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Lefisc 01-31-2009 05:37 PM

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?

Bklynbart 02-03-2009 12:47 PM

Re: Are we reaching the end of High End Audio?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Lefisc (Post 19608)
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?

I think that the lack of affordable popular music concerts are the main reason. Pop/middle of the road music drives public taste. The fact that people are asked to spend upwards to 100.00 a ticket, 10.00 parking and 6.00 on bad hot dogs to listen to canned live performances waters down their perception of quality. Arena concerts with Disney effects and the development of home surround sound supply an experience that for many is better than live. Folk just want to hear the music. The High end builders are going to have to find a way to manufacture some 350z/corvette/mustang class equipment in order to get younger folk to have an interest in later upgrading. I know people who have spent thousands on a flat panel video set ups and spent less than 500.00 on the audio part of the system. If you can get them to sit down and listen to a properly set up two channel system they are amazed at the sound quality. I have had many remark that they thought my stereo rig was surround sound and ask why the music/movie sounds more real. The operative phrase is sit down and listen. Today I don't know many people who sit down in front of a music system and just listen to music.

artmaltman 02-03-2009 03:44 PM

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.

Art

ChiefTK 02-03-2009 04:45 PM

Re: Are we reaching the end of High End Audio?
 
Too many people go to retail stores to demo equipment and then make purchases from internet vendors.

It's no wonder that many dealers cannot afford to have the high end equipment for display and demonstration.

My preferred Kansas City store is undergoing ownership change due to bankruptcy and I have little faith the business will be there to provide for my future passion for great audio.

CliffH 02-03-2009 05:55 PM

Re: Are we reaching the end of High End Audio?
 
I think a big part of the problem is that there is a whole generation of young adults who have never listened to music on a good system. They listen to plenty of music but only on ipods and similar mp3 players at low bit rate conversion. I remember when i was growing up in the late 60's and early 70's my parents had a big console stereo system that was a piece of furniture. It's sound was great. It had a built in tube amplifier that drove the large built in speakers. This gave me a good appreciation of quality sound so that when I got older and bought the new Sony Walkman, I still bought the album and played it at home on a quality stereo.
Another problem is that most audio video retailers these days carry only low to middle quality components. It is quite difficult to find a store to check out quality systems. As a result most people don't know what superior audio can sound like. If they have not experienced it there is no desire to search for it or buy it.

HDAddict 02-03-2009 06:10 PM

Re: Are we reaching the end of High End Audio?
 
Nobody has mentioned the fact that in the intervening years from Woodstock to the present day, most of the popular music was played at such high volumes that it had to result in irreparable damage to the listener's hearing. Age also has the same effect of hearing loss, so together we have almost two generations that have an extreme decline in the ability to discern quality products that can truly replicate the original sound. So is it any wonder then that high-end dealers are reluctant to invest in stock on hand for demonstration purposes to such a limited audience who have for whatever reason escaped with their hearing still intact.


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