You Really Can Help Save the Stereo

Save the Stereo, a Web-based project dedicated to developing and promoting the best ideas for leading the next generation of music lovers to component-based high-fidelity, launched at the start of the year. Although we have seen a number of prior organizations dedicated to the cause of spreading the gospel of high performance audio wither and die—see John Atkinson's 2005 essay on the subject—this one is different. Because its founder, Gordon White, is soliciting feedback from the audiophile community and developing a grounded action plan before proceeding, perusing the project's website and filling out its all-important, short survey seems more than worth the while of both high-performance audio consumers and industry members.

As White explains on the website's "About Us" page, he alternates his time between publishing Truck Camper magazine, whose avid readership includes Gene Rubin of Gene Rubin Audio, and heading to his basement, where he listens to LPs and digital files of everything from Vivaldi to Daft Punk through "tubes, tubes, and more tubes." He developed Save the Stereo's website with the assistance of his music-loving wife, Truck Camper magazine editor, web developer and "social media expert" Angela White. Given that Angela is "not an audiophile," Gordon has worked hard to develop a project that speaks to the entire music loving community.

"I've been a music lover and passionate audiophile since my early '20s," he explained during one of two intense phone chats. "Based on everything I've read in Stereophile and other publications since 1992, including your recent essay, 'As We Listen, So We Are,' I realized something has to be done to reach the next generation of music lovers. I'm doing this for fun. I love the challenge, and I want to give back to a hobby that has been an important part of my life ever since I was a teenager."

Before launching Save the Stereo, Gordon devoted three months to researching challenges to the survival of high performance, component-based stereo. While asking what the solutions might be, he constantly confronted the questions, "Why is high-end audio important? Why not let it die? Why is it relevant to music lovers who are not currently audiophiles?" These concerns and more he attempts to address on the page, "Why Save the Stereo?" While his rationales for the importance of music mostly emphasize the practical and merely hint at its spiritual import, there is no question that White hits much of the nail on its head.

Nor does he pretend he has all the answers. "I'm asking people to take a look and give me their feedback," he says. "I know the site isn't perfect, and I really want to hear from everybody with ideas. I want to get everyone on a single page so we can move forward collectively."

Gordon White's goal is to receive enough responses and suggestions from community and industry members alike to put together an action plan. After that, Gordon and his friend, electrical engineer and Lancaster Audio Club founder Rob Czetli, hope to move the ideas forward.

"First we need to figure out if everybody thinks Save the Stereo is a good idea," he says. "Then, we need to integrate new ideas and feedback. This is why we must gather ideas from as many people as possible before proceeding. Finally, after an action plan evolves and we vote on it, it will be up to the industry to fund the project.

"The biggest challenge I think we face is that most music lovers who have been walking around with Beats headphones have never experienced great sound, and don't have a lot of opportunities to access that experience," he laments. "The $4 million ads for Beats and Sonos during the SuperBowl show that interest in music has not diminished. But it seems these companies are the only ones reaching out to music lovers."

The next step is up to you. There are no dues involved. White asks that you simply take the Save the Stereo survey and spread the word. As he writes, "Somewhere out there are young music lovers starving for a deeper connection to recorded music . . . We need to do what we can to reach these young music lovers and share our incredible hobby with them. They are looking for us, even if they don't know it yet. Let's give them the opportunity to experience the magic of recorded music on a component-based high-fidelity stereo system . . . Component-based high-fidelity stereo is important and worth fighting for."

misterc59's picture

You are right, the rest of us are wrong or woefully uninformed.

[rest of comment deleted by John Atkinson, who is weary of the bickering and flames and has had to delete too many comments this morning that fall into that category. Please address the argument and not the arguer.]

Doctor Fine's picture

Hmmm.  I was just trying to be helpful.  I merely shared my trained observation that to be a "world class" stereo that actually DOES all the magical things correctly one has to invest a set amount of dough or it will NOT happen.

You can have a LOT of fun racing prams at the local yacht club.  But to race in the Americas cup you will need a budget of many millions. 

I started out with just a decent pair of headphones.  I used to be poor.  Even today I have a separate headphone setup using a dedicated DAC, a tube headphone amp and some HD650s.  Sounds fab and hooks up to my computer for under two grand.

But I myself spent many years wandering in the wilderness wondering just what the point of the high end really WAS.  What do you spend money on and what is the justification for it?

I accidentally heard a great set working well in a room one day and that was when it dawned on me that there IS a set of quality parameters involved in a "world class" CORRECT---does it ALL system.

And I am truly sorry it cost money.  Joining a country club costs money.  A BMW sports car costs money.  Fine Cuban cigars cost money.

Please do not cry.  Instead say "thank you Doctor Fine.  I will now go out and try to find a properly set up world class system so that I have a clue what the fuss is all about."

I suppose I myself could be quite happy with less than a full system.  Well put together systems are FUN at any price level including used gear off Ebay (when it works).

But I wish somebody had been able to sit me down and show me what I could even AIM for so that I would not waste money time and effort floundering around in ignorance.

If this makes you all furious with me I am sorry.  I can not do anything about how much it costs for a new BMW either...

What is truly exciting about our hobby is that it is capable of providing a real "time machine" with 3D images of real live performers in a real live space.  Once you understand what is possible you can be happy with whatever competitive system you can afford.  You will KNOW what you are doing and WHY.  You will understand what money buys and what to not waste money on.

For gosh sakes, have some FUN.  And don't shoot me because I happen to have lived through all these wars...  With luck someday you young ones will be old crusty f*rts just like me.  Sitting there rocking away on the front porch and snapping your red suspenders at all the pretty young girls that won't look your way anymore.  Sigh.

Doctor Fine's picture

Here's what drives me nuts---the home audiophile industry keeps asking "why are we treated like fools---and WHY are young people not attracted to our approach?"

I figured out maybe 20 years ago that the HOME industry needed to have a set of standards.  A reference.  A way to set up whatever pile of gear you own so that it WORKS correctly.

The Professional Recording industry was coming to the exact same conclusion at the same time.  They started buying Pass Amps.  Using high quality wiring.  Building acoustically HELPFUL installations.

The recording industry mix and mastering rooms became sounding all alike and much better than before.  You could make a recording and it would sound the SAME on good domestic gear as it did in the studio!  A MIRACLE!!!

They discovered good sound was CORRECT sound.  Just have a look at the gorgeous coffee table book that I just got in the mail.  Over 150 gorgeous, remarkably similar recording mix and master playback rooms all designed by RA.  Recording Architecture.  A British firm known world wide for leading the charge and building CORRECT rooms.  The rooms all LOOK different but each has the exact same tuning goals and performs consistently from room to room.

They prefer ATC monitors.  A lot of my recording friends use 802s.  Tony Faulkner uses Quad electrostats!  These guys are looting our gear and we are not returning the favor.  Instead we praise snake oil and have a cult of personality thing going for certain technologies that perform poorly as though their BAD results are PREFERRED!  I like variety just as much as the next guy but a tool either works properly or it does NOT.  All the BS and snake oil makes us a laughingstock.

The PRO ROOMS are built to HELP the acoustics and we are NOT talking a bunch of foam glued everywhere.  These rooms WORK.  You can hear what is in the recording and where things are (soundstaging).

So I come back to little old audiophile land and get hollered at "We don't NEED no stinkin standards!"  I mean you would think I killed your dog or something.  Invective. 

All because I believe that along with the FUN of mucking around with audio there is an actual REFERENCE way to build a correct system and then there is the BS way to build a system.  Both can sound GOOD.  Only one actually is a well made tool and the other is just a lot of nice junk piled together to show off how much you spent.

Get mad.  Hate me.

But you want to know why and what is killing the "high end?"  It promotes BS instead of a balanced approach to a quality outcome.

You brought this upon yourselves.

John Marks's picture

Were you aware of my review of that book?

I have time and again, since AD 2000, in the pages of Stereophile, written that getting good sound in the home is more like selecting a good interior decorator than buying a can of paint.

Perhaps the analogy was too obscure...

I have also noted that home theater has it all over stereo retailing in that HT customers pay for value-added services, such as installing a screen and calibrating a projector, or they don't get them. Whereas the stereo store dealer model has been in a race to the bottom the result of which is that people expect both ruinous discounts AND value-added services that are thrown in for free.

The above is a major and poorly-understood aspect of the rational decision by audio businesses to migrate upward. It's a lot less painful to give white-glove service as part of the sale of loudspeakers costing $35,000 a pair than it is to do the same for loudspeakers costing $3,500 a pair.

John Marks

DaveinSM's picture

I don't agree that you can set an objective "reference" or "standard" for an audio stereo system.  Far too many variables, and it depends on so many factors: room size, room acoustics, musical preferences, etc., etc.

If such an end-all, "REFERENCE" or "standard" system by which all others are measured were to exist, it would cost millions of dollars and be larger than a house... and even then, it could become antiquated within a number of years.  It's much too simplistic to consider such a thing for state-of-the-art audio.

Two other examples:

CD, which at the time of its introduction was considered to be the end-all of audio fidelity, is now finding its limits and there has been a market for better produced, better mastered, higher fidelity SACDs, DSD, and even analog records.  

THX for home theaters.  Loosely adapted from movie THX experiences, it has a lot of boom factor and has improved the performance of even more affordable home theaters, particularly subwoofers and the like.  But if you set this system as the bar for your ultimate home theater experience, time may prove that you set your bar too low.

The "reference" and state of the art in audio is always moving forward, so to pin it down and set it in stone is not only futile, it would also to be foolish.  

Regadude's picture

I would just like to offer this concise rebuttal to Dr. Fine. I completely and utterly disagree with the argument and opinions you have put forth.

That is all. 

tmsorosk's picture

Well said . 

jsm59's picture




Doctor Fine's picture

Gotcha.  Is that all you got? 

I already predicted you guys would say "we don't NEED no stinkin Standards."

I disagree with you both completely totally and unequivocally.

That is even more powerful than YOUR disagreement.  So THERE.  And double THERE.  And I TRIPLE there and so forth to INFINITY!  I WIN!

Regadude's picture

Yup, you win. Now that you are a "champion", feel free to go win elsewhere... 

Doctor Fine's picture

To uphold a standard of excellence.  Something which is missing in action from your approach apparently.

You still have no intelligent response to my discovery that "Standards" of what a stereo is supposed to do as a tool are needed---badly---if the High End is to be worth more than simply ego tripping lavish spending and bad audio.

As for your invitation for me to "go get lost" I started this hobby before there was FM stereo (it was originally one AM radio and one FM radio playing different stations!).

I do not need to be included in YOUR world.  You need to be worth including in mine which has a rich history of excellence.  Step up your game please and stop the put downs.  Say something about the topic please as JA rightfully requested.

I can not help it if you resent me and feel threatened.  Not my problem.


Doctor Fine's picture

[flame deleted by John Atkinson. Both you and RegadDude have made excellent contributions to this thread. But please address the argument, not the arguer]

When will you...actually discuss the question? ...

Regadude's picture

I have plenty to say. Just not to you fine Doc...

[text deleted by JA]

Dr. Dinsdale's picture

I have read all of these postings and have also given this topic a lot of thought over the years.  I have been a happy audiophile camper for 40 years, often scraping up  just enough summer job money to plunk down on a new turntable or set of speakers.  I really don't think that the high end is suffering only because components have dramatically increased in price. People who value a particular activity or object will pay what they believe is a fair price to participate.  My budget - even now-  is set at the level that I can afford and focused on components that hopefully provide a significant improvement in my listening experience.  For me, I don't care that there are unaffordable components, as long as there still are enough choices when I'm ready to upgrade.  (It is fun to read and dream, however.)  I do believe that the price of entry into high-end audio can still be affordable.

One of my concerns is that there are now few local audio dealers who will carry entry level up to the high end, with the business plan of building a customer base for years.  Most of the stores that I frequented in years past are now gone, replaced by the mammoth marketers of home audio like Best Buy.  Auditioning any component at a Best Buy store, if even possible, would be extremely frustrating.  The high end dealers that remain, as stated often here, seem to be mainly courting the high income customer - often with a condescending attitude to the rest of us.  A closed door instead of an open one.

My other concern is the value placed on listening to music as an active hobby.  I remember (beware - old man recollection coming!) when we would wait in line at the store for new records just released by popular artists.  Now people line up for the latest iPhone.  When friends come over to listen to my setup, they are usually impressed with the sound.  However, I rarely get a call back to ask me how to help them upgrade their systems.  It's almost like they're thinking, "That's great... for him!"  Most of my non-audiophile friends do not engage in music listening as an activity.  It's in the background while they do other things.  Music listening as a value has truly taken a back seat to other recreational pursuits and distractions.

Saving the stereo?  Better access to entry level, quality components and increasing the value that young people place on active listening.  Wish us all luck!



planzity's picture

Mfrs,. and retailers are both to blame

 I bought Arcam from a  nice reputable dealer, just before the franchise was canceled because they only sold 3 Arcams/month --$70K yearly in 1998 dollars not enough!)

Franchises, etc. make travel to a distant city to buy most reviewed items necessary. No mail order outside territory without personal visit, often 5 dealers or less in USA. Sometimes available in only 1 place in N. America, why are there positive reviews by your competitors about these un-obtainables? Would you order a preamp directly from the  Malaysian garage of its fabricator (real example of a Recommended Component several years.)

 Inquiries to most mfrs.are ignored (yes, some Customer Service people try to make the buyer want their stuff in a good way.)  Inquiries to retailers are often ignored. (Example: emailed franchise authorized "local"  rep. for Spiral Groove about $40K turntable twice, might have well dropped messages into kitchen grinder.) Many dealers operate in  the late  Mike Kay/Lyric NYC method of ignoring customers or treating as annoyances to make go away. Others appear even more psychotically narcisstic-controlling; I am not naming names. The good guys tend to operate out of their homes, cannot assume long-term viability if needed. (Which collapses first, the moving-coil cart. or the only business/person in 300 miles who has ever installed several successfully?)

If not for Music Direct, Audio Advisor, etc. and a few factory direct lines, would never bother with 2-channel super stereo.  Visiting Delaware stores in person generally worked out  well, geographically out of reach now.

 No Society can fix the mess unless it becomes a Buying Club for small-quantity  items otherwise not feasible for local purchase. And that would threaten most mfrs. and their guild business "model."

FrankZ's picture

...we live in the age of "speed". Of fast everything.. even joy. Everybody is in a hurry nobody has time for anything. We learned to depriciate quality over quantity and have a lust for shiny things, though less than necessary for us.

How that has to do anything with high end?
I read so many comments that had to do with equipment and price tags. This is the least of "our" worries when saving the stereo is involved when the actual reason is that the young does not have the time or the "education" to enjoy the stereo and all that comes with it.

How many of our children will go to a live concert in a theater?
How many have ever listen to any kind of music live in a place that acousticaly matters?

First we have to value the music and share the joy it brings with our youngs where it matters. Then they will try to find it or live it again at home. It doesn't matter if the equipment will be hi end or entry as long as they start to seek that joy. They will come to hi end according to their budget and every time will be happy for the little more they managed to get.

I cannot convince a young person that what he listen at his i-pod is scratch compared to a good pair of floorstanding speakers (and the rest of equipment).
Given the price difference but mostly his ignorance on live quality music he will laugh at me and tell me to go and meet my ancestors... He will claim the stereo dead since he can get so many channels and a audiophile recording worthless since he can get almost every song he thinks of free on the net. But certainly will do so because of his ignorance. Because he has not experienced the quality in his life yet.

Well, this is where I think we should start.

Before start throwing stones at me think it over.

Thanks and sorry for my poor english.

Montigne's picture


I was reading query results on Save The Stereo and found this lengthy thread that appears to have become just another random forum of internet ranters. Audiophilia requires playback equipment. Period. Spend your money however you want, but I'd recommend stopping the banter, and go listen to some music.

michael green's picture

I think in order to make a change you have to be active in doing something about the condition of stereo. My side of this has been investigating the sound itself. What I found shaped my views.

In 1990 I built the first tunable room, a room designed to test any type of acoustical /mechanical conditions. I did this because of the wide range of sound that this industry has. I toured for years listening to high end all over the world and realized that not one system in the world sounded like any other. Even when I took identical systems on tour with me and set them up with care (you saw me) they didn't sound the same any where. I was a part of setting up engineered systems using the very best test equipment (you read about it) and they didn't produce anything close to perfect sound and needed to be tweaked. I engineered recordings and was there through the record/mastering/playback process and saw first hand how every recording is different than every other one. All recordings have their own audio signal signature.

Do you understand what that means? I'm afraid many don't by reading reviews and comments. It means that if you set up a system to play a particular recorded signature it will not play the next recording that has a different signature at the same fidelity. I keep seeing, and have all my audio life, designers engineers and listeners alike trying to make this a "fixed" one size fits all process and it isn't, never has been. Why is this important to the topic? Because we have created an industry that is getting further from making things work instead of closer. We are making products that are not able to play a playlist of many types of music, and making it look like this is ok for the general public. The music lover has no desire to have an expensive system in their house that isn't good enough to tap their toes to, and do this with a large range of music selections.

After tons of tweaking, listening, traveling and talking to music listeners and more in and outside of the audiophile hobby I have come to a conclusion. The longer we keep making the "best system ever" without being able to make it variably tunable we will chase our own tails till there is no more high end audio to chase. We got so caught up in the dollar climb and the looks that we completely over looked the most important part. You will not be able to play a big selection of music if your system is fixed in a sound signature that can not play the different recordings. I don't care how many times our egos recreate the high end audio world if the public can play through a music list and we can't, why would they want "high end audio"? We created this tiny nitche and keep recreating it with the same problems built into it instead of backing up a little and seeing what it takes to make great sound and make it consistently. No one can come to me in this industry and tell me that they have a high end audio system that can play it all. If they did it would only be talk and debunked the first time someone went to their place and called BS.

I don't know why so many are willing to sit there with their ears shut and their minds closed.  Recordings have a signature, every part of your system has a signature, your room and conditions have a signature and you have a signature. What makes one think that they are going to pick a component or speaker or any other part or piece and it "just by plugging it in" is going to make all their music sound great and sound great on every recording and for everyone. I have heard more blame games in this industry than the US congress, and like the congress no one wants to look at the problem and actually fix it. The audio signal is meant to be tuned in to perform at it's set signature. You can plug and play all you want and still miss the signature of a recorded signal. Is this over your head? Than you need to ask, why are you doing this? You put together this great looking mass of metal and glass and composites and have the stories memorized of why this is better and how you have killed the vibrations, deadened the room and bought the perfect class matched componentry, and you have tamed the electric by building your own controlled power plant, yet it still can't play all the recordings in an average playlist, and you ask why doesn't someone want this?

Why are we not pulling more people in? We are not convincing listeners that what we have sounds better than what they have. Get real, face it, and take high end audio to the level it deserves to be and they will find it. At one time we were heading there then we clearly made a turn that made the public lose their interest. I saw it happen and said "if we don't step up high end audio is done". This doesn't mean the audiophile is done just these over built "fixed" non-flexible performers.  Why would I want a system that is at best hit and miss? I don't want to sit there and call "bad recording" everytime I can't make it sound good, I want to make it sound good. What's the use of listening to only a set few recordings the best you have ever heard them if you can't play anything but those few pieces of music at that level?

Good news for the music lover, even if the eyes of the high end audio are closed, now with the improvements in basic electronics the public is happy with their sound. I've been tuning some of these, what the audiophile would call, mid-fi systems and getting great sound when I apply my tuning. Actually when put side by side with the very best of the recommended components these products, because they are not over built, sound quite good on a wide range of music. This makes me ask, why are we still so stuck in trying to plug and play all these sonically fixed (non-flexible) products? They have their own particular signature sound, I get it no problem, but that sound is good to us for a while on certain recordings, till we hear a recording that sounds terrible on our system then we either blame the recording or look at changing our system.  Do we really not see what is going on?  We are trying to mix and match parts and pieces that are so finely tuned to "their" sound that they can't play anything outside of "their" sound.  Their sound might be the greatest thing since sliced bread if the conditions are identical to the designers place, but when you make products so dialed into a particular sound and try to make it do the same thing somewhere else you lose music content. You sit there and while the listener is jamming with his headset to Agualung, the best you can do is say how bad of a recording it is. 

The general public is not deaf anymore folks. Their walking around with music playing in their ears all day long, and you can say how bad it is all you want, and some of it is, but there's a large percentage that are listening to a soundstage that is a lot bigger than the ones most high end audio is producing. If I'm a music lover listening to my headphones and the music is all around me moving back and forth, front to back and with dynamics, shutting out the rest of the world, why would I want to listen to a tiny soundstage in a room and with a system that can only play a 8 feet wide 4 feet deep and 5 feet tall stage?  And listen to it with "I have a new____ on the way and it will be much better" being whispered to me. A system that is never quite there vs a big full soundstage that allows the listener to get lost in the sound. It doesn't sound like much of a choice to me and obviously isn't to the public either.

I do have a suggestion though besides slapping high end in the face and saying wake up. Why don't we make a high end audio hall of fame here in Las Vegas. A physical place where people can come and learn how to make good sound for them. They could learn the tricks and get help with their own private systems in their homes. It could be a service that was open to all designers and could work together with the CES and THE Show. It would have showcases of the different types of highend, and a room where a listener could come create their own sound.

If you want something to grip traction again you need to make it visable. You must remember that 95 percent of the worlds high end audio stores are no longer there, and shows as cool as they are don't produce the long term sound needed to show off a great system. We need to have a place that removes the guilt of $$$ and shows how to get a sound that suits the listener. There are many types of listeners and if we had a place that taught them how to get the different types of sound and how to tune in their choices it would make a world of difference and I think would even help the now generation of designers make even better, more flexible, products.

I got to be straight with you, the last few people who have come to my place after visiting the audio trade shows have said "why can't the show sound like this". The question is a good one and fair. The public is saying that their headphones plugged into their source is better than high end audio, at least what they are hearing and comparing to and with. I'm not saying that so don't point your guns at me, they are.

Look lets face it. It's game over for high end the way it was, but isn't that suppose to be what happens. Stereo is very much alive, bigger than ever and we have to realize that we have created a nitche that only delivers in part, and the world wants more.


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