon and as such don't understand more than 10% of your "measurements" page, wouldn't I have parted with my money based on some high-praise comments bestowed by "experienced" reviewers? Should I remind you Michael Fremer's high praise of the Zanden harmonic generator (oops, I mean Signature D/A converter)? Or the (not faint) praise of the Wavac SH-833 monoblocks - that were reviewed, incidentally or not, by the same MF?

Time to retire some golden ears: they just got rusted! And BTW, I remember your listening impressions of some gear I can't remember (I quote from memory): "...since I do not hear much over 9kHz anymore I enlisted the help of a younger friend..." Now, THIS is respect for your readers, and part of the things I do appreciate in life! Just vacuum-clean the rest of the team: I guarantee Stereophile will once again become what it was, and even more! Until then...

John Atkinson's picture

iosIP wrote:
However, what happened next? Did the manufacturers offer to buy back their pieces of crap? Did the unsuspecting owners get any relief? Are the laws protecting customers somewhat "suspended" when it comes to hi-end audio?

To my enormous surprise, sales of the Wavac amplifier went up after our review was published.

iosIP wrote:
And then, how comes the "golden ears" at stereophile did not figure out the pile of crap?

The question is: does the reviewer like the product because of how it measures or despite it? Answering that question is, unfortunately, a work in progress.

iosIP wrote:
BTW, I remember your listening impressions of some gear I can't remember (I quote from memory): "...since I do not hear much over 9kHz anymore I enlisted the help of a younger friend..." Now, THIS is respect for your readers, and part of the things I do appreciate in life!

Not me, I am afraid. My hearing is still good almost to 15kHz at normal listening levels. Most likely the late J. Gordon Holt.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

iosiP's picture

...should be to reproduce with maximum accuracy whatever is on the medium.

Since a piece of gear with poor measurements cannot do this, it doesn't deserve the high-end moniker.

And BTW, I'm not in the "measurement rulez" camp: I heard too many components that measure great but sound like junk. Also, I studied enough to know that there is no audible difference between 0.005% THD and 0.01% THD (I'd say that the distribution of those harmonics is more important), but even my mother can hear 23% THD... And measuring this figure in a DAC (not some SET amp pushed into overdrive or minimonitor scrambling to reproduce Mahler at concert levels) just spells poor engineering.

As to


To my enormous surprise, sales of the Wavac amplifier went up after our review was published.

And still, my question stands: how did Wavac/Zanden/others treat previous buyers who decided to return their gear based on unsubstantiated claims?

Don't tell me it never happened, or I'll believe that a lot of disposable income does not an audiophile make. 

John Atkinson's picture

iosIP wrote:
my question stands: how did Wavac/Zanden/others treat previous buyers who decided to return their gear based on unsubstantiated claims?

I don't know. If this happened, no-one was willing to go on the record and say so. All we were told by the then-WAVAC distributor at the following CES was that he had sold more of the poorly performing amplifier after the Stereophile review had been published than before.

You are free to make of that what you will.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

John Marks's picture

Winslow Burhoe, former conservatory pipe-organ student and later research assistant to Edgar Villchur for the Acoustic Reseaerch AR-4, has authorized me to pass on his take on what I call the Entropic Heat Death of Audio Retailing:

Three things killed the component market: the CD put a ceiling on quality; the economy tanked; computers created a competitive market for leisure time and disposable income.


John Marks

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

A. The CD put a ceiling on quality

Not with the advent of SACD (faltering in the U.S., I know), hi-res downloads (gathering momentum), and blu-ray discs (either audio-only or hi-res audio with video, and also gathering momentum).

B. The economy tanked

Not enough, at this point, to prevent the sale of high-quality components in the US. Economic issues in China and other Asian countries, and the change in value of the US dollar, may be the most relevant factors at this time.

C. Computers created a competitive market for leisure time and disposable income.

There is also this new-fangled stuff called computer audio, which makes possible playback of hi-res content. There are also music servers that operate via iPad and iPhone apps.

What I'm getting at is simple: Awhile back, all three of these factors may have put a major dent in the high-quality component market, but the availability of hi-res content via computer download and blu-ray has the potential to both turn things around and open a huge new youth market to the benefits of hi-res audio played through quality components, including plug-and-play USB DACs and high-quality headphones.

The sky does not need to continue falling if the high performance industry can unite around a mass education campaign that makes the links between new ways of listening and new technologies and components that can both enhance the listening experience and better convey musical truth.

iosiP's picture

So they won't accept being shortchanged by the "industry", and no mass education campaign can convince them it's OK to fund the life standard of people who don't seem to care about delivering what they promise.

How many time has a high-end box fail while being reviewed by the Stereophile staff? Whith this kind of track record, a company manufacturing goods in any other field would have deceased long ago, but high-enders seem to get away with it without as much as an apology!

If Ford Motors would have a failure rate of 5 to 10% (something considered to be natural according to some high end manufacturers - I won't name names unless prompted to do so) US graves would need to be double-decked and Obamacare would go bankrupt.

So I suggest some people clean up their act and just deliver on their promises!

P.S. If your ISP fails to provide service with 99.9% availability I'm sure most of you would cry out loud. Why is it that high end manufacturers are not held to the same standards?

dalethorn's picture

In spite of progress on some fronts - hi-res downloads one of them, the aftereffects of what Burhoe described are still being felt, particulary the first and last points. The economy is mostly voodoo today, so I don't know how we can factor that in.


Enter your username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.