Is high-end audio moving in the right direction?

Stereophile Staff's picture
Extremes of cost and performance continue to impress. But plenty of high-performance products can be had for very little money as well. With all of this, is high-end audio moving in the right direction?
Is high-end audio moving in the right direction?
Yes
37% (24 votes)
No
51% (33 votes)
Maybe
12% (8 votes)
Total votes: 65
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Comments
Jim Tavegia's picture

I am constantly amazed at the high cost of some of the absolute best in hi-fi, but at the same time I find that this is a great time to be an audiophile since never before has so much affordable equipment with excellent performance been offered. I think the one surprising thing is all that is being done to extract all there is out of the 16-bit medium, since we have had "perfect sound forever" as early as 1983. lol. With all of this, it is amazing to me that the masses still find MP3s enjoyable with all the high bit-rate files available.

Johann Spischak's picture

Only quality matters.

HS's picture

I don't have complaints about the technical side of things, but hi-fi marketing leaves everything to be desired. Every time I demo my system, the listener says, "I had no idea..."

Will Weber's picture

Sure, the top-end is too expensive. I can't have it, it's just for dreaming. However, the trickle-down of technology is the benefit of this trend. I can have superior sound quality for the same or less money than ever. This is good!

PV's picture

We need a significant difference in quality between low-end and midrange products and not just a price to reflect an empty promise of "what could be."

Oliver's picture

The direction I see is "impress other people" + "make a virtual sound." The right direction would be "reproduce a concert in highest quality."

mark's picture

Although there are plenty of good DACs in the market, there are too few high-end music-file transports.

jmsent's picture

How do you define "the right direction" when the industry is merely going in circles? High-end audio is little more than a fashion industry these days. And the numbers tell a sad story of a shrinking customer base being served by ever more obscure, small companies with no real engineering and little marketing. Sad that the industry I worked in for more than 30 years has gone this way, but there it is.

jason's picture

There is so much wrong with high-end audio that it hard to pick a place to start. The thing that really bugs me the most is magazines insisting that vinyl reproduces sound more accurately than a CD. Clearly this is not true—there are very measurable wow and flutter that appear in the playback of LPs. CDs are digital and are spec'ed out of the human ear's range of finding flaw. Cheap digital mastering could be to blame, but usually, if anything, it's comparing the terrible studio recordings of today. This brings me to the problem with the music industry. Everything is recorded loud these days. Even old remasters are often turned up. Everything sounds compressed and leaves the listener fatigued. It seems like '89 to about '94 was the pinnacle of studio recording. After that it was some marketing moron that decided more music would sell if it was louder. Hence, where we are today.I will be the first to admit that I listen to a lot of MP3s. I live in a walking city, so my iPhone is my equivalent of a car stereo. It serves me well and I don't mind the compression since I am walking around in a noisy environment. What really bugs me is that music is being moved towards being sold in lossy formats or compressed formats. I have always imagined that digital formats would become more accurate in reproduction and be uncompressed, but now they aren't (with the exception of CDs). SACDs came with DRM (Digital Rights Management), which was clearly a turn off to anyone who understands how it works. I also feel they were poorly marketed. Ask any common person what SACD is and they will have no idea. I could go on and on about this, but I would just be rambling more than I already am. Unless high-end audio starts moving forward again, it's going to die out. Vinyl is cool, as I still have many records, but it is what it is. It's warm sound comes from distortion as well as the tube amps. Let's get back on track, please.

Mark's picture

I think high-end manufacturers need to focus on making their products easier to hook-up and use.

Mario's picture

Too much artisanal boutique stuff. This removes market shares to larger companies who can fund research and make scientifically founded advancements.

Louis P.'s picture

Reader surveys from years gone by suggested that most of the action was for systems with a total price somewhere in the teens. I would say equally that a lot of the audiophile world can afford a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, but far fewer a Mercedes Benz S Class or BMW 7 Series. But it seems that audio manufacturers are far more interested in individual components that cost as much as the aforementioned Benz & BMW. It would be really nice to see the emphasis shift back down to components in the $5000-10,000 range. Probably many/most audiophiles can at least aspire to one such component in their system. It could be more expensive speakers with modest electronics, or maybe a super turntable. (Hi, Mikey.) And at that price range, there is definitely trickle-down to the next lower price category. I can understand some of the hostility to the super-expensive components. They are like the Bugatti Veyron or McLaren F1, with little relevance to the average audiophile.

Dave Bennett's picture

The failure of SACD.

Dimitris Gogas's picture

It's not moving by itself. It's a consumer-driven market, so it seems to be in the "right" direction.

Anonymous's picture

For the most part, it isn't—so I voted no. Yes there are a few exceptions, yet those don't appear to get much attention. Maybe because they're not crazily overpriced?

CharlyD's picture

Modern technologies and manufacturing practices have allowed mainstream manufacturers to offer products with far broader feature sets at order of magnitude lower prices than high-end vendors. These feature sets include connectivity and convenience features which have come to be expected by modern consumers. These observations apply most strongly to electronics, however. Technology and manufacturing practices can deliver very good speakers at moderate prices, but the truly sublime will remain pricey.

Alex Da Droog's picture

Ever-increasing costs with small increases in performance are the hallmarks of a shrinking market. High-performance (as opposed to high-cost overbuilt) audio systems need to be available to the general public. Enough consumers care about good sound (more than most in the high-end will credit), but the kind of stuff going on in high-end audio turns them off. I recently built a small integrated box combining an USB-DAC (192kHz/24-bit asynchronous) and an integrated hybrid amplifier combined with a small format PC to store music (and play DVDs, etc) using J-River Media Center. Linked to a pair of modest size (but serious performance speakers) and a flat screen TV, the whole setup has been the talk among his friends and several have asked for the same set-up. At home I have trouble getting use of my own (much more exotic) high-end system as it monopolized by the girlfriend and her sister. The key for high-end audio's future is easy accessibility of high-quality audio to "normal" people. In time, they will seek higher performance (and accept higher cost). For now high-end audio needs many lower costing, more mainstream-appealing products—we already have enough of the others.

Christian's picture

The highest-end is far too expensive to be dreamed of, leaving all components in between with a bad taste of imperfection for also too much money. The cheaper-end is often very good sounding but continuously attacked by the more and more improving feature-rich A/V electronics.

Patrick's picture

High-end audio has been moved out of the mainstream for so long I think it is poised for a return, and its secret weapons are: China, vinyl, and the Internet. China, for cheaper derivatively designed giant killers. Vinyl, as an attempt by the record labels to actually start selling things again (can't download vinyl, not yet at least). The Internet, as an easy way to navigate through the BS hi-fi is soaked in, like Stereophile raving about a $6k ICE-based amp. Really Stereophile, Really? $6k for an ICE-based amp—you call that a deal? I have some waterfront property in Idaho I want to sell you.

KingLocal's picture

Computer audio is the future and it seems that the high-end is getting on board, so that's a good thing.

Jim's picture

Seems to be on a death spiral. The young mobile crowd lives in an MP3 world and many of us who have been interested in this for years are looking at an industry designing for a "money is absolutely no object" market segment, which I suspect leaves many people like myself—the majority I would think—who once had interest and were willing to invest in hi-fi, losing interest. I can understand the business-related reasons this has evolved, but the end result for me and perhaps many others is that I seldom pay it any attention now. I'm just sticking with equipment I purchased a decade ago or more. Only the emergence of the next quality format/media interests me now.

D.A.'s picture

Yes, convincing people to buy overpriced equipment and even to tune it with insane cables/anti-vibration pads, power conditioning, and all the stuff without any rigorous proof of performance difference, that's just great. Just get on with it!

Canadain Canuck's picture

High-end is moving too much to ultra-expensive stuff and, really, the magazines are to blame, including Stereophile. You never offend and always praise every piece of gear, even though it's trash. The gear is already presold to stores who can't tell good audio from bad. They are just pushing stuff and not really into audio. Most salespeople I know don't own any audio gear at home. Really inspires the audio industry.

ThinkBrown's picture

The fact that I can get a pair of very good-sounding stereo speakers for $500 is definitely a step in the right direction for speakers. The electronics side of it, however, is moving more & more towards receivers with 7 HDMI ports, 11 channels of amplification, and more effects than you can shake a stick at.

Chris's picture

Top tier products still way too expensive. So little "trickle down" technology in high end audio today.

Bubba in SF's picture

I have not seen affordable products in the dealers I have gone into. Most of them are keeping their products very high-end and making money in complete home automation systems. Dimming, energy control, home theater and security integrated systems. That's great if you want to drop $100k on home theater/audio and another $50k on the home automation. With construction in the tank how long do they think it will last? There are stores that have their least expensive products STARTING at $2000. Where are the high performance for very little money lines?

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