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?

Paul Slovin's picture

Mr. Zeugin's letter was a long, drawn-out statement full of crazy assertions and ideas.

S.  Brown's picture

I'm 37 years old, and all of my audiophile friends are in their mid-50s. The people in my age group or younger who are interested in audio are not willing to spend the bucks to put together a good system. They just don't care. The combination of high prices along with an aging clientele will ultimately kill audio.

Hoovenson Haw's picture

Limited retail outlets.

Concerned's picture

challenging times lie ahead for high-end audio. The demise of classical music is a good example of the current state of musical ignorance among the populace.

Phillip Gregorash, Hope, BC's picture

Not only all the above, but the general transition from stereo to home theater will leave most of the middling to high-end equipment out in the cold. I mean, seriously---how many people will shell out $650,000 US for the Wilson Audio/Krell home theater? I might have the Martin-Logan home theater, but I'm an aberration, not the norm.

Olu Terebo's picture

Computers will never replace music. Music has a soul, computers have hard drives. No contest. I am a 32-year-old audiophile. I'm on the fringe of the Boomers and the gen-Xers. On top of that, I sell computers, but I don't own one. But every penny I make selling them goes into my system. The technology of music will forever change, and that's a good thing. But just because spending habits fluctuate does not mean they will stop. I believe this is an exciting time in the Audio/Video industry. And just because two-channel audio seems to be going out of style is no reason to give up. You know what they say, "If you build it they will come." I love seeing the amazing range of innovative new products, no matter what the cost. There is no doubt in my mind that there is an excellent-sounding product for whatever amount of money you want to spend. And eventually people will go spend it. Well, I'm probably just rambling now. It's really hard to write in this small box and keep a train of thought. Anyway, keep up the good work.

Don Howden's picture

Partly tied to the marketing craze du jour---AV, which is beginning to "pollute" true audio; i.e., mfgrs are spreading their wings too far.

Hal Clark's picture

The overcapacity to supply products in the market, independent of demand, requires vendors to differentiate products by creating new niches. Buying behavior of all motivations is nominally supporting almost all niche markets. Investment must be spread across many product technologies for a company to survive, thus it is difficult to invest sufficiently in a specific "high-end" product and maintain a viable business. Goofy products are a symptom of the market problem that results in outrageous hype to attract attention and sufficient income to distract investment from more focused and productive endevours. Computers in audio are a symptom of the need for vendors to steal revenue from a non-traditional market in order to continue growth expectations or to survive. The stratification of income (a socioeconomic symptom somewhat caused by the financial motivations of companies producing products) exacerbates the problem by focusing the largest potential market volume at the lowest price and greatest diversity. What is left of potential market volume is not homogenous enough to support economies of scale sufficient for "high-end" audio companies to survive. Therefore, these companies have to move to new markets and build broader products, which means less investment can be apportioned to a specific function. A loss for us all.

Valaria's picture

The market will slide slowly as many of the stalwarts refuse to go to HT. Those active in HT (Krell, Theta, Rotel, etc.) will prosper while those unwilling to a least get a presence there will experience diminishing users as the population ages. I still maintain that true high end is the domain of the old folk, just like classical music. (For proof, just use crappy assumptions---if everyone liked classical, we wouldn't be talking about its death.)

Chris Johnson's picture

The high end market can expand, but it will require manufacturers to spend more time and money on advertising to a larger segment of the public. It's also very important for high-end manufacturers to keep up with technology.

MacGregor S.  Rucker's picture

My response is hesitant. It will continue to worsen until technology brings computers, goofy products, and audio together under a single reasonably priced umbrella. Then it will skyrocket.

Yossi Davidi's picture

With the increasing popularity of Home Theater, more and more people are being aware of the importance of sound quality. So as a side effect, the high end will see more potential customers.

Ross A.  McElheny's picture

Baby Boomers have more discretionary than ever. The desire to upgrade from their 20-year-old rack system is strong.

Scott Miller's picture

Mass-market equipment satisfies most people. I can't even find "high-end" equipment in my town. (Well, we do have one retailer who sells B&W and Adcom, but other than that, I might as well shop at Wal-Mart.) Our metro population is about 300k.

Eric Thiessen's picture

Music has always been a friend, an escape, the expression of thoughts and emotions unexpressable by word. However, as a 40-year-old, I agree that shoving filthy lucre into my mutual fund to pay for retirement does at times take precedence over the latest musical flavor of the moment.

Paul La Noue's picture

I see no relationship between audio and computers. To high-end manufacturers: Build your equipment with heart and soul and we will buy it. If you want to save money, buy the computer. If you must ask about setting priorities, you don't feel the visceral power of music. A high-end system would be of little use to you anyway.

John Balatsias's picture

High-end audio will get better, but it will have to co-exist with computers and video. Just as in today's computers, people have the option of buying better sound cards, and from what I can tell, people are buying them. I think its human nature to strive for perfection, or at least better.

psis's picture

I'll comment on last and this week's topic as I fall asleep. Permit me to ramble a bit, you'll find it interesting. As to last week's topic, you can't download LPs, and CDs stink, even with Krell and Sony ES to play them. I won't download music from the 'net. Until we are all wired with 150MHz fiber connections at no cost and the recording technology changes significantly (perhaps another 80 years with biophotonic technology), nothing will replace the browsing at a store well-stocked with new and used analog LPs. And then someone will find a way to meter and charge for every instance we listen to a performance. After all, if we can measure and detect it technically, we can charge for it---and TAX it! Imagine, every time you listen you pay, because the law bans private ownership of hard media at offline. You MUST go through Gate's online storage to hear even what used to be radio some day . . . techno-nightmare, nay, night-terror awaits. I ought to add, by that time, four-score years hence, all the great performers will have died out and the original open-reel master tapes will have rotted away. Where is the panic rush to save the great performances of the last century, as we almost had with acetate Hollywood film? Are all the owners of the great master tapes rewinding their tapes to prevent print-thru and making master copies regularly? For the love of money, great music will become lost. Let's stop the insanity of CDs and the new, and first save the old---little of the new has any lasting worth . . . check out the top 40 pop charts---if they still exist---from year to year. Granted, that may not seem important to those who cherish rock, because most of it is trash and transient. Warner made a thoughtful gesture when they reissued some of the Peter, Paul & Mary albums for their historical value and the new audience each generation brings. But I am having trouble find reissues of Lazar Berman's Liszt Etudes, or Rozhdestvensky's rendition of Tchaikovsky's original Swan Lake (not Drago version), or Heifitz' incredible "Kreutzer "Sonata in LP, never mind CD. (Or did I miss the CD reissues along the way?) As for high-end, there will always be a market. But there is a real lack of marketing prowess among the high-end community. They ought to form a joint marketing association and put out "we exist" information ads as "public service announcements" on TV and major popular magazines. Most people walk into a local consumer electronics store and will never be told high-end exists. For the fun of it, I called a Circuit City and asked if they carried a single-CD CD player or transport for a home system. They said it did not exist, but they'd be glad to sell me a 5- or 15-CD player with shaky transports for a few hundred bucks. Can you imagine that? And the third world can't afford it (downloadable music), much less find a power line into which the PC power cable can be plugged-in. To listen to the UN and US Department of State, we need to lower our standard of living to match third-world countries---they say it's unfair for us to live so well when others don't. Translation: "we" rule them and tell them who lives and dies, we want to do it here too. . . Besides, labor is cheaper in the Pacific rim and south-of-the-border countries, and too expensive here with that pesky middle class, enter the secret provisions of NAFTA in a few decades. Meanwhile, as decades pass, the price of extant expensive D/A converters, integrated electronics, and such continues to drop and will drop. What may be high-end today, with less-reliable parts, will become the top of the low-end in 50 years. Those who wish to pay for hi-rel, direct-to-brain bio-connections (never mind surround sound, you'll get invasive sound---surround, invasive---words of military aggression)---or a pill to put a smile on the grouchiest mug, err, face for a small premium. Hopefully the place for the lone audiophile/inventor will somehow be preserved and remain lawful. As a scientist, musician (pianist), engineer, and theologian, I will always have a special love for classical music. As long as I can afford to do so, I'd like to hear the next best thing to that experienced at a live performance---you see, I am no longer ambulatory. Moreover, aside from good books, music is the best brain food there is (short of a few hundred special biochemical nutrients, but that's another story), and music is the next best thing to telepathy when it comes to the language of the soul. I won't say it's the next best thing to meditative prayer to God---music was given to us by God intended for worshipping Him; we've committed spiritual idolatry and used it to worship self ("the me generation"). Hard to beat J.S. Bach in great music, even if he did have at least 12 children in between performances. Sharing that music is something I'd rather do with LPs at this time. For the CDs that I own, the internet still does not replace the browsing; the speed and interface of mouse and keyboard stinks. I used to be able to flip through dozens of CDs or LPs in a store display case in a minute; online attempts to do the same are very slow, attempts at speed-intensive reading results in carpal tunnel syndrome, pain, and eyestrain. If I had to download music, I then would have to invest in a CD recorder to copy from hard drive to CD, and invest an hour to play with the process rather than plug-in the ready-to-go CD or LP. Hard disk space is limited and presently cannot practically store the average LP/CD collection (and how many consumers have still to learn about disk drive crashes and tape or RAID back-ups!). So I'd have to spend time downloading, copying and labeling a "recording." It's easier to buy it already done for me---besides, even though I'd be doing much of the work of purchasing a license or "copy" online, the price will not be less than the ready-made CD. They'll find a way to jack up the profits and prices even higher. Realize another point: In many countries, particularly in Europe, local calls are charged by cost units, and cost money to make and every minute or fraction of a minute to stay connected. Sitting connected to the internet to download music is too expensive a proposition, having to pay doubly for connect time AND the recording! Most Europeans (and Brits) will not bother to get their music that way! Then too, someone (Microsoft) and fedz will find a way to keep specific PC owners and CPUs identified, registered, and tracked by FINCEN. I can sell an LP or CD easily or trade for another with a friend. But with software distribution controls under development, music I might download for my PC in a decade or so will not work on another PC, the license to copy (manufacturers read it "pirate" or "steal") will prevent resale or trade of music, because the amount of red tape and additional tracking of tertiary sales and trades would be immense and impracticable record-keeping for another 25 years. I'd rather collect my music "offline" and keep it that way. Besides, it isn't big brother's or brother Gates' business what kind of music I listen to or buy. It will be that way if it becomes internet II and III distributed to the end-user! (Distribution to pressing plants on disk or via satellite is already practical, but that's another subject.) Online music purchases is a gimmick for the CD producers. It would save lots of overhead in manufacturing CDs, distributing, warehousing, retailing and selling music, to make it downloadable from the "label" sites, and maximize the profits. But the technology is not yet there to deliver it and is not ubiquitous in every home on every continent. Heck, we can't even get food into a billion homes on this planet and people are dying by the tens of millions of hunger. Another peek at the big-picture and reality check (now that I've mentioned the global hunger problem). Let's forget profits and instant MBA gratification, let's save old music first, then worry about new music. Looking at the last three centuries of classical music, to look at it in the last 50 years, composers have not had much of worth to say to the world. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra are the new classics, in a sense, and Streisand is a deserving wannabe (and classic in her own time for those who have yet to hear Cecilia Bartoli and fall to the ground and worship her incredible talent!). Babs, a Bartoli you're not. I love all of them, heck, I love Deanna Durbin and Patti Page and still ask how much is that doggie in the window (and when I do, my PC screen swells up and displays the MS Windows (tm) logo....or it used to: I changed the defaults and no longer see it). But Patti still sounds great through my Audible Illusions and Hafler electronics. Sorry, Mr. Gates, computer speakers just aren't on the map compared to high-end audio. Full-range 1/2" speakers built-in to the PC notebook monitor indeed!---not for me! Let's save quality music and encourage the new classicists and performers such as Bartoli and Kissen! Meanwhile, back to hardware sales. The Marxists and illuminists foisting a new world order upon us are out to eliminate (and are succeeding) a middle class and private property ownership. As a result, there is an increasing gap between the poor and well-off or wealthy. What this means is that in perhaps 20 years there may be no middle class to speak of other than a service class. There will be very cheap consumer electronics (tyrannies have to keep the poor entertained--the TV football, baseball, movies and music---and cheap beer) for the poor so they don't revolt ( . . . and 1 1/2" CDs). There will be the wealthy nomenklatura ruling class. They will still demand the best in audio and home entertainment. High-end will enjoy unprecedented sales. Middle-end sales will decline, along with those who insist on remaining in the middle class, who without grand ceremony will be sent off to concentration work or death camps. There will be plenty of low-end audio/video opportunities to keep the huddled masses docile and complacent and entertained, along with their fluoride and tranquilizer-laced water supplies. Music will be around until they invent thought-police enforcement, and then music WILL BE politically correct and declared hi-fi regardless of actual quality. Besides, with Generation X listening in-vehicle at ear-deafening levels, those in power will not be able to hear well anyway, much less discern fi from non-fi recordings, but that's another gripe. (But leave it to HP, presently makers of the world's truly finest test equipment, to provide automated test equipment to obviate the need for the trained ear.) Besides, poor and untalented man's music---rap---doesn't need fidelity, or frequency response beyond 3 kHz. (That's NOT a racial slur, most of the rap I hear in this area is "performed" by all races, and even school-children of all races. Those expensive voice and music lessons are a thing of the past, if the fad lingers painfully on.) The market will shake out and change. The music will change. The technology will change. The generations are changing. The days of music appreciation and traveling music teachers who visit elementary schools may be over. The newest generation of classical musicians is already compromising and performing and composing an admixture of pop/new age/classical. Folk music with its dynamics is seemingly for the third world and the aging here. Loud rock doesn't need fidelity, distortion sounds good. The remaining real artists will be the holdouts who understand Jazz, and these may have to go underground, or that art form will die out in a few generations altogether and any jazz that did get recorded will be treated with the reverence that classical on 78s and Ediphone cylinders are now by collectors of the great and arcane. Musical technologies may move away from natural instruments and become wholly computer-synthesized. The face of music collection and collectors alike will have changed. Some day people will be replaced with other computers that listen to other computers. And what will the computers collect instead, you ask? Why, people, of course. They'll be as rare, and even holographs of their faces as representing those who invented the computers will be as rare, as Mozart's lost symphonies. I, for one, am glad I won't be alive then. I count myself blessed to avoid still voluntary online downloads of music, to be able to experience the tactile thrill of touching an LP, removing the dust, turning toward my VPI turntable and placing the analog disc on the platter. It's a ceremony, it's a grand tradition. The records will be held high with pride as they are carried to their spinning altar. And when played, they will sound great, because they're my little piece of musical history, not some impersonal download of someone else's vision of good music. Logic be damned here, I like the tradition! And I love the fact that CDs cannot come close to reproducing music with the faithfulness of well-engineering masters and produced discs. Maybe all it takes is letting those CD fans hear a good LP played on a good turntable with a good cartridge. And I'm glad that my engineering experience did not displace the musical training. While I am beset by salesmen who want to sell be technically exact recordings, I remain delighted that I can recognize great performances such as those by Richter, and seek those out even if the recording of an inferior performance is far more accurate and faithful on disc. All this talk of CDs and LPs seems so natural for our generation. It's so comfortable. I have enough to do without downloading endless datastreams and duplicating my own CDs before I can listen to alleged music. For me the internet can be a great resource, but for most people unskilled in research techniques, it is perhaps the greatest waster of time and killer of productivity in our time. I'd rather order an LP by fax or phone, wait a week, have it delivered to my house, open it up, and carry it to my spinning altar. I know it will sound great. And for the price of a CD duplicator/recorder, I can purchase lots of real music already pre-recorded. The industry must have us for fools, if they expect us to do their manufacturing work for them and charge us the same!

Denis Mercier, Quebec City's picture

Computer is the way to go! It will be a bookshelf for MP3 and others encoded audio files. We will be less dependent on encoding choices. The computer will take care of that. It will provide a digital signal to DAC. Sources will be unlimited!!!

Michael France's picture

It has always been getting better.

rmilo@sk.sympatico.ca's picture

I think there is a variety of problems. One of the stupidist things there is is rooms with no doorways. How are we to get in? If you look at some of the so-called speaker-placement guides, there are no doors. In an ideal, futurist world this might be reasonable, but today, not so. I have a living room and a home to place my Monitor Audio speakers in; and a life, I might add.

Roy N.  Skousen's picture

As the cost of high-end audio increases, the intended market will shrink. It will be that only the very rich will have high-end equipment.

Bob Dunning's picture

The industry can't grow on the relatively few berserkers. The rest of us might spend big one time and it will be in the house a long long time.

George FOTIS's picture

CD-ROM players for PCs are appealing to the entry-level market because, though its sound quality is totally SHIT, it offers multiple apps and very low price. This, however, does NOT affect the upper hi-fi categories!

Gary Hunter's picture

People are not "listening" to music for pleasure and relaxation anymore. Listening in the car, audio for soundtracks, and mood music is the trend of the younger population. While music is still very important to most, it's gone more to the message of the music, not the quality of composition and performance.

Marcus Slade's picture

First of all, when was high-end audio located anywhere else but a black hole? As with many endeavors, high-end audio's diminishing returns click in all too early, in the estimations of many people.

Brad Davis's picture

Lack of knowledge outside of the high-end community. That is, very few people know that there is better gear available outside of Circuit City.

Bill Bryant's picture

As acoustic instruments are replaced by electronic instruments, the idea of the "real" sound will become increasingly unimportant. When the original sound itself requires amplifiers and loudspeakers---when the original is made by a piece of audio gear---the idea of "high-end" audio becomes meaningless.

Todd's picture

Change of economical mindset among the boomers as we get older.

Jens Thomas Lueck's picture

Overall improved long-term global economic outlook and disposable income.