You Really Can Help Save the Stereo

Save the Stereo, a Web-based project dedicated to developing and promoting the best ideas for leading the next generation of music lovers to component-based high-fidelity, launched at the start of the year. Although we have seen a number of prior organizations dedicated to the cause of spreading the gospel of high performance audio wither and die—see John Atkinson's 2005 essay on the subject—this one is different. Because its founder, Gordon White, is soliciting feedback from the audiophile community and developing a grounded action plan before proceeding, perusing the project's website and filling out its all-important, short survey seems more than worth the while of both high-performance audio consumers and industry members.

As White explains on the website's "About Us" page, he alternates his time between publishing Truck Camper magazine, whose avid readership includes Gene Rubin of Gene Rubin Audio, and heading to his basement, where he listens to LPs and digital files of everything from Vivaldi to Daft Punk through "tubes, tubes, and more tubes." He developed Save the Stereo's website with the assistance of his music-loving wife, Truck Camper magazine editor, web developer and "social media expert" Angela White. Given that Angela is "not an audiophile," Gordon has worked hard to develop a project that speaks to the entire music loving community.

"I've been a music lover and passionate audiophile since my early '20s," he explained during one of two intense phone chats. "Based on everything I've read in Stereophile and other publications since 1992, including your recent essay, 'As We Listen, So We Are,' I realized something has to be done to reach the next generation of music lovers. I'm doing this for fun. I love the challenge, and I want to give back to a hobby that has been an important part of my life ever since I was a teenager."

Before launching Save the Stereo, Gordon devoted three months to researching challenges to the survival of high performance, component-based stereo. While asking what the solutions might be, he constantly confronted the questions, "Why is high-end audio important? Why not let it die? Why is it relevant to music lovers who are not currently audiophiles?" These concerns and more he attempts to address on the page, "Why Save the Stereo?" While his rationales for the importance of music mostly emphasize the practical and merely hint at its spiritual import, there is no question that White hits much of the nail on its head.

Nor does he pretend he has all the answers. "I'm asking people to take a look and give me their feedback," he says. "I know the site isn't perfect, and I really want to hear from everybody with ideas. I want to get everyone on a single page so we can move forward collectively."

Gordon White's goal is to receive enough responses and suggestions from community and industry members alike to put together an action plan. After that, Gordon and his friend, electrical engineer and Lancaster Audio Club founder Rob Czetli, hope to move the ideas forward.

"First we need to figure out if everybody thinks Save the Stereo is a good idea," he says. "Then, we need to integrate new ideas and feedback. This is why we must gather ideas from as many people as possible before proceeding. Finally, after an action plan evolves and we vote on it, it will be up to the industry to fund the project.

"The biggest challenge I think we face is that most music lovers who have been walking around with Beats headphones have never experienced great sound, and don't have a lot of opportunities to access that experience," he laments. "The $4 million ads for Beats and Sonos during the SuperBowl show that interest in music has not diminished. But it seems these companies are the only ones reaching out to music lovers."

The next step is up to you. There are no dues involved. White asks that you simply take the Save the Stereo survey and spread the word. As he writes, "Somewhere out there are young music lovers starving for a deeper connection to recorded music . . . We need to do what we can to reach these young music lovers and share our incredible hobby with them. They are looking for us, even if they don't know it yet. Let's give them the opportunity to experience the magic of recorded music on a component-based high-fidelity stereo system . . . Component-based high-fidelity stereo is important and worth fighting for."

Jason Brett's picture

I have to think that these type of initiatives are doomed to fail as long as the high-end industry continues to try to adapt new customers to the products they make, rather than making products that new customers want to buy.   Look at the new products made by Bluesound, recently reviewed at Audiostream.  Bluesound's product line includes small, attractive, inexpensive components that perform very well and can be controlled from a tablet or smartphone.  This is the way to get new people interested in the hobby, not nebulous "action plans."  When the high-end industry wakes up to this, they'll start attracting new people to the hobby.

jimtavegia's picture

You must package hi-rez and quality into convenience, other wise no dice.  This may be computer driven audio into high quality powered speakers.  Mass of wires have to go. 

Maybe time for some powered floor standers?   This could eliminate the sub and more connections. 

Littrell's picture

A poll is not going to work.  This industry for the most part has killed itself with outrageously priced compoents.  Everthing from the power cable to room tuniing devices are way overpriced.  The industry seems to be fine to catering to the wealthy.  $1K for a decent power cable, $2K for a power conditioner, have you looked at preamp, amp, and speaker pricing (holy sh!t) lakely? 

Don't give me the line that you can buy an entry level set with good speakers and and integrated for relatively little money.  This may be true, but what happens when one wants to move upe to large floor standing speakers and separates?  Look at what is being reviewed and marketed and try to honestly tell me the average working man can afford this stuff. 

Don't tell me either that quality costs money.  I've learned over the years that some high priced components actually perform to their price, but one needs to be experienced enought to pick out the real deal from the imposters.  Most infuriating is that some high end stuff is made in China, but excessively priced (that's you Classe) which gives the impression that the manufacturer is more concerned with making a profit than manufacturing a quality product overseas to sell at a more reasonable price.  Isn't that the whole point of moving production overseas?  To make the produce more affordable?  Seems like in the high end, that answer is no. 

My favorite power cable is a Shunyata Anaconda and my favorite interconnect is the Kimber Silver Streak.  At retail pricing, those cables cost $2.5K - juist for the cables!  I got sick of the high prices, sold my amp and preamp, and got a good surround sound receiver and descent "mid fi" speakers.  Audiophiles would look down at my system, but let me tell you from owning components from Proceed, Classe, VTL, and B&W that my Onkyo receiver and Polk speakers give me more pleasure than those other components ever did.  Why?  Because I knew given the pricing that I was not going to get top tier performance and I could listen without analyzing and just enjoy the music or movie.  I get almost all of the performance of the megabuck stuff without the high cost.  Sure my receiver is not as controlled and powerful as a separate amp, sure my receiver is not as transparent as a good preamp, but then I spent a fraction of what I would have on the hi end stuff, and guess what?  That Onkyo receiver actually can put out some kick ass bass, tonality is good, and the imaging is very good.  Sure I can get more controlled bass, higher frequency extension, and more transparncy with separates, but those modest improvements are gong to cost A LOT more money. 

My impression is that the high end looks to the snob appeal to get sales.  Before the onset of home theater, one would be willing to spend more on components because only 2 channels were needed.  With the advent of home theater, one must must pay for 5,7, or 9 channels.  Add up the pricing for that with the traditional hi end companies and home theater receivers and "mid fi" hi efficiency speakers become much more attractive.

Unless I win the lottery or start makinig a lot more money, goodbye separates and hello Onkyo, Oppo, Polk, etc.

John Atkinson's picture

Littrell wrote:
This industry for the most part has killed itself with outrageously priced components.

I think you are confusing the symptom for the case. As I wrote a few years back - see - as the middle class in the US has less and less disposable income, manufacturers, faced with fewer unit sales but  increasing fixed costs, are forced into increasingly pricey market segments. A less than virtuous spiral.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Littrell's picture


I don't know why the industry won't listen to their target audience.  I am the industry's target audience.  I got the high end bug at 18 and I am currently 44.  I am not confusing the symptom for the cause.  The prices of high end products are too bloody expensive.  That is the reason the industry is failing.  Not the sole reason, but the main reason.  Want the number 2 reason?  #2 - high end dealers refuse to negotiate on price.  I have been able to dicker on pricing since I bought my first pair of Klipsch KG3 speakers in 1987.  I learned in the late 90s and 2000s that hi end dealers would not negotiate on pricing and guess what?  During that same time, the internet as a marketplace exploded so I started buying hi end stuff off the internet from reputable people that would dicker on price.  This has led to the demise of the brick and mortar store.  Raising two kids, with a mortgage, two car payments, and a studen loan, saving 10 to 30% had a tangible effect on the household budget.  I would go listen to hi end stuff at the local dealer and if I liked something, I tried to buy from the dealer.  When the dealer would not negotiate (hi end pricing is like car pricing - negotiable), I went to the internet.  Siimple economics at play.

Back to point #1 - I have been reading Stereophile since 1995.  Back then one could buy a pretty good amp for $1,500.  In 2002, a pair of 1 meter Kimber Silver Streak cost $240.  Now, they cost $510.  I happen to think Kimber Silver Streak is a very good product, but the price causes one to pause.  The market is proliferated with $10K amps and $25K+ speakers.  Only doctors, lawyers, seasoned airline pilots,  executives, etc. can afford this hobby.

Sorry, but the increasing fixed costs argument does not hold water.  What increased fixed costs?  Labor?  I doubt those working for Classe (made in China) or Bryston (made in Canada) are earning a descent middle class wage assembling components.  Material costs?  The cost of raw materials may have increased, but not to the order of magnitude hi end pricing has increased.  Advertising costs? 

I think you hit the nail on the head with fewer sales.  Manufacturer:  We are not selliing as many widgets as we used to!  What to do?  Aha, raise prices in the hopes that each theft, er I mean sale, will keep us in business.  Minions:  Yeah, that is a good idea and will work.  Do it!  I want to point out a particular example in the industry, Classe.  At one time, Classe used to be made in Canada. Their stuff was expensive, but of good quality.  A purchase led to one owning a fine piece of electronics.  I waited for the day I could buy a high power Classe amp.  I was shocked to learn Classe now manufacturers in China, but they still ask an ultrapremium price for their stuff.  From a consumer standpoint, the whole point of buying something made in China is to buy something that cost less money.  So why is it that Classe, which still makes good products, moved manufacturing to China but still charges Nort American or EU pricing for their products?  Is it because they want to keep their old profit margin with fewer sales?  Or do they just want to make more profit per unit?  The consumer sees it as Classe wanting to make more profit per unit.  If Classe's goal is to keep their profit margin with fewer sales, why not think about manufacturing a less expensive product or if the dealer network is keeping the retail pricing high, rethink the dealer network.  Traditional marketplace rules indicate that if demand goes down, so should pricing, but the hi end is a niche market so the traditional rules don't apply so it seems.  I think the high end is killing itself through high pricing and they have only themselves and their dealer network to blame.  It's about time the hi end ACCEPTS this fact.  Their really is no reason a Magico Q1 speaker with a single 7" driver should cost $26,500. 

As the consumer, I can spend my money on whatever I want.  If I really want that pair of B&W Diamond speakers or a Krell (now made in China) integrated, I will find a way to do it.  However, the outrageously hi pricing of hi end components minces that motivation to almost zero.  Lexicon dropped an Oppo player complete with the Oppo chasis in fancy Lexicon casework and had the nerve to ask a boat load of money for the Oppo with a Lexicon badge.  This act amounted to fraud in consumers' eyes. 

"If you, as an audio manufacturer or retailer, have to gross a certain amount of revenue each quarter to cover your fixed expenses and enable you to meet your payroll, you have three choices of how to do it: 1) sell a very small number of very expensive products; 2) sell a larger number of midpriced products; or 3) sell a very large number of inexpensive products. With an impoverished middle class no longer able to find the scratch for $5000/pair speakers and the large amount of capital required to make or sell large quantities of beer-budget products not being available to small businesses (as 80% of high-end audio companies are), the only viable business strategy is Option 1: move upmarket to service the very small number of very rich customers."  Enough is enough.  If I can afford a $3400 plasma TV, I can afford a $5,000 pair of speakers.  Problem is that the $3400 plasma TV reprsents the pinacle of design and good value for what you get, whereas the $5,000 gets you a two way speaker with a 5" or ^'6 woofer that does not represent the pinacle of design or good value from the aspect of performance.  If the hi end wants to cater to the megabuck crowd, let them do so, but don't lament the downturn in the hi end industry.  Good luck with your ultra-niche market and congrats to those who can afford it.  I will stick with my mid fi stuff and I suspect the majority of Americans will too.  Thank you Oppo, Emotiva, Golden Ear, Def Tech, SVS, etc for bringing excellent products at sane pricing to the hi end target consumer.

The paradigm is changing.  Sick of reading about the same products in the mags that I can never afford.  Sick of having companies like Nordost which used to have high, but yet attainable pricing move their upper end products into defense department pricing.  $1K for 4 footers with a laser level (wow, a laser!) or $4,599 for a meter pair of Tyr speaker cable!  Odin save us!

John Marks's picture

That, plus a Grace m903 DAC/HPA ($1,895.00 street price), a TASCAM broadcast-duty CD player as a transport ($216.00 street price), and a pair of ATC SCM19s ($3,699; coverage in the works) plus entry-level Cardas cables plus a pair of 20" stands will total under $10,000 and be an amazing system. And another $1,600 buys you Grace's improved newly DSD-ready m905, review next issue.

What about Winslow Burhoe's Direct Acoustics SIlent Speaker II, at well under $1,000 a pair--a loudspeaker that surprised JA for how listenable it was, and how canny engineering from a lifetime of lessons learned (my words not his) resulted in a bargain loudspeaker that was greater than the sum of its parts (his words).

This is a Golden Age of Value for Money in audio.

So, when you tell me that you are sick of reading about products you can never afford, I suppose I can only conclude that neither Stephen Mejias nor I can count you among our loyal readers.

My coverage of affordable gear is not window dressing and it is not a hush-puppy; it is central to my mission as an audio evangelist.

John Marks

Littrell's picture

Yes, I read that amp review.  Your examples are more of the exceptions than the rule.  Walk into a retailer and try to find the products you quoted.  Good luck.  Walk into a high end store and tell me the brands you are likely to find.  Look at the prices for Kimber, Cardas, Nordost, Audioquest, Shunyata, Synergistic Research, Classe, Simaudio, Mark Levinson, Krell, Bryston, VTL, Plinius, Lamm, Luxman, Parasound, Esoteric, YG Acoustics, Rockport, Joseph Audio, Thiel, etc and you want to tell me that this stuff is affordable?  Don't even get me started on phono cartridges.  That's the problem, even reviewers stick their head in the sand about the high prices.  The hi end is doomed if even their reviewers argue the hi end is affordable.  Remember this is a response to the save the stereo campaign.  I'm giving you my two cents from a consumer standpoint why the high end is in the doldrums, yet you want to make the argument the high end is affordable.  Golden Age of Value for Money in Audio?  Are you still drunk from the cocktail you were drinking?  smiley  Have you looked through a Music Direct catalog or an Audio Advisor catalog lately to peruse pricing?  If so and you think the hi end is affordable, keep sticking your head in the sand and wish your industry friends good luck.

I used to subscribe to Stereophile and was a "loyal" reader for years.  You know how many times Musical Fidelity was covered as opposed to say the likes of Lindell Audio?  Way too many.  I liked the writing of Corey Greenberg, Sam Tellig, and Michael Fremer, but come was more of a fantasy read than anythng based in reality given the price of stuff you guys reviewed, especially the items Mikey reviewed.   I found I could get better value form my money in the home theater arena and started reading Stereophile's home theater mag among others.  I dropoed the Stereophile mag because of too much coverage of stuff I could never afford, DCS for example.  Yes, there was coverage of more affordable products, but the VAST majority of coverage wnet to the big $ manufacturers.  Sooner or later, when you want to buy something, you drop the Du Pont Registry for Car and Driver.  Get it?

By the way, I outfitted my home theater for way less than your $10K stereo set up.  Samsung 64" F8500 plasma, Oppo 105D, Onkyo receiver, Polk LSI speakers, and I can buy a great bluray for $7.99 to $9.99 vs. $24+ for some audiophile recording.  You see, the whole family can enjoy 2 hours of a hi rez bluray in full surround sound vs. only me sitting by myself listening to Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, or Sibelius which brings up another issue.  Most of America watches TV and goes to the movies.  America is used to watching video and audio together.  When was the last time you saw your grandma listening to the stereo?  When was the last time you saw your kid listen to a stereo system?  TV has taken over listening to music as a pastime.  The high end has an awesome opportunity to integrate thier products into the living room of America, yet they squander this opprtunity with outlandish pricing.  Simaudio has a home theater receiver priced at $19K that is essentially a Denon.  The Lexicon bluray player I previously gave is an example of outright fraud. 

If you are an audio evangelist, you better start preaching to the high end manufacturers and stop making excuses for their high prices and the sorry state of the industry.  Amen. 

Maybe the high end manufacturers need some much needed sobriety when it comes to market penetration, expansion of market share, developing new markets, etc.  They sure need some help because they are failing.  I'm for hire on a consultant basis smileyenlightened.

John Atkinson's picture

Littrell wrote:
Sorry, but the increasing fixed costs argument does not hold water.  What increased fixed costs?  Labor?  I doubt those working for Classe (made in China) or Bryston (made in Canada) are earning a descent middle class wage assembling components.  Material costs?  The cost of raw materials may have increased, but not to the order of magnitude hi end pricing has increased.  Advertising costs?

With respect, you're missing my point. Every company has an overhead it needs to cover before it invests in parts for the products it makes: rent on the factory, R&D, payroll and payroll taxes and health insurance, interest on borrowed capital, the costs of attending shows, etc, etc.

Let's assume that for a typical audio manufacturer, those costs come to $500,000 per year. Add another $500,000 for the costs of raw parts. In earlier years, this company has been making a loudspeaker that sells at retail for $800/pair, which means they sell it to their dealers for $500/pair.  The company therefore has to sell 2000 pairs each year just to break even on their overhead and cost of parts.

But with the decreasing disposable income of the middle class the past 10 years, it becomes ever more difficult to sell that essential minimum of 2000 pairs each year. So the company decides that the safest business strategy is to move upmarket. Their new speaker is priced at $8000/pair, with a commensurate increase in performance.  Now (and disregarding the increase in parts cost to keep the numbers simple) they only have to sell 200 pairs at the wholesale price of $5000/pair each year to cover their overhead. Even at the higher price, it is more likely in the depressed market that they can sell 200 pairs of speakers than 2000.

As I said in my linked essay that you don't appear to have read, this mechanism results in an upward price spiral - their next speaker might be priced at $80,000/pair and they only have to sell 20 pairs to stay in business. This not because the company's principals are crooks or ripoff merchants, as you imply, but because they are adopting a business strategy that is more likely to keep them in business in a depressed market, particularly when the market for luxury-priced goods is actually expanding.

Please note that I am neither condoning nor condemning this strategy. I am merely explaining a mechanism behind the price inflation that bothers you.

And regarding your point about large-screen TVs...

Littrell wrote:
If I can afford a $3400 plasma TV, I can afford a $5,000 pair of speakers.  Problem is that the $3400 plasma TV reprsents the pinacle of design and good value for what you get, whereas the $5,000 gets you a two way speaker with a 5" or ^'6 woofer that does not represent the pinacle of design or good value from the aspect of performance.

...this is an invalid comparison. Partly because the TV benefits from being made in large numbers compared to the high-end speaker but also because a) the wholesale and retail margins on the TV are tiny and b) the manufacturer might even be selling below their manufacturing cost, making money only because that manufacturing cost is in Korean currency and the return from the sale is in US dollars.. 

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Littrell's picture


I undnerstand your arguments.  I obviously read your essay because I quoted from your essay in ane earlier post.  We both have valid points.  You are correct in that the disposable income of the working class American has shrunk, but you must realize that increasing a product's price to make up for decreased sales is a strategy that caters to those who have more disposible income.  Hi end manufacturers are intelligent people that have consciously chosen their market strategy.  Based on market forces, no poll is going to influence manufacturers to change their strategy.  The only action plan that is going to work is one that hi end manufacturers are going to embrace.  Given where the industry is now, I seriously doubt the vast majority of hi end manufacturers are going to adopt a strategy that will entail more sailes at a lower price point to meet revenue objectives because the action plan would be so radical compared to what exists in the he end marketplace today.  The only hi end manufacturer that I have seen trying to adopt to market economics for the benefit of the average consumer is Martin Logan.  At one time, Martin Logan could only be found at a hi end botique.  Now I can find Marfin Logan at my local big box store.  I am not going to find their top of the line electrostaic speaker at this store, but I can find the entry level electrostatic panel speakers and their cone speakers as well.  Unless other manufactures embrace the same strategy, their products will remain a niche available only to the few or these manufacturers will eventually go out of business. 

I do want to make some comments about your price point example because I think the issue is important.  First, if a company can't sell 2000 pairs of speakers at $800 per pair a problem exists.  Either the product doesn't represent good value for the price, ie its crap, or the manufacturer doesn't have the needed number of retailers to sell 2000 pairs and needs to increase their dealer network.  A reasonable person will be willing to spend $800 for a pair of speakers that perform well.  However, Joe the plumber is not going to spend $8000 on a pair of speakers because no demo is going to illustrate that spending 10 fold more on the new model of speaker is worth the performance increase over the $800 speaker.  A slick brochure, audio jewelry looks, and marketing the spoeaker in a hi end botique gives the illusion that the $8,000 speker is actually worth $8,000 when the performance of the speaker more often than not can not come close to the 10 fold increase in price.

I don't think the TV comparison is wholly invalid.  If the wholesale and resale margins on TVs are so little, how can my local electronics store sell a Sharp 70" top of the line 1080p (857 series) for $1,999 on sale when the regular price is $3,299?  Look at the Sharp Elite brand that modeled itself after the hi end audio industry.  The Sharp Elite was the best LED panel in the consumer market, but Sharp priced it at botique levels.  Not too many people chose to buy a $6,000 60" LED TV, which led to Sharp dropping the product line.  Even with the marketplace failure of Elite, Sharp could have chosen to apply their R&D knowledge to their lessor models and made up the losses by selling a lot of superior displays at slightly higher price points than their competitors.  I would gladly pay $500 more for Quattron and Elite like performance over a Samsung or Sony LED display.

What about the botique amp manufacturer who makes their stuff in China, but sells at outrageous prices in US dollars?  Can't that manufacturer lower the prices of their products and make up any difference increased sales due to the lower labor costs of manufacturing in China?

When the hi end consciously chooses to move their price points upward to offset decreased sales rather than critically analyzing how to adapt to the marketplace, don't lament the disappearance of the hi end.  I really wanted a Sharp Elite and even at closeout priciing, the cost of a Sharp Elite was more expensive than all of its competitors.  I was sad the Sharp Elite went away from the marketplace, but realized the disappearance was due to their pricing and marketing stragety and got over the sadness.

iosiP's picture

Dear Mr. Atkinson, you wrote:


Now (and disregarding the increase in parts cost to keep the numbers simple) they only have to sell 200 pairs at the wholesale price of $5000/pair each year to cover their overhead.

Well, this is exactly where the whole thing becomes crappy: the $5000/pair speakers won't have commensurably more expensive parts or technology, so this is an increase in pure profit!

As a guy with a Master Degree in electronics I can tell you a Boulder amp or a MSB DAC deserves the list price, and so are speakers such as Wilson Audio, Magico or Raidho. But paying premium money for what amounts to little more than off the shelf drivers nicely packed in glossy furniture... well, thanks but no, thanks!

DaveinSM's picture

It is good to see John Atkinson here defending his points, and I do agree that he has something there with the shrinking disposable income of the middle class.  That said...

I always thought that audiophiles came more from at least the upper-middle class.  People who even in down times have more disposable incomes than working class folk.  

I do see the point of those who decry the $80,000 amplifier and speaker manufacturers.  I always thought that those 'statement' products were their way of showing what is technically possible given no restrictions on budget, practicality, or even a market.  And trickle-down technology from these statement products benefits everybody, eventually... or so I'd like to hope.

Let's face it: good, high quality gear is EXPENSIVE by your average American's standards, even used and if it is represented good value used.  I'm not talking 1/2" aluminimum faceplates and gold plated tuning knobs.  

Two manufacturers in particular whom I think have sold out recently under new management are Thiel and especially Krell.  Though their products were considered very expensive by the mainstream, what you got was essentially a hand-made, high quality, no-frills piece of audio equipment that REALLY PERFORMS.  Anyone who has opened the hood and looked at complex crossovers, thick baffles, or the giant toroidal transmformers and massive capacitor rows would know that.  And those things weren't readily apparent by looking at the products' exterior.  Sure, Thiel's beautiful wood veneers also definitely lended a feeling of American-made, handmade luxury.  And you paid for it.  But given all that went into them, I don't think that you would say that Thiels or Krells were overpriced in a way that an $80,000 amp might be.  

I understand that if the volumes aren't there, then you get an inflated per-unit price.  But the idea is to build a brand, then gradually offer lower-end, more affordable models with some of the trickled-down technology.  Magico started off that way with some stupendously expensive models, and now they are finally getting near to prices on their lower models that I might consider... used... $.02

DaveinSM's picture

Really not a fan of this message board format.  Sorry for all the repostings.  Doesn't seem to confirm that it got posted, and I didn't want to waste all that typing...

DaveinSM's picture

using this message board on a mac mini is absolutely painful. 

John Atkinson's picture

DaveinSM wrote:
using this message board on a mac mini is absolutely painful.

I am not sure why you were having problems posting comments. (I deleted the duplicate postings.) What browser are you using? I use Firefox on both a Mac and a PC and after I press "Save" at the bottom left of the posting page, the comment is published immediately and the browser displays the updated comments.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Save The Stereo Project's picture

I agree with many of the points above, but I do not believe products are the complete answer, nor are they completely to blame for the problem.

Excellent products that are marketed poorly fail.  Average products that are marketed well often succeed.

No matter what marketplace we're discussing, high quality affordable products, by themselves, are only part of the solution.

I also believe the high-performance audio industry already offers some excellent affordable products, but could certainly do a lot better.  

Complete the survey on  Get involved.  Offer constructive feedback.  Things are just getting started.

- Gordon White, Save The Stereo Project

marcusavalon's picture

I am an Audiophile and have some nice entry level audiophile equipment and essentially love music of almost every genre. However apart from my longest standing friend and myself I don’t know anyone who shares my obsession.

It’s not actually about equipment anymore there’s a whole generation out there that loves music every bit as much as their Mothers and Fathers however they don’t spin vinyl Frisbees (the only choice when I was young) or stick shiny silver discs in a magic box.

They stream music over the net and have access to vast libraries of music totally for free via Spotify they just have to put up with some cheesy adverts every so many plays. They also carry around in their pockets portable players that have replaced the wrist watch the camera the radio, the Walkman oh and it makes phone calls and sends e-mails pretty neat huh. I think the younger generation has more access to music than I ever did at the same age just the way it’s delivered has changed.

Yes they have sacrificed quantity for quality and availability. The future as I see it will be streaming services delivering vast libraries of music to people over high speed internet connection wired or wireless to either higher quality streaming devices linked to home entertainment centres which will most likely serve as home communications TV and video phones and play music as well or to mobile smart phones or tablets for people on the move. I have by most people’s standards a huge CD collection but It does not even begin to scrape the surface of the staggering amount of music you can access over Spotify and the like.

No it does not sound as wonderful as my Hi Fi system,yet. However I am sure as bandwidth increases and hi definition files become available the reasons for not downloading or streaming will disappear. It might not save the Stereo as we know and love it but the Music has not died just the delivery system is evolving.

The stereo might need saving but its all about the Music.

Archimago's picture

Okay, so another article comes on CNN claiming the death of the traditional hi-fi component system...

Big deal. It doesn't mean it's true nor should anyone go alarmist over it.

IMO, there will always be high-performance audio equipment just as there will always be upscale watches, fancy cars, top-of-the-line anything! I'd like to see some stats as to what "issue" is being addressed here; otherwise this is all hot air signifying nothing.

As an aside, what's with "walking around with those Beats headphones have never experienced great sound"? Seriously? What Beats models did Mr. White listen to? While I agree that for the price, one could get better Sennheisers (for example), and one should avoid the Beats Solos like the plague, some of the lineup like the Studios aren't bad IMO and certainly enhances enjoyment for some kinds of music. To say something like this without further qualification just highlights the absurd elitist opinions held by some audio ethusiasts, unfortunately. (And this in itself does a disservice to promoting quality audio.)

dalethorn's picture

Look at computer software companies, for example those who make accounting and manufacturing systems. They've been scrambling to get as much functionality from their systems to run on mobile devices as they can, with Cloud functionality being just a part of that. Audio companies need to follow suit. They've already lost a generation to the 'Beats' sound and their pricy headphones, not to mention the many years of bass-heavy audio systems for cars. But there are a few people working to make high fidelity a reality for mobile users. Harman and Philips have recent projects running, and Dirac has been providing DSPs for use in cars. The numbers are mostly in mobile, even though there's a core of big-ticket sales to non-mobile users.

earwaxxer's picture

Here's the thing about Stereo vs. mutichannel. You can focus your energy (money) on 2.1 speakers vs. who knows how many. Its a pure sport. Nobody does multi channel well, well 98% anyway. Headphones - another debateable issue. Personally I like speakers. Can you get 'better' sound from headphones for the same coin - sure. Who cares. Do you want to FEEL the sound as well. - Bottom line 'stereo' is alive and well. Nothing to sweat. I lived through quad and all the other shit. Aint going to happen.

charlesfosterkane's picture

Save the Stereo?  That's not my job.  My job is to listen to music.  But if you really want advice to save the stereo?  Stop with the snake oil and admit that the $10,000 amplifier is just a way to separate a fool from his money.  There is no perfect sound, there is no reproducing sound "as the artist intended".  To believe otherwise is ludicrous.  The problem is that too many people depend on fleecing the rubes to make a living.

iosiP's picture

When I buy a car with 250HP and a top speed of 150mph I know that what I get will be pretty close to those figures. Or else, all car magazines will boo and that specific model will rust in peace (or be heavily discounted).

Why is it the same does not apply to stereo equipment? Some of it costs as much as a decent car, so customers should be entitled to the same respect. But nope: I still remember reading a rave review in Stereophile about a pair of tubed monoblocks selling for $275,000 and miserably failing to deliver even 10% of the stated power. Or of a $20,000 DAC that could not credibly reproduce any frequency below 50-60Hz.

I understand "shit happens" but my expectations would be:

- for the reviewer, to spell it loud and clear, without being affected by PC (that's Publicity Correctness);

- for the manufacturer, to offer a full buy-back and apologies for selling lowly junk at the price of gold bullion;

- for the legal system, to enforce the same customer protection rules as for any other product, including penalties for misrepresentation.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm not talking about sound (which is subjective) or fiability (most high end products come with usage restriction, whether it's a Lamborghini or a Patek Philippe) but about measurable things. And I won't fret over a difference of 5-10%, but in sone cases the silly box with a silly price delivers less than 20% of what it claims to do.

So this is it: manufacturers should be much more dependable, or else...

John Atkinson's picture

iosIP wrote:
I still remember reading a rave review in Stereophile about a pair of tubed monoblocks selling for $275,000 and miserably failing to deliver even 10% of the stated power. Or of a $20,000 DAC that could not credibly reproduce any frequency below 50-60Hz.

I can't excuse those products. But I think it fair to point out that the reason you knew that they underperformed so woefully was that this magazine's reviews told you so.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

iosiP's picture

However, what happened next? Did the manufacturers offer to buy back their pieces of crap? Did the unsuspecting owners get any relief? Are the laws protecting customers somewhat "suspended" when it comes to hi-end audio?

And then, how comes the "golden ears" at stereophile did not figure out the pile of crap? Suppose I'm a lawyer or a brain surgeon and as such don't understand more than 10% of your "measurements" page, wouldn't I have parted with my money based on some high-praise comments bestowed by "experienced" reviewers? Should I remind you Michael Fremer's high praise of the Zanden harmonic generator (oops, I mean Signature D/A converter)? Or the (not faint) praise of the Wavac SH-833 monoblocks - that were reviewed, incidentally or not, by the same MF?

Time to retire some golden ears: they just got rusted! And BTW, I remember your listening impressions of some gear I can't remember (I quote from memory): "...since I do not hear much over 9kHz anymore I enlisted the help of a younger friend..." Now, THIS is respect for your readers, and part of the things I do appreciate in life! Just vacuum-clean the rest of the team: I guarantee Stereophile will once again become what it was, and even more! Until then...

John Atkinson's picture

iosIP wrote:
However, what happened next? Did the manufacturers offer to buy back their pieces of crap? Did the unsuspecting owners get any relief? Are the laws protecting customers somewhat "suspended" when it comes to hi-end audio?

To my enormous surprise, sales of the Wavac amplifier went up after our review was published.

iosIP wrote:
And then, how comes the "golden ears" at stereophile did not figure out the pile of crap?

The question is: does the reviewer like the product because of how it measures or despite it? Answering that question is, unfortunately, a work in progress.

iosIP wrote:
BTW, I remember your listening impressions of some gear I can't remember (I quote from memory): "...since I do not hear much over 9kHz anymore I enlisted the help of a younger friend..." Now, THIS is respect for your readers, and part of the things I do appreciate in life!

Not me, I am afraid. My hearing is still good almost to 15kHz at normal listening levels. Most likely the late J. Gordon Holt.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

iosiP's picture

...should be to reproduce with maximum accuracy whatever is on the medium.

Since a piece of gear with poor measurements cannot do this, it doesn't deserve the high-end moniker.

And BTW, I'm not in the "measurement rulez" camp: I heard too many components that measure great but sound like junk. Also, I studied enough to know that there is no audible difference between 0.005% THD and 0.01% THD (I'd say that the distribution of those harmonics is more important), but even my mother can hear 23% THD... And measuring this figure in a DAC (not some SET amp pushed into overdrive or minimonitor scrambling to reproduce Mahler at concert levels) just spells poor engineering.

As to


To my enormous surprise, sales of the Wavac amplifier went up after our review was published.

And still, my question stands: how did Wavac/Zanden/others treat previous buyers who decided to return their gear based on unsubstantiated claims?

Don't tell me it never happened, or I'll believe that a lot of disposable income does not an audiophile make. 

John Atkinson's picture

iosIP wrote:
my question stands: how did Wavac/Zanden/others treat previous buyers who decided to return their gear based on unsubstantiated claims?

I don't know. If this happened, no-one was willing to go on the record and say so. All we were told by the then-WAVAC distributor at the following CES was that he had sold more of the poorly performing amplifier after the Stereophile review had been published than before.

You are free to make of that what you will.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

John Marks's picture

Winslow Burhoe, former conservatory pipe-organ student and later research assistant to Edgar Villchur for the Acoustic Reseaerch AR-4, has authorized me to pass on his take on what I call the Entropic Heat Death of Audio Retailing:

Three things killed the component market: the CD put a ceiling on quality; the economy tanked; computers created a competitive market for leisure time and disposable income.


John Marks

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

A. The CD put a ceiling on quality

Not with the advent of SACD (faltering in the U.S., I know), hi-res downloads (gathering momentum), and blu-ray discs (either audio-only or hi-res audio with video, and also gathering momentum).

B. The economy tanked

Not enough, at this point, to prevent the sale of high-quality components in the US. Economic issues in China and other Asian countries, and the change in value of the US dollar, may be the most relevant factors at this time.

C. Computers created a competitive market for leisure time and disposable income.

There is also this new-fangled stuff called computer audio, which makes possible playback of hi-res content. There are also music servers that operate via iPad and iPhone apps.

What I'm getting at is simple: Awhile back, all three of these factors may have put a major dent in the high-quality component market, but the availability of hi-res content via computer download and blu-ray has the potential to both turn things around and open a huge new youth market to the benefits of hi-res audio played through quality components, including plug-and-play USB DACs and high-quality headphones.

The sky does not need to continue falling if the high performance industry can unite around a mass education campaign that makes the links between new ways of listening and new technologies and components that can both enhance the listening experience and better convey musical truth.

iosiP's picture

So they won't accept being shortchanged by the "industry", and no mass education campaign can convince them it's OK to fund the life standard of people who don't seem to care about delivering what they promise.

How many time has a high-end box fail while being reviewed by the Stereophile staff? Whith this kind of track record, a company manufacturing goods in any other field would have deceased long ago, but high-enders seem to get away with it without as much as an apology!

If Ford Motors would have a failure rate of 5 to 10% (something considered to be natural according to some high end manufacturers - I won't name names unless prompted to do so) US graves would need to be double-decked and Obamacare would go bankrupt.

So I suggest some people clean up their act and just deliver on their promises!

P.S. If your ISP fails to provide service with 99.9% availability I'm sure most of you would cry out loud. Why is it that high end manufacturers are not held to the same standards?

dalethorn's picture

In spite of progress on some fronts - hi-res downloads one of them, the aftereffects of what Burhoe described are still being felt, particulary the first and last points. The economy is mostly voodoo today, so I don't know how we can factor that in.

Patrick Butler's picture

The new generation of audiophiles is more savvy than what?  Try sitting down with someone who made more last year than you are likely to make in your lifetime and tell me that they are not a keen detector of bullshit.  Without exception, all of the people I've ever met who are capable of (and do) purchase the kind of equipment that you have an issue with are very discerning individuals.  Wonder why they are buying something you find laughable?  Have a listen first and you might learn something. 

iosiP's picture

I listened to a lot of gear, even some that I can't afford, and have no issue with the prices "per se" but rather with the QC of some of the high-end stuff sold.

As Mr. Atkinson said, manufacturers go upscale in order to recoup their expenses with less units sold. Fine, let's say this is reasonable behaviour, but when you decide to sell 100 boxes @ $10,000 each instead of aiming for a target of 1,000 boxes @ $1,000 each, at least make sure the damn thing is put together well enough that you don't get a failure rate of 25%!

Remember the wonderful sounding Technical Brain products? These were beautifully built and offered a lot of satisfaction to their well-heeled owners... When they cared to work as advertised, which seemed to not happen very often!

Indeed, If someone makes more money per year than I will do in my lifetime they may accept to buy high-end products and call them "consumables", but it still stinks.

P.S. I use an Esoteric/MSB/Boulder/Raidho rig wired with Siltech - not cheap by any account - but then I am sure these will probably outlast me and not go out with a big puff of smoke whenever my cat wags her tail at them.

expolsionsinthesky's picture

Mr. Butler,

You may be one of those that makes more in a year than I will in a lifetime.  But you obviously can't see throught your own bullshit.

I do not begrudge anyone buying the best audio equipment they can afford!  I just don't subscribe to the fact that you need so called "high-performance audio" to enjoy the music.

If I understand the general push behind the "Save the Stereo" campaign, it is to bring younger listeners into audiophile mix, has nothing to do with how much one spends to reach audio nirvana.

Patrick Butler's picture

Hi Explosionsinthesky (great band by the way),

iosIP contends that what is wrong with this business are expensive products that he personally does not like.  I think that fairly well summarizes his position.  Being in sales I can tell you that the only opinion that really matters regarding the worth of a product is the paying customer.  To that end, when well-heeled customers purchase and appreciate the kind products iosIP finds unworthy of carrying the "High End" label, they disprove his theory.  

I've been in the homes of people with the means to buy this fantastically expensive gear.  The owners are smart, hard working and discerning.  The products they buy are akin to fetishes-  there are many of them, and there is no "best" one save for that which turns you on.  iosIP has a fetish for a "Esoteric/MSB/Boulder/Raidho rig wired with Siltech."  While I understand the kind of sound he is into, I can guarantee you that it does not work for everyone.  The High End is a big tent full of fantastic people, products at all prices, and obscurity.  The obscurity is the issue- not the products.  

iosiP's picture

My problem is not about what I like (or dislike): I do agree tastes and financial issues are highly personal!

My gripe is with the lack of dependability of some high-end products and with the overrated specifications llttering the marketing blurbs.

As for my system, I'm sure this sound is not for everyone, but listing my rig has nothing to do with the sound of it (or even with the looks or user ergonomics), and is far for showing any kind of "fetish": I was referring simply to the fact that a specification of 300Wpc for a Boulder amp actually means... well, even more than 300Wpc, that the Esoteric transport won't let me down after two years of service and the MSB DAC won't lose sync if my cat is sneezing at the digital cable.

So this is not about sound, although you seem to not (want) to understand it, it's about QC and bogus claims.

BTW, a friend of mine  - one of those that have plenty of disposable income - just purchased 11 (that's eleven) power cables from a new company. I helped him rewire the rig but one of the cables simply refused to provide any power to the attached component. I dismanteled the IEC plug and saw that one wire was not currently connected (and never was). Now, do you find this acceptable for power chords costing in excess of 5,000 EUR each? And what about the leaftlet that came with each cable, clearly stating the individual cable was burnt-in for xxx hours at the factory (a premium service with a premium cost)? How can you "burn in" a disconnected cable? 

Anon2's picture

Hi-Fi hobbyists are dismayed at the increasing cost of their hobby and want to stay engaged with upgrades and new gear.  Disappointment results at the cost of 2/3s, in my estimation, of the available hi-fi gear.

The top 1/3 of hi-fi product is expensive and, in most cases, built to high specifications, and performs in an exemplary fashion.  Few people have ever been able to afford this project.  There is little change here.

The bottom 1/3 of hi-fi product is a mixture of low and high quality product, considering the price.  I have owned a few stereo receivers over the year.  It amazes me how much some of this product has improved.  There are still--one only has to read the reviews in Stereophile and elsewhere--many fine (and in some cases very highly rated) speakers for less than $1000.00.  Some great speakers costing less than $750 per pair have received good to strong reviews. 

Continuing to talk of the lowest 1/3 of components, it is the advent of cheap DACs--demo and clearance units costing less than $400--that has created the biggest innovative boost in quality for the dollar for the hi-fi enthusiast.  I have concluded that a modest DAC and a website offering good sound quality has revealed great reserves of hitherto unrealized performance in my modest speakers and amplification.  As much as I am tempted to upgrade--as are many in the hobby--computer audio, Dacs, even great improvement in SACDs, and regular redbook CDs (and, no, I don't advocate the disappearance of CDs or any other media that a user enjoys and finds serviceable) have really stretched the performance of my gear.  As a result, I can't find a great incentive to upgrade in the near future.

So there is much performance to be had in components in the $400 to $1000 price range:  my definition of "affordable."

Where the hi-fi industry and dealers face their greatest challenges is in the middle tier of products.  I have written this before.  Why should a user upgrade from an entry level speaker to the next level up (and speakers, with high transportation, labor, and storage costs, face the greatest challenges in this area) when perhaps I am only getting a fancier veneer, and a modest piece of wood inside to brace the cabinet? Today, a person might pay $1000 to $2000 more for a speaker upgrade, and for very dubious improvements in product quality.  Many products in this price range--say $1500 to $3500--offer improvements in performance that are hard to perceive, and harder to justify economically to the financially strapped consumer.  Some products offer an improvement in performance, but here's the problem:  hi-fi upgrades and improvements in performance, especially in this middle tier, are evolving at a slower pace than with other products.

I bought a 27" CRT TV about 10 years ago, in the dying days of this technology.  I paid about $270 for this TV in a clearance sale.  A 13" LCD TV, with picture quality that would pass for laughable today, cost about $150.00 more at that time.  Today, one can buy a 32" LED TV for the same $270 on sale.  This product  offers an experience of visual quality that is a vast, scale of magnitude, improvement in quality over the 27" CRT of 10 years ago.  Computers, cell phones, bicycles, binoculars, 2-way radios, wrist watches, winter outerwear, sunglasses, athletic gear: many of these products have had vast improvements in quality in the past decade (some have come and gone).  Hi-Fi, I would posit, except for the revolutionary improvement in sound available through DACs and streaming, has improved, to my perception, at a slower rate.  And in non-computer-based sound--speakers and amplification--probably some of the greatest advances in quality have occurred at the bottom (and no doubt, in some cases, at the top where some manufacturers have embraced advances in materials science and continue to push the boundaries of electrical engineering).

It is is the middle tier of hi-fi where slower innovation than in other leisure products, and briskly rising prices, put this 1/3 of the product assortment at the greatest risk of stagnation of sales and interest.

I recall, in closing, a comment from a What Hi-Fi discussion board (much of which mirrored this article's travails and dismay in the comments section).  The theme of the discussion board was "what was your best hi-fi upgrade." The best comment came from a reader who wrote: "the best upgrade I ever made was learning to make do with my current hi-fi set-up."  Well put, indeed.

musiclover73's picture

Imho, some high-end audio will save itself, at least those companies with a more solid reputation.

But “saving the stereo” (or saving the Hi-Fi audio reproduction) is not about saving the High-End. On the contrary, the best way to make younger generations into this wonderful world of sound is by making more (and better) real affordable products. I’d stick with the $400-$1000 price range as previously mentioned.

Some brands have actually done it (I can remember the ‘recent’ review of the Monitor Audio RX-6 on Stereophile, among others), and building products overseas can (and should) lead to better products for the same amount of money, or identical products for much less money.

The lion’s share of the audio market was never on the High-End, and it won’t change (for the better) with new competing technologies like smartphones, tablets and all those ever evolving technological products grabbing most people’s attention.

I believe that music will always be a part of our lives, and there’s always a place/budget for good sound. But I also believe that the audio industry (along with some press) has been killing this great hobby by reviewing “exotic” equipment and ultra-expensive accessories (like audio cables).

“Saving the stereo” starts with keeping it real, and making good products that people can actually buy and live with (giving a word to aesthetics, as big squared boxes will always be harder to sell to any family in this century).

The 87nd incarnation of the old BBC monitor (or anything similar) isn’t going to cut it, and telling people how much of an improvement they’re going to get with a $6000 amplifier won’t do it either. But I can be totally mistaken.

iosiP's picture

Actually, a system wyred with the appropriate loom of cable can sound as good (or even better) than a system with a double price tag wyred with inappropriate cables!

Except there is science and snake oil: Siltech offers cables made of a special Ag/Au alloy (not easy to manufacture and utterly expensive), while other cable makers use the "patent pending" mantra to sell what amounts to little more than chinese-sourced wires in a fancy breading. Just check those patents: they never get approved, so they'll be "pending" for the next decade (or two).

And this is where it hurts: adopting Panzer Wood enclosures (what?) and "feed-forward four-layer adaptive shielding" (no kidding!) only to discover the insides are made of cheap Chinese copper wire cannot justify the prices of most of today's cables: most are no more than tone controls, tuned to compensate the Fletcher-Munson curve.

Feel free to spend, or (just to quote one of the previous commenters): if your last year's income is more than I will ever make in my lifetime, you're an audiophile!

Anon2's picture

Upon reflection, and after taking a step back from the debate, I think that the hi-fi situation, while bad, is not hopeless.  As a leisure activity, and compared to others with a dedicated following, hi-fi has challenges of lesser or greater magnitude compared to other hobbies.

We all know the challenges confronting hi-fi; this discussion thread, and many others, have laid out the challenges in great detail.

I would categorize hi-fi, as any other hobby, with two main constraint characteristics:  1.  What is the cost of entry to the hobby?  2. What is the cost of partaking in the hobby once has paid the cost of entry?

Taking this broader view, the challenges confronting hi-fi look less daunting.  Hi-fi has 1. Costs to entry that are almost infinitely flexible, and 2. Partaking in the hobby entails low, and again, infinitely flexible costs.

Costs of Entry:  A hi-fi enthusiast confronts a bare price of entry to the hobby.  This cost of entry remains low.  A person could buy a used receiver, used speakers, a DAC (we’ll assume a computer and internet connection already exist), some stock interconnects, and one can achieve fine sound quality in a home; better than the compressed mp3 sound which causes so much anguish among Stereophile readers.  Whether a person ever upgrades is entirely at the person’s discretion.  My betting is that some modest upgrades will occur with even the most budget-constrained consumer.  Take this approach, and you’re in the hobby.  It’s as simple as that.  Upgrading is all at the hobbyist’s discretion.

Costs of Partaking in the Hobby:  Again, hi-fi is an infinitely flexible and discretionary hobby once one has the gear.  Music source material has never been cheaper; the starting price for web streaming from good quality sources is free.  Used CDs and vinyl are abundant, whether online or in the local thrift store.  If you have a receiver, FM radio , though not the greatest sound quality, is still around, too.  Then the only other expense is electricity.  And with CFL and LED bulbs, a hi-fi hobby may be cost-neutral, or even less expensive, compared to the incandescent bulb days.

Hi-fi also offers the enthusiast a lot of interim, low-cost tweaks that one can do to improve the performance of a system.  Speaker placement, speaker stands, sand filling of stands, buying a new pair of inter-connect cables are among the options that a person has to make significant but inexpensive improvements to an existing system of modest hi-fi components.

So with hi-fi, we have low hurdles to get into the hobby, to partake in the hobby, and to make small but impactful enhancements.

Let’s move to some hobbies that are more cost effective for a person’s budget and 24 hours in a day than hi-fi.  Bicycling, cooking, gardening, running, tennis, swimming, reading, digital photography, walking, fishing (from shore), bird-watching, web-surfing, social-media’ing, TV watching (broadcast, not cable) are legitimate hobbies that have lower costs than hi-fi on both dimensions.  So some people do better economically with their hobbies than a hi-fi enthusiast.

But, now, let’s move to the hobbies where, in our increasingly challenging economy, the middle class hobbyist is in a real world of hurt that eclipses any hi-fi hobbyist’s frustration.   These hobbies require multi-thousand dollar outlays to get into the hobby, to say nothing of the thousands more needed to maintain the hobby.

Skiing, RV-ing, 4x4-ing, motorcycling, golfing, vacation/2nd home ownership, boating, equestrian sports, vintage or sports car restoration, snowmobiling, international vacationing: these are financially debilitating hobbies, with high and very sharply escalating costs of entry and of participation. These hobbies have a much more challenging--if not genuinely much bleaker--future than hi-fi for all but the most well heeled hobbyists. 

I have heard the fulminating outrages at work. People have told me that their personal finances are being brought to the brink over a new fishing boat.  Others have had to stop golf club memberships lest they not have money to send their kids to college.  One had thousands of dollars of repairs after wrecking a $24,000 Harley-Davidson.  Still others have told me of the years of debt they have to pay off an RV loan.

In conclusion, hi-fi, despite its many challenges and the sharp debate, faces fewer obstacles than many other--erstwhile mainstay--hobbies in America.  Hi-fi enthusiasts have reason for cheer, if we can only step back and look around.

DaveinSM's picture

I don't agree with this assertion at all mainly because it doesn't take into account the fact that all of those other activities are inherently more social- and socially acceptable-- than audiophilia.  Try convincing your wife or kids that a $5,000 amp will give them more enjoyment than a luxe ski trip, or that they will love the $10,000 speakers more than the new fishing boat.  Or that your wife would much rather have the $80,000 system than a new RV and a cross country trip together...

This should go without saying.  Even if your wife were also an audiophile (gigantic IF), what are the chances that you share the same taste in music and want to listen to the same things at the same time on your-system-that-cost-as-much-as-a vacation home?

critical listening is almost inherently a solitary activity that precludes anyone without significant expendable leisure time.  Period.  Try selling THAT and the six figure rig to your family while you also sweat about the mortgage or college.

DaveinSM's picture

Most - and I mean MOST- people look at their home stereos as a leisure device and something to have on in the background while they entertain, cook, talk, and otherwise get on with their lives.  Very, very few will ever bother to sit down in the sweet spot in front of a well-set up rig and critically listen to a recording.  Brings up another GREAT POINT: home decor.  It's almost always something that the system must blend into, and not be formed around.  I'd be willing to bet that 98% of households' home decor is decided with comfort in mind first, and the audio fidelity of the sound system LAST.  Why else do you think BOSE has had far more success than what we consider true high fidelity manufacturers?  

deckeda's picture

And invite someone to do it with you. Or talk casually while the music plays. Maybe sneak in music while serving dinner--captive audience.

Get people used to hearing and listening again. The appreciation and habit begins there. The "stereo" is a corrolary, not the end game needing a fix. 

Bill B's picture

 Yes, encourage good sound for everyone.  But don't define it, as the article does, as "component-based high-fidelity stereo system".  "Component-based" is arbitrary, it shouldn't matter if parts of the system are packaged in fewer or more boxes.  And no need to define it even as "stereo", since that's limiting too.  We love stereo but multii-channel or binaural or 3D or whatever should NOT be excluded.

Regadude's picture

Stereo is fine, no it's great! There is a huge choice of audio equipment in every price bracket. If you do your research, you could build a good system for a reasonable price.

You have brick and mortar dealers, web stores, and companies like Emotiva that sell direct.

There is so much choice! So much quality gear to be had. The problem is not with equipment. The problem is with human beings...

This "me in my bubble", or "I want the newest thingy" world people live in is to blame. iPods, cell phones, home theater gear (receivers, surround, etc) have crapped all over the value of sound quality.

Better to look cool on your new bluetooth ipod phone thingy blasting away Justin Beiber's song of the week, than to actually take the time to listen to good music on a good system.

Better save up to buy that new 12.1 channel home theater receiver with Sirius xm, 4 ipod docks, streaming hole, 8 usb ports, wifi AC394949, voice activated alarm clock, Odyssey 4HQtRO Nvidia chip 128 bit telerium microphone room equalisation spacialiser setup system and on and on and on....

**** this. Iam outta here! 

tmsorosk's picture

Many good points Regadude .

You can purchase an audio system at just about any price . If someone can't find an audio system that suits there budget there really not looking .

And why do folks that are purchasing the lower end gear care how expensive the high end gear is if there not in the market for those products ? 

If you were purchsing a new car and looking at Fords would you be bothered by the high cost of a BMW ?

Doctor Fine's picture

I like having a playback system that can fool an expert into thinking there are live musicians and instruments in my living room.  It makes me laugh. 

It is exacly like "being there" and "you hear things you never heard before"---TONS of things like whispers, a mike stand knocked over, someone talking in the background, a car passing by outside the studio...

I like making my friends cry out in joy when they hear their favorite high school music brought to life again and they can reach out and touch the artists that meant so much to them when they were young.

It is nice to stay home, have a fabulous dinner, open a bottle of fine wine and then go "out" to a concert and hear Tchaikovsky or John, Paul, George and Ringo together once more.

It costs about $30,000 to accomplish this in a middle class home with average acoustics.  It may take a considerable amount of speaker moving and room treatment to lock in the effect.  I have been doing this for a living for 45 years and sold Krell, Sonus Faber and built LL CooL J a recording studio.  I know a few things.

It takes full frequency response (20-20K) a musical "alive" DAC, a moving coil cart, amplifiers that sound alive and full at all volumes from a whisper to a roar, speaker components that can be moved and adjusted in the room until the imaging is in 3D and the presentation is totally compelling and convincing (indistinguishable from "live"). 

It takes excellent wiring.  I make interconnects out of George L wire in bulk. I use twin pairs for balanced connections and Neutriks on the ends.   Mogami for speaker leads.  Nothing smaller than 12 guage for power cords.

I really can't justify spending MORE than 30 large on a middle class house with mediocre acoustics.  There just isn't any ROI.   Spend much less and you will not be in the actual presence of the artists so while it is "all good" some things can justify the time and energy spent and some are a fool's errand.

As for my wife---I picked the right gal for the job. 

"It sounds THIS great with four power amps, two outboard woofers and two 15 inch subs---wouldn't it even sound BETTER if you bought something BIGGER?"  Thank you Lord.  Perfect.  I shall keep her.

Meanwhile I am tired of arguing with "expert" people as they never build anything that impresses me.  Therefore their opinion is only of passing interest.  The only guy I know that works the room as hard as I do is Jim Smith.  Go read his book "Get Better Sound" and learn something. 

I collect room tuning manuals and technical papers on acoustics.  I actually read them and try them out.  I have a library of reference books on speaker design, amplifiers, instrument building and repair, acoustics, public address systems and factory training material.  I read them over until I understand them which takes time as I am not a trained engineer.

Perhaps someone will recommend a particular piece of gear.  After I hear ten recommendations I will make a note that perhaps it is worth the money and go check it out for myself.

I am truly sorry that most people are not dying to eat fine food, drive great cars and own a real live scary good audio system any more.  This is not my problem.

Perhaps you would like to come over for dinner and some music.  You are invited if you promise to not talk about equipment.  That is just shop talk to me. 

Let's talk about the opera or some neat little Bluegrass outfit you heard in your travels through Virginia.

If it were ME I would simply build a demo room for the unwashed public and let them hear for themselves what great sound really is.  I would NOT sell equipment piece by piece.  I would NOT demo any individual gear as it takes months to just tune up ONE great system.  In my last home it took five years to suss out the perfect speaker layout...

This hobby is mostly about how well you yourself can set up your system.  Impress me.  Go on and try. 

If you DO bust your butt getting a great life like sound then I bet more people will hear more gear and the problem will solve itself.  Right now I can honestly say I hear very little that sounds all that great because most of it is set up wrong at audio shops and music "fairs."

That to me is the real problem and the reason folks seem to have moved on from Stereo to other hobbys.  If you are like me and would rather improve what you already have then I applaud you.  Most folks won't work that hard and seem to expect great results from spending huge sums.

When I started out back in the Dynaco build your own kit days---every little bit of improvement was hard fought.  AR3a, big Macs, JBL Paragons, great EL34 tube amps and such made our music listening lives very rewarding.

Nowadays most folks seem confused about what works and why.  Impressive screachy earth shaking and loud.  Ugh.  So many ways to do this hobby wrong.

I honestly believe most modern folks don't have the patience to do this well.  They prefer to push a button and get instant gratification.  Earphones.  IPhones. Computers.

Too bad.  Now, about that dinner and some great wine.  What is your favorite and forget about two buck Chucks...

DaveinSM's picture

I think it's silly to put an arbitrary number or 'minimum' on what a state-of-the-art system should cost.  ANY system is going to be a mixture of preferences and compromises.  For most people, the biggest compromise will be their limited budget.

The wonderful thing about high quality audio equipment is the fact that the good stuff is made to last.  $30K on the used market will go so much further than the same $30K purchased new at a dealer.  Then again, purchasing used equipment does require more caveat emptor, as well probably some trial-and-error.  

This is in addition to the fact that with even a $30K budget, you need to pick your spots.  One person with a smaller room and who puts a premium on midrange clarity and detail, imaging, and other aspects of sound will have very different equipment requirements than another person, say, with a bigger room and a desire for dynamics, bass extension, and image scale. 

That's why I find value in reading Stereophile Magazine.  Most of my system was purchased used, and I found their older product reviews very helpful in my selections.

misterc59's picture

At least 30k required for a "live experience"! If I were to think about becoming a little more serious about buying gear, I would call it quits if I heard that! Everyone has different listening experiences with MANY types and costs of gear. If someone feels they must spend 30k to achieve aural bliss, good for them. There are people in this hobby who can achieve more for less and need not be lectured this is not how it's done.

If someone feels they have heard every combination and permutation of equipment, good on them. I for one have not and refuse to put a price on what I may feel is a live musical experience, and yes, I do get out of the house to attend live performances. I believe 

this topic is to help expand the number of people who are considering buying or upgrading their quality of sound and listening experience? Then let's try to be constructive and help "newbies" enter this wonderful hobby and not squash their hopes/beliefs before they even begin.

Doctor Fine's picture

I actually have heard every possible permutation of gear under 30K and can attest that if you do not spend enough to achieve a 3D result you are an idiot.  It will NOT happen.

Nice try.  I love how idiots try so hard to impose their stupid idiocy on the rest of us.  Unfurtunately for you it actually takes a certain amount of money to achieve the "high end."  But attempt noted.  Well done...  Nice try....

Doctor Fine's picture

I was a Dealer running a HiFi chain store in the 70s.  We were dealing Sansui.  I took a tuner home.  A TU-X1.  It was very good perhaps amazing

Of course some of you young pups can't appreciate what it was to exerience REM and Velvet Underground.  I was stoked.

I bought a vinyl copy of Stevie Ray Vaughan and took it took my local college radio station to let them into what was happening at the time.  It has all ways been a fight to let people know what is going on.  I knew Jimi Hendrix when we were both teens and playing guitar in different bands.


misterc59's picture

You are right, the rest of us are wrong or woefully uninformed.

[rest of comment deleted by John Atkinson, who is weary of the bickering and flames and has had to delete too many comments this morning that fall into that category. Please address the argument and not the arguer.]

Doctor Fine's picture

Hmmm.  I was just trying to be helpful.  I merely shared my trained observation that to be a "world class" stereo that actually DOES all the magical things correctly one has to invest a set amount of dough or it will NOT happen.

You can have a LOT of fun racing prams at the local yacht club.  But to race in the Americas cup you will need a budget of many millions. 

I started out with just a decent pair of headphones.  I used to be poor.  Even today I have a separate headphone setup using a dedicated DAC, a tube headphone amp and some HD650s.  Sounds fab and hooks up to my computer for under two grand.

But I myself spent many years wandering in the wilderness wondering just what the point of the high end really WAS.  What do you spend money on and what is the justification for it?

I accidentally heard a great set working well in a room one day and that was when it dawned on me that there IS a set of quality parameters involved in a "world class" CORRECT---does it ALL system.

And I am truly sorry it cost money.  Joining a country club costs money.  A BMW sports car costs money.  Fine Cuban cigars cost money.

Please do not cry.  Instead say "thank you Doctor Fine.  I will now go out and try to find a properly set up world class system so that I have a clue what the fuss is all about."

I suppose I myself could be quite happy with less than a full system.  Well put together systems are FUN at any price level including used gear off Ebay (when it works).

But I wish somebody had been able to sit me down and show me what I could even AIM for so that I would not waste money time and effort floundering around in ignorance.

If this makes you all furious with me I am sorry.  I can not do anything about how much it costs for a new BMW either...

What is truly exciting about our hobby is that it is capable of providing a real "time machine" with 3D images of real live performers in a real live space.  Once you understand what is possible you can be happy with whatever competitive system you can afford.  You will KNOW what you are doing and WHY.  You will understand what money buys and what to not waste money on.

For gosh sakes, have some FUN.  And don't shoot me because I happen to have lived through all these wars...  With luck someday you young ones will be old crusty f*rts just like me.  Sitting there rocking away on the front porch and snapping your red suspenders at all the pretty young girls that won't look your way anymore.  Sigh.

Doctor Fine's picture

Here's what drives me nuts---the home audiophile industry keeps asking "why are we treated like fools---and WHY are young people not attracted to our approach?"

I figured out maybe 20 years ago that the HOME industry needed to have a set of standards.  A reference.  A way to set up whatever pile of gear you own so that it WORKS correctly.

The Professional Recording industry was coming to the exact same conclusion at the same time.  They started buying Pass Amps.  Using high quality wiring.  Building acoustically HELPFUL installations.

The recording industry mix and mastering rooms became sounding all alike and much better than before.  You could make a recording and it would sound the SAME on good domestic gear as it did in the studio!  A MIRACLE!!!

They discovered good sound was CORRECT sound.  Just have a look at the gorgeous coffee table book that I just got in the mail.  Over 150 gorgeous, remarkably similar recording mix and master playback rooms all designed by RA.  Recording Architecture.  A British firm known world wide for leading the charge and building CORRECT rooms.  The rooms all LOOK different but each has the exact same tuning goals and performs consistently from room to room.

They prefer ATC monitors.  A lot of my recording friends use 802s.  Tony Faulkner uses Quad electrostats!  These guys are looting our gear and we are not returning the favor.  Instead we praise snake oil and have a cult of personality thing going for certain technologies that perform poorly as though their BAD results are PREFERRED!  I like variety just as much as the next guy but a tool either works properly or it does NOT.  All the BS and snake oil makes us a laughingstock.

The PRO ROOMS are built to HELP the acoustics and we are NOT talking a bunch of foam glued everywhere.  These rooms WORK.  You can hear what is in the recording and where things are (soundstaging).

So I come back to little old audiophile land and get hollered at "We don't NEED no stinkin standards!"  I mean you would think I killed your dog or something.  Invective. 

All because I believe that along with the FUN of mucking around with audio there is an actual REFERENCE way to build a correct system and then there is the BS way to build a system.  Both can sound GOOD.  Only one actually is a well made tool and the other is just a lot of nice junk piled together to show off how much you spent.

Get mad.  Hate me.

But you want to know why and what is killing the "high end?"  It promotes BS instead of a balanced approach to a quality outcome.

You brought this upon yourselves.

John Marks's picture

Were you aware of my review of that book?

I have time and again, since AD 2000, in the pages of Stereophile, written that getting good sound in the home is more like selecting a good interior decorator than buying a can of paint.

Perhaps the analogy was too obscure...

I have also noted that home theater has it all over stereo retailing in that HT customers pay for value-added services, such as installing a screen and calibrating a projector, or they don't get them. Whereas the stereo store dealer model has been in a race to the bottom the result of which is that people expect both ruinous discounts AND value-added services that are thrown in for free.

The above is a major and poorly-understood aspect of the rational decision by audio businesses to migrate upward. It's a lot less painful to give white-glove service as part of the sale of loudspeakers costing $35,000 a pair than it is to do the same for loudspeakers costing $3,500 a pair.

John Marks

DaveinSM's picture

I don't agree that you can set an objective "reference" or "standard" for an audio stereo system.  Far too many variables, and it depends on so many factors: room size, room acoustics, musical preferences, etc., etc.

If such an end-all, "REFERENCE" or "standard" system by which all others are measured were to exist, it would cost millions of dollars and be larger than a house... and even then, it could become antiquated within a number of years.  It's much too simplistic to consider such a thing for state-of-the-art audio.

Two other examples:

CD, which at the time of its introduction was considered to be the end-all of audio fidelity, is now finding its limits and there has been a market for better produced, better mastered, higher fidelity SACDs, DSD, and even analog records.  

THX for home theaters.  Loosely adapted from movie THX experiences, it has a lot of boom factor and has improved the performance of even more affordable home theaters, particularly subwoofers and the like.  But if you set this system as the bar for your ultimate home theater experience, time may prove that you set your bar too low.

The "reference" and state of the art in audio is always moving forward, so to pin it down and set it in stone is not only futile, it would also to be foolish.  

Regadude's picture

I would just like to offer this concise rebuttal to Dr. Fine. I completely and utterly disagree with the argument and opinions you have put forth.

That is all. 

tmsorosk's picture

Well said . 

jsm59's picture




Doctor Fine's picture

Gotcha.  Is that all you got? 

I already predicted you guys would say "we don't NEED no stinkin Standards."

I disagree with you both completely totally and unequivocally.

That is even more powerful than YOUR disagreement.  So THERE.  And double THERE.  And I TRIPLE there and so forth to INFINITY!  I WIN!

Regadude's picture

Yup, you win. Now that you are a "champion", feel free to go win elsewhere... 

Doctor Fine's picture

To uphold a standard of excellence.  Something which is missing in action from your approach apparently.

You still have no intelligent response to my discovery that "Standards" of what a stereo is supposed to do as a tool are needed---badly---if the High End is to be worth more than simply ego tripping lavish spending and bad audio.

As for your invitation for me to "go get lost" I started this hobby before there was FM stereo (it was originally one AM radio and one FM radio playing different stations!).

I do not need to be included in YOUR world.  You need to be worth including in mine which has a rich history of excellence.  Step up your game please and stop the put downs.  Say something about the topic please as JA rightfully requested.

I can not help it if you resent me and feel threatened.  Not my problem.


Doctor Fine's picture

[flame deleted by John Atkinson. Both you and RegadDude have made excellent contributions to this thread. But please address the argument, not the arguer]

When will you...actually discuss the question? ...

Regadude's picture

I have plenty to say. Just not to you fine Doc...

[text deleted by JA]

Dr. Dinsdale's picture

I have read all of these postings and have also given this topic a lot of thought over the years.  I have been a happy audiophile camper for 40 years, often scraping up  just enough summer job money to plunk down on a new turntable or set of speakers.  I really don't think that the high end is suffering only because components have dramatically increased in price. People who value a particular activity or object will pay what they believe is a fair price to participate.  My budget - even now-  is set at the level that I can afford and focused on components that hopefully provide a significant improvement in my listening experience.  For me, I don't care that there are unaffordable components, as long as there still are enough choices when I'm ready to upgrade.  (It is fun to read and dream, however.)  I do believe that the price of entry into high-end audio can still be affordable.

One of my concerns is that there are now few local audio dealers who will carry entry level up to the high end, with the business plan of building a customer base for years.  Most of the stores that I frequented in years past are now gone, replaced by the mammoth marketers of home audio like Best Buy.  Auditioning any component at a Best Buy store, if even possible, would be extremely frustrating.  The high end dealers that remain, as stated often here, seem to be mainly courting the high income customer - often with a condescending attitude to the rest of us.  A closed door instead of an open one.

My other concern is the value placed on listening to music as an active hobby.  I remember (beware - old man recollection coming!) when we would wait in line at the store for new records just released by popular artists.  Now people line up for the latest iPhone.  When friends come over to listen to my setup, they are usually impressed with the sound.  However, I rarely get a call back to ask me how to help them upgrade their systems.  It's almost like they're thinking, "That's great... for him!"  Most of my non-audiophile friends do not engage in music listening as an activity.  It's in the background while they do other things.  Music listening as a value has truly taken a back seat to other recreational pursuits and distractions.

Saving the stereo?  Better access to entry level, quality components and increasing the value that young people place on active listening.  Wish us all luck!



planzity's picture

Mfrs,. and retailers are both to blame

 I bought Arcam from a  nice reputable dealer, just before the franchise was canceled because they only sold 3 Arcams/month --$70K yearly in 1998 dollars not enough!)

Franchises, etc. make travel to a distant city to buy most reviewed items necessary. No mail order outside territory without personal visit, often 5 dealers or less in USA. Sometimes available in only 1 place in N. America, why are there positive reviews by your competitors about these un-obtainables? Would you order a preamp directly from the  Malaysian garage of its fabricator (real example of a Recommended Component several years.)

 Inquiries to most mfrs.are ignored (yes, some Customer Service people try to make the buyer want their stuff in a good way.)  Inquiries to retailers are often ignored. (Example: emailed franchise authorized "local"  rep. for Spiral Groove about $40K turntable twice, might have well dropped messages into kitchen grinder.) Many dealers operate in  the late  Mike Kay/Lyric NYC method of ignoring customers or treating as annoyances to make go away. Others appear even more psychotically narcisstic-controlling; I am not naming names. The good guys tend to operate out of their homes, cannot assume long-term viability if needed. (Which collapses first, the moving-coil cart. or the only business/person in 300 miles who has ever installed several successfully?)

If not for Music Direct, Audio Advisor, etc. and a few factory direct lines, would never bother with 2-channel super stereo.  Visiting Delaware stores in person generally worked out  well, geographically out of reach now.

 No Society can fix the mess unless it becomes a Buying Club for small-quantity  items otherwise not feasible for local purchase. And that would threaten most mfrs. and their guild business "model."

FrankZ's picture

...we live in the age of "speed". Of fast everything.. even joy. Everybody is in a hurry nobody has time for anything. We learned to depriciate quality over quantity and have a lust for shiny things, though less than necessary for us.

How that has to do anything with high end?
I read so many comments that had to do with equipment and price tags. This is the least of "our" worries when saving the stereo is involved when the actual reason is that the young does not have the time or the "education" to enjoy the stereo and all that comes with it.

How many of our children will go to a live concert in a theater?
How many have ever listen to any kind of music live in a place that acousticaly matters?

First we have to value the music and share the joy it brings with our youngs where it matters. Then they will try to find it or live it again at home. It doesn't matter if the equipment will be hi end or entry as long as they start to seek that joy. They will come to hi end according to their budget and every time will be happy for the little more they managed to get.

I cannot convince a young person that what he listen at his i-pod is scratch compared to a good pair of floorstanding speakers (and the rest of equipment).
Given the price difference but mostly his ignorance on live quality music he will laugh at me and tell me to go and meet my ancestors... He will claim the stereo dead since he can get so many channels and a audiophile recording worthless since he can get almost every song he thinks of free on the net. But certainly will do so because of his ignorance. Because he has not experienced the quality in his life yet.

Well, this is where I think we should start.

Before start throwing stones at me think it over.

Thanks and sorry for my poor english.

Montigne's picture


I was reading query results on Save The Stereo and found this lengthy thread that appears to have become just another random forum of internet ranters. Audiophilia requires playback equipment. Period. Spend your money however you want, but I'd recommend stopping the banter, and go listen to some music.

michael green's picture

I think in order to make a change you have to be active in doing something about the condition of stereo. My side of this has been investigating the sound itself. What I found shaped my views.

In 1990 I built the first tunable room, a room designed to test any type of acoustical /mechanical conditions. I did this because of the wide range of sound that this industry has. I toured for years listening to high end all over the world and realized that not one system in the world sounded like any other. Even when I took identical systems on tour with me and set them up with care (you saw me) they didn't sound the same any where. I was a part of setting up engineered systems using the very best test equipment (you read about it) and they didn't produce anything close to perfect sound and needed to be tweaked. I engineered recordings and was there through the record/mastering/playback process and saw first hand how every recording is different than every other one. All recordings have their own audio signal signature.

Do you understand what that means? I'm afraid many don't by reading reviews and comments. It means that if you set up a system to play a particular recorded signature it will not play the next recording that has a different signature at the same fidelity. I keep seeing, and have all my audio life, designers engineers and listeners alike trying to make this a "fixed" one size fits all process and it isn't, never has been. Why is this important to the topic? Because we have created an industry that is getting further from making things work instead of closer. We are making products that are not able to play a playlist of many types of music, and making it look like this is ok for the general public. The music lover has no desire to have an expensive system in their house that isn't good enough to tap their toes to, and do this with a large range of music selections.

After tons of tweaking, listening, traveling and talking to music listeners and more in and outside of the audiophile hobby I have come to a conclusion. The longer we keep making the "best system ever" without being able to make it variably tunable we will chase our own tails till there is no more high end audio to chase. We got so caught up in the dollar climb and the looks that we completely over looked the most important part. You will not be able to play a big selection of music if your system is fixed in a sound signature that can not play the different recordings. I don't care how many times our egos recreate the high end audio world if the public can play through a music list and we can't, why would they want "high end audio"? We created this tiny nitche and keep recreating it with the same problems built into it instead of backing up a little and seeing what it takes to make great sound and make it consistently. No one can come to me in this industry and tell me that they have a high end audio system that can play it all. If they did it would only be talk and debunked the first time someone went to their place and called BS.

I don't know why so many are willing to sit there with their ears shut and their minds closed.  Recordings have a signature, every part of your system has a signature, your room and conditions have a signature and you have a signature. What makes one think that they are going to pick a component or speaker or any other part or piece and it "just by plugging it in" is going to make all their music sound great and sound great on every recording and for everyone. I have heard more blame games in this industry than the US congress, and like the congress no one wants to look at the problem and actually fix it. The audio signal is meant to be tuned in to perform at it's set signature. You can plug and play all you want and still miss the signature of a recorded signal. Is this over your head? Than you need to ask, why are you doing this? You put together this great looking mass of metal and glass and composites and have the stories memorized of why this is better and how you have killed the vibrations, deadened the room and bought the perfect class matched componentry, and you have tamed the electric by building your own controlled power plant, yet it still can't play all the recordings in an average playlist, and you ask why doesn't someone want this?

Why are we not pulling more people in? We are not convincing listeners that what we have sounds better than what they have. Get real, face it, and take high end audio to the level it deserves to be and they will find it. At one time we were heading there then we clearly made a turn that made the public lose their interest. I saw it happen and said "if we don't step up high end audio is done". This doesn't mean the audiophile is done just these over built "fixed" non-flexible performers.  Why would I want a system that is at best hit and miss? I don't want to sit there and call "bad recording" everytime I can't make it sound good, I want to make it sound good. What's the use of listening to only a set few recordings the best you have ever heard them if you can't play anything but those few pieces of music at that level?

Good news for the music lover, even if the eyes of the high end audio are closed, now with the improvements in basic electronics the public is happy with their sound. I've been tuning some of these, what the audiophile would call, mid-fi systems and getting great sound when I apply my tuning. Actually when put side by side with the very best of the recommended components these products, because they are not over built, sound quite good on a wide range of music. This makes me ask, why are we still so stuck in trying to plug and play all these sonically fixed (non-flexible) products? They have their own particular signature sound, I get it no problem, but that sound is good to us for a while on certain recordings, till we hear a recording that sounds terrible on our system then we either blame the recording or look at changing our system.  Do we really not see what is going on?  We are trying to mix and match parts and pieces that are so finely tuned to "their" sound that they can't play anything outside of "their" sound.  Their sound might be the greatest thing since sliced bread if the conditions are identical to the designers place, but when you make products so dialed into a particular sound and try to make it do the same thing somewhere else you lose music content. You sit there and while the listener is jamming with his headset to Agualung, the best you can do is say how bad of a recording it is. 

The general public is not deaf anymore folks. Their walking around with music playing in their ears all day long, and you can say how bad it is all you want, and some of it is, but there's a large percentage that are listening to a soundstage that is a lot bigger than the ones most high end audio is producing. If I'm a music lover listening to my headphones and the music is all around me moving back and forth, front to back and with dynamics, shutting out the rest of the world, why would I want to listen to a tiny soundstage in a room and with a system that can only play a 8 feet wide 4 feet deep and 5 feet tall stage?  And listen to it with "I have a new____ on the way and it will be much better" being whispered to me. A system that is never quite there vs a big full soundstage that allows the listener to get lost in the sound. It doesn't sound like much of a choice to me and obviously isn't to the public either.

I do have a suggestion though besides slapping high end in the face and saying wake up. Why don't we make a high end audio hall of fame here in Las Vegas. A physical place where people can come and learn how to make good sound for them. They could learn the tricks and get help with their own private systems in their homes. It could be a service that was open to all designers and could work together with the CES and THE Show. It would have showcases of the different types of highend, and a room where a listener could come create their own sound.

If you want something to grip traction again you need to make it visable. You must remember that 95 percent of the worlds high end audio stores are no longer there, and shows as cool as they are don't produce the long term sound needed to show off a great system. We need to have a place that removes the guilt of $$$ and shows how to get a sound that suits the listener. There are many types of listeners and if we had a place that taught them how to get the different types of sound and how to tune in their choices it would make a world of difference and I think would even help the now generation of designers make even better, more flexible, products.

I got to be straight with you, the last few people who have come to my place after visiting the audio trade shows have said "why can't the show sound like this". The question is a good one and fair. The public is saying that their headphones plugged into their source is better than high end audio, at least what they are hearing and comparing to and with. I'm not saying that so don't point your guns at me, they are.

Look lets face it. It's game over for high end the way it was, but isn't that suppose to be what happens. Stereo is very much alive, bigger than ever and we have to realize that we have created a nitche that only delivers in part, and the world wants more.