Stereophile Editor John Atkinson on Axpona, Affordable Audio, Analog, & Audiophiles

At the 2013 AXPONA in Chicago in March, Cool Cleveland asked JA for his thoughts on the state of high-end audio. His answers might surprise you.

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jimtavegia's picture
Thanks for sharing a neat videocast.

Always interesting to hear from the man himself where he sees the industry going. 

In regards to women in audio, it was great to see women at the AudioAlternative event in Atlanta and hear the questions they were asking. It will take some time for this not to be a mainly man only hobby.

I would love to know what kind of systems women academics and women CEOs might be listening to? I will bet there are some out there with serious money in their systems. 


dalethorn's picture
I wouldn't get my hopes up

I wouldn't get my hopes up about women in audio. My youtube reviews for headphones and headphone amps were running a steady 94 percent male for well over a year until I added a couple of compact camera reviews, which brought a small spike in female viewers. Women do use high-tech audio gear, but don't get involved in the "hobby" as it's generally described.

Steve Eddy's picture
Mine either

The industry is run by men and they design equipment for other men. Sure, there's the odd woman or two in the industry, but they seem to be designing for men as well. What the industry offers just isn't going to capture the attention of women to any degree.

For some years now I've been thinking the time is right to re-purpose the old console stereo concept. Instead of including a tuner, turntable or other source components, it would just include the loudspeakers and amplification and be used in conjunction with a digital music server of some sort, up to (or down to if you will) and including i-devices.

And I've always thought that this would be something that could be successfully marketed to women if done right.

An article in our local paper (Sacramento Bee) that recently made the rounds of the audio forums spoke of the increased interest in vinyl and how a couple of local businesses were doing well rebuilding and refurbishing old turntables. And while that's all well and good, vinyl will still be a rather microcopically small portion of the market.

What really hit home with me came at the very end of the piece.

"The most unexpected trend Galvez is seeing at his shop is a growing interest in the repair and buying of the big console record players that were popular in the '60s and '70s.

Those players usually included a turntable, receiver and speakers into one piece of furniture.

Until recently it was almost impossible to get rid of one.

'I'm repairing three to four of those a week now,' he said.

In Granite Bay, Halecker is also seeing a growing interest among women in the cabinet-size consoles - as both music player and design choice.

'If they (women) go vintage, they truly want vintage,' she said. 'They want the wood and the lattice. They want that decor. They want the midcentury modern look.'"


jmsent's picture
Very few women would want an old stereo console in the house

I read that article, and have to call BS on the console thing. The vast majority of them are still undesirable and not worth bothering with. The whole "mid century modern" look was pretty much over by the early 1960's. Most of those nice looking consoles with solid cabinets and nice simple lines were from the late '50s. Many were even mono. Some, especially RCA models, bring some good money. The German sets from SABA also have value. Most everything else, especially the later solid state stuff, is horrible junk. Cheap pressboard cabinets, fake veneer or plastic fronts, awful styling. But regardless, the best of these consoles sounded mediocre and most had changers that were cheap junk with ceramic cartridges and idler wheel drive that rumbled like crazy and chewed up your records. 

Steve Eddy's picture
I didn't say anything about old

Yes, the consoles referred to in the newspaper article were old, but I'm not talking about old. I'm talking about new. I'm talking about bringing the basic concept into the new century. And not with cheap pressboard cabinets and fake veneer.

What the article illustrates, at least for me anyway, is that there's a growing interest in the concept, particularly among women, the vast majority of whom don't want anything to do with the "separates" mess which is pretty much all that the industry offers, and why I don't think the industry will ever attact more than a scant few of them even though they are quite a large market.

And as for midcentury modern design, it's been experincing quite a revival in recent years.


dalethorn's picture
The classic audiophile

The classic audiophile concept of favorites was important a long time ago in order to get the best speakers and amps and source, since high quality matched components from one vendor (i.e. Marantz or Macintosh) were usually pricy anyway and involved real compromises. Today as I shop for DACs and headphone amps (to name an example), I lean toward a combination, to get a better electronic match, shorter signal path without external cables, etc. Ignoring speaker cables for the moment, just check some of the sky-high prices for analog interconnects between DACs and various amps, and that should be a heads-up.

Steve Eddy's picture
You mean the male audiophile

You mean the male audiophile concept of separates... cool

At least I assume you meant to say separates instead of favorites. Though I guess favorites can work too.


dalethorn's picture
Separates indeed! I didn't

Separates indeed! I didn't know, though, that there was a male classification of audiophile. Hobbyist, yes, but not audiophile. My wife for example does not relate to or care for typically male hobbies. But she very much appreciates hi-fi sound and knows how to get it.

Steve Eddy's picture
My "male" qualification...

...had to do with the "separates" concept, not "audiophile" in general. Those who care most for "good sound," regardless of what disparate, ugly mess it takes to achieve it. That's a largely a "guy" thing in my opinion.

Just look at virtually all of the exhibits at the shows. Only your typical heterosexual male could get excited and drool over such horrible messes.


jmsent's picture
I agree..

The majority of my equipment is hidden. My preamp, dac, and cd player are housed inside an old antique sideboard. Close the doors and nothing's visible. My power amps and electronic crossover are in a basement utility room underneath the speakers. All that's visible is my Squeezebox Touch and my two Linkwitz Orion speakers, finished in maple with cherry sides. A little wierd looking on the speaker front, but most comment on the interesting shape (and of course the great sound). The audiophiles that come by ask me where all the equipment is, and when I tell them I've got 3 Pass Labs amps hidden in the basement, I usually get a very odd look.

Steve Eddy's picture
I bet you did

I mean, what's the point of all that metal if you don't show it off to all your friends? cool

But I don't think most women would want to put up with a bunch of "man gear" hidden in their basements and elsewhere even if things looked a bit better "up front." That's why I think the best way to a woman's heart as it relates to high quality audio is via a single, plug-and-play piece of "furniture." At least for those who would like to go beyond a "stylish" three piece affair with a pair of minature speakers and a 6 or 8 inch fart box "subwoofer."


dalethorn's picture
The instinct to accumulate

The instinct to accumulate the best possible tools and weapons in the cave, for obvious purposes, is as old as us humanoids. And females seeing who has the best tools and weapons in their cave - that certainly has to count as a mating factor. Bring that up to the 21st century and put any veneer you like on it - still the same thing. You're not going to tell her exactly how much you have stashed in your investment accounts, but she can get a general idea from looking around.

Ariel Bitran's picture
speakers = weapons!

consider my commitment to pacificism gone cause I'm a warrior!

volvic's picture
My wife last night

Came home from work and my wife complained she didn't know how to get the stereo working. She turned on the computer; the Stello U-3 lit up, she then turned the Moon DAC on, turned on the Kairn preamp, then the Klout power amp switch from behind but still no sound. In frustration she turned everything on and music came out of the Kremlin tuner. All she had to do was grab the remote and switch the source setting to AUX. Another time after another blasted Apple upgrade, the Stello would no longer work when the Mac was powered up, we discovered that now we had to power up iTunes for the Stello to work. My point? If Hi-Fi is going to appeal to women it is going to have to be far more intuitive and easier to use than we are used to.

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