I wonder how many audiophiles there are these days


There’s a lot of speculation about how this is a dying hobby. I’ve been at this for 40 years, and it certainly isn’t what it used to be. In the old days there were cars and stereos as “toys” and that was about it. Now there’s a long list of competition, together with a general lack of interest in high end sound quality (Pono didn’t make it, which was no surprise). 

My kids friends come over (millennials) and I often get a “wow”, and that’s about it. I keep an old vacuum tube in a drawer to hand them, for the inevitable question “what are those?”. Then I tell them about how I’d go to the drugstore with my dad and do the TV tube test as a regular activity, which usually leads to a strange look and a sudden desire to know what’s for dinner. 

Anyway, there are still many high end equipment companies, probably more than ever, but it’s likely most only sell a handful of units. Serious audio stores are pretty rare, witness the road trips some of us take to just hear a set of speakers. 

If if you define “audiophile” as someone that is seriously interested in this as a hobby, does serious research on components, and is willing to spend a significant sum (which is totally relative), how many of us are there? I suspect at least 10,000, but not more than 50. Total guess, I’m hoping it’s higher because it’s a great hobby and I’d hate to see it get any more rare. 

Probably more important, is whether interest has stabilized. I think it has. There seem to be a lot of younger guys in these forums as well.

What do you think? 
JL


glow_worm
People still want good sound but lifestyles have changed and technology improved so not as big a deal to get it as it used to be. High End Home Audio industry is a small niche. Always has been. But there are more really expensive choices out there than ever for that as well.
I've been into audio since the early seventies. I must have just missed the tube testers in the drug stores because I never saw that. 

Certainly there is a demand for this hobby, but I believe it's slowly fading away for sure. I must have had 3 or 4 high end brick and mortar shops within 20 minutes of me back in the day.
I think the great recession was a wake up call to many, and might be part or most of the reason for the decline. Me, I recently retired so I'm done with the "trading" part of this hobby. Had to make some big changes because my Klipschorns were not going to fit in my retirement home. I got my system just where I want it now and hope it lasts a good long time. Just sitting back and enjoying the tunes now.
The size of the high-end market demographic is probably better understood than ever before (just like in any market) due to our ability to mine big data, go after buyers (like what Salesforce does), and coupled with market research that has always existed.  The best indication is how many (and of what size - factor in consolidation) suppliers there are in the market.  Companies don't exist to lose money. 

Personally, I don't care.  I will continue to enjoy high-end audio whether 12 or 12 million other people enjoy it and regardless of the trajectory of this market over the next 30 years. It's a solitary and personal endeavor for me...to nurture my soul and I don't care how many others "get it". 
Three...you missed the point, I should have spelled it out. If there are 12 not 12M, then product improvements go away, quality recordings etc. this is why it matters. 
@glow_worm  Yes, I agree that there needs to be some baseline level to keep product development alive.  I think we are well above any projected downward trajectory for that be an issue in my lifetime.  Point taken though.  I'm at point where I'm pretty happy with what I have so I'm more interested in replacement parts which always seem to exist.
Check this out. She looks to be devoted to the hobby.
https://youtu.be/pxVH-pMg9wA
I think, there are a lot more audiophiles or near audiophiles in Europe, Russia and Asia. They rarely if ever participate here because this forum is overall very boring, not involving, most discussions are not high level, few interesting pieces are discussed in details. For example, there is absolutely nothing special about Magico, Wilson, Vandersteen or Legacy speakers. Nothing to discuss. They are okay, so what ? The same about Pass, Rowland or Levinson amps. Good, like any other. American tube electronics holds its own for now.
Anyone interested in Komuro and Wavac amps ? They should.
Post removed 
inna, why do you bother with this forum if it is so bad? Resident critic?

In addition to what has been mentioned I also wonder if there is a decline in solitary contemplative hobbies? Music as an industry is alive and well but I see most people enjoying it as an addition to whatever it is they are already doing.

I think reading is alive and well but as a solitary contemplative pastime it is a lot more mobile than a hi-fi system that requires you to be in a certain place, even a specific position to enjoy.
elizabeth, I proudly count myself among the wannabes.
They’re not (rpt not) wannabes, they’re don’t wannabes.
 Wallabies? Where?
I know this place has become a zoo of late but still.......
I stated it in another thread, but I’ll repeat it here:

After spending 40 years in the residential real estate business, it always amazed me the thousands of homes I went into over that period of time that had no books and no music. Video games, yes. Big screen TV’s, yes. Books and music? No.

We shouldn't forget though, that the world is a big place. As more and more people are pulled out of poverty worldwide due to capitalism, more people will be, and are, enjoying our hobby. I had a small high end manufacturer tell me one time that his best customers were based in Brazil. 

Frank
I bother with it because other forums are worse. I also try to improve it.

Inna
So if other forums are even worse, then where are all of the Russian, Asian and European Aphiles debating the merits or not of their Wavac,s?
Frank...books in the house and not the library? YIKES! Next thing you know the big screens will be turned to PBS!

But yes on growing WW interest, there seems to be a lot of interest in Australia as well. Some good, v civilized forums there. Unlike, you know, here occasionally. 
Good to hear that forums down under are more civilized than the forums here sometimes. Would it surprise you very much to know some of the more stubborn and argumentative members here are from down under? Not that there’s anything wrong with that,
Everyone is from down under.
inna said:

"Everyone is from down under."

A comment on the fallen nature of man?
@oregonpapa said:
As more and more people are pulled out of poverty worldwide due to capitalism...

Capitalism has pulled no-one out of poverty. Quite the opposite. 
Sleepy sez... " Capitalism has pulled no-one out of poverty. Quite the opposite"

"no one" really?...
Just off the top of my head I can firmly say that it pulled my father out of poverty, & by his example has kept me firmly in the black, as well as my children 

Thank God.  
sleepwalker65, I KNOW people who have been raised from poverty by the simple premise and provision of capitalism. In that regard your comment is explicitly false. Second, even in a broader context you cannot substantiate that comment. I've never heard anyone debate the fact that worldwide, capitalism has raised poverty levels. China is a perfect example. And if you don't think that what has gone on there in the last 30 years is capitalism then you're not paying attention. Further, the simple fact of US foreign aid (Sagan would say billions and billions) have rescued millions from starvation and depravation and is unprecedented and unparalleled in world history not just in the pure scope of it but because it is extended to those who can do nothing for us and in many cases who are even our enemies. In fact, countless millions were drawn out of poverty in Europe with the Marshall plan. Contrast that with how those swallowed by the Soviet Union fared. That is purely a product of capitalism. And you will see no such charity extended by any other form of government.
The snobbish wannabes is telling. Weren't you all wannabes once? Wannabes are the future. Without them high end will die with the boomers.
Judging from what’s going on in the U.S., capitalism creates a huge downwardly mobile lower middle class, and a thriving 0.0001%.  Not exactly a recipe for breeding people who seek the finer things.
The problem with high end audio is the phenomenal improvement in quality of low end systems. A PS Audio Sprout 100 and a pair of Elac Unifi UB5 speakers will provide 90% of the quality of $50,000 audiophile systems for less than $1,000. 
Poverty level is much lower in some European countries that combine their brand of capitalism with strong elements of socialism. In some countries, like Norway, there is very little poverty.
In modern America its capitalism pulls out of poverty some and pulls more into it. However, poverty has been on the rise in Germany too, but less so.
Anyway, there will be audiophiles no matter what, both poor and rich. It has nothing to do with income. You just have a better sound if your income is higher, that's all.
What has this become? A history vs. social science debate?

Lots of errors on both sides. Better to keep on audiophile track.
It seems odd to hear audiophiles questioning the benefits of capitalism. I saw a used pair (or maybe it was 3 pairs) of 1.5m long RCA cables on sale for $18,000. And there will be people who will suggest that they make a real and important difference. Must be nice to be in the 0.0001% eh?

If you’re an audiophile who believes capitalism is evil.......time to sell your gear and give the money to someone.....who is downwardly mobile.
I do not think people were questioning the benefits of capitalism. More like emphasizing negative sides of it. At least that is how I read it.

I have never sold a car. I have always given it away so people could become horizontally mobile. Same for stereo equipment which was, I admit, of a lower overall quality than would be considered "audiophile" these days. As I write this, I feel like Santa Claus.
Getting back on topic (PLEEZE), it depends on how you define audiophile.  

For traditional, two-channel stereo systems with separate components, it is probably dying.

I think the headphone scene is alive and well.

Whether we like it or not, active speaker systems are on the rise.  Many people love the sound of their Sonos and entry level bluetooth speakers, and it can get better from there, as we are seeing more active speakers by major manufacturers: KEF, Focal, Klipsch, ELAC, Dynaudio, etc.  Plus high end actives such as Kii and Devialet.
These days, things we like to call "systems" are somehow still relevant. Give it a decade or so, when every current 15-year-old is starting to be a major factor, and it will be no more. As whoopycat suggested, Bluetooth speakers and headphones are probably all that will remain at any level of significance. Some may be better quality (think Dynaudio etc.) but sound quality is not on minds of current teenagers. iPhone speakers are just fine with them, even when given some "more sophisticated" option.
There used to be a ’Statement of Ownership’ printed in the back of magazines in the November issue that gave circulation numbers for that year. There isn’t one in this year’s Stereophile or TAS so maybe that regulation has been discontinued. However, in last November’s Stereophile, the "Total Paid Print Copies + Paid Electronic Copies" monthly average for the preceding 12 months was 68,451, which is not fantastic but enough to feel reasonably good about the number of people still interested in audiophile gear.

I think another measure is the number of companies making audiophile gear. If no one’s buying the stuff, you are gone pretty quickly. I think there are more audiophile companies making more audiophile gear now than ever before. There are probably more companies making high end turntables now than there were makers of all types of high end components in the early 80s.

Every day there are a couple hundred items listed here and I assume most of them sell eventually. I know the stuff I have listed has sold.

The internet has made the buying of audiophile gear less obvious than when there were more local shops around. Remember when shopping malls were packed with stores and shoppers? Now most of them are empty but people are buying more stuff than ever.
There will be lots more than that. In America maybe, but here in Europe there are new shops opening up from time to time, but Audigon is not wholly relevant because many of the higher end products available in the States are simply not sensible to import, so there in no opportunity really to listen to them. 

And then factor in India and China. I don’t think the hobby is going to die out soon! 
Seems to be a lot of companies building expensive gear so someone must be buying it. Whether they are audiophiles enjoying this gear or statement pieces playing in the background who knows and I doubt the companies building it care one way or the other. How many audiophiles are out there? No idea, per capita might be the same , a lot of young people now use cheap bluetooth and ear buds with their phone but when I was young a lot used cheap speakers all in one turn tables and small transistor radios with ear plugs. It's a niche market always has been.
Fabio was an audiophile.

He invited the well known reviewer Larry Archibald over to see is Fabulous 😀 high end audiophile system. "When I’m with my stereo, I’m in my world," Fabio told Archibald. Fabio explains,

"The big black columns are speakers, one is just for the woofers, the other is for the mid-range and the tweeters," he said, pointing to four 8-foot speaker columns, two on each side of his giant Sony video monitor. "Here you get very complicated because you got 12 sub-woofers, instead of one; you have 76 panels in each column between mid-range and tweeters. Then you have a special crossover. ..."

He could have mentioned, as well, the 2,000 watts of power that rage beneath the high-tech, custom-finished stalagmites of sound.

Like a lovesick suitor, Fabio explained to Archibald his decade-long passion for Krell Industries product-especially the company’s "monster" amplifier-and how he once picked up the phone in an effort to meet the CEO of the company, which is something you can do when you’re one of the most recognized people in the world.”
I wonder what Fabio listens to.
Thought I’d chime in again, I was distracted by the side discussion about Das Kapital and economic theory.

I come away thinking that the stories about audiophile sound reproduction dying have been greatly exaggerated.

Tomycy6 - brilliant to look at the Stereophile subscription numbers, wish I’d thought of that. If you take these numbers, add other similar subscriptions, those that read but don’t subscribe, worldwide interest (yes, including growing wealth and ability to pay), etc., you get to some pretty sizable numbers very quickly. I also think you’re right about purchases moving to the internet, which is much more cost effective. We probably infer too much based on the greatly diminished number of retail stores.

Djones, absolutely true it was always a niche market. Whether you’re listening to a 1968 $20 Garrard TT or iPhone earbuds it’s the same stratification, a small number of people take an interest in music quality while most don’t.

One very positive change is that price performance has come WAY down. I recently put together a system for my daughter and son-in-law. By carefully selecting products and managing component synergy, I spent less than $5k (all digital), and came away with quality I don’t think was possible 30 years ago for 3x the money. There’s capitalism for you!

JL

I don’t know what kind of music Fabio listens to but Frank Zappa reported it was the best audio system he ever saw. However, there seems to some controversy as to whether that’s Fabio or Michael Green in the photos.

http://www.martinloganowners.com/forum/showthread.php?13814-Fabio-s-System-1995
Set up in a marble and glass room!
Here's perhaps a different take on the current audiophile scene and how the younger generation might perceive it (I'm in the middle - GenX).  I consider myself a "reluctant audiophile" because while I want to hear the best sound quality I can.  I'm far more excited by the broad access to music these days available through Spotify and other streaming services.  Perhaps I'd be more disappointed in the sound quality of streaming music if I had a $50k system, but at my $5k level (Peachtree Nova, Sonus Faber Concertinos, REL sub), it sounds decent and I'm never bored by the music I have available.  For the $120/year price I pay for premium Spotify (or even at the $240 level that you'd pay for "HiFi" level Tidal), how many good quality LP's can you buy?
When big screen TV's started coming down in price everyone thought movie theaters would go out of business. didn't really happen. 
In the past 7-10 years printed newspapers and magazines disappear more than the ones that survive. Definitely did happen.
regarding counting magazine subscriptions, how many doctors offices are in those numbers?
The younger generation that will be in the spending top of the bell curve in 10 years - I just don't think the will want to be bothered moving a speaker to change the toe-in by 2" to improve the focus. 

as an aside, I see most speaker lines having common drivers but as you step up you get a bigger cabinet and more bass.  That's it!   naturally that's kind of like paying 3x more to go 145MPH instead of 130MPH.  and if you want to go 160MPH the cost again goes up geometrically.  that top end in cars is the bottom end in speakers. 
"However, there seems to some controversy as to whether that’s Fabio or Michael Green in the photos."
Funny one. I guess practice does make perfect.

However, there is no way it is not Fabio. The room does not look boobytrapped.
regarding counting magazine subscriptions, how many doctors offices are in those numbers?
Stereophile? I’d guess 0.  If they were being found in doctor offices, that would indicate that there is interest among the general public in audiophile gear.  I don't think that's the case. 
glupson
geoffkait
"However, there seems to some controversy as to whether that’s Fabio or Michael Green in the photos."

Funny one. I guess practice does make perfect. 

However, there is no way it is not Fabio. The room does not look boobytrapped.

>>>>You make a compelling argument.
No audiophiles in the Carolina wilderness here except me and a couple of Bigfoots that I suspected we're hanging around my house listening late at night several years ago. Playing classic rock at high levels. Now they are gone and in lonely. LOL.
I'm in the Carolina 'wilderness' too. Anecdotally I only know one audiophile and that's the one who used to own my system....and he is actually an ex-audiophile. He no longer owns any gear at all except his piano.