How could High End audio be improved?

I have read alot here about many of the complaints about where High-End audio is going, and maybe it's dying, and stuff like that. Are the prices getting too high, or is the hype out of control, or is there too much confusion, or are there too many products, or obsolescence happening too fast, or new formats confusing things, or Home Theater taking over, or what?

What do you think are the main problems in the High End, and what would solve them? What will it take to get some vitality back in this industry?
IMHO, the biggest issue is not easily resolved: The lack of objectivity. What is better? What is worse? It always depends on far too many factors and it therefore becomes very, very difficult to make good purchasing decisions. In turn, this leads to hype, a proliferation of manufacturers and high prices.

If you are a car buff, you can look at horsepower and torque and understand what that means. For us, a watt is not a watt (RMS, Class A, speaker load???). If you are a wine buff, you can get a Wine Spectator rating (for us, virtually anyone who advertises in Stereophile is reviewed as the best in class). Those are just a couple of examples. What is a novice to do? Heck, what is an experienced audiophile to do? We can't listen to every combination of all equipment in our living rooms.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that we can make this hobby more objective (at least not without a lot of new learning). But the inherent subjectivity makes this a very difficult hobby to understand and makes decisions very difficult. There is no summarized way to distill how one system (let alone component) compares to another.

Something that could help would be for manufacturers to cooperate (yeah, I know...) and design various packages of components to sell to folks. The dealer is often doing that as best as they can, but the dealer only carries so many lines. A carefully matched package approach can simplify the decisioning and drop the pricing -- and only the manufacturers can really create these strategic alliances that, hopefully, are formed by listening to the alternatives and compiling good systems. If this were easy to do, it would already be done. But given the currently subjective nature of the business, simplifying the sales presentation and ability to compare would be wonderful. (Consider why most car manufacturers don't sell engines, transmissions and bodies separately).

My two cents. It's hard to put all this in a few paragraphs. Great thread Twl. I look forward to everyone's response.
I agree with you, Ozfly.

First on my list would be the need for less hype about sonic improvements. Hey, I'm not saying that improvements aren't happening but it's difficult to tell what is real and what is simply promotion.

More care in the recording studio. It seems some really great engineers were replaced with tech types to the detriment of the finished product. Additionally the manufacturers should push for support from the recording industry. It seems that better technologies would be more likely to survive if there were principle agreements that "if" the equipment manufacturers were to develop playback then the studios would support the availability of the medium and keep the software cost reasonable.

Affordability is an issue for me. Don't get me wrong on this because I am a believer in dedicated lines, cryoed pieces, etc. but so much of what we are doing in the area of cables and such is controlling tone. I would certainly appreciate some disclosure from the manufacturers with regard to related pieces used in the development of their products. This would take a lot of mystery out of the buying process. With all the deserved criticism of Linn as a given we should also agree there is no doubt about what source components and speakers they are using when they develop another amp or whatever. If XYZ amplifier maker uses a particular speaker, source or cabling to voice their product then it seems reasonable to disclose this to the potential buyer.

Upgradability. If a two channel person desired to eventually incorporate home theatre and convenience into a very simple system then the upgrade path should simply be the purchase of additional pieces that work together by design. This is unlikely to happen without manufacturers forming an alliance.

It would be nice if there were just a few simple standards such as selectable voltages, locations of power cords and input/ouputs so that cabling issues were minimized. It would also be nice if enclosures were somewhat standardized even if they were different, as in small, medium and large. That would make equipment stand manufacturers be able to accomodate needs easier.

The industry really should rethink it's distribution methods and warranties in light of what developed countries have done to make this a world economy. Subtle issues also need to be addressed such as support for customers without either a local retailer or a local retailer that doesn't do what is needed. A perfect example is my nearest Linn dealer. He can't even set up a turntable. I should be able to buy either directly from Linn America and do it myself at a reduced price or my local outlet should be required to provide the service especially in light of the price fixing involved. The regional distributor isn't going to hold the retailers feet to the fire for fear of the retailer dropping the line. Nor is the North American distributor going to much care, let alone those in Scotland as long as sales goals are acheived.

Warranties should be world wide and transferrable as long as the product was purchased from a legitimate outlet. Even if the product in hand was not purchased from such an outlet the service should be performed at a reasonable price. With the advent of online purchasing, the possibility of someone unknowingly owning a piece of gear that can't be serviced is getting more likely. Manufacturers and retailers need to accept the fact that their turf is getting more difficult to protect and that the consumer shouldn't be the one to suffer.

Resurrect some products from the dead. As you personally are aware I'm in need of an affordable step up device to run my cartridge of choice. The perfect fit is the Cotter which is long out of production. I wonder if anyone has approached the designer and asked about the possibility of licensing the design. Sometimes there isn't a need to reinvent the wheel and still keep the wheels of commerce turning.

Some of these suggestions seem anti-freedom and trouble me to post them but I'm not responsible for NAFTA, GATT nor the WTO. These are reactions to the reality of living in the real world and trying to make the most out of it.

Great post Tom. I'm sure this will generate a lot of responses.


This is a multi-fold problem.

First: The price of most gear is ridiculous. This needs no expounding upon.

Second: "Hi-end" has very little exposure into the mainstream. When people do become aware that such a thing exists, they are then greeted by a snobby dealer that wants to push a very expensive system onto them. This scares the hell out of them and they run home with their tails between their legs. Once they get there, they think that their receiver doesn't sound all that bad and wonder how much better "hi-end" could be for ALL that money. The fact that the gear in the dealers' showroom didn't sound all that much better due to poor set-up only aids this line of thinking.

Third: Most audiophiles are males and most males are competitive. As such, we tend not to want to attract competition and do little to "infect" new people with the "disease". If we do find someone that is "into audio", the first thing that we want to do is to compare components, systems and see what sounds better, who's gear is "prettier" or who spent more money. Once all that is done, the "winner" gets to gloat about the size ( or lack ) of their "johnson". This obviously does not apply to women. As we all know, women audiophiles are a rare thing, probably because men have alienated them from learning about such things.

Fourth: The high end market is a niche market to start off with. To make things worse, we now have niche markets within a niche market and we have done this to ourselves.

We have hi-end broken into tubes vs SS. From tubes, one can go SET, Push-Pull, OTL, Triode, Pentode, Arachnophobe, etc.. For SS, you can go high power, low power, mosfets, bi-polar, etc... From there, one can use monoblocks, single stereo amp, bi-amp, tri-amp, etc... When multi-amping, you can then mix and match tube and SS, etc...

Then we have sources i.e. digital vs analog. Digital offers the choice of one box vs two box, tubes vs SS, etc... Analog offers belt vs direct drive, linear tracking vs pivoted, straight low mass arm vs S or J shaped medium / high mass arm, suspended vs unsuspended, etc...

Speakers can get into various designs i.e. dynamic, planar, electrostatic, horns, omni's, single driver, etc.. or almost any combo of the above. I think that you folks already know about the diversity of cables and thoughts / opinions on that subject, so i won't bother going there.

As such, by the time one finds the "niche" or "combination of niches" that we like as individuals, we have not only alienated ourselves from the general public, but to some extent, from one another. While the diversity of products and design ideas IS what makes this such a great and fun "hobby", it only helps to divide us at the same time due to personal preferences. After all, we wouldn't have such vocal opinions about so many different items / subjects if there weren't such vast differences between products / styles and what we like as individuals.

The bottom line is that we have somewhat stuck ourselves out in the desert and then wondered why we are the sole voice out in the distance. We've done very little as a whole to go out recruiting others and share the joys of being an audiophile with them. To top it off, when asked about such things, many of us resort to attacking Bose and other "less than acceptable" brands of products that they look up to. As such, we probably need to change our attitudes and way that we go about doing things IF we want this field to prosper.

I say "we" as i've been guilty of the above too, so i'm going to try and apply this lesson and things that i thought of when typing this up to my life in a personal manner. I hope that others that agree with these points will put forth the personal effort to do something about this too. Hopefully, this "eye opening experience" and new thought process will be evident in both my personal life and my posts. After all, "civilians" are less likely to ask for help or be drawn into this field if they don't like what they see or read right off the bat. It leaves a bad taste in their mouth when the "experts" or "fellow hobbyists" can't even agree amongst themselves. Sean
Thanks, Pat and Sean. You both have very good points.
I'd list three things, in no particular order:
1) better recordings
2) more attention to speaker/room interaction on the part of manufacturers
3) better consumer education about the technical side of audio.
Thanks, Bomarc.
Cut the prices and cut the magnification of differences by the audio mags!
Some excellent points by all above. For me it's a lack of perspective. We spend so much time debating esoteric issues that we lose sight of what is really important to the average music enthusiast. All over the world people love music, yet only a very small minority of listeners become audiophiles. Most people don't want to spend tens of thousands of dollars on equipment, nor really deal with all the "synergy" type problems of system matching. As an industry audio manufacturers need to focus in on bettering the quality of sub $2,500 systems that are truly plug in and play. I've always argued that for $7,500 MRSP, that someone could put together a system that that reaches 85% of the state of the art. There's no reason why for $2,500 someone shouldn't be able to attain 70% of the same.
Ozfly has an exelent point in my opinion.
spectral has been saying this for years.
work together in harmony..Both up and down the price range.
High End Audio has a lot of problems:

1 - It is a combination of art and technology. The art is effectively the music we hear through our music systems. The technology is the music system which lets us experience this art we call music. Why is this a problem? Well, look at the popular music that dominatates main stream America. Most of it wholly disagrees with me personally. How many people actually go to the Symphony anymore? How many people go to see live unamplified music? The general problem the average American works more hours a year than pretty much any other nationality. We are bombarded with ways to spend the little free time we have (TV, computer, internet, games, vacations, telephone, mobile phone, driving, books, magazines, home movies/DVDs, sports, watching sports, Cable TV, listening to music on low end devices nearly everywhere, more work, etc.). High end audio has to compete with a lot of technology for the use of our relatively little amount of free time. Compare it to decades like the 60's and 70's where there were barely any home computers, mobile phones, Cable or Satelite TV, home movies on DVD or even tape, internet. People had more time in these decades to listen to music. And remotely good sound could only really be heard on a home stereo system using a turntable or real to real tape.
Overcoming this problem is well VERY TOUGH. There was an article in the Jan 03 Stereophile that talks about these issues.

2 - Most really great equipment manufacturers do not offer products/components that are in the sub $1000 price category. This is a problem because the $1k barrier is a psychological barrier. I would love to see companies like GamuT or Ayre or Krell make an amp for $500. Or a CDP or Preamp at the $500 retail price point. I am sure these companies would say something like at that price profit margins would be next to nothing, and they would not sell well, and they would have a tough time entering that section of the market which is dominated by mass market companies like Sony. Well, it is their perogative... But I think if a company could make components that offered high value at the low price of $500, they could do very well in the midfi market. Who knows?

3 - The other problem is marketing. Or lackthereof. There is really only one electronics company that does a superlative job marketing... and it depresses the heck out of me: BOSE. Bose's success is due to it's marketing 100%. Other electronics companies generally have no clue how to market their product to get a wider audience. Ask any Joe off the stree and ask him what the best speakers he has ever heard... odds are he would answer: Bose. Makes me puke, but just because something disagrees with me does not make it true.

4 - Many high end stores are started by EITHER hobbiest or serious businessmen. The hobbiest tend not to be the greatest salesmen or business runners, and more than 9 times out of 10 their stores fail. The serious businessmen many times are only aiming for profit and thus, just cater to the lowerst common denominator. They could care less how their products sound as long as merchandise is moving. It is very rare that you find audiophiles running hi-end stores who really know how to run a business. And many times these folks have given into the profit mentality and end up pushing Sony ES receivers. Hi-end stores have to make a profit to stay in business else they go under.

5 - The other problem that Hi-End faces is the INTERNET. Yes folks, we take advantage of this a lot here at Audiogon. BUT, always remember... if everyone buys used gear online, most local Hi-end stores are going to go under. OR they will just stop carrying esoteric 2 channel altogether and focus on HT and HT installation. This is where a lot of audio stores have gone. If HT had not come into maturity with the DVD, many of these stores could have gone out of business.

Anyway, this and $2 will get you a coffee at Starbucks listening to their Bose speaker system. LOL

Sean and the others have very good points. It is hard to even explain to an average person exactly what "high end" is. People are either into it or not. Most of the people I encounter think that good audio is Sony home theater in a box.
Mainstream chains do not push high end audio and video due to the fact that most people that go to Best Buy or Tweeter arent there to buy just an amp or a CD player... Most people want a cheap dvd player and ask if it can play cds too.
High end audio is a very specilized passion. First of all, you need to be a lover of music. Secondly, you need to appreciate the subtle nuances in recordings and strive to have musical reproduction beyond what the average person would expect. Thirdly, as Sean pointed out, pricing is crazy. Either you are independantly wealthy and can go and buy what ever piece or flavor of the month you want, or like most, you have one or two outlets for gear.. ie Audiogon.
High end is truely becoming and or, is, a niche industry.
Being in business in this niche, I consider myself a niche retailer that cators to people like myself... similar appreciation for music, gear, and common interests. It is rare that a wife is calling or emailing to buy her husband that Power Cord he has wanted for a special occasion. In fact, most buyers today dont even tell their significant others about the dollars spent on their systems...
I know that I have done a good job in business when I receive an email from a customer that says "even my wife noticed the difference!". That makes me happy!
Anyway, even if manufacturers continue to change formats and obviously technology advances, high end most likely will remain a niche hobby and or passion.
I cant comment on pricing... there are so many great pieces on Audiogon to make any system to your liking... People that go into a retailer and buy the Brand New Krell or Audio Research are few and far between.
Well, be thankful those that read and respond that you have stumbled onto a lifelong persuit of musical reproduction perection!!
Happy Listening,
Custom Audio LLC
1. The economy needs to improve.

2. Follow the home theater model: put good systems together for beginners and market system synergy rather than individual components.

3. Follow the Japanese model: Have manufacturers sell equipment direct to consumers at close to cost in order to create demand.

4. When people attend concerts, they do not close their eyes during the performance. Generate source material that gives the full concert experience - audio and visual. The human element is missing.

5. Develop an R2D2 (Star Wars style) that can project holographic images of performers playing music in your living room, especially Jazz.

6. Dealers should have AT LEAST as much used equipment in their showroom as new. Put the Audiogon bargains in the dealer showrooms so people can audition equipment they can afford. Have dealers showcase used equipment rather than let it sit on dusty shelves.

7. Get rid of this silly "exlusive dealer" idea. Dealer showrooms lack variety and the practice does NOT succeed in limiting competition. People have no basis for comparison and no choice so they walk out without buying anything. Haven't any of these people been to business school? People buy when they are given choice; not when their choices are restricted.
A reliable way to know what the heck is going on.
Walmart starts selling it.

Many people aren't going to bother.
Good topic. My American take is same/similar to those who posted before me.

My initial thought is that the main problem is that only a small number of people are in to audio. If there was more people who made a *nice stereo a greater priority, components would be less expensive and easier to audition. Non-audiophiles think how marketers and advertisers want them to think, like how American consumerism thinks, and features and crap replace *nice.

You practically have to be an audiophile to own a *nice system and that's a shame. Hi-fi is unknown and intimidating and a little freakish, and audiophiles do not make any better with the i-am-better-than-you garbage.

There are others, a lot of people who like a nice sounding stereo, but have never heard of B&W or ML. They buy Bose et al. because that is they best brand they know. That comes back to marketing. Linn could have been Bose (Linn the Bose of hifi right?, but still better than Bose :).

Directly for current audiophiles is lack of local selection for audition. Without the resources to audition philes look to opinions and epinions and marketing mags. Instead of Herbie H., we get Sammy T. Its impossible to know what is good looking at mags and people you don't know. Thank god for the used market.

Referring to Ozfly's first post, I think it is lack of available selection and not a lack of objectivity that is the problem. Lack of objectivity is part of fun/challenge and is the more artistic side of the hobby.

To solve the lack of hi-fi interest is the $45,000 question. As individuals we could have less attitude. And I would like to see one company just break through the barrier. One idea is for more home hi-fi companies make a bridge to car audio. There are lots of kids in car audio. They are pretty savvy and sound quality (not just SPLs) is a high priority for a lot of them.
People don't have to buy Home Theater so they can hear dinosaur feet walking around their living room, they don't have to buy Bose or some crappy rack system, and kids don't have to buy recordings from a genre that has not produced a single memorable song in over 20 years. In feudal days the aristocracy determined what artists and fine craftsmen would produce. Now, the tyranny of the wealthy patron has been replaced by the tyranny of the consumer. OK, so maybe the audio consumer did not demand the digital player -- that was forced down our throats. But audio mediocrity is basically consumer driven.
The main problem for the high end designer-manufacturer is that their retailers are being undercut by the internet -- primarily Audiogon and EBay. It was possible for high end manufacturers to enjoy respectable margins when they could protect their authorized dealers from price competition. But now, you can buy pretty much anything you want at deep discount. At first glance this would appear to be a wonderful development for the sophisticated consumer -- those of us who do our own research and can bypass the retailer (or the unsophisticated buyer with an audiophile friend). But is it really? How long can the high end designer-manufacturers and retailers last under these conditions? Could savvy buyers force high end manufacturers either out of business or into less service-oriented marketing?
Products that actually PERFORM. The general public is very aware that you get what you pay for, and also aware of diminishing returns. I don't see hard core hobbiest as the real problem, a lot of us have a rediculas wealth of knowledge that would allow us to get use out of rediculasly good components, but that has no real impact on the general public as far as getting an interest in high end audio. I really beleive that the public is ready and willing to hear and buy superior products, but they have to be convinced, and the only way they will hear it is if it is available. We tend to make it worse by treating affordable high end as junk, when we are trying to convince non-believers that there is really something to it. The vast majority of us didn't start out with the most expensive component of any kind, we 'got' the bug because we heard, got proof, that buying a product geared towards true quality of reproduction was a better buy than the separate market we call 'mass market'. Where are the products that are intended to compete directly with the mass market? Where are the reviews? If they exist, are they accessable to the general public?
My solution would be to actually have them set up and performing, so they can be heard. (I don't mean just there, they should be performing to they're potential). We all know it is possible to put together an analog rig that is far superior for the money that would compell the average guy to start playing his/her records, I would suggest actually doing it, so it could be heard in the showroom and be ready, and PERFORMING, for the consumer.
Sean and Joe both have good points. I am not sure there is a problem. Hi End is what it is. I am personally excited by the multitude of choices and sometimes overwhelmed. Very few people are in to high end and almost all of them have a different opinion about whats good and whats not. Look at all the debate here about breakin, outlets, cryo, to tube or not to tube, Levison, Krell,Pass, CJ on and on. Its really hard to find any two people with the same system and everyone likes what they have. I love my stuff but others might thumb their nose at my cable or amps or pre/pro. As far as HT is concerned contemporary processors handle all standards and are upgradeable. In two channel there are no standard issues. The great thing is the competition and variety. If someone is going to spend thousands of dollars on hi end gear they should thoroughly research the products and listen to them before buying. I know some folks who are capable of writing a big check and don't know what they have or if its a good deal, but they like it. In the end that is really all that counts. Are you happy with your stuff. For most of the people who participate in these threads this is a passion which will never end. Personally I still buy and sell gear regularly just to try something else out. Audiogon and Ebay have made Hi End truly more open to everyone in that one now has a rather large selection to pick from at reasonable prices regardless of whether a particular dealer carries your product.
We must be in a down economy. It used to be a $64,000 question. Or is that adjusted for inflation?

Great thread - particularly some of Sean's comments about the insular aspects of this hobby, involving both the dealers AND the consumers. Some of that can be a real put-off.

Personally, I ran away from my first dealer experience with my tail between my legs the same way that Sean described. I've never been back, even though I've driven past it twice a day every day for the last 4 years. I've got about $17k into my various systems now, some of that would have been theirs had they been a little more in-touch.

I've been scared off by my share of know-it-all hobbyists, as well. The best tutors have been there and back, but don't pause at every point for recognition of that fact. Thankfully, that describes very few here.

I think the pricing, and the haute-sh*t attitude are both very intimidating, and most people can't get past it. They'd rather go down to Sears or Service Merch and pick up a decent Sony or Denon and call it a day, rather than feel like an Alien abductee being probed by a dealer in a dark listening room surrounded by strange kilobuck components and an eerie sense that someone is looking at their watch and clothing with a critical eye and totalling up dollar signs in their head.
I am more than impressed by the responses I see in this thread. Some excellent points have been hit on.

I would like to add some opinions to the discussion...

The way music is listened to has fundamentally changed. Music is no longer an event for the vast majority of people. In fact, music is everywhere. To the point where it is viewed it as audio wallpaper. Something that needs to be present in order to avoid that most unpleasant of things, silence. Music is so ubiquitous that we believe something is wrong if we hear no sound. It is now ingrained in us that the music will be there, that the music will come to us rather than we having to go to the music.

The whole experience has been cheapened. Listening as people do now no longer requires a commitment. Wherever a person is, be it the doctor's office, elevator, or supermarket, there will be music. You don't even have to hear it.

Listening requires a commitment. On many levels.

In terms of being an audiophile, the numbers continue to shrink. And, it will only get smaller.

The reason being the number of people who participate in the hobby is getting smaller. The emergence of high end audio produced the famed high end audio dealer. Combined with high end audio manufacturers and distributors who appease these dealers, it was a recipe for an industry's suicide.

I believe that love for music, or any hobby, is developed before one reaches adulthood in most cases. Nurturing it will produce a person who is willing to spend a substantial amount of money on their chosen hobby. The high end gears itself heavily toward classical music, and mostly away from the music of children and teens. The music of younger people is not only not featured, but is ridiculed.

Can you imagine a 15 year old walking in to a high end audio store???

As someone who has walked in those shoes, I honestly understand why there are so few audiophiles. Most of these merchants certainly do nothing to encourage the hobby in a young person. Instead, one is greeted with the suspicion that he has either walked into the wrong business or is looking for their parents.

What are the odds that same young person will be "allowed" to hear a Linkin Park CD on that cool looking audiophile rig over there? Getting past that, the dealer will now move into the mindset that either letting the 15 year old near the equipment will result in damage, that it's a waste time showing a $5000 component to someone without a career, or both. This is all on top of an derisive, demeaning, condescending, elitist attitude our beloved high end audio dealer walks around with all the time anyway.

End result? The high end audio shop has produced a very high likelihood of the hobby NEVER being looked at again by that person. He has been chased away.

Would you go back?

But what will happen is that person will still seek to quench the thirst for his love of music. Like electricity or water, people seek the path of least resistance. He will probably venture into the world of MP3, Apple iPod, Circuit City, and pro sound. And, he will be welcomed. With open arms.

This person will not come to worship Audio Research, Conrad Johnson, Linn, or Musical Fidelity. They will aspire to Bose, Cerwin Vega, Community Sound, JBL, Rockford Fosgate, etc.

Who will make out better in the long run?

Moreover, the MOST DAMAGING thing occurs; in the long run the definition of good sound does not remain actual music, but the boom and sizzle that the music lovers are fed. A 6db boost at 100 Hz is what "good bass" sounds like, not flat frequency response to 30 Hz. As we go further and further along, we have reached the point where a stereo capable of presenting a realistic portrait of a musician playing in space is met with yawns of boredom. With the feeling that this instead is closer to the music heard in an elevator as opposed to good sound.

We have evolved to the point of seriously listening to car radios, and believing the sound is good. No wonder most feel Bose to be the be all and end all.

Then, we get to money. Factor in the polluted definition of good sound and the results are final.

How much is that component? $5000? Hey, a (whatever) sounds better than that at $800, with a bona fide return policy!

Welcome to high end audio 2003.

I hope that distributors like those encountered by Ernie know which way the wind is blowing. Maybe time to rethink things, eh?
Warning: This is a post takes a negative look at hi-fi.

1)Component reviews are unreliable and can't be completely trusted.
2) Spec's don't tell the whole story.
3) Dealer showrooms are set up bad- component synergy, room acoustics, etc.
4) Customer can't bring everything home to try nor can they hear everything that is available.

So it is impossible to really know:
1) What is the BEST stereo for your money.
2) What BEST suits your individual taste.
3) Would you better off spending more money or less money.

So you spend your $10,000, bring it home and hope it sounds good. If you're not satisfied that it sound as good as it should, just spend more money until it does.

Is this why there are arguments about what is the best component? Trying to convince others or yourself that what you bought really is the best?

It does not seem possible to get the perfect system so you can either:
1) accept it and walk away feeling sort of insecure about your purchase.
2) devote a good part of your life to figuring out why not.

I don't see a resolution to any of these problems happening any time soon. Maybe some philosophy here would help. Where's ASA when you need him?
Well, Dealers? How about it? It seems you are being named more often than not, as being a big part of this problem.
What do you have to say?
I walked into my first high when I was about 15.
Heard some Boston Acoustic mini moniters.
Thought to myself... WOW how much are those speakers?
They sound AMAZING! They must be really expensive (even if they are tiny). The Salesman turned to me and said, "Amazing what sort of sound you can get out of a $250 speaker when you are driving it with well matched $10k of electronics."

I was hooked right then and there.

Ohlala, you're quite right that the subjectivity drives much of the fun and challenge in building a system. It also leads to the hype, confusion, high pricing and chaos which keeps this hobby so esoteric. The first thing I should have addressed is "what is meant by improve?". I defined "improving High End" fairly narrowly: Expanding the hobby to include many more people and being able to narrow the field in making decisions. Other responses clearly had other "improvments" in mind and they are all quite valid and the responses are great -- e.g., Lugnut's response addresses improving the music for all of us *and* expanding the hobby. Great thread Twl!
Another perspective: Audiophiles who have embraced a quality HT setup in their homes have been able to expose people to the soundtracks of films reproduced by quality equipment, to other forms of recorded information. People who enjoy watching movies with us will often inquire about the equipment (located out of site in a closet just outside the room), which will lead to a remark about the turntable (sitting in the main room on it's own rack on top of a two inch thick slab of stained and polished maple), which will lead to a request to hear something played on it. I allow the guest to choose what they would like to hear, and let the whole side play. Many folks I know who previously thought paying large sums of money for a "record player" as absurd, have become interested in getting more value and quality for their money than can be had from mass merchandisers. Those hard core 2 channel only (I count myself as one: I am vinyl 1st, SACD 2 channel 2nd) have to give some credit to the HT crowd for giving more people the opportunity to appreciate high quality equipment. It is easier to baptize someone with a visual image to go along with the audio, than trying to get someone to sit and listen. It gets them interested, asking questions, and perhaps becoming disciples.

Perhaps the next step that really needs to be taken is for very successful websites like Audiogon to stimulate manufacturers to think differently about how they are marketing and delivering their product.
I think that many of the above responses are excellent and well thought out, but seem to address mechanics. In other words, as with most things in our society where we assume that if we just invent another thing, or another technique, or another structure, then the problem will be fixed. The assumption in that a re-structuring in the external relationships is the problem.

I would submit that the problem is not in a re-working of the externals, but rather, a solution directed towards the internal is what would change our predicament (of course, rather than looking "out there" for our answer, we might have to look within. And, of course, this would require an effort at self-reflection that actually might impede our focus on externals).

People are right when they say the hi-end will always be small. Why? Because those individuals who search for beauty in any given society - and that's exactly what we are doing when we sit down to listen - are always a relatively small proportion of a population (at least, so far). The question then is, is this group shrinking to a threshold where the external societal structures no longer uphold that search, our search then mutating into what the external-focused masses yearn for? And here, if you look close, you can see the big difference, the determintive difference, between what we do in the hiend and what what society is moving towards and replacing the hiend with.

When we listen to music, we do so with a receptive, non-active mind. But, the activities that are replacing the hiend are all focused on a stimulation of the active mind (video games etc are a stimulus to the thinking mind; hie-nd audio is a catalyst of the receptive mind). Presently, these two forces are opposed because the forces that are addicted/attached to the active mind are intolerant in a societal context towards activities of the receptive mind; leisure is fine if we have time, but if we have work to do, it is relegated as expendible. The assumption that a more active mind more actively making and accumulating things is better than a mind receptively experiencing beauty, is mutating into the assumption that such mind is an impediment towards that active mind.

How is this happening?

Although we know that our "leisure time" enables a space in which to appreciate beauty, the fact is that our entire culture is progressively, regressively focused on activity that shrinks this space in people's lives. Thus, there are two dynamics involved: a) an expansion of active stimulation and b) a shrinkage of the leisure time to receptively experience beauty. This is, in turn, reflective of 1) the fact that capitalism and its cycling progression favors active-external focused minds and not receptive minds (listening to music is not a money-making activity and, therefore, from a capitalistic theoretical view, a less viable activity, and 2) we assume that the active activity lends meaning and not experiences of receptivity (Luther gave us that one; labor gets you closer to God in this life, our so-called work ethic).

The result of these assumptions, cycling progressively upon themselves, is a reduction in the number of people who have the will towards receptivity, regardless of its capitalistic viability, and an increase in the number of people who are addicted to the active stimulation of their thinking minds - through the acquisition of things, the playing of video games, all externally-orientated, etc.

I know this all sounds "abstract" but its actually much simpler. These are the underlying currents of society driving us towards a greater addiction to consumption (of external things) and a marginalizing of receptive activities of the mind, or beauty perception.

And so, we see a decline in the "arts", but actually we are seeing a decline in the minds who are willing - who have the will towards - the experiencing of art.

This situation can not be addressed in a fundamental way through tinkering again at the externals. Its getting too late for that, tensions are building, people are asking more and more if "art" has a future - our question here. Ironically, the tension increases as those same people continue to focus on a external market fix imposed from the outside by society upon itself, or marketed to itself. Because, a change towards greater receptive minds in society is not accomplished by marketing from outside, but by the individual from the inside.

How you accomplish that should be your question.

Am I apocolyptic? It may appear that way, especially if you don't want to consider that this might be true - re-categorizing a person as a regressive mystic is always a good way not to look - but, actually, this is just the way its supposed to be.

The talk above, even if still on externals, is still a turn towards the solution in its own way. But we could go faster...
Nice post Asa.
Nicely put, Asa! In a similar vein, proponents of "good sound at home" (i.e. musical beauty) USED to be opinion leaders in their social group; now they (we) are geeks.

There is another consideration:
Activity & interactive "leisure" keeps our minds away from ourselves, it keeps us busy and away from being introspective. This hobby asks us to lie back and receive, and maybe come closer to our inner selves. We're not taught to do that nowadays, as Asa notes.

But unless this hobby enlists the proverbial 15yr old, its future is very uncertain (as Judith & others have noted).
Thank you cdc.

Yes, gregm, good point. "Leisure" activity is not just looking at the body (I'm sitting still), or, that I'm not engaged what is defined in society as leisure (what I'm doing when I'm not at a job, leisure defined by what it is not), but addresses the orientation of the mind.

We use the word "leisure" as a point of departure because most people understand it, generally, to mean a space where the mind CAN be more receptive. But you're right, many people are so attached to the objectifying activity of their minds that even in "leisure" time - off work - that orientation towwrds the world continues and the activities adopted remain reflective of that attachment.

We are addicts of the thinking mind that seeks to objectify everything it sees: science reducing the mind into a thing; the reduction of animal minds into product-things; the seeing of the other person as a thing to be manipulated towards further acceptance by the others (society).

This is a cycling that leaves progressively less space for silence. The tension exists between those minds who move towards receptivity to "what is" and those minds who deny the possibility of this movement and cling to their ideology of materialism (read: only matter and the manipulation off matter exists to determine truth).

The tension is increasing and we see it in society in general and reflected in its microcosms, like the hiend, and particularly in its microcosms that address "art" as they are marginalized and its participants ask themselves, what can we do about it?

What is paradoxical is that, because the hiend also deals with technology, and because those that are technolog-ic in orientation are predominantly materialist, the hiend has a significant population of people who are allied to objectification and are advocates of its ideology, and yet, at the same time, are engaged in an art that shows them the partiality of that attachment; they are attached to the thinking mind, yet when they are listening to music they are letting go of that thinking mind, and yet later, when they talk about it to others, revert back to the ideology of materialism.

Yes Asa, interesting, which to my mind just goes to show, that many people basically are not what they truly and honestly think what they are, though they will fight their conception of self tooth and nail. This is true not only of the materialistically inclined lot, but of course of their antepodes as well. As good old Carl Gustav said, there just ain't no truth, which cannot be turned upside down and stood in its head. Nice, no? 6chak would probaly like that, where is he anyway?? Cheers,
Here (hear), I'll call him.

6ch, 6ch (possibly someone might dare think, six channel audio), come home, come home, time for supper!

Sorry, 6chhc6, just couldn't help myself... :0)

Hi detlof, hope you are well...yes, their direct opposites too. Some people adopt a variance ideology and incorporate that into the idea of themselves. They then take that new idea of themself and turn and fight the minds that they just came from, and in so doing, assure that have never left! This can happen with any idea: materialist, so-called liberal, conservative, environemntal-based, etc.

In such people, you see the same orientation as the materialist: they use that idea to then use against the other to stay where they are. For example, they adopt the idea of vegetarianism (I am one, BTW) and this idea becomes them, their ego structure, as opposed to an action that arises from what they are. These people become missionaries, seeking to use their "good" ideas to quell another. It remains a predatory action of the thinking mind, not an empathic symptom of being.

In the hiend, we see this in a romantic idealist fashion, where people say that they have experienced music deeply as a means of excluding the other, in this case excluding people who like "accurate" sound. They do this by equating their alleged attainment with some sort of spiritual attainment. This is where you see someone claiming to be a shaman of triodes, or invoke Zen language. The reactionary, fundamentalist taint remains.

It is this exclusionary orientation of both minds - the making of the other mind into the other thing - from either group that, underneath, makes them the same. They are each using ideas of themselves to stay where they are and control the other through thinking.

The "tooth and nail" comes not from engaging them on the idea, its content, but from engaging them on an idea of themselves, a self that does not want to change, that thinks if it stays where it is and follows the rules provided by others then it will be safe. It is fear of change. This produces the recoil that we see many times to an idea here, because it is not the content argued with, but the felt pressure of potential change.

Yes, all truth can be turned on its head, at least all truth obtained by thinking; all thinking directed at the infinite grasps merely tangents of finiteness. It is always an approximation; some thinking points away because it wants to stay where it is and deny what it might become, other thinking points to that potentiality in all that only the individual can choose for himself.

But then, you know this.

Cheers across the ocean.
Oh yea, on mechanics. You know what "mechanic" really gets people going, really makes them want to join the hiend?

Hearing people like twl talk about turntables, or detlof about his stacked Quads.

Its us.

Just keep talking to people with passion - the passion translated from your deep listening experience. Not a missionary grabbing by the shoulders, just tell them and they will come.

Its a matter of...

Beautiful Asa, both pieces, beautiful and touching. Thanks!
Get rid of high end stores...
Hello Detlof, how are you? How is the trip to Africa? Hope you have had a pleasant trip.

Before you read further, I'd to say that, I have always respect you as an elder to me, a highly respected human being. You Sir., have asked the questions. If there are questions, there are answers, be answered...

Look around, see who is your friend? Look down an compare the two quotes: One is yours, One is your so called "friend". Your friend contradicted himself all over, You and all.

"As good old Carl Gustav said, there just ain't no truth, which cannot be turned upside down and stood in its head."

"If one has to look it up from someone else, or decry thinking and dialogue, itself part of the "what is", then he probably doesn't know."

6ch, you should tell us who you think is not being a "friend" to detlof and why.

You once had to apologize here and I said to you it was courageous to do so, and even allowed you to do so without apologizing specifically, which is what you should have done.

Similarly, its not constructive to say to someone that there are people who are not their friends, then not say why or who you are specifically talking about.

Some of that selective courage, please.
Basic research regarding technical specifications and listening tests. Which specs are really meaningful to our perception of sound? How well do they correlate with good sound? Research into possible new specs that have a good correlation with sound and how this would apply to improvements of new audio products.
Damn it, I want to be the God!!

(fade in: distant approaching female voice)

"Yea, Ma, OK."

"Now give Johhny back his Tonka."

"OK, OK, here, take it. I was just kiddin anyways..."

Mea culpa, toss away...

"The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection.
The water has no mind to receive their images."

Somebody does not understand his own quote. You, the bamboo stick does not belong to you.
OK, toss away...
OK, so then how do we, mechanically, so to speak, get people to appreciate beauty in music more/deeper, or even see that it exists? I mean, if being drawn to the hiend is synonomous with being drawn to feel more beauty in music - and assumably, we get on the audiophile path to make that happen more - then how do we catalyze that to happen in people more who don't know about it?

Is it just exposure, as in marketing penetration?

Or, do people have to change themselves in order to see what we are saying?

Is it both? If so, then don't we have to orientate our marketing and educational efforts towards educating people more on the appreciation of beauty?

In a capitalistic structure geared towards pleasure, how do we get people to want meaning in music?

Can you teach someone to see the beauty of a sunset?
A quote from an above post, "being drawn to the hiend is synonomous with being drawn to feel more beauty in music". Does this mean those not involved in high end audio are not drawn to feel more beauty in music? Asa, I guess I'm questioning your use of the word synonomous.
Onhwy, "Does this mean those not involved in high end audio are not drawn to feel more beauty in music?" Reading Asa as a 3rd party, the answer is, "probably not". It doesn't follow from his words that, not using hi-end as a tool in my pursuit of beauty in music I am relinquishing that pursuit altogether. Asa's comment looks mono-valent.

Going back to the first chapter of Twl's question, I would like to idealise on how High End could be improved: if it could be offered as a SERVICE (by manufacturers & dealers). The service would be, "bringing beautiful sound to your home". This is achieved through meticulous combination of h/ware (machines, wires, etc). Following rules of personal taste, budgets, etc., of course.

The fact that there is so much discussion of h/ware combinations indicates, after all, that information is lacking from the primary sources: manufacturers & dealers...
Hello Ohn. No, being drawn to beauty in the hiend does not mean that if you are not in the hiend that you can't see beauty. However, if you are drawn to beauty in general, then I think you would also be drawn to the beauty of music, and, therefore, the hiend.

Hence, my inquiry about how we reach those people that may already be drawn to beauty in other areas but don't know about the hiend. This was an attempt to draw the parameters of marketing towards a goal not based on stimulation of the personality (create a new style: you need this! adverts) but DIRECTED to areas where such beauty-drawn minds tend to congregate; don't change minds (because you can't teach someone to appreciate a sunset; you cann't teach receptivity to beauty), but locate them.

The former strategy seeks to stimulate minds to action though argument, the latter admits that the creation of the beauty-drawn mind is internally driven (not subject to stimulation by external in advertising context)and not subject to being changed through persuasion, and,therefore, the strategy must be to find them already formed or on that progression.

Unless, of course, you also think that there might be a way to catalyze the collective mind towards receptivity, which as I've argued before, necessarlity involves catalyzing the "letting go" of one's attachment to the power of thinking over things. Ohn, how do you think we should do that?

So, back to mechanics: where are those minds drawn to beauty yet are not in the hiend?

What other "hobbies" exist where the urge is towards beauty of that which is being experienced as phenomenon?

An ad for hiend in Wine Spectator?
Two questions:
1-Is high end audio a thing of beauty?
2-If not, is high end audio potentially a thing of beauty?

High end audio is just like anything else, some people like it and some people don't. Some people like it because it is technical, some people hate it for that reason. Some people like it because it is expensive, some people hate it for the same reason. Some people like to show off their electronics, some people don't. Some people would pay anything for reproduced sound, some people prefer live music or rather allocate funds elsewhere.

The market speaks for itself.

Ofcourse, would there be more audiophiles if more people were exposed to it? Yes. But, you will also have more people who think audio is an idiotic hobby as well.

After reading so much about aculturlization of audiophelia and other trends, personas, and ideologies, I'd just have to regress to the most used and annoying quote I've read on this forum which is "just enjoy the music."
Oh Viggen, don't rain on the beauty parade, especially if what you offer is a radically subjective justification!

Really though, yes, people have different opinions - I think we are aware of that - but that fact itself doesn't translate into the proposition that, therefore, all opinions are equal. Certainly, there are some guys who only care about the equipment - whose minds are so orientated towards an attachment to things that it overwhelms any tendancy to be drawn into the music, as in, an imbalance between thing and mind - but I don't think we should tell ourselves that that way is the optimal means of experiencing meaning in the music. I can't imagine you beleiving this either, even though being equal/equal has a good sound to it in a crowd.

Radical egalitarianism enables one to proceed into a group and judge them by saying they shouldn't form opinions where one way is differentiated from another, but this is disingenuous: some truths are truer than others, all knowledge is built on that proposition. Moreover, the opinion that all opinion is equal is a performative error; in making that argument you disprove the argument.

Second, the hiend is not a "thing." People who are attached to the power of their mind to objectifying reality many times make this error; they reduce mind to an object - science has been doing it since Descartes.

The hiend is a group of minds who listen with those minds to sound-phenomenon, again, it is not a "thing". As long as you assume its some-thing "out there" - like an object I can manipulate - and not your own mind, you won't understand, and will ask questions unaware of the materialist assumption underlying and limiting what answer you can potentially derive.

All are equal in potential to "hear" beauty, but some choose to limit themselves in the assumptions they bring to the listening.

Again, the question is: how can we find more minds that have seen already that beauty isn't a thing?
Asa, don't all people limit themselves by their assumptions whether they choose to do so or not?

Also, while I may have misinterpreted, I don't believe Viggin was justifying the opinions of others who disregard the art and beauty of music. Rather, I read his post as simply suggesting that there are different opinions which are, of course, important and correct to those who hold them.

Like moths drawn to the flame, we audiophiles are drawn to the truth of musical expression. So, in varying degrees and in different ways (as you suggest), we are closer than most to the truth of musical art. Hiend is not a necessary requirement for that, but it is for us. Per many of the suggestions above, hiend could be a home for many more. More people will choose it as a home if it is comfortable and inviting and provides some shelter from the everyday storms of life. I believe that most people do enjoy beauty without it being taught to them. Not everyone will choose to see it when it appears, but more will if we can simplify the offering.
Attitude is a big problem in the stores. I drove for an hour to listen to a pair of speakers earlier this week. I listened to the salesman tell me how he designed most of the equipment and tweaks in existance in the world today.

I did not have the heart to tell him how full of crap he is, but I suspect his breath has given it away.
When he lies to me about this how do I know when he is telling the truth?

He probably sells lots of stuff, but I haven't bought from him in years.

I do think AudiogoN is one of the things that keeps stores in business though. Finding a market for used gear allows the seller to buy the next new toy!
TNT had an interesting point with an inexpensive Rotel integrated:
This extreme detail notwithstanding, the amp is able to point straight to the main target, i.e. Music: while with other very detailed systems the listening experience becomes something like an hunting party for environmental noises, which prevent you from the very full immersion into the musical experience, here music remains always at the center, and detail is only a secondary item that makes reproduction more realistic.
Just to qualify:

Cartesian philosophy separated mind and body, but it is not the mind that has become a "thing".

Also, you are presupposed "beauty". Then again, I guess everyone does in one context or another more or less.