R.I.P., Audiophilia. It Was Nice Knowing You.

Audiophilia is dead.

Actually, it retired to an exclusive country club in the sky—but as far as the enduring, salt-of-the-earth audio hobbyist is concerned, it may as well be dead. The reason is simple: The old audiophile paradigm used to be mostly about when we were going to get that top-shelf component we had our eye on; it was rarely an if proposition. That's because, if you were an average, determined audiophile, it wasn't prohibitively expensive to buy top-shelf equipment. That's what made our hobby so exciting back then: the idea that you could actually own the best sound around. Damn!

To 99% of us, that idea is now laughable. What can you do. Times change. The world evolves, and we adapt by adjusting our expectations and priorities. That's not to say that owning the best sound is no longer a priority for us; only that, due to circumstances beyond our control and the fact that, in life, our options are to sink or to swim, owning the best sound stopped being everything.

That's a good thing. Our hobby is so much more now: a boundless, bountiful creature of many facets, each as legitimate as the next. What are these facets?

Versatility
In the 1970s, if an audiophile component pulled off the one trick it was designed and built to do, within the confines of our one-and-only stereo system, we were happy purists. That was before we had digital sources that could preamplify, amplify, rip, store, stream, and convert, and music files that could be played by a hodgepodge of stationary and portable playback systems. It was before we had integrated amps with nearly as many features and controls as 1980s stereo receivers, but with sound quality that equals that of separates. It was before we had turntables that could rip, digitize, and burn. The minimal level of technical functional literacy required by our hobby keeps rising.

Music Streaming
The fix for our increasing addiction to convenience and our gluttonous desire to have everything now, music streaming, is the format that is killing the CD. It's true that the ephemeral nature of electronically generated album-cover art and liner notes lacks the tangible cachet of a CD booklet or LP sleeve, but consider this: The virtual version has the potential to deliver more album art and artist information—displayed in a larger, more readable font—than could any paper version. Not only that: Unlike physical media, the quality of streamed sound doesn't deteriorate with age. In fact, if the recent rivalries between higher-fidelity streaming companies are any indication, the quality of streamed sound is rising. And darned if having everything now—instant access to almost any piece of music I want to listen to or sample—isn't a nifty way to turn up the fun. Our computers, tablets, and smartphones are the new physical media.

Sound
By sound, I don't mean audiophilia's definition of a reference, of the sort now dispensed by increasingly and absurdly more expensive products—or, as John Atkinson described them in "As We See It" in the February 2017 issue: "cost-no-object audio components" that will, "in effect, cease to exist, as far as readers of this magazine are concerned." The days are long gone when the average, determined audiophile could keep up with the cutting edge. Luckily, those of us who remain earthbound have been granted access to an ever-broadening base of playback systems that keep sounding better.

Technology
This facet of our hobby stands on its own merit, and, as each of these facets is irrevocably tied to digital technology, it is the sum of all the facets listed here. Digital technology has not only completely revolutionized our hobby—the structural underpinnings of where, how, when, and how much we listen to music—it has saved it. In absolute terms, digital sources can now provide better sound—of the organic, soulful, affecting kind—at lower prices, and in better ways, than any other component category.

Because of this, more music lovers are exposed to high fidelity, an experience from which a few of the more impressionable ones will, as we did, emerge as audio hobbyists. From the vantage of audiophiles' old belief system, it's ironic—a democratization process that inches us closer to the mainstream even as the mainstream inches closer to us. Both factions are, in effect, coming together.

Chalk it all up to natural progression. After all, the word audiophile first appeared in print in 1951, in High Fidelity magazine. Maybe it's time we began calling ourselves something more à propos—like stereophiles. Don't snicker. If there's one thing we all share, it's our love of stereo. This makes me wonder if, when contemplating what to name his new magazine back in 1962, J. Gordon Holt might have predicted where we are today—when quality audio is rampant, stereo would still be king, and the audiophile pursuit is about more than just owning the best sound around.

Ladies and gentlemen, our worlds are colliding. Audiophilia is dead. Our identities have shifted under our noses. Stereophiles of the world, unite: We have nothing to lose but our preconceptions!—Robert Schryer

COMMENTS
volvic's picture

"In absolute terms, digital sources can now provide better sound—of the organic, soulful, affecting kind—at lower prices, and in better ways, than any other component category".

This is so true, I always marvel when listening at home to a lowly Stello U3 and Moon 300D DAC trounce a very expensive YBA CD1a and Linn Ikemi for a small percentage what those two units cost. The sound isn't even close. On that point Mr. Schryer is right the new technology has the potential to democratize our hobby to the point where front end sources costing thousands of thousands are no longer needed. Still, having said all that I do miss the record stores that used to exist on every 4th city block, that loss is very much missed.

michaelavorgna's picture

...And we have killed him."

—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (sorta)

mrkaic's picture

These days there is no rational justification for the existence of overpriced top shelf "audiophile" equipment, at least as far as electronic parts are concerned. (You may want to spend a bit more on decent speakers.)

Modern op amps and power amp ICs equal or beat top shelf stuff hands down, and for a fraction of the price. There is no way some one man outfit (of the kind popular with "true" audiophiles) can compete with the likes of Texas Instruments in terms of design, quality control, and performance.

DaveThreshold's picture

A Giant Killer, Entry Level Preamp for Only $15,000!!"
Trust me when I say, THAT RIGHT THERE is killing audiophilia and far worse, all of two channel audio.
V.P.I. goes back to aluminum platters which ring like a BELL to get people to upgrade their tables.
Following in the footsteps of the long defunct Garrard 301, which rumble like a Sherman Tank, they are now using rim-drive.
Add in the ridiculous amount of snake oil such as the charlatan Shunyata does a demo about peak wall current comparing an 18 GA. wire to their $1,000 EIGHT GAUGE.
Also funny is that, years back, Stereophile raved about the JBL S-38 speakers: That is because it was the first time in five years that they opened their mind up enough to review something that cheap. Stereophile Magazine and The Absolute Sound have more to do with this than anybody else out there, with their imaginings of the, "GLORY" of a $5,000 power cord. - When after running through miles of garbage wire, and then 6 feet of OFC, the very next thing that electricity does is get converted to D.C.
ADIOS!! :-)

John Atkinson's picture
DaveThreshold wrote:
A Giant Killer, Entry Level Preamp for Only $15,000!!" Trust me when I say, THAT RIGHT THERE is killing audiophilia and far worse, all of two channel audio.

With all due respect, where in the May issue do we say that a preamplifier that costs $15,000 is "entry level" and a "giant killer"?

DaveThreshold wrote:
Also funny is that, years back, Stereophile raved about the JBL S-38 speakers: That is because it was the first time in five years that they opened their mind up enough to review something that cheap.

Again, you are misremembering what you read. We routinely review affordably priced products. See our "Budget Components category" on this website.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

DaveThreshold's picture

I wrote, "EXAMPLE" as in a typical type of review that you guys rave about. It was not a quote of what was in your May issue.
As for the S-38's that was a long time ago, and I do not recall you guys reviewing speakers that were not too expensive back then.

John Atkinson's picture
DaveThreshold wrote:
I wrote, "EXAMPLE" as in a typical type of review that you guys rave about. It was not a quote of what was in your May issue.

In which case, you are being dishonest. We have never described a $15,000 preamplifier as being "entry level," nor would we. Criticize us for we actually do, not for what you imagine.

DaveThreshold wrote:
As for the S-38's that was a long time ago, and I do not recall you guys reviewing speakers that were not too expensive back then.

In which case, please admit that you were wrong. We have been routinely reviewing inexpensive speakers since the magazine's founding 55 years ago which makes your criticism incorrect.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

DaveThreshold's picture

Show me what other entry level gear that you reviewed in the issue with the S-38’s, before I admit anything.
DISHONEST??? You are ALL being dishonest, all the time, when you say that you can hear the difference that a housefly makes when it lands on one of your interconnect cables. That said, learn what a figure of speech is.

ChrisS's picture

You are hyperventilating.

John Atkinson's picture
DaveThreshold wrote:
Show me what other entry level gear that you reviewed in the issue with the S-38’s, before I admit anything

Bob Reina's review of the JBL S38 was published in our July 2001 issue: see www.stereophile.com/standloudspeakers/365/index.html. If you go to www.stereophile.com/taxonomy/term-p/110?page=11, you can see a list of the stand-mounted speakers that we reviewed around the same time as the $599/pair JBL. They include the Acoustic Energy Aegis One ($299/pair), the PSB Alpha AV ($199/pair), and the Polk Audio RT5 ($300/pair). And at www.stereophile.com/taxonomy/term-p/110?page=10 you can find even more inexpensive loudspeakers that we reviewed in the same approximate time period.

DaveThreshold wrote:
DISHONEST??? You are ALL being dishonest, all the time, when you say that you can hear the difference that a housefly makes when it lands on one of your interconnect cables.

It would have to be one hefty housefly :-)

DaveThreshold wrote:
That said, learn what a figure of speech is.

I know what a figure of speech is. The definition doesn't include making stuff up!

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

KingGhidora's picture

He may not have expressed it particularly well but the fact remains you have promoted ridiculously expensive gear for a very long time. The day the "audiophile" was born marked the coming end of an era - the era of quality audio for the masses. How many people can afford your systems that cost more than it took to build my house (and I have a very nice house)? 1 in 1000? I doubt it's that many. In the 70's and 80's audio equipment flourished because it could be bought for a reasonable price. Was it as good as the high dollar gear? No but it doesn't matter. I can't afford a Ferrari either. But I might be able to afford a new Corvette which just happens to be better in every way than those Ferrari's. That's where you missed the bus. Without a large customer base audio equipment floundered into obscurity. And not all of those high dollar systems are better than my 80's designed system. I've listened to them. Many of them fall flat on their face compared to my peon level equipment.

When the big equipment makers saw that some guy in his garage was selling system components for astounding prices they couldn't wait to get in on the fun. They designed their own audiophile grade equipment and priced it accordngly. Only it wasn't better than what they had sold before. And the big difference was it didn't sell. And what do you know instead of going back to a winning formula they just quit trying rather than admit they were second rate (in the minds of the status junkies like you).

Audio equipment fell out of the mainstream when the price went sky high - period. And you have helped promote those prices in a big way. You do review stuff that is priced ridiculously high and of course you can't offend your advertisers so that $10,000 set of interconnects (hyperbole) really were greater than great in your pages. Poppycock.

YOU killed the audio market. We could have survived with a higher level product that wasn't so insanely priced because then the big audio companies wouldn't have had to compete or wouldn't have thought they could or whatever. They likely would not have joined in pricing their equipment at insane levels like they did.

So now I feel like the weird old man living in the country so he doesn't disturb the neighbors too much with his concert level sound. There are few like me now. I guess I should thank you because I can pick up truly decent gear like a Denon receiver (that I use for a pre-amp) for almost nothing now because no one cares anymore. I have great speakers and great amps to drive them and there is an unlimited number of media sources. I have a good computer sound system too which is connected digitally to my reciever. So for less than $1000 I built a system that outclasses many of your high dollar builds (again I've heard them). But the only reason I can buy so cheap is that Joe Public left the building 25 years ago when the price of admission went to the stratosphere or so he thought. I just held on to what I had and built it up when I could - for peanuts.

So when you want to see the reason audiophillia is dead look in the mirror.

Anton's picture

What up, folks?

Usually, that kinda talk generates a steaming pile of "You jealous low renters just don't understand high end audio."

Now it's "as we see it?"

Hey, next week, any of y'all who say what this month's As We See It says, watch the responses!

Heck, go back through the blogs and see it in action.

Strange scenes inside the high end gold mine!

ChrisS's picture

Buy things that you like and that you can afford.

This article is about all the good "stuff" that's out there.

Why then complain?

(Is that what you wanted to hear, Anton?)

Anton's picture

Mentioning the unaffordability of what was once part of the top end of hobby should never be allowed.

Anybody who points out the price curves we have seen in the past decade and a half is not a true golden eared high end audio lover.

John Atkinson's picture
Anton wrote:
Anybody who points out the price curves we have seen in the past decade and a half is not a true golden eared high end audio lover.

In that case I am not a "true golden eared high end audio lover," as I wrote about this subject in the February issue: www.stereophile.com/content/price-event-horizon.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

KingGhidora's picture

So if it costs $10 billion to build an audiophile system you're OK with that, right?

dalethorn's picture

I dunno - the Advents I bought in 1971 cost $204 the pair, which is $1228 in today's money. Certainly affordable. But "top shelf" speakers then, like the HQD or Fulton J-mods were way out of reach, never minding the amps needed, and (gasp!) a proper large room to support the deep bass. Today I'd consider $2500 or thereabouts for speakers, up to $10000 or so for a full system. I don't think things have changed much. I can probably get speakers today for less money than the HQD's cost (adjusted for inflation) that would do everything they could do.

jimsusky's picture

Considering the HQD was mated with 6-channels of Mark Levinson amps (ML-2's?) and crossover, that was indeed an early "Top Shelf" system.

(to steal a phrase from The Audio Critic's Peter Aczel, Levinson was the first exemplar of the "platinum sledgehammer school of audio design" - a little before Audio Research took it up)

I usually nominate the first (1980) Infinity IRS as "giving permission" to high end manufacturers to raise the bar price-wise. $20,000 was the first price, soon to be increased and superceded by various revisions.

Then came Dave Wilson's WAMM momentarily at $35,000k (including setup):

http://www.stereophile.com/content/wilson-audio-modular-monitor-wamm-lou...

Interesting that the linked review (by Larry Archibald) referred to the "Levinson HQD " as still extant (in August 1983). By then the current IRS was quoted at $29,000.

Thus the race was on.

Gumbo2000's picture

What a meaningless fluff piece!

It would have been more worthwhile to print lorem ipsum!

gbroagfran's picture

Generally, the audiophile magazines and boutique equipment makers are not concerned with everyday listening. There are plenty of systems out there that are affordable. But, I agree, streaming, smart phones and such will dominate the near future. Only old people can afford and appreciate very expensive gear.

The audio magazines are not in touch with anyone under retirement age. Younger people will come up with their own ideas and things will change.

But, when those young people get older, and the next group of young people come along, expect the same thing. What is new now will be conservative then, and not relevant to the next generations, just like being an audiophile is not relevant to today's youth. Something new will always come along. In other words, get ready for the sonic implants, they will sound better than today's best gear. Sorry, you will be dead by then.

dalethorn's picture

I remember what big systems sound like in appropriate-sized rooms (say, 20 x 25 ft.), and it's just not the same with smaller systems. I know there's a possibility of recording orchestras so they sound realistic (i.e. big) in smaller rooms, but I don't think that's happening. I don't know that all big systems have to be extremely expensive, but people looking for cheaper don't generally go after the big systems unless they build their own speakers from parts.

I think what's happening here with some folks is a kind of memory-merge, where they see a $10k power cord and it fills them with a dread and loathing that spills over to expensive speakers and amplifiers, which is why a lot of the complaints are vaguely worded. Another big factor in price-angst is the instant-gratification age we live in, where digital music is at one's fingertips and takes up zero space on the shelf.

Don't discount the psychological factor of gear cost versus media cost. My music collection was vastly more expensive 35-40 years ago, with LP's, record players, tape decks, preamps, record cleaners, valuable time expended and so on. Today, most of my download albums are $18 - far cheaper (adjusted for inflation) than premium LP's back then, and they never need to be replaced. I don't need a tape deck anymore, because I can label and rearrange each digital track as I like rather than having to play everything in sequence on the LP, or make tapes that serve as playlists.

I don't know why anyone would want to restrict this magazine's coverage of high-end gear, or restrict the availability of the high-end gear itself, since the competition in this field is very good.

KingGhidora's picture

My son is a physicist doing laser research. He very nearly went into audio design. I did my best to talk him out of it because I knew the super high price fad could never be sustained. Without that young market there will be no old market. I learned to love good audio equipment as a college student. My son learned that he couldn't afford a good audio system without giving up everything else in his life. Sure some will be happy to do that. But in the time I learned to love good audio equipment almost everyone could afford to get in the game. And some of the systems we had are still as good as much of what is on the market. It just cost us far less.

The audio market was infiltrated by the "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality. I heard truly great systems in the 70's that may have cost $1000 for the whole system which at the time was actually high. But it sounded every bit as good as anything I've heard since except for one system I heard in the 80's. It must have cost $50,000 then. A drug dealer owned it and it was truly remarkable. But unless I wanted to start selling drugs (not freaking likely) I was never going to have a unit like that. Heck I could have bought a super nice house for that price at that time.

Where is there room for the budget buyer? I'm not talking the half baked budget systems mentioned in the back pages of this magazine. Who wants speakers with no bass anyway? And why? We had bass in the 80's and it didn't cost a fortune. I knoew because I still have my system from the 80's. The speakers weren't cheap by 80's standards - $600 each - but that barely buys you a chopped off bookshelf speaker in the bargain basement these days (woofer chopped off).

Audio equipment makers went for the quick buck instead of the long term as happens so often in America. We no longer have quality entry level equipment. I've been to the stores that still have listening rooms (pretty rare now) and I've heard what sells at different prices now. It stinks. No way I'd pay that much and the salesmen all look at me like I'm from outer space when I tell them that. They should come to my house is all I can say.

Without a market for enthusiasts that truly gives them quality for a reasonable price audio equipment will never flourish again.

mvs4000's picture

This topic is so old it expectorates dust. High end audio dies every year. Do you all have a list of "go to" topics you just pull off the shelf and assign to editors at regularly scheduled intervals?

Next week, why the internet is killing brick-and-mortar stores and the lack of women/young/new people in our hobby.

rschryer's picture

"Do you all have a list of "go to" topics you just pull off the shelf and assign to editors at regularly scheduled intervals?"

Yes. My next column: "What's an Audiophile? (Part #635)"

"Next week, why the internet is killing brick-and-mortar stores and the lack of women/young/new people in our hobby."

Wrong! Those aren't slated to appear until the end of the year.

Anton's picture

Remember Stephen Jay Gould's calculation that, given current trends at the time, by 1998, Hershey Bars would cost 47 1/2 cents and be weightless?

By looking at hi fi gear trends, by 2050, MBL's 101 speakers will cost 16 million dollars per pair and have a new hi gloss finish...and audio magazines will still be getting upset if you disdain the trend.

gbroagfran's picture

I know a lot of young people. I have never heard a single one express an interest in this subject.

dalethorn's picture

I also know many young people, headphone users all, with Apple and comparable phones. Those young people have a lot of potential fidelity in their hands with those devices, so why would they not purchase up a little to get better sound? A small portable amp, or a better quality headphone perhaps? Looking back on my own experience when I was under 20, the sound I had access to was marginal at home and awful with portable gear. So I was motivated to get better on-the-go sound, knowing how bad it was compared to the home gear.

These youths don't necessarily have that problem today, because their portable gear is minimally hi-fi or easily upgradeable to same at minimum cost, and their on-the-go music tracks are essentially the same as what they play at home.

Another factor to consider is that many if not most older audiophiles were involved in tinkering with electronics early on, and progressed to better gear, in many cases gear they could modify themselves. Youths today don't tinker by and large, partly because most everything they can afford is made cheaply, not to be tinkered with, and partly because other aspects of the electronics hobby - radio experimenting, shortwave, etc. are no longer significant. They listen on apps if they listen at all, and they communicate via Skype and similar apps if they need to talk across borders.

So what incentive do young people have to become audiophiles? Headphone users may get into head-fi and similar sites if they have close friends who spend time there, otherwise it's hard to imagine what would draw them to audiophile desktop systems, since the time they spend at a desk is likely to be on a computer gaming, doing school work, watching porn, and chatting on social media. Music at the desk is going to be strictly background stuff.

gbroagfran's picture

Young people have no incentive to become audiophiles because they and their music are totally ignored by publications such as this,

dalethorn's picture

That's a case where some examples would help. I'd like to check out some of the better examples that Stereophile should ostensibly cover, to see if I can figure out what they're missing.

Edit: BTW, I wouldn't say that pop music that's of interest to me as an audiophile would have to be made with audiophile playback gear in mind, but I can think of one thing that disqualifies a lot of pop music for me. Automation of popular music recording and production has progressed a lot in the last couple of decades, but for some reason, I still hear the artificial instrumentation in a lot of pop music. I would think that by now, automated instruments, especially percussion, should be able to mimic human players, with slightly irregular beats and tones here and there.

gbroagfran's picture

Well, one would think that Stereophile would be into young peoples' music in a big way, not just a subtle "example" that you suggest.

What your opinion of young peoples' music and how and why it is made is not relevant, you are not a young person, apparently. We are talking about what they want to hear, not what you cherry-pick as acceptable to you. What you think does not matter. You already read the magazine, and they don't.

dalethorn's picture

My opinion of young people's music is very relevant. I've used young people's music in reviewing 170 or so different headphones - some audiophile headphones and some not. Music isn't something I "Just listen to" casually, it's something emotional that I "Get into" personally. I have many examples of personal involvement in "Young people's music" that did not require me to be in the mosh pit (etc.) physically. There are many roles an older person can play to support the creation and distribution of young people's music, and there are no restrictions on how much an older person can enjoy the music itself, although statistically that would apply to extremely few oldsters.

There's a distinct difference between quality popular music made for "young people", and the schlock that the big corporate music companies peddle through their big corporate outlets. Stereophile tends to focus on the former, which is a very narrow focus unfortunately, but a necessary one.

alexk's picture

If an early 30-something qualifies as young here, which I suspect it might, mark me down in that column. I've been into hi-fi, specifically analog, for over a decade now. My 16 year old brother asked me to cobble him together a cheap second hand analog setup. So I did, and it's a ton of fun. He borrows my records all the time. He also has a BlueTooth receiver that runs into his integrated the he uses if he's feeling lazy. So there ya go, one genuinely young person and a kinda-young-if-squint-right person who are into Hi-Fi. You're welcome.

gbroagfran's picture

That's good.

prerich45's picture

I know quite a few that are interested. My son's have helped with that. Some of their friends have come over to my home for listening sessions - sat in the traditional sweet spot and learned to listen.

I had to admit - it was fun, and they thought it was fun to. Some have gone on to start their own systems. I'm actually thinking about starting a society down here in the Gulf Coast...not based on high cost stuff, but we will welcome it. It kinda of reminds me of the "Sneetches" now everyone has "stars upon thars"...yeah....

jimsusky's picture

DO IT!!

Get the kids to hang out with the old guys. Beer would help (it was de rigeur when I was 20-something along with suitable other libations).

A little front end work music-wise would help, too. Figure out what the "kids" like that's "old school" - with tasteful, un-compressed production. That should impress.

Don't hesitate to "teach" by playing can't-miss popular music from your own youth. A few words and a lot of music can be interesting if not instructive.

We have an informal music and drinking club. The host buys a lot of "new music". Oddly, little of that a sound that's clearly better than that of the old standards. This sort of thing was interesting to me as a "youngun". Even a modest system ca. 1980 could clearly show how top notch production made a big difference.

gbroagfran's picture

We aren't talking about what you personally do or listen to, we are talking about the magazine and the audio industry.

The "shlock" that young people listen to could never be any worse than the shlock old people listen to, Journey, Kansas, Van Halen, Toto and all of that.

dalethorn's picture

To divert attention away from my point, you have misrepresented what I said. To repeat, we did not have the level of automation, particularly at the level of individual instruments, that we have today. Today, studios save a lot of money by eliminating labor when they can automate. And when the percussion background of a track is obviously automated, it sounds bad. Perhaps most "modern" listeners accept that as OK, but anyone who yearns to be an audiophile - to appreciate real instruments played imperfectly by real musicians - they don't agree.

gbroagfran's picture

It is the artist's choice of what kind of studio, automation and instruments they want to use, the old studios still exist and some still record on old boards to analog tape, and some make music on their home computers and everything in between. That is why I do not consider myself an audiophile, I have a great system, but listen to all kinds of crappy recordings just because I like them. Yes, I have some MoFi vinyl and other good stuff, but recording quality is less important to me than the overall sound.

dalethorn's picture

Once again, that has nothing to do with the difference between people playing instruments and computers playing instruments with a perfect lack of syncopation. Now instead of arguing apples instead of oranges, let's see if anyone is OK with computer-generated perfect rhythms, or anyone even notices.

rschryer's picture

"That is why I do not consider myself an audiophile, I have a great system, but listen to all kinds of crappy recordings just because I like them."

You are a stereophile. :-)

gbroagfran's picture

Actually, I have a "computer-assisted" recording studio in my house. It's a lot of fun. But, I am an anti-musician, I like to make horrid noisy recordings that only a SubGenius could love. And they do,

I guess you could call me a stereophile, even though I only have one friend with a good stereo with whom to discuss such things. Back in the day, I lived in my car, but I had a great stereo that I had set up in my favorite art professor's house. He gave me a key and I would listen when he and his wife were working.

rschryer's picture

"I guess you could call me a stereophile, even though I only have one friend with a good stereo with whom to discuss such things. Back in the day, I lived in my car, but I had a great stereo that I had set up in my favorite art professor's house. He gave me a key and I would listen when he and his wife were working."

You are a stereophile. :-)

Sven's picture

The so called audiophile hobby, certainly diverse in its manifestations and obsessions that range from brand cults, snob status, lifestyle kitsch, impossible collections and long forgotten authentic love for music, etc., is so plagued by false promises, scientific and technological inaccuracies, urban legends, cognitive illusions, false advertisement and outright fraud, it's about time it simply implodes. I sincerely wish it did die out as a the perverse and empty consumerist mirage for "first-world" retirees and feeble minds that it is.

But the paradigms that the obsolete fools who spend what they don't have on a bunch of unsubstantiated and criminally false claims, will not easily abandon their expectations. Nor will the criminals who prey and profit on their ignorance; be it selling components that the currently available technology have made obsolete and superfluous, or by the advertisement scheme that feeds the frenzy with more ambiguities, hype and false claims.

After more than 3 decades that digital technology definitively left the previous analogue media in the dust, we are still caught up in myths and ignorance that fraudulent business models feed on. Before the democratizing force of digital technology is finally done with media corporations, exploiting record labels and the rest of the middle-men chain - which certainly includes the self proclaimed golden eared dilettantes who write reviews about topics they have no technical expertise on - the audiophile imbecility will most certainly continue to persevere.

The fact that almost any decently engineered USB DAC today is audio transparent, i.e., all the distortion products and defects it could introduce are beyond the realm of human ear, and that there are even a few amplifiers that even beat the very best DACs - such as the Benchmark AHB2 and the HYPEX NCore - at relatively reasonable prices, just rubs the truth in the face of $10K+ - and even $5K+ - components. The fact that active speakers, and even more so, open baffle speakers and transducer technology have reached amazing results that don't cost more than your house - such as the developments of Herr Linkwitz or the likes of Spatial audio - smashes the more-money=better-sound paradigm into smithereens. Not to mention the advancements in DSP and active crossovers that components such as the DEQX HDP5 have achieved.

The absolute state of the art stereo playback chains available today, should not set you back more than $20K (for example a DEQX HDP5, a pair of AHB2s or DIY Hypex NCores and a pair of Spatial audio Uniwave X-1s or Linkwitz LX521s - and very competent systems shouldn't set you back more than $10K (for example, a Benchmark DAC3, an AHB2 and a pair of Spatial audio M3s).

The fact that the best D/A converters and Power Amps have ample headroom with regard to the very best A/D converters, mic-prees and microphones, should already say something about the state of the art of audio playback systems, and where digital audio technology is at today with respect to the limits of our human hearing.

The $10K+ component fetishes that don't even approach the performance of $2 or $3K components today, only exist because people can still make money with BS claims, false advertisement and get away with fraud in the absence of proper market regulations and consumer protection laws. And of course because there's an overblown speculative advertisement industry based on a bunch of BS algorithms that is bound to implode big time in the not so distant future.

If you really appreciate and truly enjoy music, do yourself a favor: read specifications, understand what they mean and when they are incorrect and meaningless, and learn a little about science and digital technology before you buy the latest hype being shouted at you by advertisements, unqualified journalist and snake-oil salesmen.

Although they are a rare exception, there are some manufacturers out there that actually tell the truth about their products and about the technology they develop and sell, and they are usually responsible and qualified engineers - not opportunistic boutique designers and startups. They are of course out for your money like anybody else, but have the ethical cojones not to be set on ripping you off.

Take a look at the application notes written by Benchmark's lead engineer John Siau for example. He might be out for your money like anybody else, but you could just as well use the accurate technical information provided by Benchmark's website to shape a sound criteria and buy something less expensive, and more importantly, avoid being ripped off.

The audiophile mindset and industry might be close to the grave, but we can certainly collaborate in giving it a last push over the edge.

dalethorn's picture

"....The democratizing force of digital technology...."

Democracy is good when well implemented, in audio as elsewhere, but when someone rants against the free-market forces that allow all of that "consumerist excess", I worry about the guy behind the curtain.

prerich45's picture

With the advances of technology (dsp,dacs, etc), DIY is also making a huge comeback. I have a DIY dac based on a AK4490SEQ chip and I'm using a Burson V dual opamp with it. Smooth as silk and very detailed. I listen to everything from my 20TB Nas server, and my PC that runs JRiver. One of these days (after my home renovations are done), I'd like to invite a reviewer to listen how the "poor folk" do it. It may not be Magico - but you may be impressed considering the way it's done.
P.S. No computer noise either - silent......

dalethorn's picture

Complete isolation from noise and AC products isn't easy for a lot of computer users. If you know any inexpensive tricks, do share...

prerich45's picture

Everything plugged into the same thing - a strong UPS unit does best. I know they're expensive but you can buy them used and replace the batteries. Our school district does this all the time.

Ferrite chokes on your HDMI out of your computer to your receiver. I just bought about 10 for 11.98 at Rat Shack.

Noctua fans or even better yet - I have a Cool Master FX100 working flawlessly on my friends 8 core AMD HTPC with an outboard USB ES9018 DSD DAC it has no fans totally silent.

The fewer moving parts in a PC the better. I'm not claiming to be Baetis or anything but I can't hear my PC nor my server from my listening position (the server is in the adjoining room).

If you're a DIY PC guy - you can imagine how hard it can be sometimes (mouse noise...also gone - but plagued by it for a while). Many people swear by the Elfinity products, but I have yet to try them.

I've been doing the PC thing for quite awhile - at one time (Asus Xonar ST days) my HTPC was actually my preamp/source. I let that go for a bit more convenience - but you can have a rewarding experience if you put some time, study, and effort into it (and make sure you gear is located away from you - mine is about 14 feet from my listening position).

gbroagfran's picture

It is a lot of fun to do what you are doing, but it probably does't sound as good as a system that costs ten times as much.

prerich45's picture

It is fun, I have a diy DAC with a AK4490SEQ chipset, using Burson Supreme V op-amps - sounds pretty good coming from JRiver and my 20TB server. My system is mainly used stuff, B&K 200.7 Reference power amp, Infinity Composition Prelude P-FR speakers (refoamed), Yamaha RX-A3020 receiver used as a prepro...but when you look for the deals - you can find some nice stuff - that just may surprise you. Knowledge can carry us "poor folks" a long way :)

jimsusky's picture

I hope one of the reviewers takes you up on your offer. That would make a terrific, relevant, review.

I would also hope the reviewer would invite you over as well.

deaconblue66's picture

I love mono also...

johnny p.'s picture

..as Robert says, because digital-tech offers the highest quality source we ever had. And not all physical media wears out -CDs for example, at least so far.

With LP re-appearing on the radar, maybe, for the music lover/collector, they can offer a 'CD album'. Say a 10-inch sleeve containing vintage-like art/info with a music CD. CD still offers best sound, pay and own (vs. pay-not own) and ease of distribution (new artists, rip and burn, etc).

Quality sound is more wide-spread than ever. Today's 'bookshelf speakers' sound far better than designs of the 70s. The same goes for car audio. It's not all earbuds !!

michael green's picture

Some of us who have been putting these music systems together (and designing)for 30 plus years might say, music systems and their technologies actually have progressed in a stable evolutionary manner. From our point of view, we saw much of high end audio veer off the path and inflate their own agendas, that we knew in the long run were going to need to get back on track or fade.

It's the smart man who realizes reinventing a perfectly good wheel is like roaming the wilderness for 40 years, pointing a finger at the latest hype. The real listener has been on track this entire time and has learned the variables of audio and how to judge music and systems as a moving object.

Michael Green
www.michaelgreenaudio.net

prerich45's picture

Now that's a good post indeed!!!!

indianscout's picture

Reading this article has me focused on one thing-never letting audiophilia go. In the 1970's, I invested heavily in Sansui, Marantz, Pioneer, McIntosh, JBL, Klipsch, Aodio-Technica, Shure, Kenwood, Akai and JVC. I saw the writing on the wall as gear was getting made that was beginning to lose it's appeal. You remember the 1980's stereo products, right? I have some of the best stuff of each manufacturer and some things that are still wonderous. I have several Shure V-15 III's, AT20ss cartridges, Marantz 2500 & 2600 receivers, Sansui AU-22000, Pioneer Spec amps, Sansui QRX-9001, QSD-1 quad processors, Klipschorn, Cornwalls, JBLJubals, L-100's, etc. I will be able to listen to high-fidelity until I die. I also picked up new stuff such as an Oppo Blu-Ray Player and a new Technics turntable! I was worried when records started losing out to CD's but I am happy as a clam that new higher grade vinyl is being produced again. Sure, there is new gear but I am happy having my 70's stuff that pleases me and my friends. I have heard much of the expensive gear of today but am not sure it beats my stuff. $100,000 for a pair of speakers? Wow! Maybe if I was 20 years old and could appreciate the range but at 65, my Klipschorns are just fine. Long live Sterophiles!

prerich45's picture

Bravo!!! Here, here!!!! I call Klipsch Heritage the Harley Davidson of the audio world. Modifies well, and has stood the test of time...just look at how many people have been influenced by PWK...Axpona - Volti, Destination Audio among others!

adrianwu's picture

In my opinion, the key to having the best sound is not how much you can afford to spend on equipment, or even how much you want to spend. The key is knowledge. Knowledge of what "best sound" is; not the exaggerated "Hi Fi" sound with tilted frequency responses one often hears in shops and audio shows, but what one hears in great concert halls and other performance venues. Knowledge is knowing what can really make a difference. For example, one can spend thousands of dollars on cables, but not really understanding how they affect your system. instead of spending a lot of money on power cables, how many people measure the electric phase of their equipment, or even better use balanced ground (using balanced isolation transformers) ?
For me, the minimal conditions required to achieve the best sound include: Balanced circuitry and signal wiring; solid core wiring (preferably pure silver) of minimal diameter or use foil; star grounding; no passive crossover (use electronic crossover); using power amps with the lowest rated power possible with high sensitivity speaker drivers (to minimise thermal compression during high power delivery, as well as avoiding parallel output devices, be it tubes or transistors)., minimal or no negative feedback. And of course proper acoustic treatment of the listening environment. This is the conclusion I have arrived at after 30 years in this hobby.

Ronald Koh - SG's picture

Re: "EXAMPLE" new
Submitted by John Atkinson on April 19, 2017 - 8:03am

Dear John Atkinson,

I had posted comments in your GJH article in 2016 on musicality first. Amazingly many per my subject terms do not share about music's musically as in live performances! So please don't get me wrong..

A. Isn't acoustic setup just as important, if not more important than electronics setup and integrations? Didn't late John Crabbe your former boss at Hi-Fi News coined the word "eigentones" for sound reverberations from walls & other objects in a listening room? Though not heard directly, they can muddle up music's dynamics especially on superbly musical systems. No that it doesn't my modest AIWA

As it's the heart of Rhythm, Tempo, Timing, Sense of music & songs passion expressed by musician & singers. Thus a music system like my good old Japanese AIWA midi-component system is as musical as ever. No edginess, good highs, expressive midrange & rhythmic instrumental basses too.

Of course no stupendous staging like my IRS Gamma ribbon speakers With its purely bass drivers' foam surround material changed and specially treated for near long lifespan with chemicals. And its servo control unit with my special mods for the special roll surrounds changes & separation of servo bass unit's all analogue adjustments for total L & R integration acoustically.

Units are ~3m from front wall & ~ 1 metre from side walls with no back wall in a 3.7m wide living room extending to a kitchen American style. Total 15m+ long. Few have my acoustic luxury. And its stupendous bass rendition as deep rhythm bass of 10 of ft or longer just flow pass me by in a bi-amp setup. A dear friend once said, although bas is secondary to music, without it music loses it \s completeness. I agreed but not that it can be enjoyed at that limited extend. just ignore what's lacking to enjoy its musicality limitations. Mindset are all of my subject "...philes".

In closing of this, character branding of music systems is as much as ladies of sophisticated clothings, handbags & their etc matching paraphernalia.

B. Now, @[Example] "May Issue of Stereophile: new
Submitted by DaveThreshold on April 18, 2017 - 7:08pm declared that:
"Stereophile Magazine and The Absolute Sound have more to do with this than anybody else out there, with their imaginings of the, "GLORY" of a $5,000 power cord. - When after running through miles of garbage wire, and then 6 feet of OFC, the very next thing that electricity does is get converted to D.C.".

My reply. Do know that all industrial power cables aren't dirty garbage. It is as you purported without real technical knowledge as they all spec for high conductivity to transmit high electric power minimum power losses. More than meets the eyes of one w/o knowledge & real-world professional experience of such systems up the high Kilovolts with step-up & down power transformers. More other speciality devices for short-circuit protections etc function to minimize failures & dangers to one & all!

Kindly do refrain from making statements from not even an amateur professional position. As it throws red-herrings to become legitimate in the minds of others who knows no better.

Sincerely,

Ron Koh - From Singapore

Ronald Koh - SG's picture

Dear John Atkinson,

Further insights.

The lower the signal level to interconnecting signal voltage cables, the more important is their conductivity. And so the higher their copper conductivity, the thinner their conductors and the wire strands for the earth return braiding can be too. And I found out that about 1.8M seems to about the better length for interconnects. This is also strangely generally irrespective of conductor types and overall interconnect construction.

It defies all technical logic and flies in the face of engineers who knows well of how low level audio signals travel through a pair of screened (braided) twin stereo interconnects. Am as puzzled as ever.

Normal it is the interconnect cable capacitance of each screened conductor affecting the high frequencies response by rolling them down. And it also depends on the value of the cable capacitance. However I reasoned it is the dynamic structures of music's fast transients or to put it in normal terms, dynamic levels & speed that is affected by conductivity & cable capacitance effects!

That said, you have done so many measurements with square waves to show leading & lagging roll-off, I wonder ion detail how they may not be enough to conclusively give some laudable explanations to this moot phenomena I have observe. of interconnect lengths too, I found out only out of curiosity by starting with an arbitrary 2M length.

In rounding up, let's musical signals are very complex signals of always varying multiple audio band signals in a composite structure electrical construct. Thus, more analysis even by complex mathematical, I loath to say can never ever explain such a thing to convincing complete. As we are also dealing with our ears of varied experiences about musicality affect by exposure, mental prejudices very prevalent etc. All far too complex to discuss here. But it does give us some idea of how complicated when subjectivity is also involved.

Please note that I am not attempting to stamp out such interesting discussion in Stereophile Magazine. Contrary, it is the only Hi-Fi Systems review magazine that I respect after Hi-Fi New that I still read. And it is not just the way you John's way of technical measurements, explanations, sensible compromised measurement technicals well explained & expounded. Also how you independently relate to your reviewers subjective reviews before comparing your own. Complete with correlations of technicalities to technical measures with clouding perceptions. In fact, you so succinctly coherent professional technical and literary coherent technical and subjectively complete that nothing is a mystery in your conclusions!

Congratulations Dear John Atkinson for helming such a magazine that is class ahead of the competition. Gracious!

Sethr's picture

I've just returned to HIFI world after a long absence... I first got into" this all as a young kid - my dad was a scientist ( who married a musician) who was forever intrigued with his system. Never had big bucks but over the years we've had some nice stuff. I certainly used to know what "state of the art was". I moved on got married ( my wife found it endlessly entertaining to think that people ( me) could sit in one place and listen to music and talk about imaging& soundstage and depth... blah blah) had kids.... just stopped listening to music ( except for live music ) except in my car which might be the best place after all....

But then my son who is musical and learning piano reminded me that he used to dance in front of my B&ws ( before he broke my D to A ) before the entire system went quiet for years. He's rejected the sonos i gave them in favor of a crappy sounding amazon Alexa disk. Pathetic.... so I bought him an audioengine little powered pair for $250 and let him feed it ( he's 8) with the Alexa disk he got for $30. Obviously the source isn't perfect but with amazon prime there's a lot of free music on tap ... yea I know still crappy on the grand scheme of things but..... finally good stereo, actually quite good imaging.. music floats between the speakers like it should... he listens all the time...I was blown away... could this be more satisfying than my classe + B&ws ... ??? well no but the room set up was better and....I've started reading all these hifi mags again to see what's out there....

Next step is to get him a turntable so all our old records might be used... what if he scratches them? Who cares!!

A couple observations:

Kids are figuring out the difference, most of the 20 somethings at work go to more live concerts than I ever did. They live in their large headphones... they care but would rather a big SW collection than obsess over the HW.

The coolest stuff going in hifi is stuff from firms with attitudes like schitt etc. The super expensive stuff is or at least can be fabulous but I agree there's much sorcery in this world esp as it's so subjective.

50-60 year old men have little business waxing on too much ... got plot the frequency response of your reviewers ears!!! Now that would be interesting....

The crap about $20k cables has been and always will be largely nonsense ...this is a fun, odd bunch of guys like one finds in a number of technically minded areas. A subculture. People like to obsess over details and endlessly compare and chat and find groups of people to talk to. Like computer geeks that revel in optimizing code or car guys.... yes it's idiotic that some will buy a stereo for $50k yet rarely listen to live music or play music themselves or.... ask your musician friends what most of them listen on...bet it doesn't cost $100k. I like it all - don't mind the silly reviews afraid to ever call out poor value and poor relative performance... what I look for however are recommendations around interesting new stuff that gets me 90% toward perfection .. that's all most need... doesn't cost that much.

Let rich guys and idiots buy $200k components......Frankly I could but I'd rather fly to great live events and remain married:)

I am actually encouraged by the mid range stuff I see in this mag and others . Rather that there's an awareness of what top shelf stuff sounds like than a computer mag telling me what speakers to consider. He'll the audio engine review in another magazine convinced me to buy those ... really glad I did...

Ronald Koh - SG's picture

Re: "EXAMPLE" new
Submitted by John Atkinson on April 19, 2017 - 8:03am

Dear John Atkinson,

I had posted comments in your GJH article in 2016 on musicality first. Amazingly many per my subject terms do not share about music's musically as in live performances! So please don't get me wrong..

A. Isn't acoustic setup just as important, if not more import than electronics setup and integrations? Didn't late John Crabbe your former boss at Hi-Fi News coined the word "eigentones" for sound reverberations from walls & other objects in a listening room? Though not heard directly, they can muddle up music’s dynamics especially on superbly musical systems. No that it doesn't my modest AIWA

As it's the heart of Rhythm, Tempo, Timing, Sense of music & songs passion expressed by musician & singers. Thus a music system like my good old Japanese AIWA midi-component system is as musical as ever. No edginess, good highs, expressive midrange & rhythmic instrumental basses too.

Of course no stupendous staging like my IRS Gamma ribbon speakers With its purely bass drivers' foam surround material changed and specially treated for near long lifespan with chemicals. And its servo control unit with my special mods for the special roll surrounds changes & separation of servo bass unit's all analogue adjustments for total L & R integration acoustically.

Units are ~3m from front wall & ~ 1 metre from side walls with no back wall in a 3.7m wide living room extending to a kitchen American style. Total 15m+ long. Few have my acoustic luxury. And its stupendous bass rendition as deep rhythm bass of 10 of ft or longer just flow pass me by in a bi-amp setup. A dear friend once said, although bas is secondary to music, without it music loses it \s completeness. I agreed but not that it can be enjoyed at that limited extend. just ignore what's lacking to enjoy its musicality limitations. Mindset are all of my subject "...philes".

In closing of this, character branding of music systems is as much as ladies of sophisticated clothings, handbags & their etc matching paraphernalia.

B. Now, @[Example] "May Issue of Stereophile: new
Submitted by DaveThreshold on April 18, 2017 - 7:08pm declared that:
"Stereophile Magazine and The Absolute Sound have more to do with this than anybody else out there, with their imaginings of the, "GLORY" of a $5,000 power cord. - When after running through miles of garbage wire, and then 6 feet of OFC, the very next thing that electricity does is get converted to D.C.".

My reply. Do know that all industrial power cables aren't dirty garbage. It is as you purported without real technical knowledge as they all spec for high conductivity to transmit high electric power minimum power losses. More than meets the eyes of one w/o knowledge & real-world professional experience of such systems up the high Kilovolts with step-up & down power transformers. More other speciality devices for short-circuit protections etc function to minimize failures & dangers to one & all!

Kindly do refrain from making statements from not even an amateur professional position. As it throws red-herrings to become legitimate in the minds of others who knows no better.

Sincerely,

Ron Koh - From Singapore

PS: Am reposting as my first posting didn't seem to have got through.

BDP24's picture

I discovered and started subscribing to and reading Stereophile in 1972, when it was written almost exclusively by J. Gordon Holt. The matter of value was always included in Gordon's reviews of new components, as was the performance of the reviewed component versus similarly-priced components already having been reviewed in the mag. At that time, ARC and Magneplanar had just established a coast-to-coast dealer network, and the high-end as we know it had been born.

Older readers should remember that the 1972 ARC pre-amp and power amps (the SP-3, and D-51 and D-75 respectively) were priced not that much higher than more mainstream brands---the SP-3 was $595, the D-51 $695 and the D-75 $995. And the original Magneplanar Tympani T-1 was $995. For context, the mainstream best-selling Acoustic Research 3a and Bose 901 both sold for $500/pr. I was a barely-middle class warehouse forklift operator, and I could afford a full ARC/bi-amped Tympani/Thorens TD-125/Decca/Revox A77 system.

I myself trace the rise of overly high-priced hi-fi to the appearance of The Absolute Sound---founder/editor Harry Pearson introduced the term "high end" to hi-fi, Gordon using the term "perfectionist" instead, and to Mark Levinson products, which were priced much higher than ARC. The race was on!

Contrary to one comment above, in 1974 a pair of the new Fulton J speakers retailed for $1200, not at all astronomically-priced. Yet today, one can buy a pair of Eminent Technology LFT-8b loudspeakers for $2495, a ridiculously-good value. A pair of the new Wilson $675,000 speakers would I'm sure be nice, but the ET's are a much better value. Too bad Gordon is no longer around to make that point, but John Atkinson and the other Stereophile writers include that consideration in their reviews, unlike others. And, with the disappearance of Audio Magazine quite a while back, where else you gonna find bench tests and their results? This is a great time to be an audiophile! And Stereophile still a valuable source of information about music-reproducing equipment, at least imo. John, you have my address to send the check to, right? ;-)

rschryer's picture

To me, the simple notion of pursuing the absolute sound is an endorsement for ever-rising prices, because the absolute sound—the sound of real, live music—is an unreachable destination. It becomes the perfect ploy to charge more than what yesterday's top-notch gear cost, on the premise that the new gear is getting us closer to that unattainable ideal.

kraigcroft's picture

Well you can't roll a joint on a digital file like like you can on an LP. That's the biggest advantage of vinyl. Hope this info helps.

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