High-End Audio: Regaining the High Ground?
Although I was only able to stay long enough to snap a few photos and hear moderator Ken Kessler’s (Hi-Fi News) downer of an introduction, Friday evening’s post-show panel included, from left to right, HiFi Plus editor Alan Sircom, recording engineer Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio Specialties, Kathy Gornick of Thiel Audio, Michael Fremer of Stereophile and AnalogPlanet.com, Roy Hall of Music Hall and "why don’t you join me for a shot," and Kessler himself. Dan D’Agostino of D’Agostino, Inc., founder of and former designer at Krell, turned up after I had shot my photo.
John Atkinson adds: Kessler’s thesis was that the high-end audio industry is dying by its own hand; that if it is to continue to exist, let alone thrive, high-end audio has to emulate the example of the luxury watch, pen, and car industries by becoming aspirational and moving upmarket, abandoning the middle-class customers who no longer have the necessary disposable income to spend on audio.
Some companies are already trying this strategysee my March 2011 essay. But personally, I think it crazy for a company, unless it is very small, to makes this concept the entirety of their marketing strategy.
Adam Smith, the philosophical father of free-market capitalism wrote in The Wealth of Nations, "No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable." The fact that poor and miserable people don't buy high-end audio equipment was Kessler's point but it was the expanding purchasing power of the middle class throughout the 1970s, '80s, and '90s that fueled the growth of the high-end audio industry. I believe, like Art Dudley in September 2012, that product prices aimed at the middle class remains the industry's best hope for both survival and growth.