Letters in Response

Letters in Response appeared in April 1994 (Vol.17 No.4):

The High End's blindness
Editor: Well done, Jack English! Truer words have rarely been written in the pages of Stereophile. In the opening paragraph of your "R.I.P. High End Audio" in January, you nailed the culprit: people. For all its brilliant scientific success, the High End has failed miserably at the most important science of all: that of human psychology. Since a good understanding of human psychology is the basis of successful marketing, nobody should be surprised to learn that the High End can't market its way out of a paper bag. The people within the industry act like they've never met an average American consumer; and when they do, they recoil in terror.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, an American tragic novel is depicted on Stereophile's gorgeous new cover. Just below the date, January 1994, is an amplifier that could have easily come from January 1934. Though 60 years apart, both '34 and '94 represent periods when the flashiest status symbol of all is a job! Has anybody within the High End figured that out? When corporations like McDonald's to Mercedes Benz are announcing "value-pricing for the '90s," we turn to the pages of Stereophile to discover that a pair of 30W retro-turds are going to set you back $7500.

Meanwhile, people with brains, with common sense, with a job, with an eye toward value, are doing this with their $7500. They've noticed that the price of 35" color tubes has actually come down in the past couple of years. (Does that ever occur in the High End?) They pick up a big-tube TV for $1200, figuring that's a great start to a home-theater system. They might take Corey Greenberg's suggestion and add a trick satellite-subwoofer system from someone like NHT. Throw in a laserdisc player, add an electronics core from any number of manufacturers, and one could assemble an entire home-theater system for $7500.

And now for the basic lesson in human psychology: Listen up, you idiot-savants! There's a reason they call this the home entertainment business: Girls just want to have fun, and guys just want to be cool (and impress the girls). So now it's New Year's Eve, and you have two choices: drop in on Skip and Buffy, party hearty to the Tina Turner laserdisc, grind hips with the hot little redhead certain to be at Skip and Buffy's—after all, they've got that cool new Home Theater—or accept the invitation from that bed-wetting, propeller-head Poindexter with the two new 30W retro-turds.

Don't all raise your hands at once, now. I want you to think carefully before making your decision. Remember, we're talking about the probable behavioral patterns of real Americans. (Does anyone in the High End associate with anyone like that?) Jack, did I notice your use of the word "irrelevant"? Good choice!

In the final paragraph of JE's article, he writes, "We aren't effectively communicating the value of high-end audio." Wake up and smell the coffee, Jack; there is no value to be communicated to the average American through a $7500 pair of 30W retro-turds! Or an $8900 Krell amp, or a $6300 Krell preamp (line only), or a $12,850 MFA preamp, or the $10,995 Mach I speakers, all of which occupy the first issue of the newly enlarged Stereophile. Too bad your concept of value isn't newly enlarged.—Bruce Market, Coeur d'Alene, ID

The high end's success
Editor: Jack English's very well expressed article in January on why high-end audio does not penetrate the consciousness of its natural market addresses all the relevant issues, except perhaps the deeper philosophical one. Indeed, most musically sensitive, intelligent, and well-heeled consumers of reproduced music do ignore the world of high-end audio. If they have some fleeting contact with it, they recoil in repugnance at what they see as either simple charlatanism or complex self-delusion. I know, because I was a scoffer myself until a couple years ago, and I had more than a few good laughs about people listening to cables. (This is the apogee of absurdity to a non-audiophile. You might as well spend your time listening to the sound of your sofa for all the sense this makes to the uninitiated.)

The philosophical obstacle to even giving the High End a listen is based on unquestioning faith in Science. If anything, this faith is even narrower and more blinding than the faith of medieval theologians in the orthodoxies of Catholicism (footnote 1). To think that one 100W receiver with less than 0.01% THD could sound different from some audiophile preamp/amp with the same specifications is not just a novel opinion, it is downright heresy! It is almost as unthinkable as it would have been for Thomas Aquinas to disavow the divinity of Christ. If one admits either proposition, the whole edifice of Science or Christian theology respectively tumbles into chaos. To go to a listening session would be the equivalent of the Pope attending a black mass.

In my case, the conversion began by reading a couple of issues of Stereophile, to which I had subscribed without any comprehension of what I was getting into. I came aboard just as the controversy about Tice clocks was churning the "Letters" column. That was more theology than I could swallow, and I just about asked for a refund, except that a few of the articles seemed interesting and even sensible.

However, a dealer, frustrated by my continuing skepticism, administered the most telling blow: He commanded me to sit down and listen to two amplifiers. After about an hour of listening to Barbra Streisand breathe ("Listen real carefully to the sibilance when she takes a breath"), I stood up believing that a 50W amp could sound just as loud as a 100W amp, and that the differences in intonation that I heard really existed and sounded more pleasing on the lower-powered amp. (The sustained repetition also opened to me the world of Streisand and Show music, which I had previously despised.)

Since that experience, Science has become science to me. I am no longer a true believer in the all-importance of measurement. It took the dethronement of a na;d;ive faith before I could hear the difference that the High End proclaims. I suspect that this same shift in belief—and it's a big one—must be made by anyone who enters the world of high-end audio.

Unfortunately, I doubt that there is any substitute for the dealer who spent so much time with me tediously changing cables and cuing my attention. It is a time-consuming process with no guarantee of conversion; but then, that has always been the price of evangelization. A dealer must evangelize even knowing that some other dealer may become the beneficiary of his efforts. Perhaps he will be the beneficiary of another dealer's efforts.

But perhaps we as individuals can make the biggest difference by demonstrating our systems to visitors without becoming irritated at skepticism. Why not go to the trouble of pulling out some of your audiophile gear and substituting that old Sansui receiver so your teenage son's friend can understand, too? If you truly love music, it is a joy to share not only the music, but also your knowledge of the means of enjoying it more fully.—Louis Bencze, Brush Prairie, WA

The High End can be saved
Editor: The average music lover (read "non-audiophile") is completely put off by assertions that speaker cables, specific CD players, different amplifiers, or, for that matter, green-ink CD tweaks make any difference. Most hardly know what a "soundstage" is. However, a large percentage would be very impressed with the difference between $700 Sony speakers and $1400 full-range Vandersteens. A small percentage of those would search for more and become dedicated audiophiles.

The way to save the High End is to encourage people to buy expensive speakers like Vandersteen 2Ces and Thiel CS2 2s and use their current equipment to drive them (as long as power/load requirements are met). This requires speaker manufacturers to appeal to a mass audience by insisting that their speakers sound great with almost any system. I have my Thiels plugged into inexpensive amplification. I love it. Only after a year, I am beginning to appreciate (or disagree with) Stereophile's opinions. Perhaps a Melos or a Krell would make an improvement...—Gill Eisenstein, Ypsilanti, MI

The High End's failure
Editor: Jack English mentioned the "High End's abhorrence of rock'n'roll" in January. Sadly, I suspect this is a common attitude, and it irritates me to no end. The purpose of flawlessly reproducing recorded music is to enjoy the music, not the technology. The technophiles who seem to populate the world of high-end audio miss this point. They can't tell the difference between a delicate violin sonata and the Stereophile Test CD 1, provided they are played using equal technologies. On the other hand, one of my favorite artists, Led Zeppelin, is history's most sloppily recorded. They sound like crap, no matter what sound system you have. But I love their music just the same.—Bruce D. Gretz, Ann Arbor, MI

The High End's decline
Editor: Jack English's January article, "R.I.P. High End Audio," built a case for the evident decline of the high-end audio industry on the lack of name recognition.

There are others in and around "high-quality" audio, as we who have been around for many years prefer to call it. I would like to add the thinking of these people, and myself (who should be qualified, after 35 years or so of being a part of it all), to the reasons why this is occurring.

Thirty-five and forty years ago, the ruling names in music reproduction in the home that were known to the so-called educated public were Capehart, Magnavox, Scott-Ravenswood; later, Philharmonic Radio (which became Fisher), etc. Among the initiated, and owing to the early writings of those such as B.H. Haggin in The Nation and F. Scott Burke in The Saturday Review, the ruling names were Fisher, Brociner-Klipsch, Electro-Voice Patrician, Brook, etc.

These latter names were no better known in their day than are the high-end names of today. Yet back then, the industry was growing ever upward, with great excitement everywhere. The late, great Joe Marshall, an early commentator on the burgeoning "high-quality" industry, called the "hi-fi quest" the search for the ineffable, the better in life—it seemed a proper project for each day, as we approached what we thought was the "golden mean" of music reproduction.

Today, that search and its idealistic overtones seem ended. Why? It is more than a lack of name recognition, according to most worthy authorities with whom I have spoken. Most of them add, parenthetically, that the cause of the decline is not inevitable, that it can be reversed. I offer the various theories I have heard, with brief descriptions of each:

1) The victim is the culprit; ie, the theory of it. Raymond Cooke, a giant in the art of the loudspeaker [and the founder of KEF], who in the past has done much for "high-quality" sound reproduction (he is now, unfortunately, quite ill), espoused this most directly in my demonstration room at the 1990 Summer CES in Chicago, and to a man well known to you all: Mr. Larry Archibald. Raymond spent approximately an hour berating Larry (I was completely silent during the trauma) for creating an underground publication which, like certain others both in the US and his native England, diverted the search for more realistic, accurate sound reproduction in the home—a subject, Raymond said, which is interesting to people with serious interests in music—into channels of interest only to hobbyists and the neurotically inclined. Something like the medieval argument regarding how many angels could dance on the head of a pin—ie, completely alienated from any serious purpose, and devoid of any scientific verification! Raymond seemed to be saying that the publications had rejected the same music lovers who had originally formed the basis for the new "high-quality" approach!

2) The days of glory in the industry were back in the late 1970s and early '80s. People no longer have an interest in higher-quality sound reproduction; those who stay in the industry are catering to a different class of thrill-seekers. (This theory was advanced to me by Raymond in a recent letter.)

3) Everyone is too busy these days. Several dealers have told me that their traditional customers, those who actually spend time listening to serious music, and who appreciate serious higher-quality reproduction (and were willing to pay for the equipment required for it), are no longer in the market because they are so busy in other ways that they don't have the time. The business is both professional and social, other leisure needs and pursuits taking precedence over serious listening to music. Symptomatic of the change is the emergence of Home Theater—translated as embellishments of the "boob tube"—as well as other leisure pursuits which were not relevant 30 or more years ago.

4) The day of the cultivated—ie, well-educated and sensitive human being, sensitive to the arts in all their manifestations—is in decline. Hans Fantel, a famous audio writer for the erudite New York Times, advanced this theory to me one late afternoon last summer on the porch of his home in the Berkshires, near Tanglewood (where, we both agreed, the arts are not in decline). He quoted a book with which I was familiar, The Revolt of the Masses, written by Jose Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish philosopher, in the early 1930s. This book foresaw the decline of the truly cultivated man under the onslaught of the masses and the commercial entertainments to come, wherein true culture and the arts were repackaged and brutalized for mass consumption by the rising group, rich in money rather than culture, which he termed the "new barbarians"!

5) The costs of "high-quality" sound reproduction zooming upward while the disposable income of the middle classes declined, along with their standards of living and their exposure to art forms, one of which might be termed the "high-quality" reproduction of serious music.

Kevin Phillips, political consultant to the Republican party in the late '60s, describes just this situation in his recent book, The Boiling Point. Certain "elites" (financial, and definitely not the intellectual elites of Ortega y Gasset) have systematically and purposefully reduced the ability of the middle classes to involve themselves in art (such as music and its proper reproduction). According to these financial elites, the only purpose of these "middle classes," who in the past purchased the majority of reasonably priced "high-quality" equipment, is the consumption of cruder (ie, cruder than art forms), mass-produced goods.

6) Our educational system—ie, that available to most people—has fatally failed our culture, as evidenced by the wiping out of classes introducing students to music and other art forms in the schools. While the removal of cultural education from most schools does not affect the financial "elites" described by Kevin Phillips (cf 5, above), who can afford to send their children to expensive private schools, it does have direct effects on all other children who, for instance, come out of school basically illiterate, and certainly without an abiding love for serious music of the sort for which the industry of "high-quality" sound reproduction originally formed itself. Therefore, these children do not know music—these functionally and artistically illiterate people have no need of, no desire for, and no idea of the art form that, in essence, is the "high-quality" reproduction of music in the home!

According to this theory, even the original godheads of music in the home, mentioned in my opening paragraphs, would have little relevance to, and therefore little prospects for sales to, these functional illiterates which our current educational system produces.

So much for theories: I could go on and on, to other people's projections of the reasons why all art forms are in peril in our current social scene. For instance, the orchestras are suffering badly; ballet troupes are going bankrupt everywhere; even the Metropolitan Opera, I am told, is not as healthy as it would want to be.

But, as I have suggested, all the above theories predicate the possibility of being reversed. For instance, there are beginning attempts to reverse our educational system. Young children may again hear and love, in their schools, "In the Hall of the Mountain King," which started me on my lifetime involvement in music and its proper reproduction. I offer these theories for what they are worth, and am willing to expand on them at length, if the need and the interest be among your readers.—Irving M. ("Bud") Fried, Fried Products Corporation

But is high-end audio declining? I don't think so, as the companies that constitute the High End are doing better than they ever have, and are forming a new Establishment. I think the problem is more one of limited growth potential, which is why the next letter, despite the whiskers it grew in my in-tray, makes an appearance.—John Atkinson

Where are the women?
Editor: Every time I read in Stereophile or The Abso!ute Sound about the lack of women involved as customers in high-end audio, I think of the National Press Club bar, which was open only to men until 1972. Owing to the agenda of the times, it was decided to allow women members into the bar. A date was set for integration, and my paper, the long-gone Washington Daily News, decided to send our reporter, Judy Mann, to buy the first drink. The great day arrived, Judy bought her drink (I forget what it was), I got my picture, and news was made.

As a member of the club, I would look in the bar whenever I was there. Guess what? After all the fuss and feathers, it was still rare to see a woman member there. Most women members still preferred, it appeared, to sit in the lounge and order drinks from a waiter.

I attend live music pretty regularly, mostly the San Francisco Opera and San Jose Symphony. From time to time I count heads in the seats around me, and have noticed that women consistently outnumber men. I have a good friend who has season tickets to the SJ Symphony and our local opera. She often invites me to go along, because her husband wants to stay home and she doesn't want to waste his ticket. So far as I can tell, women are equally or more interested in attending live music as/than men. The only reason for this is that women like to dress up and go out more than men. Maybe, but let's look further.

Do you know any women who listen regularly to recorded music at home who own more than one performance of a given work? I don't, and my sample group of women includes a surgeon's wife, a microbiology Ph.D., a lawyer, a photo retoucher, and a clinical psychologist who sings in amateur oratorio and opera. If they wished to, they could all afford more than one recording of a favorite work. This leads me to:

Do you know any women who argue the merits of two or more live performances of a given work of music? I don't. At the opera, my female friends will assert that they like a particular singer of the evening or don't like another. What I have never heard (and some of them have been going to the opera for 30 or 40 years) is, "She's okay, but do you remember how Tebaldi (Callas, Milanov, de Los Angeles—pick your own) used to sing that passage?" Opera-going men make these comments all the time. It might be worth noticing that nearly all the "Letters" [published in] Fanfare magazine, which is devoted almost exclusively to comparisons of recorded performances, are signed by men. In Fanfare, we are dealing exclusively with recordings, not speaker wire.

Ah yes, speaker wire. Perhaps we ask the wrong question. Instead of asking why women don't get into high-end audio, we should be asking what particular form of dementia drives men (myself included) to sink ridiculous sums into audio equipment. I have read of $2500 CD players described as "affordable." We live in the era of "basic" $5000 preamps, $50–$100/foot speaker cables, and $2000 tonearms. Cartridges? Ho-ho.

Not long ago, my microbiologist friend asked me to help her select a modest system. She had been thinking about one of the various mini-systems which contain an integrated amp, CD and tape decks, and dedicated speakers. I suggested she get entry-level NAD equipment with PSB Alphas, and she took my advice. She loves the system, and her total investment was about two-thirds the price of a Lyra Clavis. She and her six-year-old daughter (who knows Die Zauberflöte and Hänsel und Gretel by heart) listen to it constantly. If I were to tell her that I saw, at the 1993 San Francisco Stereophile High-End Hi-Fi Show, an 8' pair of speaker wires costing $15,000, she would a) not believe me, and b) not care. She likes her system because it lets her hear music she likes, and she doesn't feel any need to compare it to others.

Is this the key to the lack of women in the High End? Have men made the whole industry/hobby one of constant comparisons? It hardly seems that men can listen to music without doing this—Furtwängler vs Toscanini, Pavarotti vs Domingo, Heifetz vs Kreisler, ARC vs Classé, Linn vs SOTA, ad infinitum. We're always looking for The Winner.

Perhaps all these comparisons are actually getting in the way of pure enjoyment of music. Or perhaps men only enjoy music when they make comparisons. I spend a lot of time listening to my system and tweaking components. Yet the thought constantly occurs to me that my enjoyment of favorite recordings, such as Furtwängler's BPO performance of Beethoven's Coriolanus Overture, has not increased at all since the days when I owned a B&O receiver and turntable and I forget what speakers.

Without the constant need to compare, there would be no desire to upgrade one's system. With no compulsion to upgrade, there would be virtually no high-end market. If my observations and assumptions are correct, some of the suggestions, like making components more "attractive," won't draw women into the High End. I understand that people collect vintage electric train sets. Apparently in the late '30s, some genius at the Lionel Train Co. noticed that little girls weren't buying electric trains and persuaded the bean counters that it was because trains were ugly. Lionel therefore marketed a train set painted entirely in pink! As I understand it, that set (complete and mint) now sells for tens of thousands of dollars because little girls didn't buy it, and it is of extreme rarity. Spare me from a pink Krell or a floral SOTA! That isn't going to do it. My friend with the NAD gear has never made any comment, pro or con, about the looks of the equipment (her listening room is in Early American). She accepts the NAD for what it is, and she likes the sound.

Will the growth of home-entertainment systems draw women into the field? I think not. I don't know any women who care if they watch a favorite movie on a 13" Panasonic or a 32" Sony XBR, or a Gawdalmighty Theta Data/Runco/Lexicon/Snell THX system. They don't seem to need to make these differentiations. And how many women buy subwoofers? Please, Velodyne and Muse, tell us. Make me wrong.

The High End is designed by men for men. It feeds our particular need to compare and improve. Nanette Westerman was right, in her letter last April (p.12), that there is a certain amount of defensive chauvinism in the men's club of audiophiles. Her most telling statement, if I may edit, is "...before I spend my money...you'll have to see how music fits into my life, and design practical, affordable systems around my needs." Actually, this is just what high-end systems are not. They are impractical and awfully unaffordable systems which fit certain men's needs. When I have audiophile (men) friends over, we listen to and comment on my system. But I listen to music far more (live and recorded) with women, who could care less if I'm using KT88s or KT99s.

Unlike the National Press Club bar, the High End has no rule excluding women. In this context, Larry Archibald's response in the April '93 "Final Word" was right on the money: Women don't see themselves as audiophiles, and would appear to have no interest in being seen as audiophiles. But LA's argument that industry, stupidity, and lack of promotional creativity have kept women out of the High End doesn't convince me. It's true that many dealers are insensitive klutzes and that many salesmen are ignorant jerks, but as many are not. Stereo Plus, a fine dealership in San Francisco, has female salespersons who are extremely competent and a pleasure to work with. I don't notice more women customers there than in other stores.

I have no idea if there is a way to involve women in the High End, which seems to exist to serve men in quest of constant upgrading. Should the industry discourage this? Should women suddenly become as neurotic as we are? Why?

LA's idea to "invite local female executive groups to be your guests for their meetings" is a wonderful idea. Perhaps the hangup for women is that their awareness of the High End usually comes from a father, husband, or boyfriend, and is therefore perceived as A Male Thing. If all-women groups could be persuaded to listen to high-end equipment together, things might change. A sensitive dealer could do a lot in this direction.

So is there a point to all this? I suppose it's this: Integrate the high-end bar by all means, but don't be surprised if women continue to buy drinks in the mid-fi lounge and enjoy their music live. They have a right to.—Charles Arnhold, San Jose, CA

Asymptotic attributions
Editor: In his cry of despair about the threatened demise of high-end audio (p.68), Jack English noted a possible parallel between audiophilia and automotivilia, and also offered a graph relating loudspeaker cost to performance which followed an asymptotic law. For the record, in 1968, I presented a similar curve in my book Hi-Fi in the Home, plotting financial outlay against quality for complete stereo systems, with cars set in parallel for comparison, and subsequently employed the phrase "asymptotic to perfection" when discussing the cost/quality equation in Hi-Fi News. Prices have changed somewhat since then, but it's gratifying to find the asymptote still in place after a quarter-century of further perfectionist striving.—John Crabbe, Todmorden, Lancashire, England

Footnote 1: This uncritical faith in Science is examined in Harry Collins's and Trevor Pinch's The Golem (Cambridge University Press, 1993). Professors Collins and Pinch look at formal scientific method as practised in a small number of classic experiments—Michaelson & Morley's proof for the nonexistence of the ether, for example—and conclude that "objectivity" is more intimately linked with society's and scientists' expectations and needs than is generally appreciated. They also examine the general public's flip-flopping between distrust of, and blind adulation for, Science. Regarding the latter, Collins and Pinch point out on p.143 that "It is no coincidence that those who feel most certain of their grip on scientific method have rarely worked on the frontiers of science themselves."—John Atkinson

Rust's picture

I won't be buying any equipment that costs more than my (paid for) 12 year old vehicle at it's current blue book value let alone my (paid for) house. Like exotic cars it's all nice eye candy in the magazines. Like the exotic cars it is also a preview of what may be available a few years down the pike at a price I'm willing to pay. For instance my old Sony Trinitron ran $700, my new LED screen $700. Something around $1,000 is my limit for a single piece new or used.

More important is my music collection which I have been working on since I was 15. Somewhat eclectic, ranging from Renata Tibaldi to Beth Hart (the Live at Paradiso is phenominal), from the old Minneapolis Symphony (my grandfather took me to the bandshell on Lake Harriet when I was very young) to Jimi, Eric Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Alvin Lee etc. Amazingly, the value of a forty plus year collection far outweights the value of the equipment. Duh.

I'll lay some of the blame for no affordable gear directly on the music industry for the crap quality of their consumer products, and that quality has only degraded with the conglomerization of the industry. Decent, meaning that even mid level afforable equipment isn't all that desirable if it's garbage in, garbage out. A perfect example is someone recently mentioned that they had had the loan of a first gen copy of Sergeant Peppers. I would happily wring a music company executives neck for that tape, at least in part as payback for the miserable dreck available to the consumer of the same recording for the last forty plus years.

I've heard direct dubs of master tapes to CD. It is absolutely insane how much better they sounded than commercially available CDs of the exact same music. Imagine if you will the same quality available to the consumer, would they upgrade equipment? Imagine 192/24 or DSD available to the consumer. Of music they want to listen to.

And not just of the same old lame audiophile crap. If it won't rock with Hendrix, Zep, Smokin' Joe Kubeck, Sonny Landreth, Chris Duarte etc., I'm not interested. Maybe Maggie Sansone or John McCutcheon on hammer dulcimer (played guitar occasionally with John when I was a kid). But whatever it is has to have broad consumer appeal. Quit whining about the lack of music appreciation in schools or the intellectual decline of the public, the public ain't buying what the "High End" oracles are pushing.

HD tracks is a good start as are a couple of other sites that have other than the equivalent of Mongolian nose flute or gamelon symphonies available. My next purchase? How about an Oppo 105 which at $1,200 or so seems to do more well than virtually any other piece of equipment at any price. High performance instead of high price high end. Like a VPI Traveler turntable, Odyssey electronics, Tyler Acoustic speakers, NAD electronics, Teac electronics (new DAC in particular), Magnapan and every other company that put out a QUALITY affordable product .

Basically, the "High End" is all uber expensive luxury goods. Marketed to the wealthy. And yes if you can pop $50,000 plus for a set of speakers I'll just have to color you wealthier than me. My speakers are thirty years old and rebuilt several times.

Back to the auto comparison. In auto rags there is a lot more coverage of what an average person can afford. If you're tagging a $5,000 amplifer as "mid-range price" to an avarage person, you are smoking your toe jam. And yes, there are companies currently building quality product in the US of A (not China) who certainly pric e better than that.

In the meantime I guess I'll crank up the old Fender, needed some new 12AU7s and 12AX7s recently, and grab the old cherry sunburstT-Bird Deluxe. Gee, sounds just like the real thing....

Vade Forrester's picture

"Basically, the "High End" is all uber expensive luxury goods."

By whose definition? Have you ever read Stephen Mejias' column in Stereophile, or any of Sam Tellig's columns, or any of the other reviews of reasonably priced equipment? There is more low- and moderately-priced gear available today than ever before, and it sounds better than ever. The fact that some companies make super-expensive equipment doesn't mean nothing else is available. If you ignore less expensive gear from, say, NAD and PSB, you'll miss a lot of musical enjoyment.


Vade Forrester

KDub's picture

I read Stereophile quite often, I consider myself to be a music nut, I own over 3,000 vinyl records and about 5,000 cds and have a terrabyte full of mp3/wav/flac files on my computer. For me, it's about the music first, I love all kinds of rock and roll, but also simply love all kinds of music: Jazz, reggae, pop, classical, electronic, soul, etc. Not super diverse but diverse just the same.

Just so it's stated: Rock and Roll lovers can be high end audiophiles too! Have you heard of the fuss about the Beatles and Beach Boys re-issues?

I am so glad for this article, as I've been revisiting my stereo listening and have upgraded my hardware so I can enjoy a higher level of listening to the music that I love. It's very timely for me and my current thoughts on the subject.

I cannot afford $395.00/meter interconnects or $10,000.00 amplification. Even if I had the freedom to spend the money I have (which I don't, I'm married), I wouldn't.

I read Stereophile to find out about the latest and greatest, a new idea here, a wonderful feature there, but $30,000 for a pair of speakers? Are you kidding me? I can honesly say if I won the lottery I would not own a pair of $30K speakers. I skip over the details of those articles and get to the new ideas or latest technology. I have no interest in such ostentatious gear, they just don't serve my purpose. How "high end" does someone need to be? I have a feeling most often the people who purchase such things do so because they can, not because they actually care or can hear the difference.

The last part of this article, "We focus on the ultra-expensive without spending adequate time on truly affordable equipment. We are elitist snobs about our equipment and the music we enjoy." is exactly what I've been thinking over the past few months as I read the artilces in Stereophile and other mags. You hi-fi journalists should heed this as your mantra! The high end market is suffering? Well that's too bad, but really, how many $10,000 cd players, $6,000.00 dacs or $20,000 amps can a company sell? It's limited, very limited. The manufacturers know that. Gee, maybe if a major High End manufacturer wanted to move their brilliance into more affordable gear then that 's the market reacting to the consumer, that's how it works.

 If you can afford high end, then go for it, you lucky bastards! At the end of the day, purchase as much and as high quality gear as you can afford, you'll be glad you did. Just don't be swept into thinking that you have "golden ears" and you have to have super high end expensive gear to enjoy your music.

Just so you know, I "upgraded" to a 1978 Kenwood KR-6600 and am damned glad I did. I have all good gear throughout my home (Pioneer Elite, Aperion, Denon) but not a single item over $1500. It sounds very nice to me. I'm not trying to impress anyone, I'm attempting to get the best sound quality from the budget I have. I'm happy with the sounds I'm getting, and surely wish I could afford more but have no thoughts of spending $10,000+ on any stereo equipment, ever!

KDub out.

pabafigo's picture

#1 the pricing of some of these products and the audio shops that sell them. I make my own gear now or modify existing gear. I have more fun making it then listening to an audio shop sales person, and it is less expensive so with the money I save I can buy more music or go to more live music.

#2 the recording industry and the lower and lower quality recordings they are making.. included in this is the FM broadcast quality dropping for years. Now we have compressed recordings being broadcast compressed a second time by the radio stations.. just lovely. They have trained our ears to accept this crap diet so why spend on gear. It won't fix the recording. Unless you accept to change your musical taste and buy audiophile recordings only because they sound nice and not because you actually know the artist.

I'm 45, I spent my first pay check on my first audio system when I was 19. Still have it too. Do you think that kids (even boys for that matter) at 19 rush to spend their first pay check on audio today? I would bet that because of the dominace of MP3s, today's 19 year olds won't even care enough about audio when they are 45 to spend a paycheck on gear.

50k, 100k, 200k sound system, why? I would rather spend that money going to live concerts not fooling myself into trying to reproduce them in my living room.

There will always be a few old guys that will spend on audio, but they are not reproducing and making new young ones. For the quality of recordings, I think there is no going back, we are too far down the path...

The best we can do is give our kids a nice starter system for their bedrooms and hope they keep the flame make sure it has good headphones. Always play music in the house using a nice system so it becomes a childhood memory that hopefully will grown into an interest later in their lives.

It is up to us, to save this religion, because the gear makers and recording industry have done their best to kill it.




alexandrov's picture

"We are the problem. We aren't getting the right message out."

When I'm talking about my hobby and my system usually the questions are something like "Does it have a good bass?" or "Is it playing loud?". Bass and loundess are the criteria of the average people for audio. It's hard to convince someone that realism and naturalness are real values. When talking about 3D, presence and soundstage I see blinking and puzzled silence... People see insanity in a person who spends $50000 for audio but not for a BMW. 

The audio will always be an elitist hobby.

Naveb's picture

The article suggests there is some public good to spreading the high-end. I'd like it first shown that someone is happier listening to music on $20 speakers than 'mid-end' $2k speakers. I mean empirical evidence - hook up blindfolded listens to brain scanners and measure there neurotransmitter levels. If there were a correlation between musical enjoyment and price beyone a certain point I'd have expected my musician and conductor friends to own better stereos than they do.

StCugat's picture

Just a couple of comments...

I'm glad we still have some high end industry heavyweights (e.g. Revel, AR, Krell?) that have some solid engineering. Engineers have created the optimal knee point in the graph above (e.g. Curl, Pass, Thiel...). The flaky stuff does get weeded out ....CD pen anyone? Experienced and by definition larger companies (with wider product ranges) can straddle the knee (NAD, Revel) and they help keep things sane.

I do think the explosion of reviewers, via the internet, have helped facilitate the luxury/prestige pricing that grabs the headlines. And the review industry is all too happy to go for the ride, after all they get to drive the sportscars we then lust for. I read them ... for fun.

To get others interested in buying or joining in, the article suggests they need to be educated. Creating value in their minds from climbing up the shin. But it is about the music for most people, stupid. What is musically relevant can be got in spades over the crappy PA at the last school party my tween attended last year. I get most of my best new music from funky cafes/shops with crappy speakers. Much of what the high end gets you is not that musically relevant for modern music.. rad soundstage man, dig those microdynamics! (Actually my system does allow me to hear why the musician chose a particular sample or synth setting)

My biggest fear is how the music industry and HR music will work. There is so much music out there (Thanks Stephen and co). But the mainstream download source is worse than CD. Still musically relevant, but they will never know any benefit if the source is crap. I hope cheaper bandwidth and a more sustainable market model brings new music that they want to hear at prices they can afford otherwise why upgrade? The British mantra of source first is more relevant than ever before.

The headphones explosion is gonna help. Good heaphones and an HR source kept intact to those tiny drivers blows the price graph out of the water. Maybe they will want to share those good times with others or cook at the same time. I gotta go drain the pasta....

pwf2739's picture

Thanks to Stereophile for (re)publishing a wonderfully written and insightful article. Despite that the original publish date was in 1994, the sentiments expressed are still valid today. I think all of us that pursue high end audio view with some absurdity the notion of a $200,000 pair of speakers. That of course does not prevent some of us from buying them. I have been a audio enthusiast for forty years. It was not until about a year ago that I really had the available funds to build the system I had dreamed about for most of my life. 

My friends thought I had lost my mind when I recently purchased the last piece of my audio puzzle, a quite expensive speaker cable. One of my friends commented that he wanted to call the people with the white coats and padded rooms to come get me. A couple of weeks later I invited my friend and his young son over to watch a ball game and listen to music. 

Upon their arrival I could tell this teenager wanted to be anywhere but in my front room. We were talking about audio when I made the comment to this kid that his iPod, ear buds and iTunes music only let him hear about half of what was musically available. To prove my point, I asked him if he had any of his favorite CD's in his Dad's car. 

He was, I suppose, just competitive enough to accept my challenge that I would totally shock him with what he would hear if he would let me. I loaded the CD, looked at him and said "hold on." After about fifteen seconds in the sweet spot he began looking left right and center- obviously trying to figure out the sound stage. Shortly thereafter a smile appeared on his face, his head began bobbing to his music and his toe was tapping to the beat. He commented that he heard so much "new stuff." We sat and listened to music for the rest of the afternoon. Football became a secondary event. I turned him on to everything from Deep Purple to Jerry Jeff Walker, to Miles Davis to Beethoven. He and his Dad took turns in the sweet spot. All in all we had a terrific time. 

Prior to that afternoon my friend and his son had never really been exposed to a reference high end system and a dedicated listening session. Their playback systems were mid-fi or an iPod. Mind you, I'm not being discriminatory in any way to those type of systems. In fact, I have an iPod in my car and listen to it all the time. But I think that having the opportunity to be exposed to something they had not heard before changed their perception of my hobby. 

That said, I'm sure my friends still think I'm crazy for buying a $23,000 speaker cable. But I also hold out hope that I have created one convert in a sixteen year old kid who discovered what is musically possible if one follows their passion. Regardless of the cost or how long it takes. As with so many other areas of our lives, the key to the future is in our youth. 

In the end, that afternoon validated for me all the time and monetary investment I have made in my audio system. And I had a lot of fun in the process. I have to believe that is what it is all about. 

How well our hobby, or perhaps better stated, our passion fares in the future is quite uncertain. Educating our youth that an iPod is only one piece of the puzzle seems to me to be a good path to pursue. All audiophiles put up with the lack of dealers, the poor availability of demo equipment and the high cost of components because we are passionate about our hobby. As long as the passion holds out, so will our industry. 

MLAS's picture

Didn't your (reviewers at Stereophile) credibility died when Bob Carver in a very carefull monitored experiment first proved that he could make his Craver 1.5T sound exactly as the Levinson ML-2's? The latter was chosen by the Peter Aczel's team of reviewers from Audio Critic in 1981 and they all consented that the 1.5T sounded sonically the same as the ML-2 but costed yet a fraction of the Levisons, did not use 800 Watts in total continously and could deliver much more power the 25 Watts @ 8 Ohms.
Same experiment was conducted when Stereophile challenged Carver to make the 1.5t sound like a very expensive Conrad Johnson Premier amp. Outcome was, although you did not go for AB testing with no real argument I must say and yes I've read the Carver Challenge article from 1985, but had to give in that Carver succeeded again by making his $700,- amp sounding like your ten times more expensive reference amp even the muddy sound in the low register typical for tube designs could be transfered in his design. You should have embraced him as the new kid on the block but no you kept drooling at even bigger amps gobbeling up resources with their huge kilovolts of Xformers, beercan size of parallel configured electrolytics, arrays of TO3's powertransistors, huge aluminum fascia's and coolingbody's all adding to the pricetag.
I asked Jeff Rowland once why his Class D cool operating 302 had the same huge expensive aluminum heatsinks as the model 8 that really needed those heatsinks. He answered, that's what my customers want..... Just like the meters on the Pass Labs XA series. Fun but unneccesary just like your magazine.


John Atkinson's picture

Outcome was, although you did not go for AB testing with no real argument I must say and yes I've read the Carver Challenge article from 1985, but had to give in that Carver succeeded again by making his $700,- amp sounding like your ten times more expensive reference amp...

I wasn't at Stereophile for the 1985 Carver Challenge, but it should be noted that the prototype Carver amplifier was not used fullrange - see http://www.stereophile.com/content/carver-challenge.

In the 1987 retest of the production amplifier, we did do single-blind testing full-range and J. Gordon Holt was acknowledged by Bob Carver as being able to distinguish the amplifiers under blind conditions.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

MLAS's picture

J.A: I wasn't at Stereophile for the 1985 Carver Challenge, but it should be noted that the prototype Carver amplifier was not used fullrange - see http://www.stereophile.com/content/carver-challenge.

You should have added: driving the midrange/treble panels were the bulk of all the musical information resides.

Let me quote from the Stereophile article about the so-called Carver Challenge:

"This time, the listening went on through the whole afternoon and much of the evening, until all of us were listened out. More leisurely listening, refreshed by a good night's sleep, failed to turn up anything. As far as we could determine, through careful comparisons and nit-picking criticisms, the two amplifiers were, in fact, sonically identical. It is a gross understatement to say that we were flabbergasted!"


"After the second day of listening to his final design, we threw in the towel and conceded Bob the bout. He packed up his equipment and limped triumphantly back to his Lynnwood, WA home base. (He had single-handedly hoisted the hefty reference amp onto a table at one point during the proceedings and injured his back.) The question remains whether or not we might have eventually picked up some miniscule but repeatedly audible difference between the amplifiers, had we been able to listen longer?

Somehow I doubt it. We had thrown some of the most revealing tests that we know of at both amps, and they came through identically. Even on the subliminal level—the level at which you gradually get the feeling that one amplifier is more "comfortable" than another—we failed to sense a difference between the two amps."

Well there's not much room for interpretation here it seems to me.

As I said big hefty well constructed and goodlooking amps have their own seductionary merits and I really enjoy my ML-2's and wouldn't trade them in for a mimicking Carver amp or a 5 lbs Class D amp but don't fool yourself about the credibility of high-end audio nowadays or your magazine for that matter. They're fun but irrelevant.

John Atkinson's picture

Don't fool yourself about the credibility of high-end audio nowadays or your magazine for that matter. They're fun but irrelevant.

You are ignoring the second part of my comment, involving more rigorous testing in 1987 of the production Carver amplifier against the same reference amplifier as in 1985 but now tested full-range: "In the 1987 retest of the production amplifier, we did do single-blind testing full-range and J. Gordon Holt was acknowledged by Bob Carver as being able to distinguish the amplifiers under blind conditions."

Note also that I performed a null test between the production Carver and the amp that it was supposed to sound identical to. The maximum null was in the midrange but was ony 36dB (1.5%), which was reported on in Vol.10 No.3 of Stereophile. This is not sufficiently deep a null for anyone to claim that the amplifiers sounded identical.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

prerich45's picture

The problem now (almost 20 years later) is that the high end is becoming too high end!!! The prices are ridiculous! Their clientel is basically the 1%'s and a lot of them are not buying their products ...not because they don't have the money...they aren't just that interested in music - it's not a wise investment to them. 

Now for the people making 40k and above - Tekton, Emotiva, and get this...professional audio gear are becoming gold mines for price vs. performance!!!! Also the used market is biting into possible high-end profits.  Out of my last 4 sets of speakers, only one set was spank brand new. I just recently gave those to a friend - to introduce him to this hobby - and he's liking it, alot (I gave him the new speakers - I kept the used ones for myself).

I also see the high-end slowly catching on to computer based audio.  The things that they are doing - I've been doing at home for years.  As a mater of fact - at CES they showed a HTPC that cost 6K, looking at the features and everything that it could do, mine is comparable and it took me less than 1k to build - I control it from my android and used it to get rid of my cable boxes! If they come out with a nice high-end sound card, I'll get rid of my receiver - the only thing in the system will be my speakers, amps and my PC.

I see the high-end changing, metamophing, becoming something else.  It's just like a seed or a catipillar, it virtually "dies" before it becomes something else totally!!!!

Paul Luscusk's picture

At The first Stereophile Show in LA I was one of the DJ's at the Hafler room and I was trying to freak out Cory (remember him ?) by cranking up Spinal Tap"s Break Like The Wind CD. NHT always had Rock Music in fact at one LA Stereophile Show (think it was the second) we had a No Jenefier Warnes sign on the  rooms door.I was playing The Hellcasters Peter Gunn in the small room with Super Zeros and a  Sub Zero 

Dom Perignon's picture

Stores are going out of business alright, baby boomers are passing away too bad but this is the time to buy used equipment for a song, if you know what you are doing of course. It is a buyer market as the pool of buyers has shrunk considerably on the used market. In this regard those are exciting times.

labjr's picture

I imagine amplifier emulation could be done even better with DSP.

thecanman's picture

Ridiculously expensive audio equipment exists because:

1. The rich are getting richer worldwide, and there are more and more very rich people who can afford it (whether or not they actually appreciate it, and I would suggest that many do not and simply look at it as another category of expensive toy);

2. Audio equipment manufacturers are not stupid and will take their money.

Ditto for high-end sports cars, jewlery, houses, etc. etc. etc. Way too much overanalysis going on here, people.

bernardperu's picture


Nowadays people in the USA have lifestyles that resemble Elvis on his last days with 6 TVs and an input of so many stimuli that it drove him nuts. There is absolutely no way that not so old aging Elvis could have been an Audiophile, as he had lost his ability to relax and listen. 


The above statement applies to a very large portion of the world, especially societies where people grow up with high levels of tech consumption. Japan is a great exception and it would deserve some serious analysis by Western Audio publications. Unfortunately, Americans are so afraid to do cross cultural analysis that might result in data that doesn't put them on top of the world and, consequently, Japan has been the focus of major criticism and no imitation (except for big corporations that secretly imitate some of Japan's ways in order to boost their profits – smart capitalists know better!)


Don't get me wrong. I think the USA, UK (and, ironically, Cuba) have the best music scenes in the world by far! But playing music and listening to it are different matters: one is active and the other one passive.


This lack of ability to become passive in-house members of the music community may have started with cable and channel surfing. If you don't give your mind the chance to settle down, relax, and enjoy, then, you are destroying the very foundation that could allow you to become a music lover that can turn off the lights and enjoy the trip of just listening. I am in my mid 30s and my parents did not have cable at home and limited my TV time severely. I was not allowed to own a video game console. I did not like this when I was a kid and did not understand what they were doing. Now I am eternally thankful and I am hoping I will be able to do the same with my baby son. I want him to grow up and share with is dad the joy and spiritual adventure of closing one's eyes and listening. 

Shaffer's picture

I've been posting on audio boards since '96, mostly about analog reply. The High-End variety. Today, some 17 years later, I'm still talking to exactly the same individuals about exactly the same thing. Sure, some new blood entered and some folks dropped out, but in essence not much has changed. Same old anoraks chewing over the same drivel.

Now witness the group on SHF. Young folks buying 'tables, older music lovers wanting to experience the ease and natural presentation of analog again. Are they looking at the new $35,000 arm or a Onedorf? Let's not be silly. There's an immediate opportunity to bring a large number of interested, very interested, music loves into our fold. Some firms are, indeed, trying to favor that market. It's just that we, the opinion leaders, are still stuck on the old High-End model. We want more people to enter the hobby? We are the ones who need to alter our outlook first.

Pjay's picture

Excellent reprint John.  I believe I first read a similar article in the 1970s from (I thought was) Stereophile.  It was a Xeroxed copy some high end store near my high school had on the counter.  Something like 12 pages.  I was hanging out there lusting after a Scott amp. 

The core problem is we are selling sound, not image.  When someone buys a Rolex they care little for the specs.  Rolex, Porsche, Cartier and Bose sell image.  Rolex is about as accurate as a Casio, Porsche about as fast as a Mustang, Bose - well.  We are killing ourselves seeking the best sound we can.  The costs are almost always outside a sane ratio for what we earn (like most Porsche owners).  Unlike Porsche our products are well hidden. 

We need to generate public lust.  Consider the 12 year old with a Ferrari poster on the wall.  Where did he get that image?  Someone created it and fed it to him.  We need to look a lot closer at image to draw more people to the hobby.  Better sound is learned from hearing better sound and that first sale needs to be image based or people will never cross that line.  So stop advertising in Stereophile (sorry JA) and put ads in WineSpectator, Cigar Afficianato, Road and Track, The New Yorker, Conde-Nast, etc.  Buy some movie placements.  When James Bond comes home and there are a couple of Wilson MAXX he fires up for a quick unvailing of Halle Berry, there will be sales. 

Ariel Bitran's picture

you got it.

Audio_newb's picture

The simple fact that this column seems as relevant now as it did in 1994 suggests to me that there are some structural issues inherent to the world of high end audio that limit its appeal, but also that these issues should not necessarily be read as signs of the apocalypse.  In fact I think the high end audio market today is as healthy if not healthier than ever before.  From Magico, Devialet, and Constellation to GoldenEar, HRT, Schiit, and everything in between, those who love audio have never had more options available to them.

Having said that, here are some observations from a young audiophile (I'm in my 20's) on the state of "high end."  Firstly, let's start with what exactly "high end audio" means, and what that definition itself means for the world of high end audio.  Certainly it means many things to many people, but I'm going to generalize a bit based on my observations of the Stereophile set (this being a Stereophile article after all).

I think we can start by stating that high end audio isn't solely about price.  Granted, even on the "low" end this hobby is not for the faint of wallet, but companies like PSB, HRT, and Schiit make it possible to get in on the game without having to take out a second mortgage (some of us don't even have a first).  Conversely, there are expensive audio products that often for one reason or another fall beyond the walled garden of high end audio:  in-wall speakers (and simply much of what is considered home theater), high end speaker docks, and lifestyle speakers such as those from Bang and Olufsen come to mind.  In their defense, Stereophile's mission statement is perhaps more defined, there existing the sister publication Home Theater, but too often I think there is a certain component elitism that excludes a wide range of products that produce excellent sound, sometimes within the constraints of space or aesthetics.

Luckily, I think the once moribund high end audio industry is starting to come to these same realizations--that great, "high end" audio doesn't have to mean large stacks of expensive, industrial looking gear.  From the computer as source to the explosion of head-fi, and most recently the growing segment of all in one digital integrateds or "power-dacs," high end audio is finally moving to accommodate the ways that most of us listen to music: on the go, at our desks, and in our living rooms.

Considered in this way, the high end is looking healthy.  Young people love music just as they always have.  Granted, disposable income is a limiting factor (young people just don't have as much money), but here too I think recent trends are positive, if yet to be embraced by the gamut of high end manufacturers.  I mention companies like HRT and Schiit because they embody much of what is possible in a new world of high end audio.  Taking advantage of advances in small batch manufacturing (enabling them to keep production here in the States) and direct online sales, they have managed to release well designed products at outstanding price points.

There will always be a place (and desire) for bleeding edge megabuck systems, just as there are for million dollar supercars, but I think that great sound is really available for less.  Certainly the continued success of computer audio and class d amplification topologies will continue to push the cost curve down even further, but the next step is up to the manufacturers themselves, designing products that look as good as they sound, are easy to use, and fit into people's everyday lives.

Bowers and Wilkins I think has done a great job in this regard.  By making speaker docks and soundbars, they broaden their audience:  and who knows, once people get a taste of great sound they might just migrate up the chain to a full Classe/B&W system, losing nothing of modern functionality and aesthetics.  Car companies have been managing the upsell for ages.  But even old dogs can learn new tricks, case in point the beautiful new Wadia Intuition 01.  Perhaps a long way from affordable, and mass market appeal likely won't be helped by I2S hdmi inputs instead of mass market standard hdmi, but change comes one step at a time.

Hopefully by the time my friends are ready to graduate to high end audio, contemporary music will be mastered (almost) as well as the latest recording of the Copenhagen lute symphony.  In either case, high end audio is here to stay.

tmsorosk's picture

  Could never understand why high priced audio equipment  bothers some folks so much . If you don't want it , don't buy it , but don't mock the ones that do .

soulful.terrain's picture


Well said.

protosp's picture

hi-end audio industry seems to be dying. becauese old audio equipments with good sound are immortal. they can't be disappered, they resurrect forever at the repair shop.

if someone take the old audio stuff, and destroy them all, audio industry will be revived again. I think hiend audio and fashion industry have something in common. design art!. but people will not repair their grandparents's clothes again and again but most people repair and enjoy for their audio equipments. that's the different point. that makes hi-end audio industry's hopeless future.



Reed's picture

No one has mentioned that we now have many other tech items competing for the extra dollars.

A direct competitor is home theater.  I know of very few folks that would spend extra money for a high quality stereo, but just about everyone I know has spent a good amount on home theater.  Not only does this compete directly from a spending standpoint, but also competes for physical space.  I watch a lot of movies in the home theater with my family, so it also competes from the standpoint of how I spend spare time.  Movies take 2 hours to watch and we usually watch 2 or 3 movies on the weekend.

Others that come to mind are gaming consoles, computers, iPods, smart phones, etc.  In the 80's, most of these didn't exists.  Some existed, but now days you need many of the items to function these days.

edeugan's picture

I agree to a point with the comparison between high end audio and high end automobiles. To continue with that analogy, I think that one part of the problem is that many people can't afford a Magico/Krell type system, just like many people can't afford a Lamborghini or a Ferrari. With cars, people tend to buy about as nice a car as they can afford, whether that be a Mustang or a Porsche. But their attitude with audio is, "I can't afford a Ferrari (Magico), so I'll just ride a bike (iPod with factory earbuds)". I think more of us need to show people that it is possible to get good sound at a reasonable price. If we can get someone started on the journey for a $300-$1000, they may discover that they would like to continue the journey.

Rust's picture

"The automotive business model where $25K - $50K pricing exists doesn't appear to be a hindrance to demand for that product."

Seriously? Not exactly a logical comparison. I'll go so far as to say a stupid comparison. I can't use a $25K-$50K high end system to drive to my job site(s), go to the grocery store, or haul a load of lumber. My 12 year old truck will do so just fine and it does come with a sound system to boot. A two-fer. For most people a vehicle is not a luxury but an absolute requirement. Auto companies, among the largest corporations in the world. Audio specialty companies, microscopic, making their marketing budget microscopic.

lwhitefl's picture

"Seriously? Not exactly a logical comparison. I'll go so far as to say a stupid comparison. I can't use a $25K-$50K high end system to drive to my job site(s), go to the grocery store, or haul a load of lumber."

Obviously you missed the point of my argument and rather rudely at that. My point is though automobiles certainly are considered an essential "tool" by most people that perform the tasks you described, many people buy or lease autos far more costly and often than required. Automobiles serve far more than a utilitarian purpose to many people - they satisfy an emotional need. Music is no different! And therefore I maintain properly targeted demographic advertising could have a similar impact on audio as autos.

Rust's picture

Rude? A bit. But I maintain it's still an apples to oranges comparison.

When it comes to "High End" , no amount of marketing will sell to a minescule to non-existant demographic. That being the portion of the population that has $25,000 to $50,000 in disposable income to buy luxury items. Well under 1%.

Regarding what constitutes a neccesity or a luxury. Do not confuse adding a little luxury to necessity, with somehow redefining a luxury as a necessity. Even a vehicle at some point becomes a luxury. Other than as a status symbol therre is no actual reason for Bentley, Ferrari, Aston Martin and all to even exist.

Necessity, what is required to sustain existance. Luxury, what makes that existance more bearable or even enjoyable. Music is a luxury, albeit a very very desirable luxury.

The only expanding market will be a market with very high perceived value for the price. Think sub $1,000 for entry level. Seriously sub $1,000. Audioquest seems to get it, Schiit seems to get it, Magnapan seems to get it and even stiil build in the USA. As do a few other manufacturers.


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