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Old-School Hi-Fi in Search of the New New Thing


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...they *HAVE TO* come downmarket. The raging political arguments have shown that only 2% of US residents have enough of a disposable income to afford this excrutiatingly expensive equipment/hobby.

 

The question of whether to buy this DAC with discrete output stage and tube preamplification, or a good used car is quite an unbalanced and unsustainable scenario.

 

Use more plastic, substitute MDF for walnut veneer from the Amazon etc. High end manufacturers have to come down or will take a starring role in Steven Speilberg's Jurrasic Audiophile.

 

 

Using carmakers as an example, Mercedes went downmarket by expanding the C class and making the smart car. BMW got the mini, and Audi, well, they got bought by VW:P Porsche didnt go dowmarket far enough with their Cayman models. Result? VW got them too:)

 

CD

 

 

 

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unless you believe the marketing!

 

 

If High End goes down market it won't be High End....anyway most manufacturers have a range of products across a range of price ranges so that is already being done....

 

Personally I think the real issue is that many people today don't place a great value on listening to recorded music, it has rather had it's thunder stolen by TV and Film.

 

 

 

Trying to make sense of all the bits...MacMini/Amarra -> WavIO USB to I2S -> DDDAC 1794 NOS DAC -> Active XO ->Bass Amp Avondale NCC200s, Mid/Treble Amp Sugden Masterclass -> My Own Speakers

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HDTV and now Blu-Ray are far ahead and why is that? The industry gave us a quality product and pointed out the improvements. Everyone bit. Now with over 300 channels, most of which are showing lame content (reality shows) we're hooked on high definition video to the point where we see a standard def TV most laugh.

 

The record industry is to blame for the high-end equipment manufacturers troubles. They refuse to give us high resolution downloads as they're "too close to masters"...what utter and complete BS. The networks and movie studios are doing it to great success. The record industry is too paranoid and closed-minded.

 

There will always be stratospherically priced playback gear as long as a HiFi industry exists. There are enough manufacturers that cover a large range from entry level on up to attract new customers. Not many people that I know of started driving an Aston Martin at age 16 when they got their license...

 

Computer-based audio is the future of music delivery. Whether or not the music industry will allow that future to be of high-fidelity is what should worry the equipment manufacturers.

 

Bill

 

 

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Mac Mini->Roon + Tidal->KEF LS50W

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You're right that the TV/Film industry has been very quick to jump on the high definition bandwagon, the main reason they have done this is to keep IPTV at bay.

 

HDTV and 3DTV require the sort of bandwidth that most peoples internet connection/infrastructure just cannot manage so that keeps them in a box.

 

But the point is valid, maybe if the record industry did seriously release HD Music it might revitalise the HIFI market place and make them some money too.

 

But then the record industry has never seemed very enlightened.

 

Trying to make sense of all the bits...MacMini/Amarra -> WavIO USB to I2S -> DDDAC 1794 NOS DAC -> Active XO ->Bass Amp Avondale NCC200s, Mid/Treble Amp Sugden Masterclass -> My Own Speakers

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The article notes a "preponderance of men over 50" at RMAF and implies that the whole hobby as we know it may just disappear one day as that demographic fades from the scene. As a junior member of that age category myself, I wonder if the crowd would have looked any different 25 years ago (realizing that RMAF show did not exist then and not to single out that particular event). I think that higher end audio has long required some level of disposable income to buy in and it's really never been cheap. In other words, buying a $350 piece of McIntosh gear in 1963 is about the same as spending $2400 on a DAC today adjusted for inflation. Sad but true. It's long been a pricey hobby at the higher end. An obvious change is that Apple has dramatically increased the size of the overall listening audience through the huge success of ipods, itunes etc. and there's now a large group that doesn't need to go to a bricks and mortar store to spend their money. Like that development or hate it, a question is how many of the younger folks will keep moving up the audio food chain over time from their starting points.

 

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DVD was a huge success that killed video cassettes.

HDTV and bluray are successfull in ending the SDTV era. Even the government got involved to free up bandwidth.

 

But the main reason that these technologies were so successful is because the improvements were glaringly easy to see:) The visuals just slam you in the face.

 

 

Show someone and speaker with diamond tweeters and a kevlar midrange. Do they "see" the improvement?

 

CD

 

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Chris, I do have to wonder if we're not living in a bubble here. Here on CA, we've all made the investment in computer audio, sure, but that isn't really what the mass market thinks of when they think of computer audio. They think of Apple, iPods and iTunes. DACs and amps and fancy cables are all irrelevant not to mention expensive. Why bother, they seem to say. And it's a valid question.

 

I think what Stone & Mercer are talking about is how to make the audiophile part more interesting to an iPod generation that has already decided that their audio quality is "good enough" for now (so let me spend that cash on a new iPod, iTV, or whatever else it is Apple is pushing, instead of spending it on audio gear).

 

I don't think that fidelity is the magic bullet that will kill Apple and save the hi-fi industry, and anyway, Apple can do fidelity faster than we can say "Cloud Computing". And with that offering, poof, the "good enough" baseline just got rather good indeed, which would make the argument that "there's still more to be had" much more difficult to make persuasive.

 

If the market segment really is shrinking, if the number of customers really are dwindling, I have to ask: will Apple ultimately be the undoing of the hi-fi industry as a whole?

 

Personally, I think the rumors of the demise of the audio industry are at best overstated. Did anyone else notice the upward trend in attendance at RMAF? Anyway, this is something that I've commented on rather extensively here already and in my blog, but still, it's an interesting problem that the hi-fi industry is facing. The question is, what can the they do about it?

 

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True, hearing a difference is harder for most than seeing it but I do think that most would hear the improvement.

 

tubes59, as a 33 year old I can tell you that I didn't even come close to the best of the best gear out there before I took a step back. My setup came to the point where I found myself buying some "audiophile" approved recordings that were not my taste but sounded good and listening to my favorite tunes less and less because they sounded dreadful, mostly a result of the loudness wars.

 

It was either change my taste in music and keep climbing up that ladder or enjoy the music I love on a lesser system. Again, the quality of the recording dictates the system. I've taken the same demo disc to countless HiFi stores and played it in their different rooms. The higher-fi I got the worse most of them sounded. I don't blame the equipment, I blame the recordings.

 

Bill

 

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Mac Mini->Roon + Tidal->KEF LS50W

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There's a relationship that's not being nourished. It's between the recording industry and the HiFi industry.

 

I haven't been to a HiFi show and I don't care to go because of the reports of how dull most of the music is and the less than ideal rooms you're hearing that muzak in. Those that bring music resembling something popular are often shunned from what I've always read over the years.

 

For S&Gs one day I went to my local HiFi shop and chatted up the owner as to why they don't partner with a great local independent record store just across town rather than trying to lure the Best Buy/Circuit City crowd. He looked at me as if I had 5 heads.

 

I left and headed down to that record store and made the same pitch to that owner, why not partner with the HiFi store, send them recordings to demo gear, they'll send you some gear to play in the store. I got the same look.

 

Maybe it's just me.

 

Bill

 

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Mac Mini->Roon + Tidal->KEF LS50W

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Hi Scot - I don't think we are living in a bubble here. High-end has always been a niche and always will be. However, high-end computer audio is a heck of a lot closer to the mass market than anything the high-end industry is doing now. Every dealer I talk to and conduct seminars for says the same thing. "We have to move in this direction, and I can't believe all the new faces in the store for a computer audio event." New faces = good for high-end audio.

 

I also think the demise of the high-end is overstated. Talking to manufacturers who are making great, not inexpensive, components that consumers want is refreshing. Their businesses are up hundreds of percentage points.

 

For some in the industry this will become a self fulfilling prophecy. Keep talking doom and gloom and it will lead right down the path of -> Out of business. Start talking about innovation and outsmarting the competition, now we are on to something. These companies are succeeding wildly.

 

We must keep in mind that not everyone who had an innovative Sony CD Walkman was into HiFi either. It would be cool if all iPod owners were into HiFi, but it's never been that way with any technology. There's always a small niche interested in the best of the best. Golf Country Clubs, Ferrari automobiles, Lear Jets and the like never capture the mass market but still have a healthy existence. Also, each has cheaper products that may bring some of the mass market into its fold. Hyundai > Honda > Acura > BMW > Bentley > Bugatti > etc... There's a continuum. The new Hyundais are looking very nice for very little money. The newest Bugattis are priced even more than the previous models and have even more outrageous performance stats.

 

It's a great time to be an audiophile. The entry level price, quality, and convenience has never been better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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I don't think it was Apple/Itunes that destroyed audio. I think it was the confusion of Audio/Video pumped up by the big box stores. One of the great choices most of us have made is to focus on 2 channel Audio and forget 5.1 and all the geek crap that goes with AVRs. Many of us grew up buying vinyl and putting together the best simple 2 channel system we could afford or cram into our dorm rooms and animal houses. We all had the Maxell "blown away" poster. Now the fun is collecting good recordings and tweaking our computer based players. And vinyl still lives on and is coming back. I'm optimistic about where this is going. Alot of audio only shops have gone out of business or morphed into Media room suppliers, but I think the audio specialist left are going to do well.

 

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It's a tough thing to watch something fade away. The article has been written before by other people and still it seems to be that folks just can't quite understand that this hobby is not longer a hobby. Just as finding the right part at your local Radio Shack became more difficult, finding a record that you wanted to hear at your local record shop became just as hard. The truth lies somewhere between the doomsday scenario and the rosy colored glasses that some folks still wear. I can't convince good friends to purchase something good and their comments are "we're not audiophiles so we don't need that kind of setup". This is

what 90 some percent of clients say to me. Those exact words. Where did that come from? I don't hear them saying that they don't need a BMW or Lexus or a great dining room table or coat, or, or....

Jazz clubs are gone, folk venues, gone. Local venues have a hard time filling up for music events. Classical music is almost being subsidised in this country. It's not the iPod, it's simply that there are many other diversions in peoples busy information filled lives to spend time with high quality music.

 

That said, there is better and better sounding inexpensive solutions for the average person and many are finding them.

If you tell people that the new 320kb format downloads from iTunes are unlistenable they look at you like your crazy.

And sometimes I think we are. As I sit here listening to Pandora through a MacBook Pro into a Naim Uniti Qute into

some $650 a pair bookshelf speakers I think to myself, hey, I could live with this...

 

Gosh, now I feel better.

 

David

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Interesting article/thread.

 

I'm always amazed at how, well, ludicrous some of the reviews in audiophile-land can be, even as someone who enjoys reading reviews about ludicrously expensive equipment.

 

But come on, speakers that look like some mutant C3PO at $60,000 a pair? Turntable setups at 6 figures? $20,000 DACs? If I were not already involved in this hobby, I think the cost of admission would appear much higher than it actually is. How many have tried to convince friends to get into this hobby without (to steal Bill's analogy, and repeat what realhifi said above) being looked at like you have 5 heads?

 

There's a reason Bose has such a nice grasp on their audience.

 

(end rant!)

 

 

Digital: Schiit Yggy + Gumby, Meridian Explorer2

Headphone: Woo WA22, Audez'e LCD3, Beyerdynamic T1

Amplification: Pass Labs INT30A, Focal 1027be

Analog: VPI Classic, Soundsmith Zephy, EAR 834P

LastFM: WharfRatJustin

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Over the last 25 years or so, real wages (adjusted for inflation) for all but the richest 10% in this country have stagnated (under Clinton, for example) or actually have gone down (under Bush and Obama). Now we are in the midst of what may be an unending recession, the stock market is artificially propped up with taxpayer bailouts, and unemployment is between 10% and 20%, depending on who is counting and how. People are losing their homes and jobs. There is only a very small fraction of the population that can afford the luxury of being able to buy equipment capable of sampling and rendering music at 192kHz instead of 44kHz. Although most people probably don't consciously think to themselves, "gee, my hearing goes to 15kHz on a good day, so anything sampled above 30kHz isn't going to gain me much," there is a sense that audiophools have more money than brains. You don't have to be picking Thanksgiving dinner out of a grocery store dumpster to be conscious of what consists of an avoidable, needless expense. The comments here I think give a sense of what most people outside our realm think of spending money in this way: http://www.amazon.com/AudioQuest-K2-terminated-speaker-cable/dp/B000J36XR2

 

 

 

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I laughed pretty hard when I read those comments. That was quite a thread. I'm a newcomer to this hobby. I've learned a lot from this site and I've gotten a lot of useful feedback to my questions. I used to work in the bicycle industry and one thing I learned is that you get the most value when you pay the least amount of money for a high quality product. There comes a point when the returns begin to diminish. Identifying that line can be difficult. This is not a criticism of those for whom expense is not an issue but rather a suggestion that if this hobby is going to become more mainstream, it might be useful to figure out where the best value lies and to think about how to idiot proof some of the suggested set-ups. I read some of the comments here and realize that getting some of this equipment to work requires a lot of expertise and tinkering. I like to play around with my gear/toys as well but there is a limit to what most consumers are willing to do. Miguel

 

Macmini (as server)-> AE Express/SB Touch-> Dacmagic plus -> Outlaw RR2150 -> PSB Image T6 (dedicated 2 channel audio system)

Macmini (via toslink)-> NAD T747 -> PSB Imagine B/SVS SB2000 subwoofer (home theater)

Macbook Pro-> Peachtree idecco->PSB Imagine Minis, Energy ESW-M8 subwoofer, Beyerdynamic DT880 (home office)

IMac->audioengine D1 dac->airmotiv 4 (work system)

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I have a garage full of Treks (family of 5). Once I decided I really needed a Canondale, which I guess was some sort of early mid-life crisis, and I couldn't afford the BMW. It made me really appreciate Trek. I had to rebuild the rear wheel to keep it from popping spokes, the pedals and all the Coda parts just plain sucked. I just don't get the mythology now.

 

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I try to keep it simple with my music and my bikes, :). I really appreciate simple things that work well. I love my new Sangean WR-11 radio, for example. It looks like a blast from the past, has a few simple knobs that make sense, and sounds great in my kitchen. Don't get me started on bikes though . . . . Miguel

 

Macmini (as server)-> AE Express/SB Touch-> Dacmagic plus -> Outlaw RR2150 -> PSB Image T6 (dedicated 2 channel audio system)

Macmini (via toslink)-> NAD T747 -> PSB Imagine B/SVS SB2000 subwoofer (home theater)

Macbook Pro-> Peachtree idecco->PSB Imagine Minis, Energy ESW-M8 subwoofer, Beyerdynamic DT880 (home office)

IMac->audioengine D1 dac->airmotiv 4 (work system)

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Interesting topic.

 

Go back 25 years, when the so-called high end industry might have been in its most recent hay day. Look at the prices. Now, convert those prices to 2010 dollars to account for inflation.

 

What I've found when I've done that is that you can get better equipment now than you could then for the same or less equivalent dollars. In a lot of product spaces it's hard to make one on one comparisons because of the technology changes, but for power amplifiers and loudspeakers that is the case.

 

If you go back another ten or so years when this same hay day began, it's also the case.

 

A couple things have changed, though.

 

One is that sitting and listening to music in your bedroom, den, or living room is not the activity it once was. Other activities have taken over. The same holds true for playing board games and listening to scripted radio programs like the Lone Ranger.

 

A second is that many countries that were industrialized back 25 and 35 years ago are barely in the industrial business. Equipment used to be manufactured in the United States and England, to name two countries. Now, much of the manufacturing is done elsewhere. In my view, that tends to commoditize the products to a greater degree in these two countries (as examples) and that includes the sales of products as well. This can be hard on a hobby market where everything is so individualized to peoples' tastes.

 

Third, the hay day of the audio industry may have been a market bubble that burned itself out from within. Around my neighborhood - and I mean that literally - there used to be a handful of big deal audio companies. All are now gone or just tiny shells of what they once were. There certainly had to have been a host of reasons for that, but I can tell you that too rapid expansion probably wasn't a good idea. Nor were the cars and other luxuries some of the executives of these companies somehow acquired.

 

Fourth, it just may be that a large percentage of the potential customers can't tell the difference between real high fidelity sound and something less. Or, maybe people on the whole don't really care. Radio stations have used this idea for years by compressing the crap out of music played on their stations. If it didn't attract more listeners, they wouldn't continue to spend the money to do it.

 

Finally, there has been an increasing trend over the past few decades for the customer to be largely driven by the price of things, the perceived "value" of what they receive, and the type of deal they are able to get. That also doesn't lend itself to a market driven by individual tastes.

 

So, maybe the audio industry isn't going down the toilet, but is instead kind of reaching the level it was in the 70's. There weren't a ton of stores in most towns back then and that was before there was any online to buy from.

 

Sure, there's a lot of products prized at goofy levels out there. I suspect that is partially due to the economics of building larger volumes versus lower volumes. I'll also bet it is part of the change in peoples' buying habits, too.

 

OT, just a little... My experience on bikes and similar individualized purchases has been a little different than what some of you have described. For example, Richard Sachs built a road bike for my wife back when the audio business was going crazy (no relation at all; just a time scale thing). That was a great purchase. She visited him in his shop, took him out to lunch, and stopped by after. Yeah, some of the components had to be replaced along the way. But overall, she has put a lot of miles on it and is still very pleased with that bike. So, some times spending more is a better long term "deal" both in enjoyment and even in economic terms. The stuff you buy for pleasure is supposed to be for pleasure, not for investment purposes. I think it's easy to lose sight of that. (Epilogue: Now she can't ride that bike because of a physical limitation - her's, not the bike. So, it will likely be passed onto our daughter who by shear coincidence is the same size.)

 

In my view, too often people compete on the deals they get or how big their, ahh, woofers might be. That does sort of distance the entire process from the base activity of trying to have fun listening to music. It may be that this was always true, but now there's other ways to display your woofer size.

 

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