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Where is the industry headed...? Hi Fi and Video in a Globalized Economy...

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  • Where is the industry headed...? Hi Fi and Video in a Globalized Economy...

    This review by John Johnson Jr titled: THE “DECLINE” IN HIGH-END AUDIO SALES: A NEW OUTLOOK


    suggests that we should all hop out and invite our friends over to preview our wondrous systems and be converted or enlightened. Actually this reminds me of a certain Pono manufacturer...

    There are so many forces acting on and inside this industry it almost defies description...and thus becomes even more challenging to predict the future of. Forces like:

    1. Incomes and economies...the rise of secondary European economies and guild scale AV builders, what really are the key drivers of new equipment and technology?? Artisnal passion, or real world business models...likely both...

    2. New technologies...esp. the drive towards digitisation and the counter drive towards analog experiences

    3. Demographic talent mobility, expanding the middle income bracket whilst crunching the not haves...and the rise in China and other third world markets of Millionaires and Billionaires...

    Just to name a few.

    I love the fact that I can access so much whilst stuck in a very dry region, the middle of the Middle East where in some quarters music is considered haram. And I can access Voxativ, MBL, Andrew Johnson, UK PMC, emerging brands from Aries Cerat Kassandra an endless stream of new tech and new largely virtual experiences...including this website and forums.

    The rise of online...multi-media Journalism is a major force in globalising AV today. Of course it is probably proportional to your age and interest most likely...but Facebook, YouTube and Online Journals now make it possible for everyone at every level to find friends and socialise / influence and interact with one another. Knowledge spreads so much faster today...

    And with that so do the forces driving consumers...segments are defining and being broken apart with increasing speed towards specialisation...all of these in a virtual world.

    Whew I'm exhausted just thinking about it all. Time to engage my AV system to get some relief...;-) This should get the topic started Miles...;-) Thanks for the space here for this...let's see how serious we get.
    Is High-End Audio Declining? Take a look at Dr. Johnson's Editorial - The “Decline” in High-End Audio Sales: A New Outlook.
    John M. Read PhD CPsychol;
    Oppo 103D SE, Cocktail Audio X40 SE, Marantz TT15S1 turntable. Marantz AV8802A SE, Burmester 897 Upgraded with phonostage. Emotiva XPA5, Marantz MM8077 SE, Finale Galliard 829B SE, Line Magnetic 518ia (SG Ver). Time Portal interconnect cables. Furman Elite Pfi 20, Power Transformer. PMC Twenty26, Sound Dynamics Centre and Bookshelf Dipole rears, Atacama stands, MartinLogan in-ceilings and rears, IDEA & Velodyn 12" subs. All SE by The Upgrade Company, Michigan USA.

  • #2
    The Noose- (sorry, I don't know your proper name): I think the article in some ways states the obvious in terms of the general financial situation (e.g. the global meltdown) and oversimplifies the solutions- e.g. make more high end equipment available for purchase via online retailers. I'm a little younger than the author, but one of the first high-end systems I heard, a little later in the '60s, was also a double set of KLH 9s driven by Marantz tube amps (of '60s vintage, though then they were new). Looking back, this stuff may seem like a relative bargain by today's prices, but it was expensive, and very few people, to my knowledge, had such equipment in their home. To get music at home, they might spend enough for a decent console system in the '60s, or by the '70s, when the solid state receiver and bookshelf speaker became ubiquitous, buy what--by the standards of the time--was a a "good" average consumer hi-fi and be done with it. The market for high-end at that time (when The Absolute Sound and Stereophile were flourishing) was a niche, and the hobby was also something that people with disposable income were willing to buy into. Today, though the prices are magnitudes greater for the "uber" gear, I think the relative size of the market may be about the same- on the one hand, you have a lot of people who have large amounts of money (many more millionaires than in the '60s, though being a millionaire isn't all that meaningful today) and probably about the same proportion of the population that is willing and able to spend a considerable sum for hi-fi gear. Despite all the hand-wringing over the last several decades about the "death of the high end," I don't think many companies are in this market to make big money and don't think 6 figure components are ever going to be attractive to the vast majority of people who just want something that "sounds good."
    We are, for better or worse, hobbyists-- some who are building or designing their own gear, some who can afford to buy the best new, and a considerable number who put systems together by upgrading or buying used, to assemble what they want over time. However we got here, I think it takes a special sort to say, "you know, I'm going to go spend 20 or 50 or 100 thousand dollars on an [amplifier/pair of speakers/turntable/whatever]. Most folks I know that are in a position to do that want to hear it first- and that may mean a hi-fi show, dealer showroom, or ideally, but probably most difficult, home trial.
    Set up is key. Turntables require some know-how to set-up. You don't have to be an MIT graduate, but you do have to know something. So, direct to consumer for that may work on the lower end, but I doubt it's going to be very helpful without a local set up person, dealer or knowledgeable friend.
    The idea of the "pop-up" store is a good one, and might enable manufacturers and dealers to expand their reach to areas that don't have permanent dealerships-- at least in the States, there are apparently vast areas where no good dealer exists.
    Internationally, I cannot address what happens in the Mid-East. Leaving aside some of the cultural issues, I know for people with means, there is always a way--there were a number of people involved in exotic cars who were very serious about the pursuit located in various Mid-Eastern countries. I suspect the same is true in Russia and China. But perhaps this is only the very wealthy and the professional class and others with good incomes, but without unlimited funds, find it much more difficult to acquire the hi-fi gear they want.
    At bottom, most of the favored hi-end manufacturers are relatively small shops. (Yes, some have been acquired or backed by larger corporations, but I think that's the minority). At least in the States, where there is no dealer, people get their exposure by traveling to high end audio shows. (Whether they actually make a purchasing decision based on a show audition is something I am not sure about).
    To paraphrase Mark Twain, the death of the hi-end has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, if you look at the history of the motor car (something arguably more essential to most people than a decent hi-fi system), you will see that some of the greatest cars in the history of the industry were built on the cusp, or in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930's.
    So, I don't think there is a direct correlation between the general state of the economy for average people and what people who are buying luxury goods of any kind (houses, cars, yachts, horses, art, etc) are willing to spend for their toys.


    • #3
      Another side of the global economy?
      By the time you read this (probably a month after it is written, judging by the speed with which the US mails speed second-class matter on its appointed rounds), Capitol Records will have announced the first bit of really good news for the high-fidelity perfectionist in years: the release of imported disc pressings—taped, cut, and stamped in Europe. London has been importing for years—all the Londons you buy are pressed by Decca in England. But this will be the first opportunity we will have of sampling the products of some of London's overseas competitors.
      Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
      Senior Editor,

      -Zellaton Plural Evo speakers
      -Goldmund Telos 440 and 1000 Nextgen mono amps
      -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
      -Doshi EVO and Goldmund PH3.8 phonostage
      -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
      -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
      -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, vdh Colibri Master Signature, Mutech Hayabusa,
      -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
      -Assorted cables including Skogrand, Kubala-Sosna, Audience FrontRow; Audience FrontRow, Genesis Advanced Technologies , Goldmund and Ensemble Power Cords
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      • #4
        Bill, John here, thanks for a thorough review of the article. Today the geography of hi Fi is very very different to the 60/70's and even 80/90's. Largely outside of the USA. China Europe and Asia are renaissance markets for hi Fi production and consumption. The result is spillage back into the USA. Second trend I see is the ongoing rise of artisinal producers in the USA, as well as China and of course Japan was always there.
        Because of the Internet we are far more connected between consumer and supplier limited only by our imagination and skill to use the Internet. Recently an American movie enthusiast was showing off his USA and UK copies of the UHD release of the movie Lucy.
        Each market segment is now a global segment, with local variations in distribution, supply chain, retail access and consumer culture. In my region there are retail outlets handling low, mid and hi end, just no Shows. No interest groups...I might start one in due course.

        The combination of global and local are what defines the new world of this hobby and its associated industry for me. And the widening perspectives of lifestyle and portability are expanding trends driving technology further along in all segments too.
        John M. Read PhD CPsychol;
        Oppo 103D SE, Cocktail Audio X40 SE, Marantz TT15S1 turntable. Marantz AV8802A SE, Burmester 897 Upgraded with phonostage. Emotiva XPA5, Marantz MM8077 SE, Finale Galliard 829B SE, Line Magnetic 518ia (SG Ver). Time Portal interconnect cables. Furman Elite Pfi 20, Power Transformer. PMC Twenty26, Sound Dynamics Centre and Bookshelf Dipole rears, Atacama stands, MartinLogan in-ceilings and rears, IDEA & Velodyn 12" subs. All SE by The Upgrade Company, Michigan USA.


        • #5
          Hi, John. Hard to argue with your observations about the combined effects of global markets and localized businesses. I suspect as digital continues to improve- both on the recording and playback sides, this will be a standard for high end in the home and analog only will be relegated to an even smaller niche within a niche. (Despite the so-called "boom" in vinyl sales, most of which seem to be derived from digital masters anyway, if not natively recorded in digital; my suspicion is that the bump in vinyl is not a reflection of the growth of the high end crowd).
          The other aspect to "market segments" is, for lack of a better term, the various "camps" or approaches to home reproduction at the high end- from the horn/SET crowd, to the big, power hungry dynamic speaker set up, to the modern, high tech front end (whether analog or digital) to the retro-antiquarian crowd. In a lot of cases, these different market segments or mindsets/approaches really don't cross-over much, but have benefitted enormously from the exchange of information on the Internet.
          I suppose you are correct that much of the renaissance is occurring outside of the U.S. and trickling back to us here--there is certainly a wide range of gear that I see photos of at Munich that never make it to these shores. But, without sounding nationalistic about it, think about how Lamm really brought SET into the mainstream of high end--if not by volume of sales, then at least by recognition that his SET was a real world product that sounded good. I suppose there are other examples from the States, too. It almost doesn't matter where the gear is made, which is, i think, one of your points--distribution is the harder problem (leaving aside issues like reliability and support). I think one of the biggest challenges to the high end is one that has existed from the get-go: rationalizing the expense and trouble of it (learning curve, product selection, set up and maintenance) to new entrants. None of that is daunting to the hobbyist, but has been an obstacle to the effort to reach a broader audience of potential buyers.