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  • High-End Audio Is Dying?!?!

    How many times do we hear that statement? But I'm not so sure that I buy into that. In fact, I don't buy into that. Every industry as it matures, changes. While it seems that people are focussed on the expensive gear that seems highlighted at shows, they also seem to lose track that we also have more entry level equipment than at any time in the history of the hobby. Or better sounding entry level gear.

    I guess there's lots of different ways of looking at the puzzle.

    The same pie divided up more ways.

    A bigger pie divided up more ways.

    A smaller pie divided up more ways.

    Etc. Etc.

    For instance, it seems to me that we've never had a time in the areas of analog and digital there have been more manufacturers. Take digital for instance. When have we had more under $500 dacs that can be paired with a computer to serve as a digital front end? Or analog. When have we had a period with more turntable manufacturers? Or more choices? With the quality of the lower priced tables equalling what was considered SOTA years ago.

    Are things also being skewed because the quality of the best gear out there far surpasses that of past eras? And that's what people are focussing on. Or is it that companies have lost that trickledown technology eg. the top product serves as the test platform and that to write off the R&D costs for their lesser priced gear? Or is it that more transparency is needed so that consumers can really appreciate what value each product bring to the table. I could go on and on but I'll leave that to everyone else.
    Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
    Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
    ________________________________________

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  • #2
    Not sure if I would call it dying or going extinct as the dodo bird. If you view high end watches, exotic sports cars people are still buying those items and manufacturers just keep designing and building. They are not designing for the mass crowd that runs around happy and content with their smart phones and ear buds they design for that 1% (just picked a % based on my area and our local/regional audio club) that enjoys audio quality.

    Is all of this high End Audio dying stuff mainly related to the cost or the admission to be accepted by your audio peers , maybe BUT!

    Like all of life’s luxuries, it comes down to a matter of choice or more to the point the ability to choose.
    Chris
    ----------------------------------------------------------------
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    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by MylesBAstor View Post
      How many times do we hear that statement? But I'm not so sure that I buy into that. In fact, I don't buy into that. Every industry as it matures, changes. While it seems that people are focussed on the expensive gear that seems highlighted at shows, they also seem to lose track that we also have more entry level equipment than at any time in the history of the hobby. Or better sounding entry level gear.

      I guess there's lots of different ways of looking at the puzzle.

      The same pie divided up more ways.

      A bigger pie divided up more ways.

      A smaller pie divided up more ways.

      Etc. Etc.

      For instance, it seems to me that we've never had a time in the areas of analog and digital there have been more manufacturers. Take digital for instance. When have we had more under $500 dacs that can be paired with a computer to serve as a digital front end? Or analog. When have we had a period with more turntable manufacturers? Or more choices? With the quality of the lower priced tables equalling what was considered SOTA years ago.

      Are things also being skewed because the quality of the best gear out there far surpasses that of past eras? And that's what people are focussing on. Or is it that companies have lost that trickledown technology eg. the top product serves as the test platform and that to write off the R&D costs for their lesser priced gear? Or is it that more transparency is needed so that consumers can really appreciate what value each product bring to the table. I could go on and on but I'll leave that to everyone else.
      mega-priced audio seems to be on fire and flourishing in many parts of the world. Forbes reported there were ~200 newly minted billionaires in 2015 nearly 70% of them from China alone (surprise). To Chris' point we have many more hyper-cars available for sale than ever (>1$ million per copy) and don't get me started on watches. but what does all that have to do with high-end audio as we've known it?

      I've been at this hobby for a long while and it looks nothing like it did when I got involved, there are now many more players (mfrs) in the market but that's because its more global. We have respected brands sold in the US from Slovenia, Poland, Serbia and Greece (I never saw that coming!). But look at the demographic - and this is anecdotal - the vast majority of 'hobbyist' I see at US shows are now 60+ years old, i'm in the 50 year old camp and there seems to be fewer of us, under 30 and its a very small percentage. these aren't the kind of numbers that sustain an industry. I have dealer-friends in the business that have just closed their doors after 30+ years and another is hanging by a thread.
      TechDAS | Graham Eng | ZYX | B.M.C. | Boulder | Magico

      "Listening to Analogue music is an act of rebellion in a digital gulag" - Simon Yorke

      Comment


      • cpp
        cpp commented
        Editing a comment
        Rob the reason I mentioned high-end cars and high end watches is because in about every darn discussion on this very subject and the high cost of Audiophile equipment, they always mention high-end cars and freaking watches. But to my darn point, consumers will buy what they want regardless of cost and the manufacturers will build cars, watches, fancy boats and high-end audio equipment because there are those that like quality and performance regardless of age. Agree my $9k Rolex doesn't keep any better time than my casio. But tell that to those that buy expense stuff. Its like a $20k amp vs a $3k amp, they still let music play. But you have a good point about age. What I see at shows are the 45 and up crowd with a few young men mingling around. I'm 63 but I really don't base show attendance on age as a point on where a market is going. Quite a few of my friends own some expense equipment and their ages rank from late 30's to 75 years old. They don't go to shows, they always told me its not worth the time and cost unless one of the shows comes to the southern states. We lost two nice audio stores in Orlando years ago, people just didn't want to spend the capital is what they mentioned to me and the "box stores and internet " just took over. We still have a nice dealer in Daytona and a couple in Jacksonville but both have a huge business presence in HT to assist with rent.

    • #4
      This may sound strange, but hi-end audio is not the exclusive domain of audiophiles. Dedicated videophiles also have a high degree of interest in top quality gear. And many of them are not just buying entry-level high-end gear either. Additionally, they are spending thousands and thousands on proper room acoustics and design, etc.
      Dynavector DV20x2L MC cartridge - Genesis G7.1f speakers - Marantz Reference PM-KI-Pearl Int. Amp. - Oracle Audio Paris MkV turntable - Various Morrow & Valab/King cables

      Comment


      • #5
        There are many reasons to have some trepidation for the industry moving forward. Just some rambling thoughts...

        1. Economy, declining middle class, 20-30s more living at home, college debt... all adds up to less disposable income on luxury purchases. Many argue that the audiophile industry caters to the upper middle class and a minute percentage of the population, but I don't think it will survive on this demographic compared to past years. Things are much different now, unlike any time in our history. Someone just commented that posts on other forums are at an all-time low and products aren't selling like they used (compared to prior years). There are more options than ever before, but are there enough buyers for the flood of products? I'm fearing there can become too much supply and not enough demand. However, I am not as aware of international sales, so I am speaking more domestically in the US. Though I'm in my 30s, I am fearful a bit of my financial future, wondering how sustainable this hobby will be financially in the coming years?

        2. The decline of brick and mortar stores. How are younger people interested in high end audio ever going to get started and keep at it without local dealers? I live in Pittsburgh and there is MAYBE one dealer who I wouldn't buy my gear from (selection is very limited for my tastes). This industry is making it harder and harder to hear equipment, demo, and experience it. Sales are moving more to online which is difficult for any industry that is based on tangibility and experience, especially when items are in the thousands of dollars.

        3. Audio shows. I feel there needs to be a shift in how gear is presented and how it is marketed. Age and gender bias (middle aged, older males are favored) is palpable at shows and in general, the industry as a whole. Social Media is huge draw for and opportunity for develop relationships, but its meant more for the people already in the industry, not drawing new people in. Most people don't wake up one day and say "i want to get a really nice high end audio system." Most of us have a story.. families (for me, my dad had a record collection I inherited when he passed away), and many others. Just like any industry, it comes down to accessibility, affordability, and sense of need/want for the product in their daily lives. Maybe it is how products are marketed and portrayed that rubs people the wrong way? Or maybe people have no idea this hobby really exists or how fun it can be? There is a gap somewhere.

        Comment


        • #6
          i wish we would stop using the luxury watch example. No one ever claimed their luxury watch kept better time than a $50 digital watch. The most accurate watch I ever owned was a $50 Timex Ironman I used when I did foredeck on a custom racing sailboat years ago. A luxury watch is a statement about ownership and letting people you have the means to possess one. it is functional jewelry.
          High End Audio should not be viewed as a "luxury item", but rather an expression of actual better quality and sound. If high end can't claim better sound than run of the mill hi-fi gear, then there is no reason for it to exist. There has been a huge shift towards positioning high end audio as a luxury item over the past 15 years or so, and it is not good for the industry.
          Steve Lefkowicz
          Senior Associate Editor at Positive Feedback
          -
          Analog 1: Linn LP12 (MOSE/Hercules II), Ittok, Dynavector 10X5 MK.II Low, iPhono2/iPowerX; Analog 2: Pro-Ject RPM-1 Carbon, Talisman S, iFi iPhono.
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          Speaker cables: Morrow Audio SP4, Vermouth Audio Red Velvet, Audioquest Type 5
          Digital cables: Aural Symphonics USB, iFi Gemini twin-head USB.
          Accessories: Sound Organization turntable shelf, Mondo racks, Pangea Audio Vulcan rack, Pi Audio Group Über BUSS, Monster HTS2000 power conditioner, Kinetronics anti-static brush, Pro-Ject VC-S record cleaner, Spin Clean record cleaner.
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          Comment


          • Johnny Vinyl
            Johnny Vinyl commented
            Editing a comment
            You hit the nail square on the head.

          • Analog21
            Analog21 commented
            Editing a comment
            I agree in some sense with how the term "luxury" is used. The watch may not be a great example, but most "luxury" items serve a dual purpose. They serve as a statement of ownership but most do perform better in some sense or better crafted, etc. Steinways and Bosendorfers do sound better and are luxury items in many peoples homes. Audi, Mercedes, and other 'luxury' sedans are more comfortable, have a quieter cabin, more features, a smoother ride, etc. I think most see a correlation between luxury and price, regardless of whether it is a statement piece or serves a purpose. Even the watch is not just about a statement piece, but is important as a fashion statement. Many regard high end fashion in the same light as those view the home audio industry. Does a Dolce & Gabbana suit that cost $4000, Gucci sweater, Tag Heuer watch make a statement? Yes they do. But for some of us, it looks good as much as it makes a statement. Some may not value a $10k watch, and outsiders may only look at it as a pretentious object to own, others may value it as a piece of jewelry which makes the entire fashion portrayal of how we look better, which is most important to us. It is all in what you value regardless of one thinks it is useless. Does it tell time better? No. But does it look better, yes it does. It is just coming at it from a different angle, but it is still there, in my opinion. But I agree, some just buy a Prada purse because they can. Just as some just buy the best in audio because they can. Regardless of whether it is right, I think luxury will always be associated with price, regardless of performance or not. Luxury by definition is more about buying something than most others cannot afford. It doesn't care whether it performs better, but whether it costs more. Just my 2 cents, imho.

        • #7
          Video killed the radio star.
          Personal computers killed audiophilia.

          Think about it!

          Dynavector DV20x2L MC cartridge - Genesis G7.1f speakers - Marantz Reference PM-KI-Pearl Int. Amp. - Oracle Audio Paris MkV turntable - Various Morrow & Valab/King cables

          Comment


          • Analog21
            Analog21 commented
            Editing a comment
            I think it is like a pendulum. Another article I read stated the mass audio market has been all about convenience and exploiting that aspect of audio, many are now wanting higher quality more and more. Tidal and other streaming services are upgrading for this reason, and the convenience factor has reached its extreme. I think more are wanting higher sonic performance, and it is up to marketers and manufacturers to reach this target demographic.

        • #8
          Originally posted by Rob View Post

          mega-priced audio seems to be on fire and flourishing in many parts of the world. Forbes reported there were ~200 newly minted billionaires in 2015 nearly 70% of them from China alone (surprise). To Chris' point we have many more hyper-cars available for sale than ever (>1$ million per copy) and don't get me started on watches. but what does all that have to do with high-end audio as we've known it?

          I've been at this hobby for a long while and it looks nothing like it did when I got involved, there are now many more players (mfrs) in the market but that's because its more global. We have respected brands sold in the US from Slovenia, Poland, Serbia and Greece (I never saw that coming!). But look at the demographic - and this is anecdotal - the vast majority of 'hobbyist' I see at US shows are now 60+ years old, i'm in the 50 year old camp and there seems to be fewer of us, under 30 and its a very small percentage. these aren't the kind of numbers that sustain an industry. I have dealer-friends in the business that have just closed their doors after 30+ years and another is hanging by a thread.
          But is that because the business model has changed since the advent of the internet? At one time, if you wanted to buy high-end gear, you had to go to a dealer or call the dealer and order the gear over the phone. Now the vast majority of high-end gear is a mouse click away from either buying it direct from the manufacturers or buying it from dealers who are selling out of their homes.
          Micro Seiki SX-8000 table with flywheel, SME 3012R arm, SME 312S arm, Lyra Etna SL and Dynavector XV-1S cartridges, ARC Ref 3 phono stage, Otari MX-55 tape deck, Ampex 350 repros, Roon Nucleus Plus server, PS Audio DSJ DAC, ARC Ref 6 pre, ARC Ref 75 amp, JBL 4345 speakers, and Def Tech Ref subs.

          Comment


          • #9
            As the Baby Boomers get older, the high end audio market is shrinking and changing.

            Young people along with everyone else are listening to more music today than ever before - on their computers, iPods, smart phones, car radios and streaming into their homes. If we made our way from 8-tracks, cassette tapes and compact stereos with built-in turntables to high end audio, no doubt many of them will, too. The challenge with the demise of B & M stores is to expose them to high end audio quality. Headphones are one way they can be exposed and more audio shops have headphone listening bars. And hopefully the regional audio shows will provide an entry for them.
            Thiel 7.2s, Manley NeoClassic 250s, Wadia 850, MIT Oracle V3 speaker cables, MIT MI-350 Oracle interconnects, Black Diamond Racing Shelves and Cones in a dedicated room with ASC Tube Traps, Room Tunes and 3 X 20 amp dedicated circuits.

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            • #10
              Me thinks five years from when this conversation started, there are now more components and at higher price points to choose from than ever. Does anyone have an opposing opinion, or noticed a down turn?
              TechDAS | Graham Eng | ZYX | B.M.C. | Boulder | Magico

              "Listening to Analogue music is an act of rebellion in a digital gulag" - Simon Yorke

              Comment


              • #11
                Originally posted by Rob View Post
                Me thinks five years from when this conversation started, there are now more components and at higher price points to choose from than ever. Does anyone have an opposing opinion, or noticed a down turn?
                Agreed,
                1. Wealth has been further concentrated to the new emerging geographies and by old folks with money. I wonder if we asked Gryphon, Goldmund, Rowland etc. where their primary markets are what they would say?
                2. Real wages for the middle have not kept up with taxation and inflation for the past 25 years. I have multiple environmental taxes on natural gas and electricity for every utility bill - I live in Canada where I'm 25 miles from Niagara Falls and the largest hydro electric plant , we have copious amounts of gas, oil, lumber and minerals- we are now being taxed even further for our own resources.
                3. Audio as we know it on this forum is not ubiquitous to the 25 and under crowd- physical streamers and DACs... their mode to enjoy- are buds and a phone
                4. The very thing that makes music more accessible to all- digital technology ,as in streaming- is killing the numbers of people introduced to the category- more specifically, the power of the cell phone. Who has the physical space to keep the hardware - based on our living conditions and priorities- things get bigger and heavier and more expensive annually.
                5. By most counts the industry has had a banner 18mos- largely driven by #1
                6. Global accessibility, "cheap" design platforms, CAD, social media has made it easier than ever to enter the high end manufacturing marketplace.
                7. As old folks with money leave this earth and the shift to emerging geographies continues, more expensive products will continue to be manufactured with fewer sold.
                8. I think we are in a peak of entrants within the category, the cost of entry is far too high for younger people who, for the most part, are not even aware of what is available because of #2 and more importantly probably don't care.
                9. My kids are 19 and 24 both are still in University, I take un- official , un- scientific polls when their friends come over here , none of them are aware or interested in what I have. Sure they find it curious , like a train wreck, but they're not interested. Heck, most of them uber and don't even have their own car. Much different than the right of passage of a rusted out vehicle and muntz or craig stereo the moment I turned 16.
                10. Times have changed.
                Front end: Aesthetix Io Eclipse with 2 Power Supplies and Volume controls
                Brinkmann Balance & RonT Tube Power supply with Kuzma 4-point ,FR64S, Brinkmann 12.1 , .Koetsu Jade Platinum,Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum, Lyra Atlas, Lyra Etna SL Goldfinger Statement, KLAUDIO RCM, HRSM3X
                Amps: Wyetech Topaz, Futterman H3 Quad II,Citation II, Marantz 8b, 5 ,2
                Pre-Amps:Marantz 7, Marantz Model 1 Consolette Pair
                Speakers: Quad ESL 57, Beveridge Model 3 DD amps, REL S/2 x 2
                Otari 5050BXII, DeHavilland 222

                Comment


                • Rob
                  Rob commented
                  Editing a comment
                  interesting comments. I read somewhere the boomer generation in the US will pass down 70 trillion dollars to their heirs over the next two decades or so. I see it now with kids we hire for entry level positions driving Teslas and living in apartments near the water, its not off what we pay them! The high end dealer a few blocks from my office gets walk ins that plonk down 50k in one visit and they just 'stopped in' to flip through records and walk out with a system. It has rejiggered the way I look at economics, there's lots of disposable income out there.

                • kcin
                  kcin commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Interesting observations Rob. The priorities of young people have certainly changed ( teslas, and condos by the water). The 50K walk-ins- well I still believe those are special people and not what we necessarily need to grow this hobby. Certainly, manufacturers are catering to those kinds of clients with what I believe is a shrinking high end target market.

                  We will see if transferred wealth drops in the high end bucket. With the average family home here at 1.2M and a 400 sq ft condo at 700K that cash will be competing for other things I'm sure.

              • #12
                High end audio has definitely entered the luxury goods category. Take a look at the cost of the new Thorens TD124DD and that of the original TD124 when it was first released. After accounting for inflation (admittedly, the official CPI by the Federal Reserve has deliberately understated inflation since the late 1970s), it is 3 times more expensive. Also look at the first generation of super loudspeakers such as the Infinity IRS, and compare the price to the current top end offerings. The same goes for amplifiers. What you would pay for the most expensive amplifier in the 1980s and the most expensive ones today. Can you argue that the top loudspeakers and amplifiers today are that much better than average, or that their cost of production is that much higher ? I would say the extra cost pays for the "luxury factor", the cachet for being able to afford "the best".

                Comment


                • #13
                  Originally posted by adrianwu View Post
                  High end audio has definitely entered the luxury goods category.
                  It did that decades ago. FWIW most high end audio manufacturers have done very well in the last year or so. The big question is, when the pandemic is over, will the boom continue? Just for our own part we're seeing more customers that are a bit younger than we've seen in the past.

                  Comment


                  • adrianwu
                    adrianwu commented
                    Editing a comment
                    As they say, rising tide lifts all boats. Stocks, bonds, real estate, crypto, NFTs, old masters, modern art, wine, luxury yachts, Hi Fi, and even tulips.... The only thing not lifted is the income of low wage workers. This feels like the year 2000 on steroid. Lots of young people staying home speculating, sorry, investing in Bitcoin, Gamestop and NFTs. Why bother to work if you can make a month's wages with a few keystrokes ? What happens in the end is not hard to foresee, and we won't need to wait too long. So, make hay while the sun shines.

                • #14
                  That is an interesting question, Myles. Are you speaking from the manufacturer/designer's point of view or from the hobbyists? I think there is some overlap, but they can also be viewed quite differently.

                  In my case, the audio hobby, is alive and well, but it is no longer the current "high end". After about twenty years in the hobby and buying 30 or so different components of all types in each category, I have switched direction completely and have bought what may well be my final system. It is vintage gear with a DIY rack, NOS no name cables, and power cords. I have never been more satisfied and pleased with the sound. This is good audio like I have rarely heard it, but it has nothing to do with the current state of the industry. I am now focussing on music, and that too is older existing original LPs. In a sense, I have left the "industry", but am still embracing the "hobby".

                  In my small circle of ten or so audio buddies, each has a fairly different approach. This makes it all quite fascinating. Personally, I would like to see more efficient/easy to drive speaker designs. Like with many things, there are just so many ways to approach this great hobby. I do not really know where that leaves high end audio. It certainly seems to be evolving and adapting to changing conditions. I am no longer sure how much it is improving though.
                  System link: https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threa...l-sound.32867/
                  Micro Seiki SX8000 II, SME 3012R, vdH Colibri GC 0.25 mV
                  Lamm LP2.1 Deluxe, Lamm LL1 Signature, Lamm ML2.
                  Vitavox CN-191 corner horns, NOS cables, Ching Cheng power cords

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                  • #15
                    Originally posted by PeterA View Post
                    That is an interesting question, Myles. Are you speaking from the manufacturer/designer's point of view or from the hobbyists? I think there is some overlap, but they can also be viewed quite differently.

                    In my case, the audio hobby, is alive and well, but it is no longer the current "high end". After about twenty years in the hobby and buying 30 or so different components of all types in each category, I have switched direction completely and have bought what may well be my final system. It is vintage gear with a DIY rack, NOS no name cables, and power cords. I have never been more satisfied and pleased with the sound. This is good audio like I have rarely heard it, but it has nothing to do with the current state of the industry. I am now focussing on music, and that too is older existing original LPs. In a sense, I have left the "industry", but am still embracing the "hobby".

                    In my small circle of ten or so audio buddies, each has a fairly different approach. This makes it all quite fascinating. Personally, I would like to see more efficient/easy to drive speaker designs. Like with many things, there are just so many ways to approach this great hobby. I do not really know where that leaves high end audio. It certainly seems to be evolving and adapting to changing conditions. I am no longer sure how much it is improving though.
                    Peter I absolutely love what you have done.

                    The statement pieces of the Micro Seiki and corner speakers are pathways to the past yet, they have really not been superseded by modern technology in many ways. You have grounded the system in a vision of old technology (tubes) with clean new thinking- Lamm.

                    This approach won't work for manufacturers - they have to cart blocks of aluminum and stainless around to machine and gold plate in order to appeal to the ever shrinking market of audiophiles with lots of resources. They have to survive the shrinking market.

                    When engineers could solve for more power within a lighter cheaper package- transistors- complex speakers with power sucking crossover networks were born and here we are with caps the size of coke cans and inductors with wire a block long in the most prestigious speakers today with amps that are couple of hundred pounds per side necessary to drive them----and the inaccessibility of many to get there because space or resources .

                    Many audiophiles in this category of means, really want new and the effort and risk of vintage is just not going to work for them either.

                    If I could find a Micro like yours I'd be all over it or a Melco from the same era- You and I are a niche within a niche.

                    Is high end dying, probably. New comers have so many more diversions with easy to use technology and competition for their resources that we will never see the kind of numbers of interest experienced in the heyday of the 60's-70's and even 80's ( not withstanding some serious recessions).

                    I really want to see what the high end looks like in 25 years- when the last of the diehards loose the ability or agility to sustain their interest.


                    Front end: Aesthetix Io Eclipse with 2 Power Supplies and Volume controls
                    Brinkmann Balance & RonT Tube Power supply with Kuzma 4-point ,FR64S, Brinkmann 12.1 , .Koetsu Jade Platinum,Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum, Lyra Atlas, Lyra Etna SL Goldfinger Statement, KLAUDIO RCM, HRSM3X
                    Amps: Wyetech Topaz, Futterman H3 Quad II,Citation II, Marantz 8b, 5 ,2
                    Pre-Amps:Marantz 7, Marantz Model 1 Consolette Pair
                    Speakers: Quad ESL 57, Beveridge Model 3 DD amps, REL S/2 x 2
                    Otari 5050BXII, DeHavilland 222

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