Are we reaching the end of High End Audio?
Are we reaching the end of High End Audio?….and maybe Video.
I was talking to a audio dealer/salesman today and we had the same observations: That in 1976, 1981, 1990, 2000 and now today, audio sales were off dramatically, closing down many stores. He was surprised that I had the same dates as he did. He was talking about when there was business downturn and was talking about when the country was in a recession and I noticed that the Audio stores began to disappear.
Often there are cycles, but in the mid 1980s when and audio store closed no other store replaced it when the economy got better. Before the 1960s people bought their “audio” systems from department and appliance stores. Then audio (we called them “stereo”) stores opened and seemed to have done well until the 1980s. These stores usually did not have any video products (except Laser Discs) and, maybe had a TV set by companies like Proton. In the 1980 “high end” hit audio and it seed like every company was putting out a “high end” products to go along with their regular audio products: Theta, Wadia, Sony ES, Pioneer Elite etc.
It seems to me (just my personal observation) that every recession we have had, since 1981, knocks 20 to 25% of these stores out. First to go where those that catered to the highest end only. Following were those stores that had no home theatre products AND those that did not target home installation as something essential. Now, of course, those stores that do remain do cater to home theatre and video, but virtually all the smaller stores are gone. The Big Box stores (like Best Buy) seemed successful, but Circuit City is gone, although I don’t think they were run well.
In a recent trip to New York City (and nearby Long Island and NJ), I was surprised to discover NO store carried the Mark Levinson line. They may list it on their web pages, but they have nothing in stock or to show. Krell was there but was less visible and well as many other items. B and W was all over the place as well as some other high end products. Several dealers said that they are NOT selling enough of the high to afford to buy display models, let alone have it in stock.
The demand for quality in music reproduction is fading. It started with the CD walkman that came with “good” headphones and now with the IPod, people are looking for convenience and selection, not quality and durability. Years ago the music industry made money by finding talent and exploiting it. There was the Bing Crosby/Sinatra era, then Rock and Roll and then the Beatles. For 20 years, 1985-2005 the record industry made a fortune by releasing old music on CD and we all rebought what we already had…at 3 times the price of records. The industry is run now by accountants, not people searching for new talent. And the demand for quality sound is down. The Blu-ray discs, which holds 75 times the data what a CD does, would give great 2 channel sound, but no one cares enough. Look at SACD.
The high end stores are always a bit behind the curve, but there are no high end Blu-ray Video players. Who would pay today thousands for a DVD player, with Blu-ray giving 1080p and DTS HD sound? In the stores I went to the dealers nearly begged me to buy a regular DVD player. I had a good DVD player, I wanted a Blu-ray. I just bought the Pioneer Blu-ray 09.
As the stores fade away, there will be fewer manufacturers. And with less manufactures there will be fewer stores. Are we nearing the end?