How to Revive High-End Audio

When I became Stereophile's editor in 1986, the median age of the magazine's readership was the same age as I was then, 38; ie, half the readers were younger than 38, half older. According to our most recent reader survey, the median reader age is now 48, meaning that in the intervening 19 years, that median reader has aged at half the rate of the rest of us. A nice trick. But older that reader certainly has become, which has led to cries of doom from some quarters of the audio industry.

The fear is that as members of the baby-boom generation increasingly look backward at their 50th birthdays, they will equally increasingly remove themselves from the market for two-channel audio components. Couple that fear with the observation that younger generations neither appear to value quality nor appear to be willing to devote extended periods of time to listening to music without multitasking, and it would seem that the customer base for the high-end audio industry will soon, literally, die out.

And, as Stereophile correspondent Ken Kessler wrote in an article in the September 2005 issue of UK trade journal Inside Hi-Fi & AV, the high-end audio industry faces obstacles in reaching its existing customer base. Ken's thesis is that, whereas acknowledged luxury markets exist in many fields, from watches to cars to handbags to pens, audio alone seems to be associated with a sense of consumer guilt—that when conspicuous consumption involves expensive loudspeakers or amplifiers, it is to be condemned.

Buy a Patek Phillipe or a Porsche Cayenne and your neighbors will be impressed, or at least not regard you as crazy. But spend that same money on an amplifier or a pair of speakers and, as a Stereophile reader recently wrote me when canceling his subscription, "With all the crap going on in the world and you clowns are stressing over the next platinum-coated piece of electronics . . . You all should be ashamed of yourselves."

This reader was angered by Michael Fremer's admission that he had purchased the review samples of the Wilson Audio Specialties MAXX2 loudspeaker, which he had reviewed in August, and it was Michael Fremer who pointed out to me another example of this paradox a few months back. In a single weekend issue of the New York Times, one writer enthusiastically extolled the benefits of $600 table place settings on one page, while on another page, amid a survey of headphones, another writer cautioned his readers that though one particular model sounded superb, it was ridiculously priced at $300. The Times apparently feels that headphones costing the same as a spoon and couple of forks are too pricey to be recommended.

The fault lies not just in the Times' choice of writers, but also in the way the high-end audio industry has failed to communicate its message to anyone other than those who have found their own ways to its offerings, as well as the fact that, as I pointed out in a speech I gave at a dinner in Chicago celebrating Stereophile's 30th anniversary, traditional audio retailers are more like fishermen than farmers. Unlike the former, the latter actually prepare for next year's crop, and do not assume that customers will come along of their own accord.

That speech was given in 1992, and it is now at least twice as long ago as that when I first began to hear about this problem. One major attempt to address it was when the audio industry formed the Academy for the Advancement of High End Audio, or AAHEA, at the end of the 1980s (see my June 1991 "As We See It"). But a decade later, AAHEA collapsed under the weight of its own inefficiency and internal contradictions (see Art Dudley's November 1998 "As We See It").

Now there will be another attempt. What triggered this essay was a letter I received on October from four industry veterans who are attempting to do something about the apparent malaise. I reproduce the text of that letter below:

Open Letter: A call to action for the High-End Community

So . . . are the doomsayers right? Is high-end audio headed for extinction? Is it true that people no longer respond to high-quality music reproduction? Not at all.

But it's up to us to prove the doomsayers wrong. And we can. This is an invitation to join "The A5"—The American Association for the Advancement of the Audio Arts. We're setting up as an LLC run by a board of directors.

On our own, as individual companies, we can do little to improve public awareness of high-end audio. Working together—manufacturers, distributors, reps, retailers, reviewers—we can turn the public on to one of life's great pleasures (and our passion): great music combined with stunning sound.

Things are not so bleak.

• People are still buying music and listening. Look at the iPod phenomenon and the growth of satellite radio. These listeners are excited about music in their lives. It's up to us to turn more of them on to high-quality music reproduction. It's less of a hard sell than it looks. People are already sold on music! To put it another way, Apple Computer, XM, Sirius, and the like are creating potential customers . . . for us!

• Despite a lack of growth in high-end sales, our industry is more innovative than ever before. Take any product category, any price point in specialty audio: the performance of products today is at an all-time high. The Golden Age of Hi-Fi? This is it!

• What will the A5 do besides collect your dues?

Well, one thing we won't do is hold an annual awards dinner. The A5 is not about self-congratulatory hype. What we propose to do is real. We aim to act, and here are some of the ways:

• Set up a website that directs visitors to the messages, products, and services of our members.

• Set up a user group for our members so we can communicate more freely and share ideas.

• Create the conditions for freer communication among all of us . . . and this includes the end user.

• Forget unproductive controversies, like the objectivist versus the subjectivist camps. There's room for both. And the truth is, one does not have to exclude the other.

• Make the buying public aware of the benefits of value-added service. We can prevent high-end from turning into a commodity. Look at the job that luxury car makers do, or Swiss watchmakers!

• Focus our message and get it to the public through whatever means we can muster and ways we can think of.

• Place ads for our industry in upscale magazines like Forbes, Wine Spectator, and Architectural Digest, to name just a few. We will advertise in new venues outside of our industry.

• Run a weekly program on high-end audio for cable television, PBS, or a program for public radio.

• Demonstrations at concert halls, museums, music schools.

• Regional shows or events at music-educator societies, Mercedes and BMW clubs, jazz or folk festivals.

• Events at fine restaurants. Have a good meal, meet some interesting people. Hear some great sound. (There are people who never go to shows, who don't like crowds. Let's reach them!)

• Create a public relations campaign for our industry as a whole—including articles that we could send to newspapers looking for free content. If we are not blatantly trying to promote certain brands (not the goal), this will work!

• Training programs for salespeople. How to do a good two-channel demo. How to demo both home theater and great music, creating more excitement for both!

The initial response to A5 has been gratifying, and we are just getting started. We need you in at the start. There's strength in numbers. Power, too.

There's something else in numbers: confidence.

The A5 will give members the confidence that we are (finally) taking matters into our own hands and doing something about the vitality and future of our industry.

We need your support and ideas. If not you, who? If not now, when?

Our Best Regards;
Walter Swanbon
Ted Lindblad
Doug Blackwell
Tom Gillett

Postscript

That open letter was sent eight years ago and, perhaps to no-one's surprise, it had no impact or effect. Many observers feel the situation is even worse in 2013 than it was in 2005, with the high-end audio industry even further alienated from customers younger than the baby-boom generation. But with the resurgence of the LP, especially among young music lovers, the advent of computer- and mobile-based audio that is no longer limited in quality by the unmusical noise of lossy codecs like MP3, and the explosion of headphone-based listening, which allows audiophiles of limited means to buy and enjoy Class A audio components without having to spend more than four figures, I believe the future of high-end audio is brighter than it used to be. You might say that it now has a future!—John Atkinson

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Comments
otaku's picture
Tableware

>> one writer enthusiastically extolled the benefits of $600 table place settings on one page, while on another page, amid a survey of headphones, another writer cautioned his readers that though one particular model sounded superb, it was ridiculously priced at $300

I love high-end as much as the next reader, but I have to point out that although I am still using my parents handmade place settings from six decades ago, I would be surprised if my AKG's or Sennheisers or AT's or UE's last till my retirement (the Grado's might).

itsratso's picture
someone below mentioned

someone below mentioned porsches and mont blanc pens. articles that usually try to defend "what's wrong" with high end audio usually fall back on the same argument: "well people also spend a lot of money on -----". the problem, of course, is the majority of people in the world don't like or want to be someone that spends a ton of money on a pen. or a china set. or a speaker. the majority of people aren't dentists, or lawyers, or portfolio managers. they realize this hobby for what it is - a snobby elitist hobby. luckily, there are also companies out there that do get it. they do give you turntables for under $200. and amplifiers. and speakers. the future isn't ridiculing people that say spending hundreds of dollars on a power cord is silly - they are ridiculing you. the future is embracing quality sound for the average person at a price they can afford.

JoeinNC's picture
true...

I was once roundly criticized by some of the readers here because I took issue with Stereophile's description of a $7,000 amp/dac combination as "affordable." 

BradleyP's picture
Why only $200?

I don't have bags of money and I do love great music repsoduced well, so I do get excited about satisfying components that cost only a few hundred bucks.  Remember, though, the reason that there are decent turntables and speakers and amps at those price points--apart from offshore manufacturing--is that much of that technology and design was perfected at a MUCH higher price point and trickled down.  We budget audiophiles need honest high end so we can gather the tasty morsels that fall from its exalted table.  

Right now, I'm streaming a Chesky recording on Spotify through my $350 tubed usb DAC and $200 powered speakers at my desk, and it's sheer hi-fi bliss in a tiny package. Without pioneering efforts from numerous high-end companies, this stuff wouldn't exist. Since the economy fell apart, I don't have time to listen to my now-vintage he-man rig in the other room. Ever.

dadaGuerilla's picture
Stay the course

If you want to capture a younger audience, you have to think like a young person.

To most people, particularly today's 20-somethings, good audio is where you find it. A kid in his first job out of university, who was raised on iMacs and HDTVs and carries an iPhone, audio components, whatever those may be, should follow the same trend computers and consumer electronics have over the past 20 years—less expensive and more competent with each product iteration. Well, that is in fact what has happened. Stereophile writers write about two-channel, ultra-high-end gear in an upper-crust voice that turns a lot of (young) people off. This sort of thing is irrelevant to 20-somethings. You don't write about audio gear meant to interface with Apple iStuff, or demonstrate how to integrate said iStuff with entry-level two-channel audio gear that sounds a lot better than headphones for a couple thousand bucks. Right now you guys are complaining that young people aren't picking up the two-channel banner, but you're tilting at windmills. Young people want cheap, good-sounding gear that works with their consumer electronics, and that's just not Stereophile's mission. Maybe you should just settle for an aging demographic and in 40 years, when we're all in nursing homes or dead and no one has come along to replace us, your successors can just wrap it up? There's no shame in dying a natural death.

I'll keep reading in the meantime, though. I fell in love with audiophile-quality two-channel audio when my dad took me to hear my first set of Magnepans powered by Mark Levinson monoblocks at 16 at the audiophile shop in the city where I grew up. I love actively listening to all kinds of music, and I always have and always will. That's why I am friends with the very bright and kind man who owns the audiophile shop here in Wine Country. He and I share the love of great-sounding music performed cost-effectively. That doesn't mean necessarily cheap—I bought a McIntosh amp, a Vandersteen sub, and Maggie 1.7s from him, all driven by a Mac mini with hi-res audio pumped through Fidelia and then to an entry-level USB DAC, all with very competent wiring. My friend gently steered me toward this system knowing what I could afford to pay with cash, accepted that I was going to drive the system with a Mac and without a CD player or turntable, and cut me some deals here and there. I didn't start out with that gear--I acquired some entry-level NAD and Rotel and Magnepan gear and upgraded to my current configuration, which sounds 95% as good to me as my friend's $100K systems. 

But even though I only earn what is known as "Silicon Valley minimum wage," I'm a rich geezer compared to the kids graduating from university or trade school, who might be willing to part with some disposable income to purchase audio gear if it fits into their notion of what is reasonable. My stepkids attending the university love my McIntosh system, but to them it is completely unreasonable to dedicate a computer, a living room, and $10K to listening and would never consider that. Reasonable to them might be picking up a $500 Zeppelin system from the Apple Store that sat on a bookshelf that works with their iPhones. Stretching it, if these kids could pick up a pair of $500 entry-level B&W floor-standing speakers and a decent $750 media hub that could wirelessly receive music over AirPlay, they might spring for that because it wouldn't take up a ton of space, wouldn't cost a ton more that a Zeppelin, and would sound pretty good to their lady friends. If the McAire cost $1500, McIntosh, Inc., would sell 5x more of them to 20-somethings all day long because the kids would consider that level of quality for the money extra-reasonable--the McAire sounds good, they wouldn't need to max out their first real credit card to get one, it's easy to set up, and best of all it works with iPhones, iPads, and Macs. But at the current price, I'm not sure who is going to buy a McAire. 

My recommendation is to stay the course. You have a captive audience of people hooked on two-channel gear who can afford the good stuff and actually like it when your writers try to sound like Rockefellers. I am not going to be purchasing more gear any time soon unless I become an Internet millionnaire, but it's fun to hear about what other people think is good, which is why I subscribe to your print publication and bother to put some thought into a response to an article that is actually quite narcissistic. Let other people like Steve Guttenberg at CNET talk about what the kids are going to enjoy. Or if you want, start up a magazine focusing on computer audio and entry-level two-channel gear, aimed at 20-somethings. But don't try to force the course of audio gear consumption into what you and I might consider the highest quality or the optimal way to listen to music, because the market has shifted far away from Stereophile-class two-channel gear to sound docks, mono Bluetooth bricks, and smartphones with bass-heavy Beats Audio. Maybe that's bad, maybe that's good, but that's the way it is, and reality deserves respect. Right? wink

rl1856's picture
An open letter.....

All of the comparable objects mentioned in the post are examples of consipicuous consumption backed by highly targeted marketing campaigns.  Purchase a Mont Blanc Pen, Patek Phillipe watch, a Rolex watch or a Porsche Cayenne and the world knows you have money because these examples display your bank balance to the world.  Media campaigns have convinced the public that spending ones discretionary income on such objects is "acceptable".  There is also a degree of positive affirmation enjoyed by the buyer....it is an expensive purchase...I can afford it...I have good taste etc etc.  To an extent Home Theater has been moderately successful in embracing this marketing approach.   After all a 60in flat screen on the wall and confronting every visitor to your home is a highly visible purchase.  It has become acceptable to spend money on a good HT system, because of marketing and because it is a visible purchase, that like the above examples, provides positive affirmation to the buyer.   Another issue is that HT can be enjoyed by a group- family friends etc.  And group friendly expenditures are more easily justified in the family budget.

Contrast the above with 2ch audio.  For the most part it is a solitary activity that can be difficult for a group to enjoy at the same time.  Another issue is that the perception of the hobby is that it is enjoyed by overweight middle aged white men, who have a surprising visual resemblance to pedophiles.  OK the last point was a joke, but serious audio hobbyists are regarded as fringe elements.  For the most part HE audio has not enjoyed the cohesive large scale marketing campaigns that hae been deployed in HT.  In fact, HE missed a great opportunity to become part of the mainstream when HT became a market reality.  HE could have become involved in the establishiment of audio standards for HT and thus become an integral part of the HT movement.  Instead HE stuck it's proverbial head in the ground and hoped it would go away.  HE was very late to adapt to HE and as a result is still a marginal player in the overall market.

On the other hand, digital audio and downloads represents another opportunity for HE to become part of the mainstream.  I like what I have seen so far.  HE has been quick to embrace digital and as a result consumers are slowly becoming aware that there is something better than 16/44 redbook.  I am optimistic regarding the future.

tmsorosk's picture
Rolex

The watch establishes my bank balance ?

It was a gift , I thought it establishes my wifes good taste . 

jkontol's picture
Does it really matter

Should we care if most people does not embrace nor understand our hobby?

PBNAUDIO's picture
An article was written by Barry Willis years ago covering same

I've searcehd for it online but cannot locate it, the message was that highend audio really was a bargian compared to Art, Fancy boats, Fancy dinnners etc, can you plaese put it on line as it  covered this subject very well.

 

Thank you in advance

 

Peter Noerbaek

PBN Audio

jkontol's picture
Instant gratification

Both my hobbies (woodworking and audio) have similar demographics. Go to any wood show and you'll see mostly men with grey hair (although I'm 42yrs young). The point is these hobbies requires craft, time, and dedication (I build my own speakers).

You don't need time and dedication for yacht, porsche, fancy dinner, retail 'theraphy' and rolex.

Other 'dying' hobbies are stamp collecting, model railroads, etc. Today's generation simply don't have the time for those.

himynameisjuan's picture
here you go.
PBNAUDIO's picture
Thank you Sir

That's the one, sums it up very well

 

Good Listening

Peter Noerbaek

PBN Audio

bernardperu's picture
The passive lambs are killing hi-fi

Active-listening is aging and the passive-listeners are killing great music, which is dead for the most part.

Who cares about hi-fi or Stereophile if active-listening is there no more? Does Stereophile want to be like the Rolling Stones in the past 40 years? What's the point?

The real discussion should be how to revive active-listening. If you really listen, hi-fi will come...back.

Do I want Stereophile reviewing albums with a DR8 or less. Hell no! And I am younger than 38 years old. 

deckeda's picture
BINGO!

Right, forget about the money. People have the money. They spend the money. They spend it on cars, houses, large surround-sound receivers and lots of speakers and big TVs. What they DON'T do is actively listen to just music. Money is a red herring!

Consumer audio isn't more expensive than it used to be decades ago, except for the highest of the high end. Don't stress over the fringe! Normal consumer audio is cheap today.

You don't need to focus on any product category or price range to boost this hobby. You need to invite friends over to listen. Or at the very least make music a central part of your social entertainment. "Oh, they won't be interested ..." Well, ain't that a self-fulfilling prophesy? (Or get new friends.)

bernardperu's picture
friends who listen are just not out there

Man, it is really SOOOO hard to persuade my friends into coming to my house to stay silent and listen to the music. I have the equivalent to a Porsche parked in my iving room, but noone notices. As I write this, I have friends sitting in my living room. They complain about materialism, politics, etc, but they would rather facebook than enjoy music. Active-listening is just beyond their minds. 

I have tried to expand my number of friends in order to have listening buddies, but there are just very few young active listeners out there.

I love my firends, but when it comes to music, I am a sociopath. 

I will turn my living room into a listening room for the blind. I really mean it. That is the only way I will have audiophile friends. 

Steve Eddy's picture
High end audio isn't going to revive

As long as it keeps producing piles of large, heavy, often ugly crap that's connected with a tangle of wires and cables. The demographic that finds that sort of thing attractive is dying out. Just look at most all of the exhibitor rooms in your typical show report and ask yourself seriously, who would want that kind of mess in their living room?

Can you imagine seeing anything like that in a room gracing the pages of say, Architectural Digest? I certainly can't. 

se

tarxman82's picture
This sounds like the same

This sounds like the same crap that comes out of the mouths of people I deal with on a day to day basis. Concerned more about how a tv looks when it's switched off than the picture performance. Last I checked tvs were for delivering an image, and the best one to buy was the one to deliver the best image. So why are the best speakers to buy not the ones that sound the best? 

On another note, if you have any basic understanding of how electricity works, you'll understand why speaker wires like the ones that you find so offensive are necessary. 

Long-time listener's picture
A question and an observation

I'm curious. I know younger listeners are going back to LPs, but why? Because they are quaint? Have big covers with nice art work? Or because you can achieve reasonably good sound at a lower price than with CDs?

Someone above said, "...confronting every visitor to your home is a highly *visible* purchase." Yes--all the luxury items mentioned can be made appealing through VISUAL advertising. But hearing is secondary to sight, and it's impossible to convey how good a system or component sounds over TV--when the viewer's TV speakers are inferior.

I myself am in my late 50s. I now listen to music at home mostly over headphones--despite having a good system in both my living room and a more modest but still nice one in the bedroom. An iPod combined with a Fostex HP-P1 and a $50 pair of AKG 518LEs gives me more consistently good sound over a wider range of genres than either system. The living room system comes close, but it cost well over US$6,000, including components and cables. And it took a horrendous, tortorous process to shop, and assemble, and position, and adjust, and tweak it, until it sounded reasonably good, not to mention buying more than one of several of the components until I found the right one. The high end is a royal pain in the butt. And Stereophile promotes it. And you have to have a space isolated enough not to disturb your neighbors. I regret having become so involved in this hobby, and wish I had never spent most of the money I did on the high end. Maybe people are simply achieving some common sense and turning away from all this.

smargo's picture
that is so right on - my

that is so right on - my experience of listening is so by myself - it took me years of buying and selling equipment to arrive at where i am now

i always say in the back of mind - "that if only i bought that piece instead of that piece"

to me if the high end was a significant upgrade to sound itself - then i would have reason to shout to the world - but the high end - it is so over-rated - and often doen in isolation - unless you meet with a group every two months

if the sound really was incredible and you had to have it - then my friends would have it

i hate to tell you how many times i have played somrthing for fiends and they thought it was good - but nothing earth shattering - that they had to have that equipment too

CJW's picture
How to revive hi-end audio? Revive Stereophile

I argue that Stereophile must take some responsibility for the lack in popularity of hi-end audio. I am a 30 year old audiophile who has some questions for Stereophile. 

1) I am an audiophile who likes all things audio, why do I have to go to a sepereate website for home theater audio, computer audio, and 2 channel audio?

2) What has Stereophile done to attract women to high-end audio?

3) What has Stereophile done to attracked teenagers to high-end audio?

4) What has Stereophile done to attracked people in there 20's and 30's?

BradleyP's picture
2, 3, and 4

Answers to 2, 3, and 4 are "Stereophile hired Stephen Mejias."  Well, 3 and 4, at least.  ;-)

John Atkinson's picture
Really?

CJW wrote:
why do I have to go to a sepereate website for home theater audio, computer audio, and 2 channel audio?

Is that really a problem? There is a link page at the foot of every page for the other websites.

And the answer to your question is that publishing separate websites for each topic maximizes page views, which in turn maximizes advertising revenue, which in turn provides the finance necessary for us to host the sites and to continue offering you all of our content free of charge. If we put it all on one site, we would most likely have to erect a pay-to-view barrier, which I would find abhorrent.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Antips's picture
Ken Kessler was half right,

that there is an analogy between Mont Blanc, Patek Phillipe, Rolex and Porsche; and audiophile products. Both represent apparent taste, discernment, disposable income and social status.

Yet Kessler's non-audio examples publicly demonstrate aspiration, status and wealth. With the exception of recent trends in headphone popularity, we audiophiles share a domestic hobby. The contrast between public and private space is the heart of the problem. Despite the advances of feminism, our culture still imagines the public sphere (where we see Rolexes and Porches in use) a predominantly masculinized space. Our private lounges where audio systems reside occupy, in cultural imagination, feminized domestic space.

The genuine merits of pre/power/floor-standing systems will not cut through. Untapped markets will remain indifferent whilst we remain a domestic activity. The dichotomy is our hobby somehow needs to get out of the lounge and get public.    

           

truman1's picture
John,  Most of my friends do

John,  Most of my friends do not own a stereo (and have no interest in owning one)  part is changing lifestyle choices and the other is the declining middle class (and their lack of disposable income).  But I think there is one issue that you did not cover and is part of the reason many potential customers have left Stereophile and audio in  general and it has nothing to do with the cost of equipment.  The issue is the industry's vocal snake oil salesman!  Buy this quantum flux capacitor burl wood acoustic harminizor for $10,000 and it will transform the listening experience.  The worst part is not that these hucksters sells this junk, but it is that the trade magazines enable them with glowing reviews that validate their wild claims.  The public no longer trusts the trade magazine because the collusion obvious to all.  Start telling the truth and calling out industry lies and people might start listening again.

Josh Hill's picture
I wouldn't accuse the magazines of colluding

Not this one, anyway. But I think you do have a point. High-end audio has a reputation as the province of obsessives who spend thousands on speaker cables. Some of that, frankly, is deserved, since as you point out there's a fair amount of snake oil in this business. That does a disservice to the majority of high-end products, which really do deliver great sound, and often for not that much money.

peter_964rs's picture
It may be about perceived value

If I spend $100k on a Porsche, not only am I perceived to have spent the money (and gained kudos and 'signalled' who I am and where I am going in life) there is intrinstic value in a $100k Porsche that is difficult to deny. It does 200mph, makes me feel like a God, and can easily be measured against its peers not only in terms of raw performance, but also in subjective terms (for those who argue over whether Porsche is better than Ferrai, say).

 

Spending $100k on hifi is much harder to justify:

1. 'Signalling': Harder to 'signal' except only to fellow nerds and only then via posting photos or videos online to show off. The general public don't get it and deliberately showing off is a bit sad. Unless you paint your Porsche pink, maybe.

2. 'Perceived value': Harder to justify the price difference between $100k and $10k spend, especially when music reproduction is primarily an emotional experience for the listener, and $10k systems can be just brilliant. A Porsche is crammed with technology that does stuff like stop it exploding when it reaches top speed. Many $100k hifi products sadly look like they carry very similar tech to their $10k counterparts, except in shinier, heavier boxes adorned with billet aluminimum and blue LEDs. Nothing highlights this better than cables. How can a $1k USB cable (for example) be justified? What is the resale value of something like this? At least you can predict your rate of depreciation with the Porsche.

3. 'Confidence': You really have to be confident you spent your money wisely. Even the mega wealthy will pause before splurging $100k on a high end system. Does it really deliver better music reproduction than the $10k system? Whereas the Porsche clearly outperforms, say, the Golf GTi. Similarly, does the $1k USB cable genuninely deliver better sound, or am I just subject to confirmation bias?

4. 'Choice': There is far too much. Companies like Krell and Naim and Quad have been around for years and their products have some credence and maintained value. But the high end is now littered with extremely expensive, small brands which muddies the water for the consumer. This is not the case with $100k cars - the choice is more limited, supported by fairly unbiased reviews, and therefore easier to make a choice.

 

Personally, I'm saddened that the high end industry seems to be delivering higher and higher price tags aligned to lifestyle choices like how shiny and bright and heavy the equipment is, and less about the value it offers and the capability it provides. This is what makes it on a race track to doom.

detonnation's picture
Here is the problem in a nutshell

Price. Everything is so damn expensive. Sure there are a few budget/moderately priced items, but it is discouraging when there is no depth into a hobby like audio. By depth I mean that Youngins can barely afford the price of entry.

In fact, I have been priced out of this hobby as companies plot their product lines on the high end of high end. I just recieved a Music Direct Catalog... which has an awesome picture of Jerry Garcia on the cover btw! Thumbing through, the prices are astonishing. Am I going to drop 5K on a tube amp or a set of wires. Maybe ;) lol... but probably not.

I would also say that the way albums are recorded are ruining the industry too. Popular music is pumped up to the loudest settings. No dynamics, all loud. Ive tried to listen to some of the recordings and they grate on ones ears. We need to introduce silence back into our music, and not just in audiophile approved content.

Id also suggest that the pricing of high def content is discouraging. I laugh at DSD and DXD prices. What kid will purchase those, I doubt very few.

BradleyP's picture
Look Harder

I got the same Music Direct catalogue and see it filled with plenty of affordable gear.  Yeah, there are tube ambs for $5k and up, but also for $3k on down to $500.  Wharfedale stand mount speakers for $350, a slew of turntables under a grand, and respectable budget DACs grace these pages along with higher end gear, but not any stupid-high gear that I can see.  $250 Audioengine speakers, anyone?  Audioquest Dragon DAC for $200?  Audioquest Evergreen Interconnects for beer money?  Yep, yep, and yep.  DSD and DXD can be converted to analogue for $400, now, thanks to Resonessence, Light Harmonic, and a growing list of others. Shoot, Schiit's Loki does DSD for $179 paired with a regular DAC.  

Perhaps a good approach for Music Direct, Audio Advisor, and other audio catalogues would be to have a whole section up front devoted just to pre-assembled, entry-level systems from $500 to $2500.  Shoot, Music Direct could even throw in a free LP or CD or two as a bonus.  If you can't find a way to spring for that, you're either on really hard times, ignorant of what real hi-fi can do, or quality recorded music's just not your thing.

Stephen Richards's picture
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Personally I have never listened to as much music as now, and never with such quality.

I started out with cassette tapes, so  apple has revolutionized my audio life. All the younger people I know, know about great headphones, blueray and 5.1 surround for movies, concert video and video games. 

It's now easy to get great headphones, a great desktop system, great ipod boom box systems, music from all over the world - it really is a golden age.  

At home I have a psb image 5.1 system, and am thinking about a nad d7050 & kef ls50 for the kitchen (where I listen when the tv is in use, and for excellent background music for Sunday brunch). I hope you'll excuse me for not wanting to spend a lot more.

There is a real need for stereophile to talk about putting affordable systems together (although a step up from the entry level columns) much  more regularly, as the internet I has a dearth of such info.  $2000 on speakers that will sound great for 20 years is something a young family will think about. Another $2k on everything else in the system over time is ok too. $20k in one payment - well how many people have that much disposable income?

volvic's picture
Analogy with Rolex and Patek is wrong

Those companies are not in the watch business but in the luxury business and have a long tradition as such.  Some manufacturer comes up with an amplifier that costs 50k is not even in the same category and most people outside of this hobby rightfully scoff at that.  

The industry as a whole has not done itself any favors by pushing and promoting 100k speakers, 100k amps and 100k turntables, as much as I love reading about them it ain't going to win converts pushing these and 20k speaker wires.  A major rethink is in order and older conventions will have to change.  

Oh and BTW! have had a Cayenne in my possession, long term and can say that it is a waste of money and petrol and laugh at people that drive them these days so imagine what the hoi polloi think about our expensive gear.  

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