Have we witnessed the death of the audiophile? ...

cmeisenzahl

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Adieu to the true audiophile? | Tech news blog - CNET News.com
"I'd bet the average person under 30 hasn't purchased a serious home stereo system in the last five years. And it's not because they don't like music. Quite the opposite, actually. The popularity of online streaming music sites, rise of music blogs, and skyrocketing digital music sales from places like iTunes, Wal-Mart.com, and Amazon.com show that young people are voracious music consumers."
http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-9950368-7.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20
 

ABTOMAT

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What we're seeing is the average consumer no longer care about sound quality like they used to. The actual audiophile market isn't going anywhere, if anything it's growing in intensity. The gap between the low and high end is growing. Some people just don't care any more, others are spending the same time/money on home theater instead of 2-channel sound. While at the same time, the hardcore segmet gets even more hardcore--McIntosh just came out with their first turntable in the 60-year history of the company and it costs about $7000.

I'm seeing a few young folks in the audio circles I'm in. So it's attracting some of the young market, just not as much as it should. By the way, I'm under 30 and over the last couple years I've put together a stereo worth more than my SUV.
 
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Dynacolt

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I've spent the past 20 years building up an audiophile system, replacing and upgrading piece by piece.
I've also tried iPod, Creative, Sony, Toshiba and a few generic portable players (only the sony had anything close to acceptable audio) and I always return to my loungeroom outfit.
I've spolied myself, and anything else grates on my ears (and I don't claim to have 'golden ears').
It's probably true most young people will never consider a real hifi, but I guess they know know different.
But I doubt the true audiophile will disappear, and I doubt the esoteric equipment will disappear, just as classical music hasn't disappeared despite pop and the digital age swamping the global market for so many years.
An indication of this is the rebirth of turntable manufacture, and the significant increase in production of audiophile vinyl records.
Dave.
 

shakeylegs

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I heard a report recently that "vinyl" is making a comeback across demographics. Perhaps the reason Macintosh has released their turntable.
 

LEDninja

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The decline of the audiophile started long before the iPod changed the way kids listened to music. The stereo makers never made the change over to the 5.1 sound systems of integrated home entertainment systems. They think of their stereo systems and the TVs as 2 separate things. When Music Videos became the norm for promoting music, the sellers of home entertainment systems (TV plus integrated 5.1 sound system) have the advantage over pure audio systems.
I have the Brittney Spears DVD and cannot play it on my main stereo system.

Also audiophile systems manufacturers have been promoting BIG sized components. Imagine trying to fit 5 Quad electrostatic speakers (4 feet wide by 3 feet tall, later models 3 feet wide by 5 feet tall; they also need a fair amount of space behind them) and a subwoofer into the average living room.

Good quality portable sound has been around for awhile, first with the walkman, then with portable CD players. These did not affect the audiophile makers that much as stereo systems come with cassette recorders and CD players. But they were slow to come out with built in iPod docks.
Also many inexpensive reasonable quality speakers are now available for the iPod. I bought a Spongebob Squarepants folding speakers for $15. They do not have much base due to the small size but the speaker units have long throw neoprene surround just like the audiophile ones. Except for the lack of thump the speakers hold their own against speakers 10X the price. At 2"x2"x3" folded up they are very transportable. There are bigger units same speakers with tuned port systems that should provide full range sound.

-----

That is just plain snobbery. Don't need $7000 to build a good turntable.
It's just like Aston Martin selling their cars in the US not because it is the best engineered car but because it's hood ornament is made of Sterling Silver. "People notice these things." commented the US sales manager in the article I read.
While he was building his stereo system my brother went to the top audiophile dealer in Toronto to audition the McIntosh class A amp (Everybody else was using a class B amp which in theory is more noisy). He came back disappointed. "I can hear the cooling fan!" he said.
McIntosh just came out with their first turntable in the 60-year history of the company and it costs about $7000.
 
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Steve K

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Also many inexpensive reasonable quality speakers are now available for the iPod. I bought a Spongebob Squarepants folding speakers for $15. They do not have much base due to the small size but the speaker units have long throw neoprene surround just like the audiophile ones. Except for the lack of thump the speakers hold their own against speakers 10X the price. At 2"x2"x3" folded up they are very transportable. There are bigger units same speakers with tuned port systems that should provide full range sound.
Well, I never expected "audiophile" and "SpongeBob Squarepants" to show up in the same paragraph! :)

Yeah, there seems to be less emphasis on audiophile gear now than there was 20 or 30 years ago. Maybe it's just because there are so many more high tech gadgets to spend money on now?? Or that the portable media (iPods, etc.) are so much better than the crap I used to have to use (i.e. 8 track tapes)?

I don't have the answer, but I'm just glad that I have a local audio shop that I can go to for some decent gear and good advice. As an electrical engineer, I'm a bit amazed that the preferences have turned towards old technology such as vinyl records and tube amps. My belief is that modern technology could be used to produce sound as good as vinyl & tubes, but perhaps that just isn't where the mass market is. And a small business doesn't have the resources to make any complex semiconductor design, whereas a fellow with a good lathe could conceivably produce a really nice turntable.

Steve K.
 

ABTOMAT

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The decline of hi-fi audio did start long ago but it had nothing to do with surround sound. Mass-market quality audio gear started into a tailspin in the early '80s. People lost interest in fancy stereo systems after the huge boom of the late '70s and the manufacturers responded by making trash. The only companies to stick with high quality gear in the '80s were either really high-end established brands (McIntosh, Klipsch, etc) or small outfits looking to capitalize on the situation (Adcom, Polk, et al.) Previously reputable makers like Pioneer, Kenwood, even Phase Linear went to pot.

Massively high-end 5.1 and 7.1 surround systems have been available, and lots of people have them. You can get a stack of monoblock amps hooked up to a pre/pro and knock yourself out. Polk made a $10,000 5-channel surround speaker system in the early-mid '90s. But for pure music listening it all comes back to 2-channel stereo.

Quad ESLs and monsters like that aren't all the high end has to offer. Check out all the small speakers from outifts like B&W, Mission, NHT. Good stuff, expensive, and available in quite small sizes. You just don't see much of it because the middle-ground hifi consumer has largely dissapeared.

iPod docks used with high-end systems are more of an afterthought than a feature. A couple companies make iPod preamps but they're sort of a novelty item. Most people who want to use an iPod with a real stereo just do it the simple way with a adapter cable. Someone actually interested in audiophile-grade digital music will either use a music server or a PC with a good sound output card.

"Long throw neoprene surrounds" are not an audiophile feature. More cone excursion leads to more distortion. A certian flexability is required unless you're working with huge efficent speakers like Klipschorns, but it's not something to be strived for by itself.

I never said it took $7000 to make a good turntable, I said they were selling one for that. It's an indication of a level of interest in true hi-fi gear still exists. You can buy a $100,000 if you want to, they're out there.

I don't recall McInotsh making a Class A amp. Even their big iron is Class AB like most other makers, although they do use autoformer output. Some of their tube amps might have a single-ended setting but I'm not sure.
 

jtr1962

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As an electrical engineer, I'm a bit amazed that the preferences have turned towards old technology such as vinyl records and tube amps.
You and me both. I totally don't understand this myself given that modern equipment can reproduce any sound just as well, and with far less bulk. Then again, to me even the speakers on my LCD monitor sound just fine. However, my main impetus for accurate sound reproduction is when I'm using a train simulator as I really don't listen to music at all. One problem I find with all "high-end" sound systems is that invariably they're designed to have their best response when turned up really LOUD. To my ears even a 3 watt speaker turned way up is painful. My mom's home theater system is a case in point. Neither of us can stand it much beyond perhaps 20% volume. I just couldn't imagine listening to multihundred watt speakers.

As for tubes, some say the tube filaments vibrate with the music and cause pleasant harmonics. Possibly true, but I'd imagine we can reproduce the same thing electronically if we wanted to. I think vinyl records/tube amplifiers is a preference similar to those who prefer incandescent lighting. It's a preference for aesthetics over accuracy. Modern digital systems can reproduce sound with perfect accuracy, and certain high CRI light sources can come close to reproducing sunlight. Apparently some people just prefer "something else" in both cases. I totally don't understand it, but as Spock often said, humans are illogical. To my ears I remember the old vinyl records and tube amplifiers sounding "blurry" (can't think of a better word). I really think what we have today is a huge improvement in terms of size, power consumption, and sound quality but apparently others see it differently. Perhaps vinyl/tubes are just another facet of the obnoxious "retro" trend which has been with us for quite some time. You see all kinds of home applicances designed to mimic the 1950s, and homes built with silly fake window panes. Sometimes I feel like I'm stuck in the movie Harrison Bergeron. It's a shame we don't see more things designed from a fresh, 21st century perspective rather than trying to imitate old, obsolete technology.
 

LightBen

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I don't consider myself an audiophile, but I do appreciate good sound (my interest is more on the recording end). Here are my comments as an electrical engineer, for what they are worth: there is some really awful equipment at the lower-end. This has always been true--it's just that the low end seems to be getting even less expensive. There is some pretty decent mid-range equipment, but it generally uses amplifier topologies that do not appeal to the "purist." What about tubes? Well, my personal feeling is this: if you have two amplifiers--one tube and one solid state--and both involve significant design compromises, then the tube amp may well sound "better." However, I believe that there is little audible difference between an optimized tube amp design and an optimized solid-state amp. I've seen guitar amps that have a switch to switch between a solid-state rectifier and a tube rectifier in the power supply section... (the rectifier converts the incoming AC to pulsating DC--it's not in the audio chain! Some people go a little nuts about this stuff.) Don't get me started on the "this speaker cable sounds better" nonsense!

As for my own personal audio gear... I've obtained most of it over the past decade or so as folks I know have decided to "upgrade" to bookshelf systems, etc. My receiver is an old Nikko model with IC-based preamps and a class-A power section. I do have two turntables. Do they sound better than CD? I don't know; they sound different, but CDs are more "accurate." I'm still a fan of minidisc for making field recordings (oh, no! Lossy compression! Well, I can't hear *any* difference between a CD master and a first-generation minidisc copy). My 30+ year-old Teac 1/4" quarter-track reel-to-reel deck sounds fantastic, but I don't use it too often. My main audio source for my stereo these days is my... Ipod!

My final assessment: no, the "true" audiophile isn't dead--just the general fad in which everybody wanted to be one. Now, people value convenience and expense (or lack thereof) over quality. True audiophiles will remain.
 

scott011422

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I do agree. I do setups for my friends and they would rather have it loud that sound good. And what the customer wants, they get. Granted, my system cost twice what theirs did and isn't nearly as loud, but the sound quality doesn't even compair.

I read online about records comming back and such. And I laugh at the fact that most of them claim they like the old tech better because of the "Noise" They don't like the pure filtered sound we have now. They want the acustic artifacts, and the warbles and all the other extra noise you get with needles and tubes............But I laugh more at the fact when they are so pompus that their records sound better than our cd's....But only when they are played on their 5+ grand audio setup. Now, I'll admit, I've heard one or two of these systems, and they do sound nice. But not only is their stuff huge and take up lots of room aswell as generate a buttload of heat, but it took 5+ grand of equipment to make a record sound better than my 390 dollar 2000 watt JVC system. Thats 12 times the money!!!! And it wasn't a night and day difference either. But it did sound better.....For 12x more than I spent. So in the end, for me, its apples to oranges.
 

Black Rose

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Well, I never expected "audiophile" and "SpongeBob Squarepants" to show up in the same paragraph! :)
I almost spit out a mouthful of tea when I read that.

I'm a bit amazed that the preferences have turned towards old technology such as vinyl records and tube amps. My belief is that modern technology could be used to produce sound as good as vinyl & tubes, but perhaps that just isn't where the mass market is.
I wonder if part of it might be the lack of decent music being released these days and people are digging out their old music, while others might be discovering their parents old music collection, particularly things that never made it to CD and the digital world.

I still have my 120+ albums, but my turntable gave up the ghost after 24 years, so I can't listen to them now. My 24 year old Technics receiver still works fine. My hearing is not as good as it used to be.

In my own home, our main system now is a 5.1 home thatre system.
Our casual listening system went from full blown Yamaha stereo systems to a pair of Teac table radios with iPod docs and XM radios fed through the auxiliary inputs.

I never considered myself to be an audiophile, but I did make choices to buy quality gear for my big systems.
 

PhantomPhoton

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While I have bought home stereo equipment in the past 5 years (barely) it has never been in pursuit of hifi sound. I think I fit more into the common young school of thought in that audio quality really doesn't matter all that much. I remember degrading audio quality on cassette tapes, but cd's and eventually digital music changed that. Audio quality dropped off the radar to the masses afterwards.

I have a 6.1 DTS ES capable system because that's all I need to enjoy a good DVD movie or video game. Surroundsound is much more important to me than fidelity in music. While music is a part of my generation, it isn't as much of a central part of popular entertainment... not like I assume it was 40, 50 years ago. Movies and Video games rule my generation.

To be honest I can't tell the difference between a decent mp3 and CD. I can easily pick out a tape or record but to my ears (sorry audiophiles) they sound worse. I have an audiophile buddy (with far too much money to throw around) with whom I've done some music sampling. I believe that because it is what I've gotten used to over the past 15 years, I prefer a song from a digital source over an analog source. I like my mp3's on my $700 system far more than vinyl records on his (far more expensive than a sports car) system. I've never asked how much he's thrown at it but i do remember $7k apiece speakers coming up once (got em at a bargain price).

While I'm sure there is a lot my ears haven't been trained to hear I'm quite happy with what I have. :wave:
 

Paladin

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Gratuitous photo of my McIntosh MC-240 tube amp. It was stuck inside an old hifi console, bought at the thrift store for $50! Driving a pair of University 15 inch fullrange speakers in circa '50's EV enclosures it comes close to audio nirvana.

Paladin
Captured_2006-6-13_00002.jpg
 

Steve K

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To be honest I can't tell the difference between a decent mp3 and CD.
<...snip...>

While I'm sure there is a lot my ears haven't been trained to hear I'm quite happy with what I have. :wave:


I think I can sometimes hear a difference between a mp3 and a CD, but I think the issue of trained ears is the key. Hanging around the local hi-fi shop, I can't help but believe that their stuff does sound a bit better than my modest system, but I'll be darned if I know what the difference is.

I've heard of classical musicians that grew up listening to and playing music. Some have developed perfect pitch even. When they say that they can hear the difference between musical instruments or amplifiers/speakers/etc, I tend to trust them. Maybe it's like kids who have playing their sport since they could crawl... the motions and skills are so firmly ingrained in them that a late-comer just can't match them.

I suspect that with training, a person could learn to hear the subtle differences between equipment. I'm not sure that a preference for a type of difference isn't also learned, just as you tend to adopt preferences for food, fashion, etc. from those around you. Do people like the tube amps used in their stereo because they were told it sounds better, or maybe because it sounds like amps sounded when they were young?

The important question might be: are you any happier after learning to hear these subtle differences? Or have you just lost the ability to be happy with mediocre equipment? :)

Steve K.
(I'll admit that I still like the sound of my vinyl records, but I'd like them better if I could get rid of the clicks and pops)
 

Kiessling

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As an electrical engineer, I'm a bit amazed that the preferences have turned towards old technology such as vinyl records and tube amps. ... (snip) ... You and me both. I totally don't understand this myself given that modern equipment can reproduce any sound just as well, and with far less bulk.

Not true. Vinyl is analogue tech while "modern" stuff is digital, with is just an approximation of analogue. It can never really match.
It is not about the "perfect" sound technically speaking, but psychoacoustically speaking. Tubes are singing with our ears. We love tubes. They war our hearts. Transistor amps won't.



As for tubes, some say the tube filaments vibrate with the music and cause pleasant harmonics. Possibly true, but I'd imagine we can reproduce the same thing electronically if we wanted to.

You cannot reproduce it. The best and most expensive studio technology is good old analogue hardware. Software and digital stuff comes behind, and software cannot emulate the analogue stuff.
Don't ask me why, I was quite baffled myself when I learned it. o computer can compete with a good tube compressor :D

bernie
 

LukeA

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Not true. Vinyl is analogue tech while "modern" stuff is digital, with is just an approximation of analogue. It can never really match.
It is not about the "perfect" sound technically speaking, but psychoacoustically speaking. Tubes are singing with our ears. We love tubes. They war our hearts. Transistor amps won't.





You cannot reproduce it. The best and most expensive studio technology is good old analogue hardware. Software and digital stuff comes behind, and software cannot emulate the analogue stuff.
Don't ask me why, I was quite baffled myself when I learned it. o computer can compete with a good tube compressor :D

bernie

You say those things like there is no advancement of digital technology.
 

Beamhead

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Recovering Audiophile here, my problem is the good equipment I bought in the 80's still works fine. So I don't purchase anything new, and I refuse to buy an "i" anything.:crazy:
 

Mike Painter

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Not true. Vinyl is analogue tech while "modern" stuff is digital, with is just an approximation of analogue. It can never really match.
It is not about the "perfect" sound technically speaking, but psychoacoustically speaking. Tubes are singing with our ears. We love tubes. They war our hearts. Transistor amps won't.
You find out, working with analog vs. digital computers that the results are always the same with digital and never with analog. Perhaps it is this lack of precision that they hear.

I'd have to see a lot of double blind studies before I would accept that even a small minority of the people can tell the difference.

I work both Grass Valley and Chico music festivals and frequently see people claiming the superiority of their brand of amp sometimes with tubes. But then they stick a mic in front of it and run it through an all digital system so people can hear it and nobody ever complains or even comments on any difference.

In any event it is clear that "better" is fairly sunjective. If you doubt this listen to a Chinese opera.
 
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