Re: Are we reaching the end of High End Audio?
You are confusing two issues: Success of High End Audio and Success of Dealers.
AAC is better than MP3 and has replaced it at least for iTunes and iPods. AAC ripping has options for higher bit rates. Then there are the "lossless" protocols, with lossless presuming cd quality as the starting point as far as I can tell.
Even Apple has started selling songs at 256 instead of 128.
I suspect that as storage gets cheaper and cheaper, we'll get better and better audio formats in actual wides spread day to day use.
Also the trend towards newer gear sounding worse than older gear (early transistors replacing tubes, early cd players displacing turntables...) seems over, IMO. I like my new Marantz sr5003 better than the old Marantz sr5200 that it replaced.
And inexpensive gear is sounding better and better these days, with the bizarre exception of the under $200 iPod dock.
And while I dearly love my $2500 Cary 308T tubed cd player, well, cheap cd players produce enjoyable sound these days. IMO.
As for dealers, I don't know. I don't understand their business model in an era of Internet. Seems like home installation of home theatre is the ticket. Sure is WAY more complex than stereo music.