Has there been a golden age of audio? When and why?

It's been argued that audio's "golden age" occured in the late 1950s, just as stereo LPs were introduced. Others say audio <I>truly</I> came of age in the '70s as high-end audio took off. Others don't remember the past so fondly. When did audio culture hit its peak?

Has there been a golden age of audio? When and why?
The '40s
0% (1 vote)
The '50s
13% (27 votes)
The '60s
13% (26 votes)
The '70s
21% (42 votes)
The '80s
8% (17 votes)
The '90's
7% (14 votes)
17% (34 votes)
The future
20% (41 votes)
Total votes: 202

Anonymous's picture

I suppose your answer will depend on your point of reference. I myself am 31, and just started to get into audio in the late 70's-early 80's, during the peak of Japan's glory days. Back in the late 70's you had Pioneer, Sansui, Marantz, Yamaha, and even brands like Kenwood and Technics that were building equipment that would compare very favorably and in some cases better than much of the over-priced, over-hyped botique brands that are so heralded today. Also, most of these components were priced so that real people could afford them. And I challenge anyone out there to tell me that many of the components of the 70's-early 80's era are not some of the most beautiful examples of styling ever seen. Who can not admire the stunning elegance and beautiful craftsmanship of a Marantz 2500 receiver? When is the last time that you saw an anonymous black box called a "home theatre" component that could elicit the raw lust that a stack of matched Pioneer Spec Series components or a awesome Yamaha setup? No disrespect intended to today's manufacturers, but most of the offerings you find on dealer shelves just can't hold a candle to the sheer visceral thrill of showing off your Sansui G-33000 receiver to your friends. THAT was envy! By the way, I own 5 Marantz receivers as well as a classic Yamaha setup and ADS speakers. I will put my gear against any of today's electronics up to $5,000. And I bought most of my gear on EBAY, or in pawn shops for nearly pennies on the dollar!

Al Earz's picture

I have to believa that all eras are golden, but the 70s get my vote. That was when the engineering seemed to focus on the presentation of stereo. Also, the equipment manufactures seemed to be developing stereo imaging. The music was great too! Come on, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is still selling at a great pace. The Moody Blues were emphasizing orchestral/synthesised music. Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, King Crimson

Blue Mikey Fazzone's picture

Depends if you look at playback equipment or recordings. I tend to think in terms of recordings, so I'd put it in the early days of the LP, the era of Wilma Cozart's Mercuries, Living Stereo, London, the high water mark of jazz (Blue Note et al), and the early days of rock and folk. I think it basically had ended by the time Neil Young put out Tonight's The Night in the '70s and the prevailing notion of good sound morphed into the Doobie Brothers, Elton John, the Eagles, and Earth, Wind, and Fire

It is still Bubba in Santa Fe's picture

The designs were great, but the quality of circuitry was not up to what is possible now. Speakers have come a long way and will continue to evolve. Amplifiers are incredible when compared to the days of yore. The problem still is software. Some of the best stuff came out when the production quality sucked. Now we have the possibility of incredible production and most of the music is retro or bad. No wonder people enjoy classical, old jazz, and classic rock. In other words, the hardware is excellent but there isn't much today to play on it. How about another compilation release?

Larry's picture

East Coast: AR West Coast: JBL High End: Marantz and McIntosh I am still whining about selling those big old JBL L200s!!!!!!!!!!

Oliver's picture

The age without vodoo (cables, power plugs, etc.) but with lots of really good equipment, developed by cracks (Mark Levinson, MBL, Metaxas). Today people hear differences between racks - what a s... - the decades before the eightis the technique was not as good as in the eighties.

stefano podesta's picture

Less Television more musical culture lower price of stuff and media higher quality

Stephen Curling's picture

Although I wasn't born yet, I think musics biggest time was the 60s. Today music seems to be a cash cow for most new artists. They come, make big money then disappear.

JCS's picture

Only because I don't remember the 40s.

peter's picture

because of digital audio the hi-fi is becoming more and more affordable to normal music lovers who love music and not hifi per se.

Joe Hartmann's picture

I think we are moving toward an era of outstanding sound. This is a danger for the high end with prices off the carts I have trouble justifing to myself the cost of equipment. The value of midprices equipment and the movement to intergrated amps must be a harbinger of high end cncern. When is the last time I read a bad review?

Mike Healey's picture

Late '60s, early '70s because that's when both recordings and equipment started sounding good to the average consumer. However, what comprises "High Fidelity" seems to change every five years. I think the general perception of "what sounds good" to the average consumer has been overshadowed by the marketing of features and sound effects. Listening to music is something you do passively while jogging, working on the computer, or watching TV. That said, there are a lot of affordable ways to start into the Hi-Fi hobby. New audiophiles have lots of products to choose from, although they may have to look in places other that huge chain stores.

Mike Molinaro's picture

If you're talking from the point of view of the hobbiest, then the '60s, with a nod to the late '50s and early '70s. This was a time of kits, tweaks, and a true hobby mentality (and folks had the TIME to pursue this hobby). And it was more fun! If you're talking sound reproduction, there is no time like the present, especially with vinyl playback and speaker technology.

Al Marcy's picture

As war wanders off to be a vulgar hobby of nasty little countries, the world will share in learning useful trades and technologies long wasted on destruction.

jaypp's picture

The future, when SACD=DVD-Audio=MP3=Same Format For All, and everything sounds good.

Brankin's picture

I think now and the near future are a golden age for DIY high hnd audio. High end being high-quality sound in this instance. More kits and help via the Web appear to be taking off in rapid fashion, from DIY preamps to speaker kits to subwoofers to turntables. The interest in building your own kit seems to be as great as in the early "golden years."

John Muenzberg's picture

While other eras have their high points, the 1990s were a combination of new and old that may never be repeated. The average CD began to sound first-rate in the 1990s (Adcom, Rotel, CAL), while turntable manufacturers began producing their best tables yet, both flagship and value models (VPI, Rega, Music Hall, Basis). Good quality speakers became cheaper and cheaper (PSB, Paradigm, NHT), and new designs in powered subwoofers changed the way we think about bass (Sunfire, Hsu). And truly groundbreaking designs in both louspeakers and digital components were produced (Wadia, Accuphase, Theil, Meridian). To top it all off, we finally began to add science to tweaks, and produced the most effective vibration contol components and AC line filters (PS Audio, Townsend, Vibraplane, Bright Star, Audioprism). And that doesn't even include the new video and audio formats. What a great time to be an audiophile.

Ree Run's picture

I hope audio has not yet peaked and that we will see it happen in the future when the ultimate format is found.

Brian Walsh (chicagoaudio.org)'s picture

J. Gordon Holt and Harry Pearson started and cultivated the high end.

Tom Turner's picture

Truly outstanding equipment is now available for the first time at mass market prices and available to any willing to pony up $5k or more. The media we use and quality of recordings needs to be better but that will come if the RIAA doesn't screw it for everyone.

Billy B's picture

I can't think of a time when so much good sounding equipment was available. Sure we can look back at the 50's and 60's through rose colored glasses, and recall some wonderful products. But the rest- ech, what dreck.And that's the stuff we forget about.

S.  J.  Romeo's picture

Why choose only one decade? Technical development, consumer products, and musical expression flowered 1947

Craig Ellsworth's picture

The '80s. I know, there surely will be some people who will put their fingers in a little cross due to the advent of the CD but when it comes down to it, preamplifier and power amplifier design matured in the mid 80s and have not really gone all that much further since.

Tony P., Phoenix AZ's picture

Although the best quality equipment is definitely to be found now, I would have to pick the seventies when hi-fi was at its peak as a culture. When something becomes too polished, too high-quality, too available to the masses for a reasoanble price, the "inside culture" aspect kind of goes away, don't you think?

Robert Matthews's picture

I really think it was in the '70s, when Marantz equipment reigned supreme. I remember asking some service center which receiver they never got back into their shops to be repaired and the answer was Marantz. This was when I was in to receivers. I had an old Marantz Model 2270 receiver, which I'll never forget owning. Actually, I wish I had never ever sold it. It looked great and sounded fairly good for a mid-fi receiver. This was when I thought the golden age of audio was at its peak. That's my opinion. I sometimes wish we could bring back this same feeling into the stereo equipment that is produced today.

Pete M's picture

I consider the '80s the Golden Age of Audio. We had a good number of the technological improvements we benefit from today, but stout build quality was still sanely affordable. Home theater had not yet taken so much attention away from high-end audio, and convenience had not yet fully conquered quality. Typical '90s to present mainstream gear has all the technology but unless you spend big bucks, typical build quality "just ain't what it used to be." Case in point - the length of some manufacturers'/shops' finance terms often exceeds the length of the gear's warranty. Yuk!

Fred Huff's picture

My father built a Heathkit integrated amp in the early '60s and joined RCA's record of the month club. Playing those LPs on a Garard turntable was my first experience with recorded stereo sound. It was the Golden Age for me, until RCA screwed it up with Dynagroove.

Andrew's picture

The '60s of course.Great sounding classical and jazz recordings some of them unequaled since despite the 'perfection forever'

C M S's picture

Stereo eveolved and so did tubes

Bernie Sawickis's picture

Audio is better know than it was in the past and will be even better in the future.