Nocaster, it's not that Hi Fi has become too specialized. It's just that many folks would rather believe that 90 percent of their recordings sound awful rather than admit that their expensive new audio gear could be at fault.
I've owned a wide variety of audio gear in the past 30+ years and the bulk of my recordings sound quite musical and detailed on my systems. But these results take a bit of work and tweaking and proper component synergy... It requires much less effort and energy to simply believe that your gear is so great that it makes all your recordings sound like drek (except those very few "really great recordings").
I tend to agree with Plato. I have owned component systems for 30+ years as well and CD only source systems for the last 10 years and I always thought that most of my music collection sounded pretty good and my systems had pretty good components. My systems have sounded very musical and enjoyable with a wide range of music, which has not been my experience with so much of the truly expensive equipment that I see and hear today. And you are not alone in your assessment. There was a thread here last week where all one member wanted was a pair of "Big Stupid Warm Speakers."
I am not quite sure how high end audio got going on this path over the last dozen or so years (Wall Street $; HT systems) ... but I do more head shaking at an Audio Show than wishing I owned most of the audio gear. There is no reason to change your systems, especially if you are happy with them. If you were a reader of most audio magazines 30 years ago (like High Fidelity or Stereo Review) and suggested that speakers that only sounded their best with certain types of music or other major limiting factors were SOTA, you would have been laughed at. Compare that to a typical speaker review that you might see today in Stereophile, et al.
How many hours were on the system in the dealers showroom. From working with a few local dealers, most systems in showrooms only get turned on for demos. One or two systems might get used on a regular basis for background music in the showroom or for watching movies when it's slow.
Also, don't assume just because it's a system in a dealers showroom that it's setup properly. Most of the time, speakers just get plopped down in the "standard" position with a little toe in and don't get tweaked at all. Also, just because they are a dealer, doesn't mean the have a critical ear or take the time to work on system synergy.
An analogy to cars could be useful here-
i've owned a pontiac (poorly engineered but easy/cheap to maintain 2.volvo- precise but underpowered, VERY EXPENSIVE to maintain 3.ford mustang 5.0- overpowered, imprecise, cheap to maintain 4.honda accord- precise, needed a little more power- reasonable maintainance 5. toyota 6 cyl.solara-could use rear wheel drive, but better than the accord. now, a ferrari would hug a race track, but not city streets (i.e.-average recordings). i must say that when i grew up in this hobby, you got a receiver, a turntable, and a nice pair of $500 speakers. the wire was thrown in. and i had NO complaints.
now i can hear deep into good recordings, AND i'm still HAVING FUN- the 1st and last commandment in audio. but my system is pretty complicated and expensive. and my speakers weigh over 200 lbs each, which is kind of obscene in itself.
so it does bother my conscience from time to time. but listening to d.krall-live in paris- well, you can almost hear the audience breathing out there...
I agree with Rar1 and Plato. I have been at this for some 37 years and my current system makes most CD's sound adequate/good and some excellent. The SACD's pretty much follow suit, some merely good and some excellent. It's not very often a cd sounds really bad(but every once and a while.)
I have chosen equipment carefully and use components that have been said to and proven to be very neutral which generally means they will sound good with more than a few "Selected" audiophile approved discs. The search for this system has cost me many hours of frustration with a lot of equipment and untold dollars spent in this frustration!
It takes a lot of years to understand audio and cut through the hype(and boy is there a lot of that!)
Audio manufacturers try to offer something that everyone will buy and go to great lengths trying to distinguish their sound and/or themselves from some other manufacturer. In the process, they have thrown true "Audio" out the door. They have also tried to use price to dictate quality(ha-what a joke there!) They use the formula that if we offer this for X amount of money, just think what another few thousand will buy. I love how some of the booming bass and egg frying highs are passed off as "Great audio!" and with some very expensive equipment)
Cd's do not allow the total connection with the music that good analoque will allow. I grew up with all those albums. But if you are careful and use your ears, you can put together a very, very satisfying system that sounds good most of the time and doesn't cost an arm and a leg to boot.
Don't believe all the hype, realize that dealer setups are often skewed(for reasons that are obvious!)and some dealers just don't take time to set the equipment up properly. It takes a while to judge a system. One listen in a showroom want cut it and there is no substitute for experience. If a dealer doesn't ask about your listening preferences and room acoustics---run for cover! If he asks you how much you have to spend right off the bat---run!
There is some very good equipment made by manufacturers who care about the art. They go to great lengths to try and offer "Honest" audio to you. Do your research and you will see who these people are. Otherwise, you are reaching into a grab bag and hoping that your thousands will survive the test of time!
Well said, Bigtee. I just wanted to add that it is probably to the dealers benefit to feed and encourage the "ruthlessly revealing" school of thought. That way, when the system you just plunked down thousands to own sounds bad he simply says, "Yeah, incredibly revealing, isn't it?" That way, he allows you to believe that that's the way things should be; so he doesn't need to spend time helping you fix the problem(s); and down the road it's easy to get you to upgrade to something "even better."
I don't buy the statement at all that equipment is produced with a narrow focus. That would be pretty silly from a mfg'erer's perspective. Now there's always been the odd amp or two that sound well with 5 piece band and instantly become congested with a large orchestra. But that's the exception.
I think you give your dealer (and perhaps others) more credit than he deserves.
An excellent sounding system will sound excellent regardless of the type of music.
I'm convinced the experience you describe occurs way too often and the problem most always lies typically more toward the enthusiast, salesman, or installer rather than the equipment.
It is my opinion that, regardless of price, most systems fall flat on their face when they come up short in any one or more of the following four categories:
1. Lacking a certain caliber and synergy of components. This need not be expensive nor too difficult to acquire. But it must also include full-range speakers.
2. Lacking proper vibration control for all components, racking system, and speakers.
3. Lacking proper AC power conditioning and general AC tweaks such as dedicated lines, cryo-treated plugs, outlets, etc.
4. Lacking proper speaker and listening chair placement.
5. Adequate (you don't need superior or perfect) room acoustics.
Successfully addressing each of the above categories is absolutely foundational and essential toward obtaining the best sonics possible.
So when you ask "Has hi fi become too specialized?", I believe the answer is no.
Instead, I believe hi fi (as well as some to many other endeavors) is going the same way as public education.
In other words, if what one has ain't working, then one simply thinks throwing more money at it is the solution. Thinking money is the cure all. But the end results remain the same regardless of how much one spends until a new mindset occurs.
Stehno, that's the basic nuts and bolts of it, but I tend to think that the AC power rituals are somewhat over-rated.
I don't have and have never had dedicated lines, cryo-treated outlets, or elaborate AC purifying devices in my system (except I once reviewed the PS Audio P300 powerplant). It seems that some of the better AC cables filter out some interference, and some of the better gear has either built-in AC filtering or extensive power-supply regulation or both. Also, some of the AC filtering devices constrict dynamics, which is not a good thing.
Obviously the measures you listed will be more effective in some systems than others. And I've probably been lucky to have relatively clean AC in some of the places I've lived.
Thanks for posting!
My goal in this hobby is to have a great time listening!
I don't pursue "the absolute sound" for the sole sake of it. If 90% of the stuff I played sounded bad, I'd be VERY unhappy, and consider the sound of my system to be poor. When I go to listen to music, it can be joyous, sensual, moving, whatever, but I rarely enjoy things if the sound is "bad".
While people tell me that the best aspects of my system are the sound staging and "accuracy" - whatever "accuracy" is, I go for enjoyment and let the chips fall where they may. Others are welcome to listen to test tones, etc., but music just plain sounds better to me.
That is all top of the line Tandberg gear, it doesn't get much better than the 3018A etc. etc.