Is Hi-Fi dying by it’s own hands or is there a positive prognoses?

I recently (about a month ago), read a comment to an article in a well-known audio magazine that I found interesting if not perhaps slightly harsh, but I get what the person is saying. The comment was in regards to high-end systems or gear discussed in general and the attention it garnishes from journalists and others always talking about the gear as if it was high fashion and the like. The comment read, “It’s not even fashion”. “A bunch of ugly boxes connected with a tangle of cables isn’t fashion. It’s just a bunch of testosterone-driven vomit aimed at appeasing the clinically neurotic”.
While I would not have put it quite that way, I do understand what the person is saying. Another comment stated, “there is a perception of value without constraint or reason. Mind you, I get that we cannot sell products if we focus on costs, but when reviewers get used to thinking that $20k speakers are affordable, it’s laughable”. (That statement makes more sense).

What happens is that many get caught up in the notion that the more money an item cost, the better it is automatically, especially in audio. It gets to the point that basic physics and reason gets left behind for pseudo-science and hyperbole. For example, we read or hear about how a multi-digit cable changes an entire system’s performance dramatically only to read about another cable at even greater cost out performs the previous uber-expensive cable in the same claims. What is forgotten or completely ignored is the fact that not only is everything subjective sans measurement, but that room acoustics, speaker set up and recording quality are the things that dramatically affect sound systems. The cables, the power outlet on your wall, etc, have very little if anything to do with it (unless you are having real tangible issues with those things). I’ve seen arguments and have heard comments from some audiophiles that even suggest the color of the chair you sit in can affect how a system sounds. Only recently I read a thread on a forum where a bunch of folks where claiming that the kind of gear rack one uses greatly affects the performance of a sound system! So, yes, it can get that ludicrous.

What I try to remember is, along with the fact that most everything in the industry or hobby is subjective and the value is only found in the eyes and ears of the beholder, it’s that in the audio industry price is rarely proportional to sound quality. If a $3000 amp cost $30k, the “experts” would be raving about how much better it sounds than the “lowly” $25k amps.
There are some “experts” out there who don’t go that direction because they have a level of understanding what it’s really about and what really matters. They go to the trouble of being truly fair and balanced and being inclusive, covering the entire spectrum as much as possible. I think that is part of the secret of success in the industry and hobby. Let me put it this way, “I like listening to music on my Hi-Fi”.  In my opinion, the audio hobby no longer conveys that simple and elegant philosophy so much anymore. What happened? Now we mostly hear stuff like “well, if you don’t have at least $30k invested in your sound system, then how can you be enjoying your music” or “you should not be playing your records on a $500 turntable (or even a $1k table) with a $200 cartridge, you should use a $3000 cartridge and have a $10k turntable to get the true sound” or one that was said to me directly, “You cannot possibly have virtually noise-free records cleaning them on a “scrub-n-suck” RCM instead of a $5000 ultrasonic RCM and you must really enjoy all the noise from dirt you are hearing”. Note that the person who said this to me is an “expert” (in their own mind) and doesn’t know me nor has ever heard my records or system and doesn’t know what I have, just imagine that. I find stuff like that just incredible and in great disservice to the hobby and industry in my opinion.
Another example I ran across very recently in a comment to an article about the new Crosley turntables coming out. (Yes, the same Crosley known for plastic cheap record destroyers in the past). The long and short of it is that they teamed up with Projekt, a well-regarded, good turntable manufacture, to make a $500 turntable with the Crosley badge on it for different distribution then the usual channels. These tables will be in big box stores and the like, reaching a whole other new market. It’s a fantastic idea that is going very well from what I have heard. There was a comment from someone who basically stated that the potential customers these type of products might appeal to only play warped, dollar bin, scratched up worn out crappy records played back on mediocre gear and even goes on to mention digital mass-produced reissues because they don’t have the money for “audiophile quality” gear or quality vinyl records. It is my observance that clearly this person doesn’t understand what is happening or much of anything else and that just to put the cherry on top, skilled used record shopping (anyone can learn), often times produces real gems from the bargain bins.
You can see what that sort of “snobbery” (let’s call it like it is), that the audio hobby is not inviting and that’s a shame in my opinion.

It’s ironic that there is a fair amount of complaining that “high-end” audio does not get enough or good press coverage. I feel there are some geniuses (sarcastic use of the word), who have decided to differentiate “audiophiles” from the “unwashed masses” by calling what they do “high-end” may have succeeded in fooling some of the people some of the time, but it led to Hi-Fi being ignored by more of the people more of the time. Audiophilia and “high-end” has turned into a snobbish, self-congratulatory pretension and we see the result. Hi-Fi can not be inviting with this philosophy. It’s not fair to say that the public would certainly embrace six figure “high-end” systems or $30k pieces of gear or four figure cables if only there was a little more positive press about it. Far too much time is spent on fetish and not romance.

It’s even more ironic (or moronic if taken to its logical ends) that the very people I hear complaining about how it seems that not many folks want to be a part of the “audio hobby” are the very ones pushing folks away from it. They want more folks to support the hobby or industry while at the same time wanting to keep membership super exclusive and elitist by keeping most folks out. There is no way any manufacture (or dealer/retailer), audio or otherwise, can survive with a customer base that could fit into a thimble spread out across the land.

One can talk about say Elac’s success so far with their affordable insane products all you like, but sadly it will be mostly lost in the shuffle of $200k speakers the self-titled elitists tell the public they need in order to wring out the true essence of the music. It’s too much Russian caviar and not enough Oscar Mayer. While we should never settle for crap, but many audiophiles and many in the press spend far too much time congratulating themselves in their mutual admiration societies they build and fawning over systems that cost more than the median home price, while getting stuck in a Stockholm Syndrome with the “High-End” industry. (Continued on page 2 = click below)