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Old 02-13-2009   #19
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Default Re: Are we reaching the end of High End Audio?

I think you all are missing the point of why the high-end is dwindling.

It's the music industry.

It started in the 90's with labels fawning over the next one hit wonder rather than building a career. Once each major had their stock of OHW's the loudness wars kicked in. Label execs (and some artists/producers) wanted that one hit to be the loudest thing on the radio, in the jukebox, on your iPod.

I am 32 years old and came to this "hobby" because of my love of music. We always had music playing in the house, never on high-end gear but decent budget gear. For my dad who used to DJ high school dances it wasn't about the gear, it was about the crates of 1000's of 45's and the music on them.

After working long summers and continuing part time during college I began wanting to hear deeper into the recordings. While my friends were busy outfitting their cars with as many 12" subs as they could fit so you could hear them coming from four blocks away I went out and bought a pair of NHT SuperOnes, some stands, an NAD Integrated Amp, a Sony CD player and my first CD...The Beatles - "Antholog Vol. 1". That was around Christmas '95.

I've accumulated over 700 CD's since then and upgraded my gear but I've also run SMACK into a brick wall...a BIG brick wall. The quality of my gear and the training of my ear are far better than the quality of the recordings by my favorite artists.

I listen to primarily what is considered Indie/College/Britpop type of rock music. I've got a respectable catalog of classics from the 60's and 70's along with some country, jazz, and classical. Some of the recordings I have in the latter two genre's sound amazing, especially those on SACD or DVD-Audio (yes I was one of those suckers). The problem is, that's not the music I love.

The music I love and that most kids listen to, popular music, is so compressed (not in the MP3 sense) during mastering that on a good system it sounds like complete crap. There is no soundstage, the levels on everything are maxed, and it's fatiguing after an album's worth of listening.

Most people argue that kids today don't care about sound quality because of the convenience of mp3's on their iPod. That's misleading. The truth is that the favorite song from your average 16 year old's favorite artist played on CD over the best system money can buy will well...not sound that great. In fact, as most of us know, it might sound worse if it's an analytical-leaning system that reveals the source for what it is and exposes, even magnifies those flaws.

Some might think one could tailor a system to lean towards the warm/fuzzy/analog/tube sounding side of things...WRONG. You can't, in any way, polish a turd.

Until there's a revolution within the music industry towards sound quality the high-end will continue to dwindle and become an increasingly smaller niche relegated to status-seeking individuals rather than music enthusiasts. Organizations like TurnItUp have the right idea but not enough people are listening to their argument.

Oh and, BTW, it's not just high-end audio that's going down the tubes...that whole Blu-Ray thing...come talk to me about it in two years when that player's an ugly looking paperweight like my SACD player.

Bill
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Old 02-13-2009   #20
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Default Re: Are we reaching the end of High End Audio?

With all the waxing about the golden days of yore, I'm still struggling with who actually believes there are fewer choices of high-end gear today than there were in 1976, 1981, 1990 and 2000, and that today's choices are of lower quality.
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Old 02-14-2009   #21
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Default Re: Are we reaching the end of High End Audio?

Whilst I cannot speak for any one brand in particular, I have previously worked for a few high-end audio manufacturers in the UK and would point to several factors that have caused the high-end market to arrive at its current position.

Firstly, the average age of consumers is certainly not falling - it's in the 40-somethings if not a little higher - and this has forced the high-end brands to try and introduce products that cater for a slightly younger and less 'audiocentric' audience. Witness products such as B&W's Zeppelin, Meridian's F80, Linn's Classik range and the Arcam Solo, for example. And the sudden, late to the party rush to stick an iPod dock on everything in sight. The great difficulty, of course, is that promoting and marketing these products in a wider arena to a larger audience is hugely expensive and undoubtedly limits the ability of these brands to create as many products aimed at the core (dwindling?) enthusiast audience as in years gone by.

Secondly, most retailers have not revised their business models over time. There are some great retailers in the US and UK who market themselves proactively and who demonstrate products professionally in a well-designed and tidy retail environment, but these guys are undeniably the exception rather than the rule, and much of the current malaise the high-end is experiencing is down to the fact that a lot of retailers are simply not professional enough in the way they run their businesses. It's not 1975 any more - you simply cannot open the doors in the morning and expect people to come flooding in. This has forced manufacturers to either consolidate business with a few key retailers or, more likely, find other ways of getting product in front of potential customers.

Thirdly, many high-end brands have sought out partnerships with other companies in order to expand their brand awareness. Be it an association with a car manufacturer or something similar, the strategy has clearly been to expose the brand to a wider audience and bring a new kind of customer to the table. Whilst these activities might depress a brand's more traditional customers, it's an inevitable a reaction to the fact that these consumers are buying less hi-fi and profits have been falling as a result. Some may view it as 'selling out' but love doesn't pay the mortgage nor does it satisfy the shareholders.

On a final note, I don't think it is fair to say that true hi-end hi-fi is a hobbyist pursuit. There are some customers with a declared interest in audio who are prepared to make lifestyle sacrifices in order to live the dream. However, there are also plenty of people out there with plenty of money who want a solution for the home and will spend to get it. They are not audio enthusiasts and are not that concerned about the brands involved, they simply want the cool solution in the same way as they want the gym, the pool table, the sauna and the swimming pool.

I don't have a crystal ball, but if I did I'm sure it would show a future where most of the high-end brands are focusing their efforts on custom install, business-to-business relationships (products for hotels, cars, yachts, private jets and so on) and more lifestyle, plug-and-play products for the wider consumer. Make of that what you will....

Stuart.
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Old 02-18-2009   #22
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Default Re: Are we reaching the end of High End Audio?

I have to say that a lot of the music that I hear today does not require high end audio. In fact high end audio brings out all its flaws. Even Beatles sound terrible on high end. But for some of the good music, having high end is the closest thing to Heaven. When you can hear every note, every instrument, every voice in crystal clarity it is a dream come true. And to be taken around the world with some of the new receivers is a fantastic treat, exploring the different venues. I will be sad to see the end of high end, but companies have t o produce what they can sell to make a profit. If the system I have now holds up, I will be thrilled for the remainder of my life. As us baby boomers start having more spendable income, I think we would be the ones to really appreciate high end. Hint. Hint.
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Old 02-18-2009   #23
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Talking Re: Are we reaching the end of High End Audio?

Quote:
Originally Posted by flaminio View Post
I have to say that a lot of the music that I hear today does not require high end audio. In fact high end audio brings out all its flaws. Even Beatles sound terrible on high end. But for some of the good music, having high end is the closest thing to Heaven. When you can hear every note, every instrument, every voice in crystal clarity it is a dream come true.

And to be taken around the world with some of the new receivers is a fantastic treat, exploring the different venues. I will be sad to see the end of high end, but companies have t o produce what they can sell to make a profit.

Yes I agree the only problem is your ears are not what they used to be!
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Old 02-18-2009   #24
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Default Re: Are we reaching the end of High End Audio?

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Originally Posted by wes View Post
Yes I agree the only problem is your ears are not what they used to be!
I guess you haven't experienced real high end yet. And I didn't say all new music. There is some really fantastic stuff out there, but why do you think iPods are so popular. You get junk for listening quality and are happy with it. This is about as poor as quality gets.
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