Back In the Day

A question for some of you old-timers -- I'm looking for info about audiophile buying habits. Prior to about 1980 were audiophiles constantly "upgrading" equipment as seems to be the current pattern. I'm talking about this in the most general sense. If Audiogon is a guide, then modern audiophiles, not all, but most seemingly churn their equipment at a very rapid pace. Just wondering if that's always been the case?
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No. Back in the day, audiophiles spent more time listening to music and less time listening to equipment.
Based on my own experience I would say no, its not. the secondary market was very limited. the local hi end shops you MIGHT be able to buy at 10% off list and they would give you 20 cents on the dollar on your equipment in trade.
No. Back in the day, there were more people interested in audio and FAR less to choose from equipment wise. Today, there is an astonishing amount of gear out there for what would seem to be a shrinking interest base.
Yes, I was doing it, possibly more than now. I went through cartridges like water. Also, several turntables, less amps, and speakers. A lot of it may have been bad record pressings, and recordings. If it was popular, they stamped records out (truckloads?) when they should have scrapped the dies. Nobody complained, they were making nice profits, and the result was poor. I had some albums that I put a lot of hours on. I used to joke that one of these days I may hold it up the the light, and it will show through.

Then I found a couple of them in the old closeout section of a store years later, and was thrilled. One day I opened them to see how much better they would sound. Big disappointment. They sound like they were played day after day on a cheap jukebox, or were played on a bad changer. I tried them on different tables ( arms,cartridges too) and the same result. I gave them time to break-in, and they never sounded as good as the worn out ones I had. They must have been stamped on super high hour dies.

In about the '90s, I had ended up about at least a half of a dozen of audio friends, even more with the out of town/state ones, finally, more time and money. We bought and swapped a ton of all kinds of audio gear for years. It was a lot easier, with a lot of us involved. Finally settling down some, at least I hope.
Back in the day I learned about the Shibata Stylus in an effort to reduce surface noise on records. I was also upgrading equipment and experimenting with cables.
Back then, as some have pointed out already, there were far fewer manufacturers of high end equipment than now... but far more critical a limitation back then --- and the main reason why constant upgrades were rare for audiophiles (even if they had the money to do so) ... was limited access to what was available. Unless you lived in a big city with access to multiple High End shops, you simply had no access to what was available. Now, with the internet and places like audiogon, we have instant access to hundreds of brands of high end equipment. Back then, you would, if you were at all rural, drive a few hundred miles to find a shop, see what they have and choose from that limited array of equipment.

So... when all you had were some few and far between High End shops, you chose from what you had access to... and that was limited. So people did not volunteer to re-enter the hunt-and-find process nearly as often as now --- when one merely has to click a few buttons from home and choose from 25-times as many options and simply wait for the equipment to show up on your door-step.
I think that this phenomenon of churning equipment goes hand-hand with the internet taking off i.e. the public has ready & easy access to a used & new equipment market that it did not have in 1980s. Plus, the number of manuf in each segment (amps, preamps, cables, TTs, etc) has grown many-fold & customers want to try out more/diff gear all the time.....
In the 1980s the methodology to buy equipment was much diff - it was a face-face transaction. Not so now!

Now, you buy from some user name, if you like it you keep it otherwise put it back up for sale....

It was all about "gittin" new music. Every time I went to the record store, I ran into somebody I knew. We were all well acquainted with the owner who gave good recommendations.

After we got into the "high end", the music thing was all over. Although that was a productive phase, I'm glad that I'm through it, and will never go back to it again. "It" meaning "listening to the equipment".
ithink there was available some excellent brands--mcintosh, marantz, hadley, quad, klh, to name a few, and people were satisfied with the sound of their turntable-based systems.

current-production gear reveals flaws and may engender dissatisfaction--hence replacing components.
For many "listeners" the gear has become the main attraction, and the music secondary. When I was first getting into the hobby the gear was a means to an end. With the exception of the occasional "Stereo Spectacular" (or something like that) LP release, how many "Audiophile" recordings where there back in the day? Not many, to the best of my recollection. Certainly not nearly as many as became available around the same time that there was the explosion in the number of gear manufacturers . I remember when owning that rare recording on HP's "Super List" had as much cachet (or more) as having the latest offering from Koetsu. Remember the articles in TAS about the great concert halls of the world, the great pipe organs of the world, etc.? Remember how many more pages of every issue was devoted to record reviews than is now? When was the last time you attended a gathering of audiophiles and someone made an intelligent comment about why Carlos Kleiber was a great conductor? Man, do I feel old; and I'm only (?) 54.
That's the problem - too many choices. At just about any price point, so many want to find the best they can. This is almost endless, of course, but understandable. And if you start playing with cables..
I also think that for many it all became a fashion, both equipment and music.
Amen, Frogman, amen. There is very little discussion of music and musicians on this site, for that matter. There is more on the asylum, but they have a dedicated forum for it. I have always wondered why there wasn't one here. Of course, even when there is discussion of such things, the choices of most audiophile's favorite performers or conductors are almost always based on which recordings sound better, rather than on the actual performance/interpretation. Sigh....
if you have achieved a sound from your stereo that pleases you why replace components ?
There are far more product categories to upgrade in now, so that's a big factor. Depending on how far back in the day you go, digital was not part of the system, nor were high-end cables, room treatments, outboard power supplies, vibration control, platforms, purpose-built racks, and so on. Then again, there were tuners.
Yes; I was in Chicago in the 60s and a bunch of us would read the Chicago Tribune Sunday ads when it came out Sat night for the latest listings. I changed equipment much more then as things were A LOT cheaper. A pair of Quad 57s were under $400 including sea freight from England. A Stax tone arm was $37.50 including air freight from Japan, and so on. One thing hasn't changed; the audiophiles I knew didn't use Mac then either. The ones with money used Marantz 9s or 8b or Citation 2 or 5. The ones with less money [me] used Dynaco Stereo 70 or Mk 3s or 4s. I went to solid state in the mid 60s and never went back. Cartridges were $50 or less when they weren't a penny extra when bought with a turntable.
Damn, I am old. There were a lot of brands of good equipment that I am sure almost no younger audiophile has heard of. Hadley, Ge-Go, Fane, Goodmans, Sherwood, Scott, Radford, Transcriptors, Rec-o-kut, Gray, Hartley, Viking, Ampex, Braun, Bozak, Ferrograph. Some that I have mentioned lived on as cheap labels for some time; Warfedale is still around but not what it was when Gilbert Briggs ran it. There always was a "high end" if you use the term to mean gear significantly better than average; just not as pretentious as it is now.
Yes; I was in Chicago in the 60s and a bunch of us would read the Chicago Tribune Sunday ads when it came out Sat night for the latest listings. I changed equipment much more then as things were A LOT cheaper. A pair of Quad 57s were under $400 including sea freight from England. A Stax tone arm was $37.50 including air freight from Japan, and so on. One thing hasn't changed; the audiophiles I knew didn't use Mac then either. The ones with money used Marantz 9s or 8b or Citation 2 or 5. The ones with less money [me] used Dynaco Stereo 70 or Mk 3s or 4s. I went to solid state in the mid 60s and never went back. Cartridges were $50 or less when they weren't a penny extra when bought with a turntable.
I was just glad to get something I could afford that would put a smile on my face. All we had we magazines and brick and mortar stores, some who would look at your askance if you weren't their 'type'. Some even required an appointment just to browse and listen and attitudes were prevalent: I'm sure that could trigger another thread. But there were some who were quite the opposite and helped save this hobby.

Without the internet, we would savor our rigs and eagerly await the next issue of reviews. At least that's how it was for me. I had levels of incremental improvement that would seem glacial by todays standards. Come to think of it, I did enjoy the music so much more than I do now, being content with what I had. Now with all the immediate improvements constantly bombarding me, I'm constantly reminded that what I have is so passe, LOL.

Sites like A'gon and others have opened up avenues of pleasure and debt and along with it some pretty intense marketing but its the nature of the game.
Truth be told, advances in PCs, servers and DACs have benefited from all of this, lulling me back onto the merry-go-round.

There's much to be said about the here and now and the youth who will experience and enjoy some of the greatest improvements in sound reproduction and all that lies ahead, but I'd like to think that the learning curve and history we've endured is irreplaceable and alas, soon to be lost in some back issues on someone's server.
Thanks for the replies -- they gave me plenty to think about.

I don't completely buy the argument about the greater variety of equipment available today. If you only look at the number of manufacturers and products, sure, but at a practical level, it's probably not true. The internet makes it easy to buy products from all over the world, but back in the 1960-70s every moderate sized town had an electronics store that sold hi-fi equipment. Most of these stores were local, but you also had chains such as Lafayette or Allied. You could walk into these stores and see, touch and hear a decent variety of equipment. Effectively I think that matches the virtual variety we have today.

I don't think there is any question that Audiogon, Craigslist and eBay have altered the economics to make buying/selling used equipment vastly easier for the consumer.

I also think magazines/reviewers play a crucial role. Back in the day the magazines only really talked about how components sounded in the most general sense. Terms such as full bodied, lush, rich, tinny or boomy were used. Notice how even a non-audiophile could understand these terms. But with the rise of subjective reviews the vocabulary changed and simply descriptions of sound were replaced with "concepts" about sound. Terms such as soundstage, ying/yang, high resolution, musical, hi-fi sounding, inner detail and finally, my favorite, continuousness came into use. Non-audiophile have no idea what we're talking about anymore.

All the talk about sound gets in the way of enjoying well recorded music reproduced over high quality equipment. Instead of pursuing this relatively simple goal, audiophiles have got caught up in chasing the description of how their systems are supposed to sound. Are you lacking soundstage depth? Missing resolution as notes decay into the noise floor? No imaging beyond the outer edge of your speakers? Is the soundstage space between performers not fully fleshed out? If your system suffers from any of these "problems" then obviously you need to upgrade. Magazines have purposely or not developed a world view and vocabulary about sound that plants dissatisfaction in audiophile minds.

It's actually a testable hypothesis. If you stop reading about sound, will you slow down upgrading.
The main driver is economics. Personal income has exploded in the last 30 years, so have various means of trying to siphon that money from flush individuals. Houses, autos, boats, sporting events, etc, have also enjoyed these flourishing times.
The internet and glossy rags have helped spur the market, but the main driver behind it all was Reaganomics.

Yes, if you stop listening to others telling you how wonderful the next great toy is, you won't be in such a rush to purchase it.
Yes, Reaganomics, the radical redistribution of income to the upper end of the financial spectrum which transformed America from the greatest creditor nation in the world to the greatest debtor nation. While the middle class has barely held even if not declined in the last 30 years that of the upper few percent has exploded. No wonder that there are roughly 100 speakers on the market priced at $100K or more. Instead of aiming at a broad middle class most companies now aim at the upper end of the market as that is where the money is.
hi end audio equipmment is characterized by inelasticity of demand.

it is more profitable to sell a few very expensive products than sell many inexpensive ones.

as an entrepreneur, profit is usually the most cogent motivation.

i suspect that such a strategy would be successful under most conditions.
Good engineering is making a great product where cost is no object. Great engineering is make a great product at a reasonable price. Considering that many of us on this forum have become conditioned to expect more when we pay more, the bulk of these hifi companies are happy to oblige and stop working on the development project once they have a great product. What I'm saying is, that as an engineer, it is relatively easy to meet the design goals of performance, and a little more work to meet durability and reliability targets. But taking out cost in a product is the hardest part of product development. I think our hifi culture or maybe even our more widely common culture of excess has not just encouraged these companies to stop working on the design once they have a great product but we also give them added prestige, or perhaps we will not even consider them unless their portfolio contains a sky is the limit product offering.
I can tell you, for sure, that it is *much* easier now to buy/audition used gear. Back in the day - and I'm talking late 60s, early 70s - you usually hung out at the nearby audio salons looking for bah-gains. Being near Washington, DC, I frequented Audio Associates, Audio Buys, Dixie Hi-Fi (later to become Circuit City!!) and many others, always looking for good deals on used or newly marked down new equipment.

But the advent of the internet has radically changed that. I can now peer into the basements, attics, equipment racks of guys who are thousands of miles away from me and scoop up great deals on (gently) used gear. But you must do your homework up-front and know exactly what you want and what you are willing to pay for it.

I built virtually my entire 5.1 AV system this way. And I saved a lot of coin doing so. Audiogon has been VERY good to me...