A major disconnect between the audiophile magazine

Greetings from London. There is in my view a major disconnect between the audiophile magazines and their readers. It’s an understandable one but in my view an important one – and that the focus of this thread-starter.

Although I’m a UK-based high-end retailer I am, curiously despite 34 years on and off still interested in music first and foremost and then the equipment that reproduces it. With my end-user hat on I have to say that in a lot of my vintage gear is certainly, performance-wise, up to the standard of a lot of modern equipment. It’s not all plain sailing of course and there is the tricky issue of value versus price. Let me explain.

Take the ARC SP-8 for example. Venerable, rightly revered and a bargain on the used market. Yes of course my ARC SP-10 and 11 are more musically credible. But in too many instances this is the exception rather than the rule. I’ve recently purchased a British Fidelity {Musical Fidelity outside the UK) P270 heavy-grunt power amp for $560 USD. 23 years old. Is the latest MF power amp of a similar specification noticeably AND significantly superior? Somehow, I doubt it. Different, certainly. But more musically credible? Hmm, somehow I doubt it. But I could be wrong. Very wrong in fact. So other than through substantial investment with the probability of selling one of the two units at some financial loss, how am I to know?

Now where do the magazines come into all this you might ask? Well let’s assume (naïve though it might be) that their primary reason for existence is to serve to needs of the reader. If so, then surely a side-by-side comparison of the two Musical Fidelity power amps (used purely for illustrative purposes in this post) is as valid as the mooted ARC SP8 versus SP10 comparison.

Clearly no advertiser of new equipment in an audiophile magazine would countenance this if they knew that the much touted new model really at best only sounded different to its vintage same-brand rival rather than better. Well, that goes with territory. The mags need to make a profit and to pay the staff at least a reasonable wage. But the point remains that given (a) the over-supply of new high-end gear in a diminishing market and (b) the buyers markets for high-value vintage gear that may indeed – or possibly not – sonically rival performance of new gear and (c) the justified end-user cynicism regarding the hype and hyperbole of marketing phrases re new gear, then end-users are at a significant disadvantage when seeking value rather than lowest pricing.

The paradox is that the very people most suited to addressing this are constrained by economic reality.

So, what’s to be done? Well, I’m thinking of doing a few comparative subjective reviews myself on my blog. Possibly for my own amusement and possibly to the altruistic benefit of others. My question though is – is there a demand? Perhaps those of you with an interest (rather than an axe to grind) might want to contact me via Audiogon, or perhaps continue the thread?

Meanwhile, my Musical Fidelity P270 sounds terrific into my Vandersteen 2c Signatures. As a start, I’m going to compare the P270 to something much newer of a similar spec and, as best I can judge, of a comparative price once 23 years of inflation are factored in.

I’m using a Carver 400t preamp, various SAE preamps, a Meridian 101b, a recent Arcam pre and North Star 2-box CD player. This leads me conveniently to the conclusion that modern DACs truly are an improvement t (generally speaking) over vintage ones. I say this having owned the $20k USD STAX X1-t. This isn’t the case with speakers though and having come to my senses about the Linn LP12 and accepted my frustration re the sonically magnificent but challenging Funk products. Re vintage speakers that to me easily equally or indeed surpass the performance of rivals from competitors I’d put the Magneplanar 20.R right up there with the finest. Similarly with the Infinity IRS and the Spendor BC3s. These BC3s although not quite as good as the Harbeth 40.1s can be had for a tiny fraction of the latter’s price. Dahlquist DQ10s being another case in point. And so it goes. Is the magnificent vintage Rowland power amps truly an altogether lesser beast than their new units? Incidentally am I the only one over her that feels (no, not feels … actually knows) that Rowland really is one of this industry's marginalised brands?

I now use a big old Denon Direct drive in a custom plinth comprising notinventedherium interspersed with layers of female yak-dung as a vibration absorber. The improvement using the female free-range version (1958 vintage) compared to the battery-farmed YD of recent years is nothing short of astonishing.

Finally, as I write this I’m listening to true vintage. Pink Floyd “Echoes” off the very rare “Rhapsody In Pink” live set through a mono speaker. If like me you saw the Floyd performing this live, the absence of Pace, Rhythm & Timing is an irrelevance. The musical trigger to the memory is sufficient. Anyway, those of you who wish to – you know how to find me.

Thank you


Howard Popeck / Stereonow Ltd

I am with you 100% and have posted similar comments in other threads.

Of course, the emperor of insanely high priced, "high end" audio does not want to be discovered wearing no clothes.

So brace yourself for backlash on any thread like this one, where current dealers and market participants will invariably trash the hopelessly antiquated, vintage equipment, or remind us that say, the Wilson Watt/Puppy Version X "blows away" the previous one which is now available for 25% of the price.

In my view, very little has improved in audio for as many as 30 years or more, other than advances in digital and/or making the mass market cheaper, lighter and/or smaller, not that those qualities are necessarily advantageous to the audiophile.

To be fair, I sometimes wonder if those of us with this view are a bit like vintage car collectors.

Are we puttering around in our unreliable old cars, romanticizing their virtues, while insisting "they don't make them like they used to"?

On reflection, no, I would say this is not the case.

Because generally cars in 2010, actually do "blow away" cars which are 10-30 years old, at least in terms of performance, and higher and higher performance has generally become more affordable and accessible.

In audio, however, performance has become more and more nebulous and debatable, only unquestionably more ridiculously expensive.

So I for one will continue to search for bargain basement vintage gear and pass on ridiculously overpriced new equipment.

If a growing number of vintage enthusiasts wakes up the industry, that would be great.

I would be delighted to see the new equipment charging ahead, and raising the playing field, at any price.

But so far, the only thing that has leaped ahead is the BS and chutzpah.

Thanks for a brave and honest thought.
If they are disconnected, they will not last long.

Thankfully, there are many sources of information, both good and bad, to draw on these days to help make better informed decisions as a buyer if you just do your homework.

Nobody ever said doing anything really well was easy.

If you do not want to do the homework, then better off buying a complete pre-integrated solution in one or more boxes from your favorite vendor. But how many of us here do that?
I think the BS and the Chutzpah are the best power amp and preamp anywhere, regardless of price!
My feeling is that new equipment can be expensive,but in technical terms/ and function better on the whole if you stick with new equipment throughout the system. Maybe TTs are different. The digital world is so much better than the old days.

I like the car analogy from CWlondon. Somehow old gear is easier to make sound ok. But if you are mad enough like many of us here, that is not enough.

I find the review world hard to get a handle on. The comparisons never seem constant. Please compare classic kit we know with the new kit to give us all a chance to understand the review.
bigaitch makes some logically unassailable points. expensive high end gear is a steeply depreciating commodity, much good, bargain-priced older gear might very well compare favorably to pricy new gear, and, especially since well-made components are engineered for long-term reliability, it might make economic sense to eschew new stuff and buy used. however, audiophilia is not, in the usual case, a purely logical or rational endeavor. many people, for a variety of reasons, only buy new--perhaps they want the latest and greatest, or like the sensation of opening the box, or consider it important to be the only owner. thus someone might choose to drop a couple of grand on a new interconnect when he could buy the exact same one used from a reputable seller for half as much, or less. ultimately, the audio world should work that way--if demand for the newest high-end gear abates, so will the ability of manufacturers to innovate and improve.
Actually, they were Musical Fidelity in the UK and British Fidelity in the US, as a company which had ceased operations still held the Musical Fidelity trademark over here. I was one of their dealers and sold the 270 which was especially good on the Quad 63s. Not for rock at high volumes of course, as one of my customers proved when he would heed any of my cautions about playing them at acid rock levels. I myself, although still a dealer, use used equipment for my own listening and recommend that path to others. I sell VPI tables for example and while the new models have advantages their older ones are still very good. The CJ 350 I use now IS considerably better than the 270, but the 270 is much better than many if not most products offered today. And the 350 costs much more than the 270 did. There are wonderful bargains available on Audiogon, but I don't run into the value for money shopper the way I use to. I am using Spendor S 100s [use to sell them] and find them different from but competitive with my friends Wilson Sasha speakers. HIFICRITIC has commented on the lack of progress, if not regression, in much of CD reproduction. The very top has advances but at an extremely high cost, I am still using my aged Meridian 200 transports with a 1992 Audio Synthesis DAX much of the time, it easily bettered a modern $5000 player IN MY SYSTEM recently. I joked that I was moving up to 2000 when I bought a pair of Focal Mini Utopias last year, despite certain advantages I eventually went back to the Spendors. These were the original ones with titanium tweeters, I paid and sold them for $2200, the current model was , I think, then $12000. But many HAVE to have the latest model, that is why I am still in the business.

Stanley Wallen
Alternative Audio
In general, technology gets better all the time and not worse.

It may or may not cost more.

Digital sources and high power amps with the maturation of Class D technology are two areas where I think newer technology is vastly superior and also more cost effective currently to most of what went before it.

There may be better phono technology available today but that will cost a premium in a niche market.

i suspect with good companies with a track record, the engineering and manufacturing processes have progressed as well enabling higher quality than before but also perhaps at a premium due to modern costs and a smaller market.

There are some similar benefits with speaker technology thes days also but as a whole I think the differences here are lesser, assuming the older gear is still in good working order
Bound for Sound magazine has been looking into vintage gear lately and doing some comparisons to modern stuff.

In general terms I agree with the original post. I like the term he uses -- musically credible. There is absolutely no doubt that better materials are available in electronics and loudspeakers and they result in better sound. The question is whether the advances in sound quality are musically credible or relevant or just audiophile minutiae? As an example, when did soundstage info become the end all and be all of audiophile sound?

Ultimately it's about listening to music. For me there's a minimum in sound quality that detracts from the music if not met. But once that minimum is met there's not a direct correlation between my enjoyment of music and increased sound quality. It's perfectly plausible that older equipment can exceed my minimum standards.

After 40 years in the "hobby",it was the current industry that pushed me out....I had a superb,very costly system,but built up over the years.

In any event,the diminishing quality of reliable service,update costs,re-packaging of unreliable components that took an entire afternoon to break down (like a turntable,arm,cartridge)....and the subsequent shock and disappointment of still having problems(after return) just wore me out!

Today's magazines are there to aid mfgrs,not hobbyists...sorry for that!

Now,when I get a bit homesick for my old set-up and LP collection(which I do),I just pick up a new Magazine and look at the asking prices of "average" equipment,cost wise...I then put it down in disbelief.

I mean,you can enjoy a magnificent hand crafted musical instrument,with a lifetime warrantee,and they get better with age..Not to mention their value increases with age as well,for less money than a high quality MC cartridge.My advice to current hobbyists is..."be happy with what you have built up over your time in the hobby.Most likely,if you have good instincts,it will "always" be competitive with what is coming down the pipe....and alot less costly".

I say this having heard scores of private set-ups,as well as many reviewrs' systems,in their homes.No need for an experienced hobbyist to "think" he is giving up anything to what is "newer".

"In general, technology gets better all the time and not worse."

Mapman's statement is unarguable. But that isn't to say that the application of technology always results in a better product. While technology is advancing the state of the art, it simultaneously offers a builder cost cutting opportunities. The development of plastics was an advancement in technology. Applying it to gears and dowels is a misuse IMO.
While the BS amp can be purchased quite commonly the Chutzpah is something that only comes to one following one's own path, it is not something one can buy
Phaelon,I hope you are accurate in your assessment of newer technology.I really do!

I'm sceptical though,as many new designs are there because they cost less to mfgr,and in many instances they take up less space.

Take class D amps as an example.God,I hope they are really a better mouse trap,but they are alot less money,are WAY smaller than what came before,and do run cooler.....Better sounding?I really don't know(though I've heard some that were OK).

Same with many other supposedly more modern alternatives in equipment.Many employ smaller parts,lesser circuits,but do sound good.

I know what you speak of,and hope you "are" correct,but my experience tells me that too many mfgrs today,are getting hit hard by a poor economy,lower sales figures,and other competitive ways to retreive and listen to music.

It just seems that the High End of today is aimed at those folks who buy things like pricey cars,watches etc.

These companies,selling high end gear have so little to work with,regarding a "true" customer base,that they simply "must" get top dollar to survive.This definitely hurts follow up customer support(don't I know it)as quality repair technicians are not able to be employeed.

Also,how many times have we read about very costly,well revieweed components literally crapping out upon first audition in the home.Is this progress?

Don't get me wrong,this is a great hobby,but much of the vintage stuff is not necessarily "old"....and alot of it sounds fabulous....if voiced with correct componentry.

We,the hobbysit do pay dearly,if we want to stay in the hobby.....A great hobby,btw....I still know that!

Curiously,I was scoping out what the current cost of quality audiophile vinyl might be today,if I so desired to get back in the game(I do miss it,but have been hard at work with my musicianship....very satisfying).I used to have a magnificent LP collection,as well as CD's.Virtually "all" of the TAS Super Disc List,in original pressings....Early pressings too.

Once again,to my chagrin,it just looks like the market is being pushed to a rediculous standard of costs.I'm speaking of the usual LP internet retailers,but of course one can go the old record store route(I live near The Princeton Record Exchange) and spend an afternoon on your knees,slodging through the floor bins(actually,lots of fun,and cheap too).

Hard and costly to get back in the game.Not to mention a turn off when one considers there are no true audiophile magazines anymore....especially if you cut your teethe on the original TAS Magazine....Now "that" was for us guys,not the industry biggies,who pay for adv space.

Best to all
And thank you too. I very much appreciate your comments. Sincerely, HP
Yes, quite correct. Thank you. Entirely my fault. I spotted my error too but as far as I can tell, it isn't possible to re-edit the thread posting once it has been posted. Ho hum as some of us say in the UK. Re your observation "The very top has advances but at an extremely high cost" - I agree with you 100%.

Despite being a high-end retailer, I am in the main increasingly frustrated that despite excellent margins on new gear, the true value for money for the discerning buyer is declining year upon year. Commercial opportunism at its most blatant. Some of the techniques used by some retailers to facilitate this are very advanced. Many prospects don’t realise what’s happening to them …. even while it’s happening. And that of course is the art, if not the science – of careful deceit.

I might get around to explaining how these techniques can be applied successfully to the majority of even well-informed prospects. But that’s a story for another day I guess.

Now I do appreciate that I may well be preoccupied by the need for my customers to truly believe, through experience rather than as a consequence of underhand techniques, that they have via me achieved true and tangible value. Sometimes, given their aspirations versus their budget this can only be achieved in part or in main through the sale of vintage gear. This though is not without its own counter-intuitive challenges though.

Naturally, me being atypical in my approach (but I most certainly don’t claim exclusivity in this) does result in occasionally curious responses. It’s a sad reality that the degree of scepticism in the minds of a few is such that they truly wonder where the ‘catch’ is. Sadly and somewhat frustratingly too, this approach and openness still results in occasional incongruence. By this I mean that while they ended up with a sound they love at a price they wanted to pay, the absence of stress and fuss is so disturbing and contrary to their expectations that I know full well that total customer satisfaction is beyond my skills. Sad, but true. This too I guess goes with the territory. Meanwhile . . .

Try as I may, I truly cannot hear the degree of improvement so often claimed by makers and self-deluding importers and some UK audiophile journalists. Sometimes I do and yes, after 34 years doing this I know what to listen for, the improvement just isn’t there. There are differences, yes. However the cleverly constructed illusion foisted on the buying public that a difference is axiomatically an improvement is, no doubt about it, astonishing.

Through a process of skepticism I only now sell LFD and Manley when it comes to amps and only Benchmark for DACS. I do okay. More of a hobby now than a money-making business, but I’m content. I can’t reasonably ask for more than that now can I?
On the average, in my opinion, newer equipment is sometimes better. Capacitors, output devices, etc. are better quality. Signal path technology, biasing, etc. better. However, That does not automatically mean that a new amp, pre-amp, etc. would sound better than an older piece of equipment. However, one must compare apples to apples. comparing a $10,000 new amp with an amp that was priced at $3,000 fifteen years ago, may not be a fair comparison. everything is subjective.

As I have pointed out many times in the past, magazines will not review older products especially ones out-of-production. Therefore, equipment manufactures will consistantly "create" the latest and greatest new equipment that may not really be better than their older equipment, but since the older equipment will not be reviewed by the mags anymore, they have to come up with something new to get their names circulated. not all do this, but most. So,reading the mags may be interesting, but it may not be fair because they really don't compare with the older high-end stuff. Sometimes they do, but the comparisons are biased, typically.

Take for example the Mark Levinson 23.5 or 20.6 and compare with the newer Mark Levinson amps that were priced comparably. That would be interesting. I have done this to a point and let me tell you, the newer stuff isn't "better". Different, maybe, but better? oh boy!

How about the VTL 300 deluxe compared to the comparable VTL's now? it would be interesting. Especially, if you retube the older equipment first.

I stand by my premise that magazines are not interested in reviewing older stuff and to get readers, they must review new stuff and therefore, manufactures, must come up with "newer and better" to get their name in the mags. But, it does not necessarily mean that the newer stuff is actually better.

For the vast majority of today's home PC users, a 10-year old PC attached to an LCD monitor should do fine.

For the vast majority of drivers looking to get excellent mileage with good reliability in a modicum of comfort on their way to work, they'd be better off buying a low-miles 10-yr old Accord.

For most kids, hand-me-down clothes work fine during their growing years.

For most people who read, the public library has most of the books you will want to read.

I liked the original version of Nikita better than the American remake, Point of No Return.

Nobody is going to convince me that new Mountain Dew tastes better than old Mountain Dew but it certainly costs more.

But ask any male who got more than 20 on the 'Older Than Dirt' quiz whether they can pick up babes better now than 30 years ago...

Such is the way of things...
Some very interesting responses. Thank you. Again, as with other postings here, I agree with you. Regarding the categories of customers you identify so well, you might be surprised to know that when I spot them I do from time to time deliberately engineer the demonstration to give a poor outcome or an ambiguous one. The consequence is that they go to one of my competitors – which is entirely my intention.

I’m uncomfortable dealing with the paranoid, the over-anxious, the obviously obsessed and the other strange (to me at least) types. I neither have the patience, the know-how nor the mental horsepower necessary to do this. It’s nothing to do with the money either. Truth be told, the paranoid among you can be very profitable for me were I to choose to exploit your anxiety. I leave that to some of my competitors.

Does this mean I loose revenue? Yup, it certainly does. Do I care? No, not one iota. The reason for me is uncomplicated in that no amount of profit will compensate me for the need to act as a counselor for the disturbed. And this industry has a higher incidence of disturbed enthusiasts than any other that I’ve had direct personal experience of. Anyway . . .

The problem {now solved incidentally) for this high-end retailer is uncomplicated. The stress involved in dealing with the small amount of people who continually want to upgrade is for me in no way compensated for by the profit. Strange, but true. Such people leave an indelible stain on my memory of the working week which is so out of proportion to the trauma as to be absurd. But . . . that’s how I feel it. Moreover the 9 or more truly satisfying sales curiously and frustratingly doesn’t seem with me to compensate for the one miserable (albeit highly profitable) one.
Hi Sirspeedy, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate". I think we're trying to say the same thing: that it's not technology per se, but its application that determines its worthiness. I'm confident that if engineers are tasked to use all the technologies available to a product's best advantage, something new and wonderful will likely come to market. On the other hand, if the challenge is to lower build cost, we wind up with plastic gears. Unfortunately, like you, I believe it's the second motivation that most often drives development.
Want something to compare? Stereophile archives of tests are online. Sometimes, but not often there is a 'revisit'. They did so with my CD player, an original FD1000 sold here as a Magnevox. Kind of fun reading impressions and listening tests from 25+ years ago.

Stereo mags / equipment manufacturers VS end users is the same as
Car mags / Builders VS drivers.

How many autos OR hifi components are given terrific reviews than......vanish?

Cars seem to have improved, but costs are wacky. How many people are equipped to properly drive half a million $ worth of Ferrari? And afford the upkeep.
Nope, I'll stay in the relatively shallow end of the pool and stay away from brand-new/ latest greatest.
Excellent version of "Echoes," BTW... though it's hard to find a bad one. (Also, check out "Any Colour You Like" from the Boston 1975 ROIO-- you'll just feel like you're stoned.
I have one example in my experience. I had the Pass Labs Aleph 2 monos - 100 watts, Class A. I thought they were very good, but the Pass XA100.5 monos- 100 watts, Class A - in the same system, sounded MUCH better.

The magazines present snapshot recommendations of what is currently available. As long as one understands that that is what they offer, they can be enjoyed. Sites like this one and the internet in general have made it possible to locate and research some great older designs. I think audiophiles are trading equipment now as a result of this, much more than before. And the market offers so many more possibilities than before. The main magazines have not really adapted to this new reality and IMO are becoming less relevant and have less influence on purchase decisions. Though, I did read about the XA100.5 in TAS and that review was very accurate.
BS and chutzpah has and always will be out there.Its for individual's to decide whats better for them.We seem to fall apart when we enter an audio salon.we are intimidated by a strong arm sales approach and we take printed reviews at face value.Then we come to these forums and ask others which is better or what do they think.People,would you ask others what they think of your wife or husband or which of two people you should marry.Its what you think that counts. How many times have you purchased a component because others said it was better only to find that the piece you sold to buy this new component was greatly missed.How many times have you made revisions on a component because the dealer or manufacturer said its a must only to find that you liked Rev 1 better and why do we think that vintage gear is better then todays components or the reverse.As Mapman stated do the work,you will be rewarded.
I do use a re-capped, upgraded Sansui AU D-11 and upgraded LT-30 as the center of my vinyl rig. Given the value of this thread, my questions begin with:
Let's assume vintage compares favorably to current equipment. Will the comparisons simply place a significantly higher cost on vintage equipment? What of brick & mortar stores? Will they need to scour the garage & estate sales to keep a stock of vintage equipment to remain open and competitive?

I firmly believe in the performance of vintage equipment, but also believe comparisons on blogs, in magazines or online will ultimately result in a price shift upward to collector-level stupidity.
Hello Mt10425

Given the value of this thread, my questions begin with:

“Let's assume vintage compares favorably to current equipment. Will the comparisons simply place a significantly higher cost on vintage equipment?”

Yes, probably. None of us individually can buck market forces. One point of view, and it is one that I subscribe too is that in terms of pricing, decent vintage gear in working condition is more often than not woefully underpriced. Or in comparison, new is woefully overpriced. Or more simply, he price differential between new and used gear of similar performance is far too high.

“What of brick & mortar stores? Will they need to scour the garage & estate sales to keep a stock of vintage equipment to remain open and competitive?”

Over here in the UK it’s already happening. Both Hi-fi World and Hi-Fi News carry more display ads from specialised used audiophile retailers than they do for those frantically trying to promote over-priced and hyped-up new releases. Market forces are not swayed by nostalgia.

“I firmly believe in the performance of vintage equipment, but also believe comparisons on blogs, in magazines or online will ultimately result in a price shift upward to collector-level stupidity. “

Possibly, if I were to agree with you that all collectors are inherently stupid. In my experience some are and the majority are not.
Not inherently "stupid". But many serious collectors of any number of things often exhibit "fiscal irresponsibility" setting standards of monetary value. Otherwise, thanks for the response.
In the case of preamps and integrated amplifiers, lack of a remote control will disqualify vintage units for many audiophiles.

Computer based music banks add convenience and arguably better performance over CD systems. Vintage has no alternative there.

Modern implementation of old technology sometimes noticeably exceeds the capabilities of the original. My horns and compression drivers are better than any vintage alternative available to me, if not any at all.

So, I would submit that the vintage option is not always preferable. My take has always been to work the valleys while everyone else was scrambling from peak to peak. Now the peak salesman at the major mags appear to be losing their ability to steer the consumer and said consumer has started to discover viable alternatives in the bone pile of history. This too will run into trouble as it overruns its practicality.

It's fun to watch the show though.
I don't think I've read an audiophile magazine in 30 years. ;-)
Coming from someone who has bought some equipment new but most of it used - in a way the buyers of used equipment actually perform (indirectly) a service for the dealers. Some people will always want the latest and greatest. Does it really matter to the rest of us whether it's neurotic or macho or whatever? These are the people who eventually feed the used market when they go after the "next big thing." The service we provide to the dealers is taking this equipment off of the hands of their potential customers. It has to go somewhere and putting perfectly working equipment into a landfill doesn't seem like a good option.

Anyway, I like my vintage/slightly older equipment and because I have "champagne taste on a beer budget" it's good that older equipment is still competitive and available.
I think that there's been real advances in sound reproduction technology over the last decade, but it's primarily been in DSP (specifically room correction) software. IMHO, it works and the improvement is quite audible. However, this community often embraces a purist, "simplest signal path" approach and rejects this kind of signal manipulation. For analog sources, I kinda get it, but for digital sources, I find this curious.

My take: There's little rational thinking in this hobby. People pay for gratification, and better performance does not gurantee increased gratification. If an exotic cabinet appeals to enough buyers with sufficient disposable income, it will get manufactured and it will get sold, regardless of its contribution (or lack thereof) to performance.

As to the hobbyist magazines: They are basically porn, selling photos that make the reader experience desire. There's no disconnect, they're just serving their market, too.
Hello Djohnson54

You wrote: “. . . and putting perfectly working equipment into a landfill doesn't seem like a good option”. I agree with you 100%

During candid conversations with some prominent UK makers (not my suppliers incidentally) they have occasionally voiced the view, if not the plea that yes they very much wish that some of their existing customers would indeed put “perfectly working equipment into a landfill”

Their logic is, from a strictly commercial standpoint, irrefutable. They’ve realised that by having tens of thousands of their perfectly functioning discontinued models in daily use, they have become their own most tenacious and effective competitors. Unlike their automotive colleagues they are in the main incapable of identifying even one tangible improvement over the discontinued models. And that’s usually because there isn’t one. I’m thinking here primarily of speakers and amps and FM tuners.

However, my argument is to some extent invalidated when considering transports and DACs where yes indeed, tangible and readily identifiable improvements are apparent to most who care to listen – or indeed care at all.

Thank you for your comments


I agree with you here. The systems that have blown me away are usually a blend of vintage classics and modern pieces. Lamm amps an vintage Tannoy's = awesome. Has the Micro Seki turntable really be bettered by anyone?
Howard, Someone has already mentioned Bound For Sound, an excellent subscription only magazine, with no adverts, in the same vein as HiFi Critic. It is much less glossy, so much cheaper. The contributors are quite rigorous in their reviews and critical where necessary.

Interestingly, Marty at B for S, has said he has difficulty getting items for review. The implication being, that manufacturers take the view that a large advertising spend gives them immunity from a bad review, in the main stream magazines.

He has being carrying out a series of reviews of Vintage kit. More interestingly, he starts from the position that they will be impaired because of old components. One has been able to follow him on a learning curve of how to replace worn out Caps and wiring on both amplifiers and speakers. Many of them produced smoke, not sound on first turning them on.

I live in the UK, so if you would like to borrow a few copies to read, send me a PM. I wo'nt copy them, as that is'nt fair to the magazine.
Howard, I understand why some of you colleagues feel that way. The economy has hastened an already shrinking market and they (and you) are being squeezed. The irony is that there is a huge untapped market out there for all of this equipment. The world is full of people, mostly young but some old too, that are listening to crap and don't know it. These same people also think that getting into high-end sound will cost a fortune even if they were willing to consider it. Imagine if we could introduce them to good sound using "obsolete" equipment and then later they become willing and able to invest in new equipment. It boggles the mind.

Howard, I'll offer another take on why some of the vintage gear is musically the equal of newer stuff - good engineering. Before the modern computer era it was more likely that talented engineers would end up working for an audio company than today because the electronics industry wasn't as diverse as it is today. Today the most talented engineers usually work in the communications and computer industries because that's where the most interesting work and the best pay is.

So, in the past the guy responsible for designing an amplifier, for example, for a major electronics company was likely one of the best guys you could find for the job - a true analog design guru. Nowadays the more likely person to be given this job is not as much of an analog design specialist. He relies upon the manufacturers of the ICs he uses to do the bulk of the engineering and he simply implements the recommended circuits found in the databooks. He also probably doesn't have as much experience as the engineer that designed the vintage piece did. He is able to achieve good results because the components are better, not because his skills are better. The vintage guy achieved good results with components that were not as good. This required more skill. Evidence of this skill can be found in vintage pieces that are still working fine after 30 years or more. They were designed to be reliable, not disposable as so much of todays consumer gear is.

I don't mean to say that there are no talented engineers designing audio gear anymore. There certainly are. They are more likely to be found in small companies as owner/designer. These guys have a true passion for their work. Jeff Rowland is a perfect example of one of these guys. I am curious as to why you think Rowland has been marginilized, though. I have always respected Jeff's work and have voted with my own dollars as my system is based around Rowland gear.

Hi there nighthawk.

Re Rowland, looking back on my original comment I should have been less ambiguous. At that point I was thinking pretty much of the UK press and the UK audiophile public. I’m sorry about that. I’d momentarily forgotten the global reach of Audiogon.

In the UK, Rowland, or perhaps more relevant the UK importer have a very low profile. Maybe this is accidental. Possibly deliberate. They might well have concluded that a UK audiophile press who might well – if given the opportunity – claim that a lawnmower with the brand name NAIM on it was a musical portal into nirvana is unlikely to give a Rowland a totally unbiased review. The point being that on every occasion I’ve heard a Rowland I have been deeply impressed with what it has been able to do with speakers that I’ve previously found very disappointing.

Here’s an example. I was called in by a user (not my customer) to figure out why his Wilson Audio Watts/Puppies Series 7 driven by a pair of Levinson 33H power amps and ML32 preamp sounded not very good. It’s a long story, but it sets a reference point. This hapless individual was using the very top of the line Levinson transport and DAC. Now, let’s switch to scene #2

This next guy had Wilson Series #6 driven by a Rowland power amp and a Spectral DMC-12 (which I subsequently bought) with signal from from an Accuphase 85V. The sound was as joyful and magnificent as I’ve ever heard in the UK, period. Moreover new-for-new it was a fraction of the price of the other system.

Now of course there was a serious sonic mismatch between those Levinsons and the Wilsons in that room on that day. It was at first sight hard to identify the ‘culprit’. I did get there in the end and it took just $417 to put the smile back on his fave. Meanwhile 2 UK retailers had taken serious money off this guy and … both of them must have known of the incompatibility – or been stone deaf.

The other man had discovered what I’ve coined as “accidental magic”. It’s both rare and wonderful is accidental magic. That specific Rowland into those Wilsons using the Spectral and Accuphase 85v truly was – by accident rather than design – outstanding. All of the gear in this great system was previously owned. All the gear in the expensive system was brand new.

For that reason alone (but there are others) I feel sure that Rowland, without fuss and hype may indeed be up there with a tiny handful of the very best of the global amplifier designers and makers.

Meanwhile in the background here tonight I’m playing John Mayall’s “Blues Alone”. My old Musical Fidelity (British Fidelity for our USA cousins) P-270 is sounding magnificent at these low volumes as indeed it does at high volumes and anything in between.

In conclusion might I humbly suggest that whenever any of you are auditioning power amps, one very useful and curiously forgotten additional test is to check for tonal variation as the system volume is increased. And then again as it’s reduced. Few power amps, in my direct personal experience, are tonally consistent throughout the volume range. The 'flat0earth' purveyors of PRaT know this and that's why they try to divert requests away from this simple but effective auditioning test.


Howard Popeck / Stereonow Ltd http://not-boring-honestly.blogspot.com/
If you are looking to compare older gear with new stuff, I recommend making sure the power supplies and the like are up to snuff with good filter capacitors.

PRat, FWIW, is something you can design for but has its own price that it exacts of the design. At some point I contend that we will have to throw away our current system of measurements and adopt one that relates only to human perceptual rules rather than simply trying to look good on paper.
An older but good design should be viable for years to come less the eventual parts replacement that will bring it back up to specs. Good sounding gear has not just recently been invented for the exception of the technolgy that has brought us digital swithing amps. I think this thread echos the frustrations shared by many audiophiles, is this years model better than last years and if so, is it worth the price difference. It is well known that many audiophiles will pay a substantial difference for a marginal improvement, I'm not one of them because I am putting music before the gear and as a homeowner I have other demanding things that require my attention.

Further to "pace, rythmm, and timing" or PRAT, I believe the UK hi fi industry invented the term?

So further to this thread and another recent one about Linn bamboozling its customers with Jedi mind tricks, American and International readers should know the other meaning of "prat":

English term, primarily used in United Kingdom.

The literal meaning is "bottom" or "rump"; aka backside, buttocks, sacrum, tail end.

This lends itself to the slang meaning of "ass," or "clueless person of arrogant stupidity."
I can't believe what an overbearing idiot he is.
What a prat!

A self-aggrandizing, pompous f***. Someone who is full of themselves and, almost invariably, stupid as well. With a hint of 'deluded.' "I'm getting really tired of listening to Vince brag about his conquests. What a PRAT."

Having lived in the UK for nearly 10 years, it would not surpise me if "pace rhythm and timing" aka PRAT was coined while viewing LP 12 customers with contempt and laughing all the way to the bank.