Current Trends In Home Audio

This is not a question, but a personal observation.

For the past few weeks I've been house hunting in the Ann Arbor area and consequently I've walked through about 25 homes. Not a single audiophile setup in any of the houses. Not a single phono rig, though one household had about 100 albums next to their CD collection. There also weren't any elaborate home theater setups. The most common audio systems were mini systems with built in CD/DVD players and computers with satellite/subs. Also saw a few Bose Wave radios. In talking with our broker he stated in the new subdivision construction, which he specializes in, that whole house audio systems are a big selling point. He also stated that in the high end housing market ($1 million plus in Michigan) that dedicated media rooms are the norm, but all the speakers are in wall/ceiling types.

Apparently audiophiles are a small chose few.
A year ago, I started a new (and probably final) career as a realtor, and during the past 12 months I have been through a LOT of homes. My observations pretty much parallel yours -- the homes of "average" folks usually have "sound systems" ranging from boom boxes to cheap HT systems that cost less than $1000 (many less than $500). I have yet to see a true audiophile setup in moderately priced homes.

On the other hand, the high-end homes typically have a HT setup -- often in more than 1 room -- but very few of them are built around high-end audio systems. Sad to say, but fewer and fewer people seem to care about high-fidelity sound reproduction for MUSIC -- but they will spend a lot of money to listen to movie soundtracks. As a hobby, it looks more and more like high-end audio is a dying industry except for people with high-end incomes.

Is it possible that there is a correlation between the musical "education" of the younger generation and their tendency to buy mediocre quality sound systems?
I bought my home 2 years ago in the SF Bay Area. With the prices of homes here, there's a good reason for people not to own expensive rigs - just can't afford it. I also suspect most people store away the good stuff before a bunch of strangers wander through their home. I know I would.
While their will always be audiophiles , sadly, I believe the numbers will diminish. It seems that the trend is for convenience over quality. Music all stored on a Hard Drive with sound quality as a secondary consideration. Its frustrating. I was in a music store this morning , I remember two of the first CD's I ever purchased were Dire Straights , Brother in Arms , and Stevie Wonder In a Sqaure Circle . To this day, they are among the best sound quality CD's I own. Twenty years later, If I go out and but twenty newly recorded CD's at random , I would be lucky if I found 1 or 2 out of the 20 that could approach the sound quality of these two CD's . Thats a crime. Twenty years and no consisent sound quality on redbook software.
Onhwy61: I agree a 100+ percent with your statement. I am a Building Inspector and live and work in the Las Vegas area. I inspect houses at all price levels from the ding bats (starter homes) to the million dollar plus custom homes. Everything I see is HT with so so gear. Once is a while I will see a HT system that uses "the good stuff" but 98% is department store mid fi gear. We are trully a small minority.
I am in the home theater business..What most people want is lotsa boom sizzle and glitz...and ease of use. One of the posters here did a 10.2 system and with Levinson, Revel, Harmonic Precision, Sistrum and Sonoran wire all of the same length. Room treatment was not needed because room geometry and angles were designed into the room itself. The poster was totally involved with research, design,construction techniques and some labor..Sounds great, looks great.Have been working with another client on one room since January hope to have completed in November..Really most people are only interested in the movie experience..sound as they know it is secondary at best..Even with exposure to true high-end audio most people, even those who can afford the best dismiss the value of truly great sound most audiophiles here discuss..Tom
Agreed. I moved to Tucson a year ago and this place has virtually zero audiophile presence. NJ was much better with regard to the number of audiophiles but became too crowded, overtaxed, and has too much bad weather for me to tolerate any longer.
Ahhh... the old houses that had giant front porches families would hang out on or nearby,watching the grass and kids grow.
The electronics industry can't address the 24 hour day,so somethings gotta give.The HT is efficient at delivering the goods to an entire family.2 channel recreational listening is going the way of evening porch sits.
I've been hanging around a few "hi-end" stores in my area for about 20 years. All of them are in to "whole House" audio. The trend has been "ease of use" and "I don't want to see it - I just want to here it" for about the last 8 to 10 years. Most of the systems are designed around Denon, yamaha and sony entry level stuff with in-wall or in-celing speakers. The stores keep a few hi-end pieces on display, but their bread and butter is custom install. Even the big hi-end stores like Soundex in Philly make the majority of their money on custom install. Makes it really apparent how small a minority we are.

A few years ago, I programmed the home automation system in an $18,000,00 , 22000 square foot, 7 car garage home. They spent over $1,000,000 on the audio system - over $200,000 on the crestron stuff alone. The system took over three years to complete from the planning stage until we sat down with the owners and staff to show them how to use the system. Guess what type of equipment and speakers they use? Yes, that's right, Denon equipment and all inwall/inceiling speakers.
Darrylhifi, excellent sound quality can be readily acheived with hard disk based systems. It doesn't have to be MP3 compressed audio.

BTW, I was going through some nice homes in nice neighborhoods, not mega-mansions, but homes where the owners could easily afford $30,000-50,000 audio systems if they so desired.
Last year when i was shopping around for house, it absolutly blew my mind how hard builders and designers worked to create houses that were as hard as possible to work HT or a 2 channel rig in. (laugh)

There was one line of homes, between 250,000-400,000 i was checking out, and the livingrooms were built against HT all the way. With the popularity of surround sound, you would think they would start incorperating this stuff into thier houses as perks.
In this specific line of houses, each house had the option of coming with a complete 5.1 surround sound system with in-ceiling KEF speakers and velodyne subwoofers. Now these houses had yer typical "TV nook" built in the wall with optional equipment racks above and below. The greatest part of these HT systems is that in the middle of the wall where the TV would sit, was a massive fireplace, and the actual TV nook itself was shoved in the corner, slightly to the left and below the Left channel. The center channel was directly above the fireplace.

Im not sure how much crack the designers were smoking, but last i checked the center channel is supposed to be over the TELEVISION, NOT 6 feet to the right. Every Stinking model of home they had was set up that way.

The house i finally settled on (my ex fiancee's mothers house) is about 20 years old and far far better for accousitcs or any type of AV setup. Especially since i have been gutting and renovating the entire interior for the past 6 months.

In colorado they have the "Parade of homes" where they build incredibly nice houses and furnish them, and people can come in and check them out, and even buy em. One of these houses actually had a high end audio room built in with non-parallel walls and all the accoustical treatments, along with a nice little 50,000 stereo system (wilson&levinson). Obviously one of the people involved in that house was an audiophile and knew what he was doing.

Interesting thread.

I'm curious.

How many of the houses had musical instuments? Pianos? Guitars?
My wife and I have been shopping around for a new home. About the only way you'r going to get a room for audio/HT is have them add a room above the garage. That's what we did in our current home.

We looked at a model that advertised whole house audio recently. The place had one of those cheap ass intercoms with an am/fm radio. I guess Bose is high end to these people. And, who listens to FM anymore with Clear Channel owning the whole industry?
Integration of a nice 2 channel stereo will be one of my top priorities in my next home/condo search...I totally agree with Slappy about the new construction homes that have the tv "nook" off to the side of the fireplace in a corner...lame lame lame.

There are so many factors that go into this question of "where are all the high end rigs"

Eyeballman brought up one certain parts of the country, real estate prices prohibit many people from affording many other luxuries...after all...more people financed their homes with ARM's last year than ever in history only to be able to afford the house that they wanted.

In mid Missouri where I live, real estate is cheap so the luxuries are abound. I detail cars for Dr's and pretty much all of them have one or more 2 channel rigs (the high $$$ stuff too) and many of them have high end home theaters to boot, so I see alot of systems.

In Los Angeles, where my father lives, we frequent the open houses in his neighborhood when I am there and there seems to be a mixture of high end and mass seems as if it just a matter of priorities. One house down the block houses the worlds largest private collections of classical guitars...the family had always been musicians and yup...there was a high end rig there...on the other hand, some homes had a bose wave radio/cd player in every room...but you wouldn't want to ask how much the antique living room rug is then you'd get a case of sticker shock. I don't think the people are "hiding" their gear...most people want to show it off...even to prospective buyers if only to have their house seem that much more luxurious and worth the asking price.

just my nickles worth

A friend's relative did really well financially when they sold their high tech company before year 2000, they build a 6000+ sq ft house in Saratoga in Bay Area. For those who does not know the demographic, the house is worth $7M+.

When it comes to stereo, they build a room for home theater and my friend naturally came to me for equipment recommendation. I showed them my SF Amati and suggested Cremona for speakers, their jaw dropped when they heard the price of Cremona. Funny thing is their front door cost $20k alone, enough to buy the whole Cremona set.

High end stereo does not get much publicity as other luxury merchandises, I bet more rich people know about Patek Phillipe than ARC or Rowland. For us to survive, manufactures need to advertise more not just in Robb's Report, but in News Week or Business Week as well.
Not surprised at all.

I've already assumed a small percentage of consumers will devote noticeable percentage of their disposable incomes toward a certain hobby. And, smaller percentrage of these will build a decent stereo system.

One problem is there are just too many damn expensive hobbies out there competing with hifi. As I read from one member's post on this forum, narcotics, alcohol, cheap sex and fast cars seem to take priority over his stereo. Tsk tsk.

I was selling home audio about 10 years back. I'd have to tell'ya you'd have to be pretty slick to turn an ordinary person into a malcontent audio video fiend. In my one year of service, I am proud to have done that to 5 individuals.

I think the internet will get more people into hifi, but the most brick and mortar dealers will never know it.
A few years back I lived in a nice planned community north of Houston. Houses ranged from $100,000 thru many millions. Average was probably around $300k. I was seriously considering opening a high-end HT and 2-channel store. After much research, one comment kept coming up: "Disposable Income". Many of the people who live in these nice areas are not only financially house-bound, but the Beemer, and Mercedes wagon for the wife, plus the new cars for the kids to drive leave precious little money left-over for high-end audio. Sad commentary on society when we are more concerned on impressing the neighbors than on enjoying life the way we would truly like it.
in my area, most of the nicer homes we have been looking at lately have had dedicated home theater rooms. for example, we have been to the 2 local home shows (first group of homes were in the $1.3 - $2.0 million dollar range and the other home show had 12 homes averaging around $700,000). 90% of these homes all had dedicated home theater rooms, some of them were pretty nice. most of them had seperate cooling systems, acoustical treatments, nice lighting systems, and the equipment was contained in its own seperate room.
I agree, I think the design of these new houses are of a demented modern day Ozzie and Harriett cookie cutter variety. And their prices in Los Angeles are beyond ridiculous.

I am one of the highest ranking senior exponents of Frat House Decor Meets Audiogon Addicted Audiophile Ryu in the country. If I were to employ the services of Rives, he would first have to figure the crew of Clean Sweep into his budget in order to begin the project.
it will be interesting to see if the increasing stream of Chinese audiophile-like equipment has much impact on the hobby. if the parallels with CD and DVD player pricing are any predictor, it could have quite an impact on the more 'boutique-y' audio stuff. it is, after all the price tag that keeps most people away from this stuff.
it could both help and hurt....
Hi, you'll have to forgive me as I haven't the time today to read through this whole thread...but I'd like to throw in my two cents in response to remarks about about the lack of mainstream interest in our hobby and add my thoughts on the apparent disinterest of the younger generation.

I'm 23 years old, an aspiring audio recording engineer; from age 10 on I was raised on CD and later mp3. Please take a moment to click on my system and see that not all of us youth are lost causes when it comes to appreciation of high fidelity. I admit I AM an enigma--I was never exposed to any high-end systems growing up; my parents don't even really listen to music. I'd have to think for a while to figure out exactly where my passion for music comes from, but I have it, and I must admit that I absolutely REVEL in sharing what I have with my peers.

Most of my friends, generally age 18-30, have simply never been exposed to this sort of sonic quality. Of course they don't appreciate a good system--put simply, they don't know what "good" sounds like. Most of them, after a coming over for a listening session, tickle me by saying that, now that they know what "good" sounds like, they can indeed see the merit of such a system ("if only we could afford it!"). There is hope for my generation; however, there can be no market where there is no awareness of the product.

I humbly submit that the apathy of my generation is a result of the well-steeped "all sizzle, no steak" ethos of our parents' generation. The baby boomers, capitalists still chasing the transparent evaporations of the American Dream, blindly and blissfully running in the opposite direction of its vapors, no less, seem to have degenerated to a notion of quality which has been teribly bastardized. This is the state of affairs that my generation has grown into.

I submit that while it is unfortunatly true that the greed and apathy inherent in the majority of my peers as related to the appreciation of sonic pleasures, certainly it is a direct result of the ethos we have inherited from--and you'll have to forgive me for the unintentionally accusatory generalization, here--YOUR generation ;)

But it's not all bad. Just as you are finding that your generation largely does not appreciate fine audio reproduction, there certainly is a tight minority community (YOU) who do.

Much like the aformentioned other side of the argument, this indeed carries over to my generation. Most of my peers also don't care about high-end audio, but a tight minority community do--and I feel that I am proof positive. I will tell you, too, that it has not been an easy hobby to get into. I'm sure some of you have read one of my threads complaining that many high-emd retailers are snooty to the point of being insulting when a young ragamuffin such as myself walks into their shop. God forbid *they* might have to give the time of day to a misunderstood generation that, on the surface, seems so easy to cynically dismiss. This is one of many barriers holding high-end audio back, and as I have discussed this in other threads, I won't go into any further here--just a "for example".

The problem begins, I think, with the notion of the "tight minority community" and the defualt barriers set up by such a notion.

Currently I am itching to get out of my tiny, dumpy post-college, pre-career dive and am looking into some interesting real estate opportunities. You can bet that when I move into a house of my own, I will take the opportunity to set up a dedicated high-end 2-channel audio room with system upgrades starting with the room itself as well as a complete electrical overhauls, then working into the audio reproduction components themselves (speaker are top priority). My door will be open to not only audiophiles but absolutely anyone who wishes to hear great music from a truly high-fidelity system. I feel it is something that the majority of the populace don't know because they simply haven't been exposed to it.

Pardon the rambling-

Brian aka Dirty
One other thing to keep in mind is that people stage their homes for sale to remove clutter and give the impression that the house is open and airy despite the square footage. I just got through buying and selling a home in the Bay Area, where a 1960's ranch style house (1400 to 1900 sq ft)will cost you $600K + meaning that most families do not have the luxury of a dedicated A/V room. Therefore, a lot of people (myself included) use their living or family room for multiple functions including audio and these rooms can look a little cluttered with all of the equipment. So, when we sold, the first thing I did was box up the system and the 1,500 CDs and 400 LPs and rearrange the furniture to make the room look bigger. Most people probably thought we didn't have a stereo at all although I guess an observant person would have seen the numerous equipment boxes stacked within the garage......
I agree, I think it's exposure, like my girlfriend suggests. Most people simply do not know the equipment exists and what level of fidelity is possible. once you get that established, people will spend the $$$ according to the priorities in their lives. But if one does not know, how can one spend.

Also dealers, try not to **tackle me** and other teens and twenty somethings when we walk into your store and want to crank a $100k stereo. it helps to build a customer base if you seed lust for the equipment and high fidelity experience in future customers. Just a thought.

Also, if I was showing my home during an open house, I would likely box up and hide my stereo. I don't see the point in living it out.
Over the years I've let many people listen to my system. All have had nothing but praise for the sound. When I tell them the cost, they loose interest quickly. I've even given some hi-end equipment (new) as gifts over the years (NAD amp/pre-amp, rega intergrated and CD, pair of Apogee slant 6 speakers). All the recipients thanked me for the gifts but soon returned them to me. They all said the same thing "It's really nice, but I have no use for it" so I gave up trying to convert people because they just had other priorities.
In addition to music instruments, does anyone see other people (especially affluent people) with large music collections? Most homes I see have 20-30 CDs and no instruments. I have more CDs than that in my dinning room alone. And those are just string quartets. Swimming pools seem to be far more common. I also don't see a lot of books either. Different strokes for differnet folks.
I have only seen one large music/movie collection in all the higher end homes that I've been in. Most of the homes only have a few cd's and movies. Sometimes, you come back two years later to change a piece of gear or update the remote and the same dvd is in the machine from the last time you were there.