Is high-end audio on a roll or hitting the skids?

With the advent of home theater and Internet audio, doomsayers claim that high-end audio's days are numbered. But new high-end audio companies seem to appear at a rapid clip, and vinyl continues to thrive. So is high-end audio gasping for breath or breathing easy?

Is high-end audio on a roll or hitting the skids?
It's doing great
6% (9 votes)
It's doing fine
34% (49 votes)
It's doing so-so
30% (44 votes)
Not doing so well
16% (24 votes)
It's pretty bad
10% (15 votes)
It's dead
3% (5 votes)
Total votes: 146

Gregg Fedchak's picture

What I'm really, really tired of is these narcissistic, masturbatory questions about "how we're doing." Has simply reviewing stereo gear and recordings gotten too boring for the old farts at Stereophile? Shut up and review!

Cihangir GUZEY's picture

In short words, it is still too expensive. Hi-End industry has to thank to its addicted customers who still thinks that great sound is still possible with equipment which costs as high as a good car (but not anymore!).

Mark Twain's picture

Rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Al Marcy's picture

Long live ears!

Stephen Curling's picture

I'd say thanks to home theater, in particular high definition, high end is getting a small boost. New products, new technologies are driving the industry forward.

Steve's picture

And I'm doing my part to keep it alive by showing friends just what music is suppose to sound like. Well to me at least.

Francesco Cicero, London's picture

The role of high-end audio is to improve the quality of the formats chosen by the mass market. In that sense we are just in a transition, but high-end will continue to thrive.

Donald N.'s picture

Never better! Technology and human innovation will propel the high-end into levels never seen before. The industry may become more niche-like than mainstream but, as long as humans have a passion for music and sound quality, there will always be a " high-end."

John Gossman's picture

The health of high-end anything is relatated to how the economy is doing. We had a recession in 2000, 9/11 in 2001, stock market devaluation in 2002, slow recovery and war in 2003, and, finally, in 2004 a breath of fresh air. And oh yeah, we are only a fractionalized part of a market competing with some of the coolest new technology since the invention of, well, the phonograph. High Definition TV's four inches thick, phones that can reach around the world that can be hidden in a cupped hand (and have a 2Mpixel camera, and can store hundreds of numbers, and send email to boot). And we listen to records, 15 minutes a side, on tube amps that weigh about 40–100 pounds. That we exist at all is an anomaly in the first place. All in all, we should count our blessings and think about how to manufacture 12 nines copper, since old fashioned 9 nines will surely be old news in a year or so.

Al Earz's picture

High End will never die as long as there are AudioPhiles that demand a better sound reproduction. A parallel can be drawn with the question will the Ruth Cris steakhouses close now that LoneStar steakhouse is offering a good steak at better prices?

C.  Healthgut, MD, FACS's picture

The economy, coupled with dubious taste in music among the mass listening community, makes for a less than optimal state of affairs for high-end audio.

Colin Robertson's picture

It's a niche product, and will continue to be so. I'm sure manufacturers will adapt to Internet audio somehow, and it can co-exist with home theater.

Randy's picture

It's destined to be a niche market, which is not a bad thing when you consider how poorly audiophiles have been served by corporate interests.

audio-sleuth's picture

Stand for something, and quit trying to be all things to all people. Surround sound is killing us because it's a fraud. We've taken the attitude that we'll sell you as many channels as you're stupid enough to buy!

Mike Z's picture

The current situation in the audio world reminds me of what happened in the climbing world. Shoes were rediculously overpriced. A small start-up company importing directly from China broke the price barrier by a long shot. Now everything is getting cheaper, and climbers are rejoicing. Audio is doing fine. It's the companies that refuse to adjust their prices in response to recent trends that are complaining about the death of the industry.

maurice cuffee's picture

I have gotten interested again, buying an upgrage for my d/a converter, and about to have my old equipment modified. As long as manufacturers keep making "gateway" equipment, gear that gets you close for little cash, the higher end stuff will still be craved.

Lesly B.  Jr.'s picture

I' m more worried about multichannel than MP3 or Internet radio. In my opinion most high-end companies (90% or more) will slowly introduce less stereo and more multichannel gear. This will make true high fidelity even more expensive than it is right now, as it will likely remain on stereo. Don' t get me wrong, I know multichannel can sound as good if not better than stereo; but that will happen on 1 out off 1000 recordings—and that scares me. As for the companies, they' ll do just fine, except for those interested in the beautiful sound of music, rather than the business it brings them.

Vinyl lover's picture

Too little improvement for too much money.

duane's picture

There's just more fun stuff to buy. Like fast cars, trucks and fast chicks.

Mahones's picture

High-end manfacturers are advertising speakers priced at $20,000/pr and above. Enough rich folks must be buying these speakers to make developing/selling them profitable. I'd say high-end audio is doing well.

WalkerTM's picture

Equally with new companies on the Horizon is encouraging but many major player have closed their doors as well. There are a lot of prestigious companies where I live, and I know quite a few staff at each. Not one has reported to me that sales are up. Mostly what I hear is rethinking of products, restructuring of price points, and product lines to accommodate lagging sales.

JIF's picture

High-end audio is a dinasaur. When a 1 Terabyte drive costs less than $100, high-end audio (as it is known today) will have to change. High quality music and reproduction are always wanted, but today's systems too big, take too many resources, not adaptable. If I started a company dedicated to quality music reproduction, I would be focusing on well designed soundcards, near-field monitors, etc.

Travis Klersy's picture

Good retailers can make all the difference in the world. Great products at competitive prices don't mean anything with no attractive options for obtaining them. If the high-end wants to continue, it needs to do as much as possible to help out the retailers that actually put products into the homes of consumers.

Richard Diamond's picture

But under the Bush economic package, neither are most other non-oil industries.

Mark Gdovin's picture

I can't point to any other time in my 35 years of being an audiophile when there were so many brands and technologies available. I think it will forever by a niche market with limited demand and relatively expensive gear. But today, a true high-end entry system can be had for less than $2000. In relative money, this was simply not possible in the early 1970s.

Rob Gold's picture

Again, the entire audio industry is in denial, pretending that the boom between the early-'70s and mid-'90s was anything other than a generational anomaly. High-rez audio is simply returning to its hobbyist roots, where it attracts a predictably small audience (like philately). If you think this way, audio is not a failed mass market item but a small, if stable, backwater. Truth hurts, but it's still the truth.

Carl's picture

I stopped tweaking my interconnects after I built my first home theater PC and haven't looked back. Anyone wanna buy my vinyl?

Timothy O.  Driskel's picture

As the old song line thing leads to another! Over priced CD's have re-invented the LP wheel which spins faster and faster as great used vinyl can be had for pennies on the dollar (not to mention any of the new pressings coming out)and the guys pushing the high end HT systems are really turning more people (especially the younger crowd) onto high end music and that is multi or 2 channel. Were the real trick comes in to the picture is finding synergy with all the new products that are available. I mean a newbie can spend a couple grand today and put a fine system together as with one I saw in a most recent rag combining the NAD C320BEE, Cambridge C640Azur, a pair of KEF monitors all cabled with decent cabling and shazam! Gee, it seems that in a recent soap I sent in the suggestion that more stateside audio mags start a dedicated spread based upon this same idea (anyone catching on to this yet?) and we keep hearing the "how are we going to get the new guy started"? well I can't think of any better way. This would be a dream job for me, putting systems together based on a particular budget and I say good systems can be built under any budget.

Clay White's picture

I hope it lasts. If I'm wrong, I'll just stock up so that the music and the gear that I have will outlast me.

two cents's picture

High-end is an insignificant percentage of the total audio market. My children tell me that I'm the only person they know who just sits and listens to music for its own sake. We have a generation(s) of sonic wallpaper listeners.