The Death of High End Audio?

by Anthony Kershaw on December 29, 2013 · 8 comments

in Misc

Not the most pleasant of subjects, but one that needs a little perspective.



Mark Twain quotation after hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal.

Replace ‘my’ with ‘high end audio’. So much doom and gloom about it, and the numbers just don’t add up. Also, I’ve been reading about its death for 25 years! People said the same about orchestras, the movie theatre, and on and on. In the here and now, I can buy quality turntables from almost 100 companies. Esoteric, single ended tube amps from Europe, North America and Asia. If so inclined, I can order cables costing a mortgage payment from all over the world. And, I can read about audio at hundreds of websites, most amateur but many professional outfits.

Audio designers’ passion outstrips naysayers every time.

A big problem is some dealers, distributors, designers, etc, projecting their sales numbers on the avocation as a whole. What fails are companies with outdated sales models, lack of capital, lack of vision, or, simply, bad luck. But, many of the ‘legacy’ companies’ and hundreds of new ones continue to advance high end audio more than the coiner of that phrase, the great Harry Pearson, could have imagined.

Look, fine wine, quality food, opera, classical music, good cars, good watches have always been owned by those with the taste and money for such things. They are niche markets, as is high end audio.

No matter what we say, most ‘civilians’ think of us as anomalies, not living in the real world. For them, they have the iPhone, the MP3, ear buds and Kanye West. Let them have them. The popularity of such things will not ’save’ high end audio. It doesn’t need saving. Audiophiles are so passionate, they’d never let the thing die, anyway. So, just relax. Order your thousands of LP reissues at the five or six incredibly good online retailers, download your high res computer files at HiRes Tracks, and listen. It’s on. And well beyond the life span of Mr. Pearson, myself, The Absolute Sound, Stereophile and every audiophile I know.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Mercer 12.29.13 at 8:10 pm

So glad to read your thoughts on this suddenly hot topic - one we’ve been discussing for years! It’s funny - we’ve been saying the same thing for years too… When I get back well post out thoughts on Audio360!

admin 12.29.13 at 8:28 pm

Just got sick of all the moaning and groaning over on FB and some more on Twitter.

Trust me, there’s life in the old girl, yet! :)

Cheers, a

Warren Chi 12.29.13 at 11:58 pm

Hi Anthony, let me take a moment to refine my concern about this.

I think that Hi-Fi - as we know it - is in danger of becoming extinct. In any industry, particularly a niche within an industry, there needs to be a certain level of critical mass reached. Too little support, and the community stagnates and withers. Too much, and it inflates and bursts upon itself.

Hi-Fi, as it exists right now, is in a nice place. There is modest growth in certain areas, and the hobby continues at a nice and steady pace (though not as quickly as some would prefer). But, like certain entitlement programs, there needs to be a fairly steady stream of new blood coming in from year-to-year, and I think that has certainly slowed.

I think that Hi-Fi could easily sustain for a long time to come, if it were to reach out to, and embrace, a new generation of audiophiles that have their roots in personal and portable fidelity. But so far, I haven’t seen that happen on a widespread level. And that does give me reason for concern.

If critical mass cannot be sustained, I’m just not sure the various dealers and audio shows that we sometimes take for granted will be around in a decade from now. Hi-Fi could very well exist of course, but ideally I’d like to see it do better than simply survive. That’s certainly not a negative aspiration is it?

admin 12.30.13 at 12:09 am

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Warren.

Cheers, a

David Ladyman 12.30.13 at 3:57 am

Anthony, I agree with your sentiments and in no way believe High End Audio is dead, instead with mortality rates increasing and many living well into their 80’s the future is bright!

Like all of life’s luxuries, it comes down to a matter of choice or more to the point the ability to choose. The iPod generation has a lot to learn and it is down to us more mature folks to expose them to exactly what it is that they are missing. They have yet to learn how to differentiate a good from bad wine, and to experience Michelin starred fine dining, but it will come. As their kids flee the nest and their mortgages and loans are paid off, the disposable income required to enjoy those items to which they aspire, such as the BMW (or better still Mercedes) will come.

In short, I do not believe audiophiles are seen as anomalies, instead looked upon with envy.

Happy New Year to all!

admin 12.30.13 at 9:04 am

Great comment. Thanks. You had me up to Mercedes!!! lol

Happy New Year, to you, too, David.

Cheers, a

David T. Brown 01.01.14 at 8:24 am

To me, ‘high-end audio’ refers to quality, not cost. There will always be a discerning audience which values and appreciates true quality (in audio and other fields), and It is this core of committed cognoscenti which will ensure that high - end audio survives. But this quest for excellence requires thoughtful, credible, and knowledgeablel analysis of the music and equipment which define the niche. It demands a critical approach which recognizes subjectivity where appropriate, but which is otherwise evidence-based and intolerant of unsubstantiated claims, irreproducible results, and dubious assertions. Suspension of disbelief is fine in fiction, but misplaced in the world of high end audio; the quickest way to ensure its demise is to tolerate the proliferation of useless products and expensive claptrap marketed to pretentious idiots by know-nothing ‘reviewers’.

True audiophiles will never conflate cost with quality, esoterica with excellence, or gimmickry with good design. They may value the exclusivity and aesthetic appeal of certain high - end audio products, but will formulate opinions based on performance, not pretense. They will also be aware of the cruel irony that hearing acuity and income are almost always negatively correlated over our lifespans, further reinforcing the importance of affordable quality for younger audiophiles of limited means. And above all, they should be intolerant of snobbery, brand - dropping, and the misguided notion that ‘expensive’ always corresponds to ‘excellent’. If this sort of pretense is allowed to persist in the field, then it deserves to die.

admin 01.01.14 at 10:13 am

Wonderful commentary, as always, David.


Cheers, a

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