High End is On Its Way Out? Letters

Letters in response appeared in the June and July 1999 issues of Stereophile

Can you blame Gen-Xers?
Editor: My compliments on two excellent columns in your April issue: "As We See It" and "The Final Word." I think Larry Archibald's "Final Word" answered some of the questions posed in Barry Willis' "As We See It." I'm 38, but I know many Gen-Xers, and know for a fact that the bitterness that Archibald comments on turns away many new adopters. Post a question on a website or ask any two audiophiles and, more often than not, one winds up with a verbal slugfest over who knows best. It sounds as if the equipment is more important than the music. This will turn off anybody, but the typical Gen-Xer will quickly abandon any interest at all in high-end audio. Can you blame them?

Gen-Xers also are more interested in combining video with audio, but bring this up in most high-end circles and you get, at best, a sneer. The sensibilities of Generation X are different from the generations before them, as is true of all generations—but the High End seems to hold itself above it all.

Until the High End gets off its high horse, extinction is certain. When was the last time any high-end publication even tried catering to a younger crowd? Or any shops? I was in a shop last autumn when in walked what appeared to be a 21-year-old male, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. No one even asked if they could help him. He was looking at some things I was also looking at, and asked me several questions. By the nature of the questions, I could tell he was serious about these items and had done some homework. He ended up buying these items, and I couldn't help but think that if I hadn't been there to answer his questions, the store would have lost that sale! How many sales have been lost because of snobby attitudes?
Rich Allen, Address withheld by request

Just reach out
Editor: I'm a Generation-Xer, and Barry Willis' "As We See It" (April '99, p.3), concerning our lack of interest in high-end audio, was neither tactful nor true. Furthermore, he implied that our generation lacked the appreciation for anything "high," including art and music. Well, beyond being a Generation-Xer, I'm a successful artist, listen to Schubert, read Balzac, and am very interested in high-end audio. Like many people regardless of generation, I don't have the income to invest in high-end audio, so I use my humble boombox to follow the pursuit of excellence by listening to NPR, and to mostly small instrumental works such as string quartets and solo piano. Yes, I know how inferior the sound is, but it doesn't deter my willingness to learn about the world around me. In the end, this is what matters.

My only contact with high-end audio has been through the retail dealers, and I've often been met with rather unfriendly highbrows. I don't see how attitudes such as this, comments like Dan D'Agostino's, and articles such as Mr. Willis' are going to change anything.

We're willing. We're waiting. We're interested. Just reach out!
David Hunter, New York, NY

We're out there
Editor: As a member of Generation X, I feel compelled to respond to "As We See It" in the April Stereophile. While most of us Generation Xers can't afford products from companies such as Krell, Mark Levinson, and Conrad-Johnson—you know, such stuff as dreams are made on—many of us, through purchasing used and modifying older equipment, have put together very satisfying stereo systems. My own system consists of a Carver C-11 preamp, modified Dynaco ST-70 amplifier, NHT 2.3A speakers, a SOTA Sapphire turntable with AudioQuest PT-6 arm and Ortofon MC-20 cartridge, and an NAD 502 CD player. I don't believe in surround sound (although I know it exists), and don't have a television. I find more entertainment in listening to Bill Evans than I do listening to the sonic drivel pandered by eMpTyV. I know a lot of friends who also work hard with modest budgets to obtain quite outstanding sound.

I object to the assumption that, because few people under 30 attended a particular performance of Madama Butterfly, there is a decline in new audiophiles. I would, instead, offer that there is a decline in people with six-figure salaries who can afford such events. The cost of live performance is outrageous these days, and I am not about to spend my hard-earned cash to see the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Hall (one of the worst-sounding halls I've ever been in) when I can see performances at the San Francisco Conservatory's Hellman Hall for less, and usually see a much more enjoyable performance.

The implied assumption that people who don't listen to classical are not audiophiles is unjustified. Personally, I find classical music stagnant. When one considers that composers such as Bach and Beethoven were known in their day as improvisers, it is unfortunate to hear the bulk of classical pieces played note for note as the score dictates, with any emotional variation being mere coincidence.

Music is a passion. I believe that music and art are what make life worth living, and that work is what we do to survive. There are Generation X audiophiles out there, and they work every bit as hard to achieve sonic bliss as any other audiophile, albeit on a tighter budget. Please don't think that because we don't go to see extraordinarily expensive performances, that we don't exist.
Greg Morgan (a marginalized Gen-Xer)