Probably it's just the business models that have grown up in different parts of the world.
From an engineering standpoint, integrated system design is absolutely to be preferred. On the other hand it means that a single designer has to be equally good at speaker design as with digital, mixed signal, and analog. Taking Burmester as an example, their speakers get quite different reviews from their electronics.
It would also be interesting to know how many buyers, European or American, actually buy a complete system from one manufacturer.
I think you forgot about Mark Levinson (as well as Krell) by the way. The Revel line of speakers is an offshoot of Mark Levinson, as both are under the Harmon International banner. (Assuming of course that Harmon allows them to resume production anytime soon!)
I think that in the U.S., the audiophile market is more wide open, and we look everywhere for our products, whether that be in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, etc..
I get the feeling (and I could be wrong), that Europeans buy mainly from Europe, rather than looking abroad. (I get this feeling from looking at their review sites. It seems they review European products much more than U.S. or even Asian products.)
My two cents worth anyway.
I read 'somewhere' (TAS, S-phile), that buying spearates was more unique to the U.S. where in other countries systems sold as a whole...this may have changed over the years. In fact the article stated that some companies (or a company) had to come up with a pricing structure to sell in the U.S. because they sold their products as a whole outside the U.S., but needed to market them as separates in the U.S. Sorry I can't be more specific about the article.
Very interesting question, Onhwy61!
I think Brian's post is very accurate. Is it American to have the "do one thing and do it right" attitude? I am not sure, but over time, there have evolved speaker companies, electronics companies, turtable companies, digital companies, and cable companies.
You are right to bring up the fact that European companies are more holistic in the audiophile experience. You could also argue that perhaps because of this, they tend to take a very different view of cable. Europeans are quite nonchalant about wire, viewing it in a light more inline with mine - you need good cable, but it shouldn't rival the cost of your loudspeakers. Whereas the cable industry(virtually all American companies) seems to have evolved with the hype that AudioQuest, Kimber, and MIT began putting out their(for their own survival) own, "you need cable because your system doesn't sound as good as it should!" ads.
Sorry if I left out some companies (Harmon, McIntosh, Burmester, etc.). I purposely left out the large Japanese firms although a good case can be made that Sony and Pioneer offer complete high end systems.
I don't know for a fact, but I suspect a lot of people are buying very expensive single brand systems. Most likely these people are not audiophiles, but well heeled music lovers. The single brand route really does simplify the system building (and upgrading) process. You could do a lot worse then ending up with a $20k+ all Naim system. Is the music lover to audiophile ratio higher in Europe than in the U.S.?
It is perhaps that the American market was so overwhelmed by Japanese products bach in the 1970s that manufacturers survived by building the best of what the best they could do.
I suppose the only exception I can think of is McIntosh. I own the 2102 amp and I love it but I would not spend such money on McIntosh speakers.
I also own the Audio Aero Capitole Mark II CD player and one day i spotted it's matching amp here on Audiogon and I made an offer that I was sure he would refuse and now I own the amp, too. While they do work together, I really do like the McIntosh Amp.
I really don't know about full systems vs. the one company that makes the best amp. There are some givens, such as British make excellant speakers and American tube amps are fantastic. Japanese products are very reliable and very old Dutch, British and American tubes are pure gold.
I am only happy that for some reason all of these products can try to work together unlike so many other gadgets like software, cameras, cars, etc.
Hi a response from a Brit. Firstly it's not true that US gear is'nt reviewed in UK mags. High end US gear is held in awe here. I heard it recently expressed (Hifi+) that the US invented high end, in particular in the context of ARC amps.
A real problem is pricing, in simple terms we pay in £'s, the same price you pay in $'s and with the dollar at 1.80, thats an obscene and I mean obscene mark up. UK dealers have exploited the falling dollar to rip of consumers. An example, I recently bought a 2nd hand, but nearly new CJ 17LS pre amp off Audiogon. It cost about $3400 including shipping and customs. In the UK a new model costs about $8800. that is the barrier you're manufacturers face. They should be putting pressure on greedy distributors, rant over.
Why do European manufacturers provide complete systems, I do'nt know there is one reason and only a few of course do.
America has always been an open market, and, because of the size and wealth of the market, it is the usual target for everyone thinking of exporting. Americans are so used to having a lot of choices and are therefore not as inclined to brand loyalty. The size of the market also means that manufacturers can specialize in a relatively narrow line of products and not run out of room to grow.
My first brush with high end audio was hearing a high school friend dad's system. It was an AR turntable, Shure cartridge, AR 3 speakers and the AR receiver. At the time this was a very popular combo and it sounded great. However, when I got to the point where I was actively putting together systems I took it as axiomatic that mixing and matching brands was the preferred method. Thirty some years later I'm not so sure. One size will never fit everybody and great results can be achieved either way, but I now believe that for most people (especially music lovers) that it's easier to attain quality sound by going the single brand route. Going with a single brand isn't very different than trusting yourself to a good dealer. Tell them what you want to achieve and how much you have to spend and then let the dealer/manufacturer come up with their solution.
I'm not sure I agree with the thinking that specializing in a component type really produces better quality. At the cutting edge of state of the art components it's probably true, but for more real world products I don't see a correlation. Linn was originally famous for their turntables, but they quickly started to produce some good speakers and later on some top rank CD players. Most people know Quad for their ESLs, but they have always produced very high quality amplifiers. I think it's just a question of a company having the capital to hire the expertise in those areas were they want to produce products.
I don't know why there appears to be a European/U.S. split on this issue. It could just be a historical quirk.
I would say that it goes back to the holistic approach taken by Europeans. It would be good if more Americans could do the same thing, I suppose...
Anyway, there is a LOT of national pride in Europe that exists in a way we don't have here. With so many countries sitting so close together, competition between countries is insane. I mean, all of Europe shuts down during the European Cup. You can walk the streets in a major city and only see one or two people (I've done it!).
I see companies offering full lines as a means of national pride. By producing everything needed, a company can produce a system that is distinctly Italian, German, French, you name it.
It's hard to say exactly what is going on here, but that's my guess. I personally like mixing European electronics with American speakers. Talk about good sound!
I think I enjoy the opposite fo madmilkman. I love mixing american electronics with european loudspeakers (living voice) talk about esxtacy
To each their own. I'm sure your system sings.
As a brit living in the US I have noticed that US audiophiles seem much more obsessive-compulsive than the UK ones ... obsessed with obtaining perfection. On the other hand many brits will happily buy a complete system at the demo if it sounds "really good". They'll then live with the system for years and years.
The UK dealers will often demo complete systems from one manufacturer, e.g. Naim, rega, meridian, cyrus and often the customer will buy it. I guess it's mid-way between the "Best Buy" and high-end experience in the US. The UK purchaser will also be less worried that perhaps a slightly better system could be obtained by mixing and matching.
Thus there's a good market in the UK for systems all from one manufacturer, whereas there is maybe less of a market in the US.
A similar example would be buying a sandwhich ... in England it's either a cheese, chicken or beef sandwhich. In the US one must choose the type of bread, the cheese, the meet, the condiments and which bits of produce all separately. Consumer convenience versus consumer choice.
For the record I have always mixed and matched components to get the best sound ... but then I keep it for 10 or more years. So I guess I'm midway between the two ... isn't that Greenland !?