"High-End Market Will Crash," Bender Predicts

One might think that the publisher of "The Largest Marketplace in the World for Audiophile Equipment" would have a vested interest in encouraging trading activity among his readers. One would think that such a publisher might take a neutral stance regarding fluctuations in the world market for used equipment. One would think that he would credit his readers with sufficient intelligence to decide for themselves whether any specific purchase, sale, or trade was a good deal.

One would be wrong on all counts. Walt Bender, publisher of Audiomart, long one of the dominant publications in the audiophile used-equipment underground, has recently taken to making dire predictions about the audio business in particular (and the world economy in general) in his page-2 editorials. In the September 7 issue of his little 36-issues-per-year circular, Bender extrapolates from the Asian economic decline, the devaluation of several currencies, and the fact that the Japanese market for customized California low-riders (primarily 1960s Chevys) has grown suddenly cold, and concludes that a huge depression in the worldwide market for audiophile equipment is just around the corner.

Buy now if you must, Bender cautions his readers, but be prepared to lose everything when the market crashes. A better strategy is to wait until the market bottoms out, he says, and clean up at fire-sale prices. "The already falling prices will accelerate . . . justifying the increasing lack of interest in audio that already exists," he writes. He even goes so far as to predict how far values will fall. Expensive digital items, he claims, will soon be worth 15-25% of retail, and "expensive-but-desirable" amps and preamps will go for 35-50% of their original list prices. Want to unload some "big-bucks speakers"? Better hurry and move them now. According to Bender, they'll soon be worth only 25% of list price, "if they're fairly recent and not obscure."

His predicted valuations are good only for the short term, he warns; all bets are off in the event of a good hearty stock-market crash---an event he sees as a strong eventuality, based on a temporary slump in the hobbyists' sliver market. Bender's great insight seems to be this: the market for anything---audio gear, art, real estate, oil, wheat, rice---varies over time. Values go up and values go down. Smart investors buy low and sell high; chumps buy high and sell low. So what else is new?

Walt Bender might be well advised to spend a little time studying the works of people like Elaine Garzarelli, who have made successful careers, and plenty of money for themselves and their clients, by predicting market trends. Garzarelli's crystal ball displays a scenario quite different from Bender's.

No one questions that many areas of the world's economy are shaky. It's always been that way. Nor do many audiophiles doubt that most high-end equipment is ridiculously overpriced. That's why the used-gear market has always been so fertile. But extrapolating a sweeping prediction from a few tenuously related facts and telling your readers---all active traders---that they are, in effect, wasting their money, is a classic exercise in biting the hand that feeds you.

In his years of publishing Audiomart, Bender has developed a severely jaundiced view of the whole high-end audio hobby. (Full-scale musical reproduction, he believes, is "impossible.") Near the end of his cautionary tale, he tells readers that he will soon advise them how "to get better sound than ever---for really cheap." In a follow-up on October 21, he offers audiophiles a new sonic reference: "Go out to your car, and tune in an oldies FM station. Turn your bass all the way down and the treble nearly all the way up . . . what you'll hear are old favorites that sound much more like real and live than anything you've heard before . . . The detail is tremendous, the tonality is right on the money, and the life of it is really vivid. . . . Its repro accuracy of reality is what you might like your goal to be." If there were any gear that might offer it, that is.

Audionuts, you've been warned. When your foolish investments in high-end gear cause you to become broke and homeless, there will still be hope. And hi-fi. Right there in your car, with sound better than real.