Concern for the future of affordable high-end audio, or whats left of it...

Discussion in 'General Audio Discussion' started by Ruined, Aug 1, 2020 at 7:04 AM.

  1. Ruined

    Ruined Rando

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    Anyone else a bit concerned for the future of affordable "high end" audio?

    Over the past couple of decades, we've seen a rapid erosion of the affordable "high end" market. Maybe not the ULTRA high end, but affordable high end.

    Some examples, I remember a couple of decades ago people sought out affordable high end receivers, power amps, preamps, big speakers, etc - to the extent where a mainstream enthusiast business could actually stay afloat.

    Then about a decade ago, that stopped... Size became more important than quality. Amp manufacturers needed to significantly raise their prices because they were no longer selling in the volume they used to. i.e. the equivalent of a Parasound HCA-3500 or Rotel RB-1090 ended up doubling in price within a fairly short period of time. Big speakers got replaced by smaller speakers even if they sounded worse for the same price. Class AB amplifiers replaced by Class D amplifiers.

    Some parts of the affordable high end market stayed afloat, like the headphone market (probably because headphones don't take up a lot of space). But now, I am seeing the erosion of that market as well. Manufacturers releasing high end headphones with impedance that caters to smartphones, the rise of no-name brands with knock-off technology "measures ok and is cheap," etc. Just heard Beyerdynamic announced a T1 gen3 @ 32ohm.

    While this probably comes off very much as an old man's "get off my lawn" rant, I guess it bothers me a bit that it seems some of the audio brands and types of equipment I grew up with are either being downgraded, dramatically increased in price due to lack of demand, or closing up shop. While their are some stalwarts that remain in affordable high end, I have to wonder how long they will remain before the same fate befalls them? I guess most people simply don't care about this market segment anymore...
     
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  2. spwath

    spwath Collegiate hijinks master

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    Sure all the old big companies are going away, but there are new, smaller ones making affordable high end stuff.
     
  3. Ruined

    Ruined Rando

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    Are there though? I know one could point to SCHITT or PRO-JECT AUDIO, but even in that case their level of functionality polish and refinement doesn't appear to quite approach the "old brands" like Parasound, Rotel, Musical Fidelity [recently sold to pro-ject], etc. On the speaker/headphone side, some brands like PSB discontinued their highest end line again due to lack of demand, then downgraded their 2nd highest end line again due to lack of demand, expand into in-wall market because invisible speakers take up the least space -- while now we are seeing "endgame" headphones having their impedance changed likely for the sole purpose of being able to play off an iPhone - which is a bit ironic itself.

    I guess what I'm saying is it seems I am noticing the trend of the slow decline of quality (both sound quality and build quality) in exchange for portability/small size, and I don't personally feel thats a great tradeoff.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2020 at 7:22 AM
  4. Hrodulf

    Hrodulf Prohibited from acting as an MOT until year 2050

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    Just, you know... stop being poor, mang!

    The main problem with hi-end audio is that it fears answering a crucial question. What's the purpose of hi-end audio? By not answering the question explicitly, the implicit answer becomes the status quo - the purpose of hi-end audio is whatever the paying customer wants it to be.

    Most companies will gladly present solutions to their customers problems, no matter how ridiculous they appear from the technical standpoint. Why would you improve a product, when a narrative-driven product change makes more sense to your customers?
     
  5. Ruined

    Ruined Rando

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    Make no mistake I am not condemning the companies, they gotta do what they gotta do to survive.

    This is more a lamenting of the "zeitgeist" of the general populace in relation to this category. You know, less in the direction of Sonus Faber, more in the direction of Sonos. :(
     
  6. Hrodulf

    Hrodulf Prohibited from acting as an MOT until year 2050

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    When you run out of people who care about audio quality, you're left to sell to those who don't. If your company craves unlimited growth or is obliged by the investors to grow exponentially forever, then sooner or later you have to tackle this market.
     
  7. TheIceman93

    TheIceman93 El pato-zorro

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    I have a few theories about this. I think the death of physical media was the biggest contributing factor to the death of mainstream Hifi. Playing a record took some work, at least in comparison to putting in a CD or clicking a file. Record's weren't cheap. My dad was paying $30 bucks a record in today's money back in the 70's. So listening to music was an event of sorts and a decent stereo system was found in many homes. It was also a natural evolution of the beautiful wooden Zenith radio towers that were in many homes in the 40's and 50's. People were used to having a big box in their home that just made sound. Look at these things. Beautiful.

    [​IMG]

    The rise of headphones certainly contributed as well. I don't personally see an issue with the lowering of impedances to make them more mobile-friendly. I think the headphones are getting better overall and don't need high impedances to sound good. Quality amplification is still crucial and even low impedance cans benefit from an amplifier with lots of headroom.

    Maybe the more controversial contributing factor to the death of the Hifi system is the increasing influence that women have on interior decorating decisions. Woman hate tower speakers. They hate audio racks. The hate cables. That's why speakers are built into the walls and ceiling, hidden away from sight. My dad had some nice towers when I was growing up. They disappeared when we moved, replaced with a surround sound system built into the ceiling. I asked my dad what happened to the speakers and he told me that my mom hated them and said she didn't want them in the new house. The big Zenith radios were acceptable because they were a single box that looked like a piece of furniture. But dual towers were viewed as a nuisance and nice headphones and soundbars have pushed them into the hobbyist sector with prices to match.

    The death of retail audio stores also helped to kill it off. The nice speakers are hidden away in a dark room in the back of Best Buy. They aren't visible anymore to average consumers so, from a marketing standpoint, they might as well not exist.
     
  8. Ruined

    Ruined Rando

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    Some good points. The death of retail mainstream HiFi shops is a great point I didn't think of. Hard to market a giant black monolith no one can hear.

    Anyways,. I'm still rocking these, size be damned. Haven't heard anything else that made me want to replace them:
    https://www.stereophile.com/content/psb-stratus-gold-loudspeaker-john-atkinson-1997
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2020 at 10:08 AM
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  9. beemerphile

    beemerphile Friend

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    Looks like plain old economic reality to me. I don't see much gain in lamenting something I cannot change. Someone successfully hammered the Serenity Prayer into my brain while I was working on getting over being all fucked up.
     
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  10. RobS

    RobS RobS? More like RobDiarrhea.

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    The current "affordable" high-end environment made by boomers is going away. The companies who've thrived in that market are going to be forced to re-tool to sell products to millenials (read cheap) or rich people (read more expensive). As long as there are rich people there will be a market for high-end audio, but probably not at the scale we see today. I expect to see fewer high-end companies around while aging boomers pass away. The next largest generation are millennials. You think they are going to spend 10k on a pair of speakers (heck even 5k) when they don't even have the money for a down payment on a house? There's also a huge segment of millenials/zoomers who are suspicious of spending anything more than $99 on an amp because "snake oil" and laughing at boomers who spend hundreds on cable risers. This is why sites like ASR are so popular with the younger crowd; they want to interpret the "evidence" presented by a measurement instrument to confirm their own beliefs that high-end audio is a scam. Millenials/zoomers have grown up using headphones and scoff at the idea of spending $1k on speakers for audio playback. My observations of the consumer habits of the younger generations is they want to spend as little money as possible. Hipsters are like the last vestige of old-school hi-fi. My personal opinion is a lot of the music younger kids listen to ain't worth spending large sums over. You just had a kid who won a grammy for producer of the year who had nothing but a Macbook and a pair of HS8s in his bedroom. That's "high-fidelity" in the 21st century.

    I completely agree with everything @TheIceman93 said. The death of retail audio stores, death of home hi-fi systems, the rise of headphones, streaming (and before that iPods and earbuds), and so on are just more nails in the coffin. The 2008 financial crisis dealt a blow which opened up the market for companies like Schiit to come at the right moment as folks are buying more value based offerings. What's going to be left in the aftermath of the economic crisis due to Covid-19?

    EDIT: What @Melvillian said below too.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2020 at 11:42 AM
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  11. Melvillian

    Melvillian Friend

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    I wonder if there is a correlation between affordable "high end" as you say it and the middle class in the US shrinking. People nowadays seem to be either poor or wealthy.

    With that said, priorities have changed too. People would rather spend $1000 on a phone every other year than the same amount on a home audio setup.
     
  12. TheIceman93

    TheIceman93 El pato-zorro

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    That probably contributes to the problem as well but even “poor” people can afford a decent sound system if it’s something that is valuable to them.

    Most poor people have a decent TV and computer. I know poor people who spend more than $1K a year on Starbucks. I think the term “poor” is used too loosely these days.
     
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  13. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    Video killed the radio star. With each passing decade since the 70's (though music sales through the 90's seem to cover up to a certain extant), music for most folks was and is increasingly a commodity. IMO this is starting to happen to traditional video as well as more and more cord cut, and are entertained through internet (youtube, social media, etc.).

    As happens often in shrinking markets, there is a rush to the either end (cheap cheap & luxury/hyper-expensive), so the middle shrinks fastest.
     
  14. E_Schaaf

    E_Schaaf MOT: Upscale Audio; recovering HFM addict

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    The latest upswing in industry prices is because of taxes on Chinese parts. Many companies that weren't hit by this raised wholesale and retail prices anyway because they saw everyone else was doing it. I know of many brands who did this just because they could. The 2-channel market is inflating. Direct sales are where things are headed.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2020 at 6:24 PM
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  15. Hrodulf

    Hrodulf Prohibited from acting as an MOT until year 2050

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    Just look at how many of your pals take time to just listen to music. Upgrading a background music system to sound better isn't likely to lead to a hi-end system.
     
  16. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    I dunno, man. my stereo sounds pretty freaking good these days compared to 20 years ago. And for not much more money. It does take more leg work to find deals, but I'd argue that's no different now than it was 68 years ago. The original argument does sound a bit "boomer-complainer" imho. IOW, if you can't put together a satisfying rig at, or under budget, you're just lazy or not hooked into the right communication channels/social networks. Or, is this just a general complaint that "hifi" crap from the usual suspects (Macintosh, B&W, and shit you heard at shows) outpaces your wallet now that you're on fixed income? Can't afford some Wilson speakers? tough stuff! They sound like tizzy trash anyway, so stop buying on magazine recommendations...

    edit: rereading your responses sounds like you want a handjob for buying fancy shit because "brick and mortar". you're probably not going to be satisfied with stuff you read around here.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2020 at 4:43 PM
  17. robot zombie

    robot zombie Friend

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    I would say there's actually more good, accessible stuff than there used to be. I mean, by this point 8 years ago is considered by some to be a dark age for reasonable high-end. And budget stuff was generally shit. Only recently has it started getting better. Now, there is mid-range stuff that beats some of that old high-end stuff. Legitimately makes it look like a bad deal. Things could always be better, but I don't think its dying out at all. Just transitioning.

    It's definitely harder now, especially for small businesses (due to many uncontrollable outside factors,) but I think it's important to look at the bigger picture. What I've been seeing is a younger than usual market looking for cheap hi-fi gear that they hope will sound really good, sometimes so much so that they are convinced it actually is the best and the higher-end stuff is all snake oil. I can tell you see it too. I have a different perspective on it.

    Those markets don't have a lot of disposable income. It's a bit of a rough time to be coming up in the world. They still invest time and money into getting stuff for their music though. To me that might eventually bode well for the industry overall. Because one day they're going be older, and they're going to outgrow that gear and mindset. And if it's made available at a non-ridiculous price, they might just invest serious cash in some real high-end stuff. I think this whole deal no longer being strictly an oldfart thing is good. That's a sapling of a new market that will eventually grow to support more than it does presently.

    Maybe it's just the millennial in me. I could be projecting. I started off from that point. Young with not a lot of money. Just want some decent sounding stuff. Now I'm getting older and I have much more money and no less time/appreciation for music... and as time goes by I lean towards spending it on more serious gear. I have a feeling I'm not the only one like that, either. Most normal people I've had over have showed a lot of interest once they heard my system, and it's not even that good. So they might be a bit starved for options. Once people know that I'm into audio gear, they tend to start hitting me with questions or pricey gift recommendations.

    I think the way that people interact with music has changed rapidly. When I was a young music lover, I followed radio and TV, I got CD's, and in my house we also had cassettes and LP's. That was still normal up into the 90's. And then the digital age came and kicked the door wide open and it did seem that things were lost.

    But what I see in myself and my peers... is that engagement is at least as high as it has ever been. If anything, I listen to more because I have more affordable, ready access to an insurmountable amount of music in consistent high quality playback. Sure, on one hand it makes music more disposable, but also less commodified and much easier to get deeper into, which in my experience is pretty common. Pretty much everybody my age has that primo music experience they go to. It's hard to get them talking about it, but I think that's because it is just that personal for them... more catered specifically to them. Mainstream is dying because a significant amount of people want better music to listen to. So there's still a potential incentive for having good stuff, as well. I think it's becoming 'hip' again, regardless of how certain internet communities may lean. The cheap crap is always going to get the most attention. It's always been that way, hasn't it? Doesn't mean there won't be room for better options that aren't total extravagant luxury buys.

    Give it some time. There are faint whisperings in the wind... not to be confused with whimpering. I kind of half wonder if part of the reason things lulled is because the bigger players failed to recognize shifting demands, leaving too many potential customers out to sustain the more niche side.
     
  18. YMO

    YMO it's not drinking alone if you're on Zoom

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    I can't wait for the day that the legacy OAFAS model dies out. At least where I am at in FL the Audio Stores just catered to the OAFAS who moved into Florida with their money. You want to know another generation difference: OAFAS still reads Stereophile while the newer generation could care less about them. Even the local audiophiles think that me not reading Stereophile is a mistake.
     
  19. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    I read Stereophile for years. There was a time it was relevant. But we have something far better available to us now. SBAF. Your local audiophiles can wither on the proverbial past harvest vine.
     
  20. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

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    The pro audio price bump was very slight for local gear. Maybe only 50-100 dollars on most real deal stuff, not total junk or awful clones. The real problem is most Hifi dealer hifi margins are out of control without deals and some import distributor markups are out of control. Some of the big distributors mark up imported hifi brands are marked up 50-100%. Meanwhile some other importers always have deals or mark it up only 10-20%.

    Then you open it up and what’s inside, what sells for cheaper than the American made competition in Europe on Thomman, sells for 300 more dollars in the USA than the American made product despite a much lower bom than the USA one. I see this from many noted brands, some riding on past laurels from designers who left decades ago and some never well known for their sound quality.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2020 at 9:28 PM
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