Will the market for high-end audio get better or worse?

Will the market for high-end audio get better or worse?
He's nuts---it'll get better
29% (56 votes)
Worse: limited income
8% (16 votes)
Worse: goofy products
5% (10 votes)
Worse: computers
13% (24 votes)
Worse: all of the above
21% (40 votes)
Worse: other (add comment)
24% (46 votes)
Total votes: 192

In the January '98 <i>Stereophile</i>, Michael Zeugin of Audio Influx asserts that high-end audio is being sucked into a "Black Hole" for a variety of reasons. These include: goofy products, computers taking over the youth market, and boomers' limited income being channeled elsewhere. What do you think?

Steven Capps's picture

We've already witnessed a decline in availability of certain medium products (open-reel, LP) which audiophiles would, by and large, just assume to have continued access to. With the increasing hegemony of computer dominated media that current youth prefer, we are likely going to see a decline in hard-copy sales of music (i.e., CDs). Worse still, the audio division of home entertainment has already been converted, in large degree, to the fancy of home theater enthusiasts. The digitizing of all forms of information is leading to an acceptance of lower quality yet more ergonomic forms of music. This is likely to continue, and may well rear its head in the form of pay-per-listen music and other derivations of direct digital stereo. Most audiophile quality products will end up being designed around home-theater applications. Just as TV destroyed a long tradition of reading, so too will surround-sound home theater destroy home audio. Until then, however, my money's invested in tubes and vinyl.

Dave McDuff's picture

Lack of time-proven standards; i.e., DVD vs. Divx, Digital Audio standards, Digital Recording standards, etc.

Mike Smith's picture

Like they always say "the wet bird does not fly at night."

Joe Padula's picture

Poor value represented by many high-end components, and too much quackery and mysticism associated with high-end marketing.

Henry Pedro's picture

Don't forget inaccessibility of products. Many people just don't know (or care) that high-end stuff exists.

Paul T.'s picture

Computers are diluting disposable income.

Mark Brodie's picture

The next 10 to 20 years will see the financially stressed symphony orchestras leave behind the limitations of the concert hall and experience rebirth from world viewer subscriptions through high-definition TV and stereo/digital satellite.

Ted Moffett, Moscow, Idaho's picture

While we enjoy our orgy of resource extraction from this limited planet (REPENT SINNERS! THE END IS NEAR!), the overall market for High End will grow, if not in the US, then overseas. This will be fueled in part by the increasing popularity of home theater, which may not be aimed at true "High-End" sound, but nonetheless requires speakers and associated components of a quality level that gives high-end manufacturers a more mass-market niche than they might otherwise have with audio-only-oriented products. Also, growing population and development in the Pacific rim and elsewhere will provide more consumers with money to spend on high-end products. China alone, in the next 50 years, could become a huge market. I actually think the growing popularity of computers can fuel the High End because it creates consumers who are more technically oriented who may be more interested in high tech (i.e., "High-End") audio products. And as far as "goofy" products being a liability for high-end audio, the inane goofiness of many computer games, movies, and TV shows does not seem to stop their popularity. In fact, I think the stuffiness and snobbery (No Goofiness Allowed!!) of the High End is one of its comercial liabilities. If the High End is marketed toward the playful, even "goofy" gee-whiz high-tech orientation of youth (are they really like this?), it might hit the very market computers are supposedly stealing. But then High-End elitists might lose their minority status as the true followers of an esoteric audio aesthetic above the coarse ears of the hoi polloi.

Anson Fogel's picture

All of the above, to varying degrees, yes. However, the custom "whole-house" industry is bourgoening (sic) and is an enemy of the high end! As an employee in a custom electronincs firm, it could not be clearer. The philosophy in my firm is much that like of a commercial builder---get it done! Quality and musicality are alien concepts. I perform the deisgn of our high-end theater installations, and am absolutely nauseated by the philosophy that pervades our whole-house audio sector. And we are a fairly solid representation of the industry as a whole. Someone, somehow, somewhere needs to educate these firms! They would eschew the principles of the high-end if only they KNEW! THIS trend is another solid threat to musicality everywhere. HELP!

Scott Brady's picture

If you look at Moore's Law as it relates to computer processing power (performance will double every 12-18 months), and compare it to the snail's pace at which the high-end audio has progressed. Perhaps the convergence between the computer industry and high-end audio/video will bring about some refreshing changes. I would imagine that for many of the more arcane players in high-end audio, this convergence must be a bit disconcerting. As the digital age over takes high-end audio's analog roots, the concept of "high-end" sound will ultimately be commoditized as the line between computers and high-end audio equipment blurs.

Gregg Fedchak's picture

Baby boomers may be strapped now, but they stand to inherit an average of $90,000 each as their parents pass away. And boomers are not going to piss it away on computers the way X'ers might.

Barry Willis's picture

It will get worse if high-end companies don't lose their niche-marketing mentality. There's a much bigger market for quality audio than most of us acknowledge. Unfortunately for us, many in that potential market are either written off as unreachable or are turned off by insults to their intelligence. The high end could reach a lot more people by getting real about how most folks actually listen to music in their homes, and about how much money they are willing to spend on it.

Erik Lindhagen's picture

People tend to believe that digital sound is perfect and can't be improved, so why buy anything more than a pair of huge speakers ?

Ken Kirkpatrick's picture

The state of the art seems to have hit a plateau which, I feel, is partly responsible for the slow sales. Also, there are many people who would buy high-end if they knew it existed. The high-end dealers are not marketing worth a crap. I believe that new digital speaker technology and high-definition video will start a turnaround, and the high-end dealers are in a good position to take advantage of this, if they would get out and aggressively market the products as they become available. The money is there.

J.  Parrella's picture

Really, not better or worse! We just need to keep our sights on what we mean by "high-end audio," and be clear on our definition---then we all can resist the trends of the moment. So, to create a precise definition---let the games begin!

Karl J.  Paecht's picture

Computers will push up the state of the art!

David W.  Hoffman's picture

Although "The Final Word" did raise some good points, my personal experience still leads me to side with Mr. Zeugin. I felt his observations to be right on the mark.

Dan Landen's picture

I think it'll combine into something none of us would ever imagine. Maybe companies like Sonic Frontiers or Theta could make sound cards for us audio/computer people! I would buy! I did notice that the sound quality of typical computer sound systems is lagging way behind, and I think the high end should pick up the slack.

test's picture


hifihenkes@aol.com's picture

It's up to us dealers to list out the goofy products. For our opinion, it's better to sell just a few but good products (good = sound, finish, upgradeability, SERVICE!).

jcsprint@aol.com's picture

So much confusion, so little patience. People will always invest in products they believe in. Goofy? Bill Gates cannot sing like a pair of Wilson Audio Grand SLAMMs. There will always be a place for music in my life.

E G Mendoza's picture

High-end audio is a highly specialized addiction, therefore boomers are already into it for life. As for youth, well, they never have been able to afford high-end, and besides, contemporary artists and musicians lack talent & craft, so youth has no one to look up to for serious investment in playback.

Richard Walter's picture

Compare "High End" with Formula 1 racing and you get the audio equivalent. Is F1 going to start racing two-liter Toyotas because not everyone can afford a McLaren? We've a lot to thank F1 for the offshoot of its technology into today's family saloons. Lets face it, nobody minds forty miles per gallon out of their old jalopy, do they? The same can be said of audio equipment: as a result of "High End," the very people who are doing the winging are also the ones benefiting from it. "High End" will always survive; not for us, but "because it's there," as Edmund Hilary would say!

Ethan Wood's picture

The Audio industry and the Music industry are tied together closer than most people realize. If the music industry is producing little to get people excited, then people stop listening, and when people stop listening to music they stop buying audio. This scenario hits hardest for teenagers. If there is nothing happening in music to excite teenagers, then the teenagers never develop a love for music. This is why the audio industry is in for a rocky future, because, as we all know, there has been precious little happening in the music industry.

James Cameron's picture

Audio will undoubtably change its colors as it has with the boomer generation, most of whom have already purchased their systems and are now spending time and money raising their wee ones. This lag in audio consumerism only reflects the fluctuations in population demographics. The pendulum will most assuredly swing in the other direction. The few still purchasing audio equipment have no children!

Jason Crickmer's picture

I agree with Mr. Zeugin on many points, mostly the idea that limited income is being siphoned off into other needs/pursuits. But, unlike another reader, who asserts that pretty soon we are going to get tired of spending money on tweaks, I think there will always be a base of audiophiles who keep it alive. That is, until they die off. I think this only underlines the fact that quality music education needs to be taught to youths. I appreciate the fine music education I received in high school, and it enhances my appreciation of music. But not everyone received the level of education that I did. The greatest threat to the high end is a lack of interest from the next generation, coupled with a decline in disposable income of the current high-end generation (the Boomers). Maybe high-end companies should follow Apple Computers' lead---provide components at low cost to schools . . . get them hooked on your products at an early age!

Stephen's picture

Too many bullshit products, like antistatic devices for CDs. Not enough understanding by the consumers to know what is real and what is nonsense.

Jim Stark's picture

And also worse: all of the above. I have a difficult time finding a friend or co-worker who is able to hear well enough to care to spend thousands of dollars for music hardware just to listen to, unless it is contained in a Lexus, Camry, or Expedition.

Phil White's picture

Will Stereophile ever get back to writing about products that ordinary mortals can afford???

WH Bucciero's picture

Computers and high-end will come together. Tthe possibilities will be endless.Think of it---350Wpc sound cards.