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."

Patrick Butler's picture

The new generation of audiophiles is more savvy than what?  Try sitting down with someone who made more last year than you are likely to make in your lifetime and tell me that they are not a keen detector of bullshit.  Without exception, all of the people I've ever met who are capable of (and do) purchase the kind of equipment that you have an issue with are very discerning individuals.  Wonder why they are buying something you find laughable?  Have a listen first and you might learn something. 

iosiP's picture

I listened to a lot of gear, even some that I can't afford, and have no issue with the prices "per se" but rather with the QC of some of the high-end stuff sold.

As Mr. Atkinson said, manufacturers go upscale in order to recoup their expenses with less units sold. Fine, let's say this is reasonable behaviour, but when you decide to sell 100 boxes @ $10,000 each instead of aiming for a target of 1,000 boxes @ $1,000 each, at least make sure the damn thing is put together well enough that you don't get a failure rate of 25%!

Remember the wonderful sounding Technical Brain products? These were beautifully built and offered a lot of satisfaction to their well-heeled owners... When they cared to work as advertised, which seemed to not happen very often!

Indeed, If someone makes more money per year than I will do in my lifetime they may accept to buy high-end products and call them "consumables", but it still stinks.

P.S. I use an Esoteric/MSB/Boulder/Raidho rig wired with Siltech - not cheap by any account - but then I am sure these will probably outlast me and not go out with a big puff of smoke whenever my cat wags her tail at them.

expolsionsinthesky's picture

Mr. Butler,

You may be one of those that makes more in a year than I will in a lifetime.  But you obviously can't see throught your own bullshit.

I do not begrudge anyone buying the best audio equipment they can afford!  I just don't subscribe to the fact that you need so called "high-performance audio" to enjoy the music.

If I understand the general push behind the "Save the Stereo" campaign, it is to bring younger listeners into audiophile mix, has nothing to do with how much one spends to reach audio nirvana.

Patrick Butler's picture

Hi Explosionsinthesky (great band by the way),

iosIP contends that what is wrong with this business are expensive products that he personally does not like.  I think that fairly well summarizes his position.  Being in sales I can tell you that the only opinion that really matters regarding the worth of a product is the paying customer.  To that end, when well-heeled customers purchase and appreciate the kind products iosIP finds unworthy of carrying the "High End" label, they disprove his theory.  

I've been in the homes of people with the means to buy this fantastically expensive gear.  The owners are smart, hard working and discerning.  The products they buy are akin to fetishes-  there are many of them, and there is no "best" one save for that which turns you on.  iosIP has a fetish for a "Esoteric/MSB/Boulder/Raidho rig wired with Siltech."  While I understand the kind of sound he is into, I can guarantee you that it does not work for everyone.  The High End is a big tent full of fantastic people, products at all prices, and obscurity.  The obscurity is the issue- not the products.  

iosiP's picture

My problem is not about what I like (or dislike): I do agree tastes and financial issues are highly personal!

My gripe is with the lack of dependability of some high-end products and with the overrated specifications llttering the marketing blurbs.

As for my system, I'm sure this sound is not for everyone, but listing my rig has nothing to do with the sound of it (or even with the looks or user ergonomics), and is far for showing any kind of "fetish": I was referring simply to the fact that a specification of 300Wpc for a Boulder amp actually means... well, even more than 300Wpc, that the Esoteric transport won't let me down after two years of service and the MSB DAC won't lose sync if my cat is sneezing at the digital cable.

So this is not about sound, although you seem to not (want) to understand it, it's about QC and bogus claims.

BTW, a friend of mine  - one of those that have plenty of disposable income - just purchased 11 (that's eleven) power cables from a new company. I helped him rewire the rig but one of the cables simply refused to provide any power to the attached component. I dismanteled the IEC plug and saw that one wire was not currently connected (and never was). Now, do you find this acceptable for power chords costing in excess of 5,000 EUR each? And what about the leaftlet that came with each cable, clearly stating the individual cable was burnt-in for xxx hours at the factory (a premium service with a premium cost)? How can you "burn in" a disconnected cable? 

low2midhifi's picture

Hi-Fi hobbyists are dismayed at the increasing cost of their hobby and want to stay engaged with upgrades and new gear.  Disappointment results at the cost of 2/3s, in my estimation, of the available hi-fi gear.

The top 1/3 of hi-fi product is expensive and, in most cases, built to high specifications, and performs in an exemplary fashion.  Few people have ever been able to afford this project.  There is little change here.

The bottom 1/3 of hi-fi product is a mixture of low and high quality product, considering the price.  I have owned a few stereo receivers over the year.  It amazes me how much some of this product has improved.  There are still--one only has to read the reviews in Stereophile and elsewhere--many fine (and in some cases very highly rated) speakers for less than $1000.00.  Some great speakers costing less than $750 per pair have received good to strong reviews. 

Continuing to talk of the lowest 1/3 of components, it is the advent of cheap DACs--demo and clearance units costing less than $400--that has created the biggest innovative boost in quality for the dollar for the hi-fi enthusiast.  I have concluded that a modest DAC and a website offering good sound quality has revealed great reserves of hitherto unrealized performance in my modest speakers and amplification.  As much as I am tempted to upgrade--as are many in the hobby--computer audio, Dacs, even great improvement in SACDs, and regular redbook CDs (and, no, I don't advocate the disappearance of CDs or any other media that a user enjoys and finds serviceable) have really stretched the performance of my gear.  As a result, I can't find a great incentive to upgrade in the near future.

So there is much performance to be had in components in the $400 to $1000 price range:  my definition of "affordable."

Where the hi-fi industry and dealers face their greatest challenges is in the middle tier of products.  I have written this before.  Why should a user upgrade from an entry level speaker to the next level up (and speakers, with high transportation, labor, and storage costs, face the greatest challenges in this area) when perhaps I am only getting a fancier veneer, and a modest piece of wood inside to brace the cabinet? Today, a person might pay $1000 to $2000 more for a speaker upgrade, and for very dubious improvements in product quality.  Many products in this price range--say $1500 to $3500--offer improvements in performance that are hard to perceive, and harder to justify economically to the financially strapped consumer.  Some products offer an improvement in performance, but here's the problem:  hi-fi upgrades and improvements in performance, especially in this middle tier, are evolving at a slower pace than with other products.

I bought a 27" CRT TV about 10 years ago, in the dying days of this technology.  I paid about $270 for this TV in a clearance sale.  A 13" LCD TV, with picture quality that would pass for laughable today, cost about $150.00 more at that time.  Today, one can buy a 32" LED TV for the same $270 on sale.  This product  offers an experience of visual quality that is a vast, scale of magnitude, improvement in quality over the 27" CRT of 10 years ago.  Computers, cell phones, bicycles, binoculars, 2-way radios, wrist watches, winter outerwear, sunglasses, athletic gear: many of these products have had vast improvements in quality in the past decade (some have come and gone).  Hi-Fi, I would posit, except for the revolutionary improvement in sound available through DACs and streaming, has improved, to my perception, at a slower rate.  And in non-computer-based sound--speakers and amplification--probably some of the greatest advances in quality have occurred at the bottom (and no doubt, in some cases, at the top where some manufacturers have embraced advances in materials science and continue to push the boundaries of electrical engineering).

It is is the middle tier of hi-fi where slower innovation than in other leisure products, and briskly rising prices, put this 1/3 of the product assortment at the greatest risk of stagnation of sales and interest.

I recall, in closing, a comment from a What Hi-Fi discussion board (much of which mirrored this article's travails and dismay in the comments section).  The theme of the discussion board was "what was your best hi-fi upgrade." The best comment came from a reader who wrote: "the best upgrade I ever made was learning to make do with my current hi-fi set-up."  Well put, indeed.

musiclover73's picture

Imho, some high-end audio will save itself, at least those companies with a more solid reputation.

But “saving the stereo” (or saving the Hi-Fi audio reproduction) is not about saving the High-End. On the contrary, the best way to make younger generations into this wonderful world of sound is by making more (and better) real affordable products. I’d stick with the $400-$1000 price range as previously mentioned.

Some brands have actually done it (I can remember the ‘recent’ review of the Monitor Audio RX-6 on Stereophile, among others), and building products overseas can (and should) lead to better products for the same amount of money, or identical products for much less money.

The lion’s share of the audio market was never on the High-End, and it won’t change (for the better) with new competing technologies like smartphones, tablets and all those ever evolving technological products grabbing most people’s attention.

I believe that music will always be a part of our lives, and there’s always a place/budget for good sound. But I also believe that the audio industry (along with some press) has been killing this great hobby by reviewing “exotic” equipment and ultra-expensive accessories (like audio cables).

“Saving the stereo” starts with keeping it real, and making good products that people can actually buy and live with (giving a word to aesthetics, as big squared boxes will always be harder to sell to any family in this century).

The 87nd incarnation of the old BBC monitor (or anything similar) isn’t going to cut it, and telling people how much of an improvement they’re going to get with a $6000 amplifier won’t do it either. But I can be totally mistaken.

iosiP's picture

Actually, a system wyred with the appropriate loom of cable can sound as good (or even better) than a system with a double price tag wyred with inappropriate cables!

Except there is science and snake oil: Siltech offers cables made of a special Ag/Au alloy (not easy to manufacture and utterly expensive), while other cable makers use the "patent pending" mantra to sell what amounts to little more than chinese-sourced wires in a fancy breading. Just check those patents: they never get approved, so they'll be "pending" for the next decade (or two).

And this is where it hurts: adopting Panzer Wood enclosures (what?) and "feed-forward four-layer adaptive shielding" (no kidding!) only to discover the insides are made of cheap Chinese copper wire cannot justify the prices of most of today's cables: most are no more than tone controls, tuned to compensate the Fletcher-Munson curve.

Feel free to spend, or (just to quote one of the previous commenters): if your last year's income is more than I will ever make in my lifetime, you're an audiophile!

low2midhifi's picture

Upon reflection, and after taking a step back from the debate, I think that the hi-fi situation, while bad, is not hopeless.  As a leisure activity, and compared to others with a dedicated following, hi-fi has challenges of lesser or greater magnitude compared to other hobbies.

We all know the challenges confronting hi-fi; this discussion thread, and many others, have laid out the challenges in great detail.

I would categorize hi-fi, as any other hobby, with two main constraint characteristics:  1.  What is the cost of entry to the hobby?  2. What is the cost of partaking in the hobby once has paid the cost of entry?

Taking this broader view, the challenges confronting hi-fi look less daunting.  Hi-fi has 1. Costs to entry that are almost infinitely flexible, and 2. Partaking in the hobby entails low, and again, infinitely flexible costs.

Costs of Entry:  A hi-fi enthusiast confronts a bare price of entry to the hobby.  This cost of entry remains low.  A person could buy a used receiver, used speakers, a DAC (we’ll assume a computer and internet connection already exist), some stock interconnects, and one can achieve fine sound quality in a home; better than the compressed mp3 sound which causes so much anguish among Stereophile readers.  Whether a person ever upgrades is entirely at the person’s discretion.  My betting is that some modest upgrades will occur with even the most budget-constrained consumer.  Take this approach, and you’re in the hobby.  It’s as simple as that.  Upgrading is all at the hobbyist’s discretion.

Costs of Partaking in the Hobby:  Again, hi-fi is an infinitely flexible and discretionary hobby once one has the gear.  Music source material has never been cheaper; the starting price for web streaming from good quality sources is free.  Used CDs and vinyl are abundant, whether online or in the local thrift store.  If you have a receiver, FM radio , though not the greatest sound quality, is still around, too.  Then the only other expense is electricity.  And with CFL and LED bulbs, a hi-fi hobby may be cost-neutral, or even less expensive, compared to the incandescent bulb days.

Hi-fi also offers the enthusiast a lot of interim, low-cost tweaks that one can do to improve the performance of a system.  Speaker placement, speaker stands, sand filling of stands, buying a new pair of inter-connect cables are among the options that a person has to make significant but inexpensive improvements to an existing system of modest hi-fi components.

So with hi-fi, we have low hurdles to get into the hobby, to partake in the hobby, and to make small but impactful enhancements.

Let’s move to some hobbies that are more cost effective for a person’s budget and 24 hours in a day than hi-fi.  Bicycling, cooking, gardening, running, tennis, swimming, reading, digital photography, walking, fishing (from shore), bird-watching, web-surfing, social-media’ing, TV watching (broadcast, not cable) are legitimate hobbies that have lower costs than hi-fi on both dimensions.  So some people do better economically with their hobbies than a hi-fi enthusiast.

But, now, let’s move to the hobbies where, in our increasingly challenging economy, the middle class hobbyist is in a real world of hurt that eclipses any hi-fi hobbyist’s frustration.   These hobbies require multi-thousand dollar outlays to get into the hobby, to say nothing of the thousands more needed to maintain the hobby.

Skiing, RV-ing, 4x4-ing, motorcycling, golfing, vacation/2nd home ownership, boating, equestrian sports, vintage or sports car restoration, snowmobiling, international vacationing: these are financially debilitating hobbies, with high and very sharply escalating costs of entry and of participation. These hobbies have a much more challenging--if not genuinely much bleaker--future than hi-fi for all but the most well heeled hobbyists. 

I have heard the fulminating outrages at work. People have told me that their personal finances are being brought to the brink over a new fishing boat.  Others have had to stop golf club memberships lest they not have money to send their kids to college.  One had thousands of dollars of repairs after wrecking a $24,000 Harley-Davidson.  Still others have told me of the years of debt they have to pay off an RV loan.

In conclusion, hi-fi, despite its many challenges and the sharp debate, faces fewer obstacles than many other--erstwhile mainstay--hobbies in America.  Hi-fi enthusiasts have reason for cheer, if we can only step back and look around.

DaveinSM's picture

I don't agree with this assertion at all mainly because it doesn't take into account the fact that all of those other activities are inherently more social- and socially acceptable-- than audiophilia.  Try convincing your wife or kids that a $5,000 amp will give them more enjoyment than a luxe ski trip, or that they will love the $10,000 speakers more than the new fishing boat.  Or that your wife would much rather have the $80,000 system than a new RV and a cross country trip together...

This should go without saying.  Even if your wife were also an audiophile (gigantic IF), what are the chances that you share the same taste in music and want to listen to the same things at the same time on your-system-that-cost-as-much-as-a vacation home?

critical listening is almost inherently a solitary activity that precludes anyone without significant expendable leisure time.  Period.  Try selling THAT and the six figure rig to your family while you also sweat about the mortgage or college.

DaveinSM's picture

Most - and I mean MOST- people look at their home stereos as a leisure device and something to have on in the background while they entertain, cook, talk, and otherwise get on with their lives.  Very, very few will ever bother to sit down in the sweet spot in front of a well-set up rig and critically listen to a recording.  Brings up another GREAT POINT: home decor.  It's almost always something that the system must blend into, and not be formed around.  I'd be willing to bet that 98% of households' home decor is decided with comfort in mind first, and the audio fidelity of the sound system LAST.  Why else do you think BOSE has had far more success than what we consider true high fidelity manufacturers?  

deckeda's picture

And invite someone to do it with you. Or talk casually while the music plays. Maybe sneak in music while serving dinner--captive audience.

Get people used to hearing and listening again. The appreciation and habit begins there. The "stereo" is a corrolary, not the end game needing a fix. 

Bill B's picture

 Yes, encourage good sound for everyone.  But don't define it, as the article does, as "component-based high-fidelity stereo system".  "Component-based" is arbitrary, it shouldn't matter if parts of the system are packaged in fewer or more boxes.  And no need to define it even as "stereo", since that's limiting too.  We love stereo but multii-channel or binaural or 3D or whatever should NOT be excluded.

Regadude's picture

Stereo is fine, no it's great! There is a huge choice of audio equipment in every price bracket. If you do your research, you could build a good system for a reasonable price.

You have brick and mortar dealers, web stores, and companies like Emotiva that sell direct.

There is so much choice! So much quality gear to be had. The problem is not with equipment. The problem is with human beings...

This "me in my bubble", or "I want the newest thingy" world people live in is to blame. iPods, cell phones, home theater gear (receivers, surround, etc) have crapped all over the value of sound quality.

Better to look cool on your new bluetooth ipod phone thingy blasting away Justin Beiber's song of the week, than to actually take the time to listen to good music on a good system.

Better save up to buy that new 12.1 channel home theater receiver with Sirius xm, 4 ipod docks, streaming hole, 8 usb ports, wifi AC394949, voice activated alarm clock, Odyssey 4HQtRO Nvidia chip 128 bit telerium microphone room equalisation spacialiser setup system and on and on and on....

**** this. Iam outta here! 

tmsorosk's picture

Many good points Regadude .

You can purchase an audio system at just about any price . If someone can't find an audio system that suits there budget there really not looking .

And why do folks that are purchasing the lower end gear care how expensive the high end gear is if there not in the market for those products ? 

If you were purchsing a new car and looking at Fords would you be bothered by the high cost of a BMW ?

Doctor Fine's picture

I like having a playback system that can fool an expert into thinking there are live musicians and instruments in my living room.  It makes me laugh. 

It is exacly like "being there" and "you hear things you never heard before"---TONS of things like whispers, a mike stand knocked over, someone talking in the background, a car passing by outside the studio...

I like making my friends cry out in joy when they hear their favorite high school music brought to life again and they can reach out and touch the artists that meant so much to them when they were young.

It is nice to stay home, have a fabulous dinner, open a bottle of fine wine and then go "out" to a concert and hear Tchaikovsky or John, Paul, George and Ringo together once more.

It costs about $30,000 to accomplish this in a middle class home with average acoustics.  It may take a considerable amount of speaker moving and room treatment to lock in the effect.  I have been doing this for a living for 45 years and sold Krell, Sonus Faber and built LL CooL J a recording studio.  I know a few things.

It takes full frequency response (20-20K) a musical "alive" DAC, a moving coil cart, amplifiers that sound alive and full at all volumes from a whisper to a roar, speaker components that can be moved and adjusted in the room until the imaging is in 3D and the presentation is totally compelling and convincing (indistinguishable from "live"). 

It takes excellent wiring.  I make interconnects out of George L wire in bulk. I use twin pairs for balanced connections and Neutriks on the ends.   Mogami for speaker leads.  Nothing smaller than 12 guage for power cords.

I really can't justify spending MORE than 30 large on a middle class house with mediocre acoustics.  There just isn't any ROI.   Spend much less and you will not be in the actual presence of the artists so while it is "all good" some things can justify the time and energy spent and some are a fool's errand.

As for my wife---I picked the right gal for the job. 

"It sounds THIS great with four power amps, two outboard woofers and two 15 inch subs---wouldn't it even sound BETTER if you bought something BIGGER?"  Thank you Lord.  Perfect.  I shall keep her.

Meanwhile I am tired of arguing with "expert" people as they never build anything that impresses me.  Therefore their opinion is only of passing interest.  The only guy I know that works the room as hard as I do is Jim Smith.  Go read his book "Get Better Sound" and learn something. 

I collect room tuning manuals and technical papers on acoustics.  I actually read them and try them out.  I have a library of reference books on speaker design, amplifiers, instrument building and repair, acoustics, public address systems and factory training material.  I read them over until I understand them which takes time as I am not a trained engineer.

Perhaps someone will recommend a particular piece of gear.  After I hear ten recommendations I will make a note that perhaps it is worth the money and go check it out for myself.

I am truly sorry that most people are not dying to eat fine food, drive great cars and own a real live scary good audio system any more.  This is not my problem.

Perhaps you would like to come over for dinner and some music.  You are invited if you promise to not talk about equipment.  That is just shop talk to me. 

Let's talk about the opera or some neat little Bluegrass outfit you heard in your travels through Virginia.

If it were ME I would simply build a demo room for the unwashed public and let them hear for themselves what great sound really is.  I would NOT sell equipment piece by piece.  I would NOT demo any individual gear as it takes months to just tune up ONE great system.  In my last home it took five years to suss out the perfect speaker layout...

This hobby is mostly about how well you yourself can set up your system.  Impress me.  Go on and try. 

If you DO bust your butt getting a great life like sound then I bet more people will hear more gear and the problem will solve itself.  Right now I can honestly say I hear very little that sounds all that great because most of it is set up wrong at audio shops and music "fairs."

That to me is the real problem and the reason folks seem to have moved on from Stereo to other hobbys.  If you are like me and would rather improve what you already have then I applaud you.  Most folks won't work that hard and seem to expect great results from spending huge sums.

When I started out back in the Dynaco build your own kit days---every little bit of improvement was hard fought.  AR3a, big Macs, JBL Paragons, great EL34 tube amps and such made our music listening lives very rewarding.

Nowadays most folks seem confused about what works and why.  Impressive screachy earth shaking and loud.  Ugh.  So many ways to do this hobby wrong.

I honestly believe most modern folks don't have the patience to do this well.  They prefer to push a button and get instant gratification.  Earphones.  IPhones. Computers.

Too bad.  Now, about that dinner and some great wine.  What is your favorite and forget about two buck Chucks...

DaveinSM's picture

I think it's silly to put an arbitrary number or 'minimum' on what a state-of-the-art system should cost.  ANY system is going to be a mixture of preferences and compromises.  For most people, the biggest compromise will be their limited budget.

The wonderful thing about high quality audio equipment is the fact that the good stuff is made to last.  $30K on the used market will go so much further than the same $30K purchased new at a dealer.  Then again, purchasing used equipment does require more caveat emptor, as well probably some trial-and-error.  

This is in addition to the fact that with even a $30K budget, you need to pick your spots.  One person with a smaller room and who puts a premium on midrange clarity and detail, imaging, and other aspects of sound will have very different equipment requirements than another person, say, with a bigger room and a desire for dynamics, bass extension, and image scale. 

That's why I find value in reading Stereophile Magazine.  Most of my system was purchased used, and I found their older product reviews very helpful in my selections.

misterc59's picture

At least 30k required for a "live experience"! If I were to think about becoming a little more serious about buying gear, I would call it quits if I heard that! Everyone has different listening experiences with MANY types and costs of gear. If someone feels they must spend 30k to achieve aural bliss, good for them. There are people in this hobby who can achieve more for less and need not be lectured this is not how it's done.

If someone feels they have heard every combination and permutation of equipment, good on them. I for one have not and refuse to put a price on what I may feel is a live musical experience, and yes, I do get out of the house to attend live performances. I believe 

this topic is to help expand the number of people who are considering buying or upgrading their quality of sound and listening experience? Then let's try to be constructive and help "newbies" enter this wonderful hobby and not squash their hopes/beliefs before they even begin.

Doctor Fine's picture

I actually have heard every possible permutation of gear under 30K and can attest that if you do not spend enough to achieve a 3D result you are an idiot.  It will NOT happen.

Nice try.  I love how idiots try so hard to impose their stupid idiocy on the rest of us.  Unfurtunately for you it actually takes a certain amount of money to achieve the "high end."  But attempt noted.  Well done...  Nice try....

Doctor Fine's picture

I was a Dealer running a HiFi chain store in the 70s.  We were dealing Sansui.  I took a tuner home.  A TU-X1.  It was very good perhaps amazing

Of course some of you young pups can't appreciate what it was to exerience REM and Velvet Underground.  I was stoked.

I bought a vinyl copy of Stevie Ray Vaughan and took it took my local college radio station to let them into what was happening at the time.  It has all ways been a fight to let people know what is going on.  I knew Jimi Hendrix when we were both teens and playing guitar in different bands.


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... 


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