Is high-end audio dying, if not dead already???


Without sounding like the mad prophet of the airwaves, I think high-end audio is in its death throes. I would like to hear other opinions on this issue, but I think it is time to raise the question and also some hell as to what is happening to the high end audio and audio in general.

Here's why: Most of the major audio publications spend a great deal of time on romancing the "absolute" fidelity of computer audio and music that is digitally processed. On the other hand, you have critics, reviewers, celebrating the comeback of vinyl, analog, and turntables. The mantra goes: "it really does sound better, like real music", so chuck out your CD player, and buy a $5000 analog rig, and have fun again cleaning, preserving (a medium) searching record huts worldwide for pristine vinyl gems. Maybe, there are some shellac gems out there also

It seems the CD format has "OUTLIVED" its usefulness in the pursuit of the absolute sound because its technology and soft ware has never convincingly improved. It is like the BB King tune "the thrill is gone" or saying kids let's just change the channel for something more exciting and new.

High-end audio seems to now ( as the old joke goes)require a degree in engineering or rocket science to understand the circuitous (bad pun) route to audio nirvana. Equipment has gotten more expensive over the last 15 years, under the pretext that the electronic functions have increased and become more complicated. Take a look at the back of a 5 channel receiver or amp, or home theater receiver, a digital processor, etc. and you will see the future of audio. It might be easier to hook up a heart and lung machine.

Ironically, as high end audio and audio in general evolves, the music industry delivers more shit to the public's ears, Geez, I never knew that in order to really enjoy Shakira, JZ, Pharell, and the rest of the talentless trash discovered and pushed by American Idol, The Voice,and the popular Mega media, would require hearing it in absolute sound.
sunnyjim
Tue music industry has always delivered talentless trash has it not? Most pop music by in large sounds like what it is. Manufactured for the masses. This question was asked in a recent and lengthy thread. Check it out if nothing else it is quite an entertaining read.
HI Sunny, I completley disagree that High End is dying or dead. First off it has never been a better time for ANYONE to purchase new or used great sounding gear. And the gear we buy today sounds much better then gear from the 70's-80's. Also, with all the Integrated tube amps (most from China) that have dominated the market over the last 5 years it really makes putting together a very musical system super easy! Used Audio is a BIG market right now,which makes it a buyers paradise :-) Also, the list of speaker manufactures is huge. Makes buying speakers for ones particular taste a happy endevor, because there are a lot of choices to mate with lots of different amps. Weather you like turntables or universal players the options are there for the audio person to find the match that works best. This is a Golden time for the audio driven person. IMO. Also, I dont purchase any pop rock or jazz music that was made after 1989. Mostly everything produced after that sux bad.
Sunnyjim, some folks our age become nostalgic for the past thrills of walking into a well stocked audio shop to see unbefore heard of gear, or back when the internet opened new doors allowing us an avenue to explore a wealth of equipment we never would have heard about by reading S'phile or TAS alone, not to mention the opportunity to share listening experiences with others in this hobby across the country and across the world. Those were exciting times in audio and, like the 1969 Hemi Cuda, unlikely to be repeated.
However, music is forever, and the gear we use to listen, and how we listen, will enevitably evolve with the times. Sound quality has improved at every price point over the past 10 years, engineers and designers continue to improve the sound of reproduced music in our homes and the high end continues to provide enjoyment for many who like music.
My short answer, NO, the high end is not dead, dying or even in trouble.
Of course not. Think about it, is Porsche, Farari and Aston Martin dead and going out of business? They are not, and will continue to thrive. High end, luxury goods will always have a market for it is and always has been about 'status'. Humans are built that way. Listening, and actually driving, has little to do with it. An Aston dealership recently opened in my town, selling their $300K machines. Our high end audio store, which has been here for 30 years, is doing well. We have a B&O retail store. Even a record store with tons of vinyl. So, dead and dying, no I do not think so.
Also, I dont purchase any pop rock or jazz music that was made after 1989. Mostly everything produced after that sux bad.
Mattmiller

I was shaking my head in agreement until I read this. That is one ridiculous statement.

I guess I would ask what was the final album made in 89 that made the cutoff?
I'm with you, Timrhu.

And Sunnyjim, you need a new moniker :-)
High-end audio seems to now ( as the old joke goes)require a degree in engineering or rocket science to understand the circuitous (bad pun) route to audio nirvana.

Well, I think the truth is much more simple. The Inspirations for modern High End are written in that book. Unfortunately most "designers" have their own sample, so it is a bit vague to rate their ideas correctly. But in our modern time a solution for correct translation was found: The name of the tool is: Marketing
The internet (and audio web sites - which continues today and will into the future) is the best thing that happened to audio. I personally got tired of going into hi-end stores having pushy salesman give me their jaded view on why their gear is the best and tell me I should immediately sell all the 'junk' I currently have. I do not have deep pockets and being able to research gear (via forums with feedback from actual owners) is priceless to me. Buying used obviously offers a better bang for the buck. Through the internet I've met some fellow audio nuts which turned into long term friendships. I say hi end audio is alive and well.
I don't know if conditions have ever been more favorable for those
interested in High End audio. Choices are plentiful at all the various price
points. In terms of components there's simply a smorgasbord.
Amps, lower, medium, high, or ultra high power. Tube(SET, OTL, PP),
transistor(class A, AB, class D etc.).
Format, Vinyl, R2R, Redbook, Hi resolution digital, DSD.
Cables and accessories, it'd take two lifetimes to try them all.
There's just an abundance of choices and pathways to follow.

The best part of all of this is we as consumers get to pick and choose, yep,
it's totally up to us to fulfill our preferences. Small cottage buiders or large
established brands (and all stops between these two). It's our call.
If someone can't appreciate this opportunity and be overjoyed with the
ability to select and match til your heart's content, well you'll likely never be
happy and satisfied. I had an absolute ball developing my audio system
and I enjoy it immensely.
Charles,
Don't know what your talking about!!!!
(1) High end audio is neither dying nor sick nor stagnating .

(2) The irrefutable tenet in this hobby still reigns true: you get what you pay for.

(3) There is a limited cross-section in this hobby arena who are very happy in their low-fi or (at best) mid-fi strata. They have never or rarely experienced the zen produced by a high-end system, but that is no measure that it remains strong and true.
As for the music industry, like many industries, they are still digesting the changes the internet has introduced. There is more superb music available than ever before and it's easier to find then ever before. It's not the stuff selling in amazons top 100 though. The internet has made it possible for talented people to bypass the major label marketing machines. Go to bandcamp.com and see what people are doing all by themselves. Awesome stuff.

As for the high end manufacturers and retailers. They are in major up heaval due to the internet also. They do not know how to deal with it. The manufacturers and distributors want to support the remaining brick and mortar dealers but a huge segment of the market no longer buys from them anymore. So their are all these dealers that have almost no physical B&M business and deal mostly with internet orders. And they mark the products down 20 to 40%. But they have to hide that this occurs from the distributors. But the distributors actually know it's going on, they just can't publicly endorse it so they don't piss off the remaining legit B&M dealers. It's a mess. The internet buyers don't want to pay full retail and they should not have to since they get nothing for the markup from the dealer. So,we have all these clandestine back room deals between dealers and customers that nobody can talk about. And all the distributors will say "yeah, but not my product, we don't do that", but they do. You name a product and if it's sold in a normal B&M store, it can be had for at least 20% off and usually 35% off. Their are so many dealers doing this now that it's not even a challenge to find anymore. It's ridiculous. The only products that cannot be had at a major discount are the ones sold only via internet because those are all ready free from middle man markup.

But does this mean the end of high end audio? No it's just the end of the old model. Personally I don't care if every B&M dealer goes under tomorrow. It's inevitable anyway. I don't use B&M dealers. Can't afford the mark up. The new model will be internet direct sales with 30 day home trials. If you want to hear a piece before buying then you will attend audio shows. That's why we've seen audio shows grow, not shrink. It is the only good way for distributors and manufacturers to get public exposure for their gear. That's the future.
Really it is more of a point in time rather than 1 album. I just wanted to use a year prior to 1990...LOL the early 90's (seattle grung rock) If thats what your into then ..keep it. I have almost 1,000 albums mostly from the 60's 70's and 80's so its a fair statement for me to make ..I only listen to vinyl when I want to really listen. Its my opinion your intitled to yours.
08-17-14: Akg_ca
The irrefutable tenet in this hobby still reigns true: you get what you pay for.
To cite just one counter-example, however, this post from just yesterday describes a situation involving speakers in which the exact opposite turned out to be true. I'm sure that a little searching would disclose a great many more such instances, even in situations where system matching and system synergy were addressed as carefully as possible.

I fail to see how "you get what you pay for" can be regarded as an "irrefutable tenet" in high end audio. I would say that at best a **loose** correlation can be expected, but nothing more.

Regards,
-- Al
"The internet buyers don't want to pay full retail and they should not have to since they get nothing for the markup from the dealer."

That's not true. Just because a dealer sells a product on the internet doesn't mean there is no service provided. Most, if not all legit internet audio dealers do have a physical location with employees just like a B&M store. Here's a small list of things that an internet dealer has to do or provide their customers.

Sales consultation. Customers still need help with all aspects of making a purchase. It really doesn't matter if they walk in or call in.

Inventory must be stocked. Yes, sometimes an item is drop shipped from the mfg, but that's not always the case. Most dealer agreements require a minimum inventory of products that are to be kept.

Not every piece of audio equipment is made in the same country that it gets sold in. That usually requires the dealer to import the product, or deal with an importer in the same fashion that they would a mfg.

Handle warranties.

Possibly do basic repairs.

After sale support.

Have to deal with a higher rate of returns because there is no local B&M store the customer can visit.

Internet dealers have all the same business expenses that most regular businesses have.

Then there is the actual dealer agreement. Those things are loaded with all kinds of specific requirements. Rules for selling. Territory. Pricing. Insurance requirements. Competence requirements for dealers. Advertising requirements. Minimum purchases. Other brands and equipment the dealer must have to properly support a specific brand.

And there's plenty more on top of all that. Just to be clear, I'm not saying the business model isn't changing, I'm just pointing out that there is a significant amount of overhead involved in an internet based audio business. These business do provide real services to their customers. And even though we are seeing more factory direct types of businesses, they're not the norm. Companies that manufacture audio components, still need dealers to handle aspects of the business that they can't.

"But does this mean the end of high end audio? No it's just the end of the old model. Personally I don't care if every B&M dealer goes under tomorrow. It's inevitable anyway. I don't use B&M dealers. Can't afford the mark up. The new model will be internet direct sales with 30 day home trials."

I think you are partially right on that, but its not something I would wish for as an audiophile. That model may get by for entry and mid level quality gear, but as the gear gets more expensive and specialized, a B&M dealer really becomes necessary. For example, lets say you want to buy a really nice pair of speakers like Wilson, Avalon, JM Labs, or any other big expensive speaker in the same league. If there were no B&M stores, selling speakers like that would not be realistic. In order for a proper demo, products at that level need to be setup properly and matched to equipment that brings out the best in them. Stuff like that can't be done mail order. Could you imagine a company like Wilson doing business that way? Chances are that they wouldn't be able to stay in business. Also, you may say, I'll just buy used and sell them at a small loss if the speakers are not for me. That can be a valuable strategy. I've done it myself. The problem with just looking at the situation from that perspective is that you still need people to buy new speakers before you can even have a used market. That's why I don't want to see B&M stores go out.

That said, your post is excellent. These type of topics really need to be discussed. I don't think too many audiophiles consider what's involved in getting audio components form the manufacturer to the end customer. There's a lot involved. Last, I know that many will list bad experiences that they had when using dealers. Unfortunately, I think that way too many of those complaints are true. The only thing I can say to that is to try and find a good dealer, and support them, if possible. And if anyone knows any good dealers, maybe they should be mentioned to others looking for one.
Zd542,

Two points you made that I don't agree with. First, I've been buying from internet dealers for a long time and you are wrong, no way do they have the same over head that a B&M store does. Not even close. And if done well they can reach a national audience which is what is needed to stay in business. In the many transactions that I've engaged in with internet dealers, they acted as simple order takers. There was zero pre sales service or post sales service and I don't expect any. Give me the product at 35% off and have a nice day.

I'm old enough to remember when B&M audio stores had a great model and the difference was volume. They did big volume. Now, they are like car dealerships. It's horrible. They expect you to only visit when you are ready to spend $10k. You visit, you listen, now you spend $10k. Sorry, but not very many people can afford that model. But they have to be like that, they have NO customers. I never go to these places anymore, but when I did most of the time I was the only person in the entire store. The model doesn't work anymore.

The other thing you said I don't agree with is that the used market would be hurt if people stopped buying new gear from B&M dealers. This is wrong. If the manufactures were openly selling at lower markup over the internet than the used prices would just be cheaper. People would still buy new gear just without the 45% dealer markup. Then the used market would also benefit from lower prices. Look at a company like wyred4sound. They sell an amp for $2k that would be $4k if sold by a B&M store. When it sells used, it's just all that much cheaper.

And as for a company like wilson doing business as an internet operation. Not sure. I will say that people do buy wilson speakers all the time here on audiogon. So the used market is willing to buy these products mail order.
While there surely is truth to the assertion that high-end audio will never die completely, there is another truth we all must face. It is withering, dwindling, emaciated. Sure, the floor you are standing on seems as solid as ever, but the foundation that supports it is all but lost. At some point, probably not too far in the future, there will be a mass exodus. We will be leaving for a wide variety of reasons, but we will be leaving nonetheless. Mark my words.
I'm sorry. Double post was a faux pas.
Jaxwired +1

Inventory must be stocked. Yes, sometimes an item is drop shipped from the mfg, but that's not always the case. Most dealer agreements require a minimum inventory of products that are to be kept.
I can't remember last time I bought anything of value at B&M that wasn't drop shipped. There's NO reason to stock anything except for demo/display units.

The only differences between B&M and internet are physical location and ability to demo components but at a STEEP PRICE. If you're an educated consumer, don't need B&M IMO. Bye! Bye!
Sunnyjim,
looks like you've got a cloudy view of hi-end audio!! ;-)
I believe (along with many others in this thread/forum) that hi-end audio is becoming more of a niche market. It was always a niche market (for example, my vintage Yamaha integrated amp cost $700 or $800 back in 1977. how many people could afford that back then?) & it remains a niche market today.
Yes, the business has dropped off tremendously since the 2008 recession with all consumers seriously gauging whether they should piss away their money on audio components or something else. Money spent on audio pre-2008 has taken flight into other investment arenas that are more enduring of their investment value such as property/land. As you know, you never get your money back for audio gear.
Having said that, OTOH, the younger generation is coming up better than I expected to accept higher-end audio (notice "higher-end audio & not hi-end audio). Many generation X, Y & Z (is there a gen-Z?) people are into vinyl (look at the # of TTs being offered today) & the likes of Dr. Dre & Sol have made it a clear that having big-a$$ headphones on is not a social faux-pas. Plus, the main thing - spending $200 or more on Dr. Dre headphones for "better" sonics is OK. A few years ago, hardly anyone of the gen-X, Y, Z would be found dead/alive with big headphones; they were all into ear-plug headphones. So, like Syntax, wrote the marketing machines are slowly edging the gen-X, Y, Z folks up the spending ladder towards hi-end.
They are not there yet, like the Baby-boomers & the immediately next gen that followed, obsessing about $5000/$10,000 cables & 7'-8' tall speakers but they are being "worked upon" towards getting there.
So, luxury goods will always sell but it'll always be a niche market. Hi-end audio was never like Colgate toothpaste where everybody needed to have one.....
Alteast this is what I think. Thanks.
As long as people have good sounding stuff to listen to music with in their homes, it won't be dead. Maybe just much different looking than the olden days.
Eventually we'll all be there if not there already!!!
Jaxwired,

I think you read a little to far into my post.

"Two points you made that I don't agree with. First, I've been buying from internet dealers for a long time and you are wrong, no way do they have the same over head that a B&M store does. Not even close. And if done well they can reach a national audience which is what is needed to stay in business. In the many transactions that I've engaged in with internet dealers, they acted as simple order takers. There was zero pre sales service or post sales service and I don't expect any. Give me the product at 35% off and have a nice day."

About the first point, regarding the overhead of internet dealers, I'm not wrong. I never said it was an identical comparison. There are a lot of variables and depending on a particular dealer, how many common expenses that will be similar or shared, will have to be examined on a case by case basis. Your experience with such internet dealers, are valid examples, but are relative to you. Nothing wrong with that, but looking at the whole picture requires you do consider all of whats available, not just the stores that you've done business with.

"And if done well they can reach a national audience which is what is needed to stay in business."

That's a good point, but it costs money to do that. Also, just because you got a 35% discount on something doesn't mean that's the standard. In fact, many brands would bar a dealer from obtaining their brand if they saw that discounting like that was normal business polity. So, like I said, its all relative to the products and brands. They all have different requirements. Its just normal, everyday business.

"The other thing you said I don't agree with is that the used market would be hurt if people stopped buying new gear from B&M dealers. This is wrong. If the manufactures were openly selling at lower markup over the internet than the used prices would just be cheaper. People would still buy new gear just without the 45% dealer markup. Then the used market would also benefit from lower prices. Look at a company like wyred4sound. They sell an amp for $2k that would be $4k if sold by a B&M store. When it sells used, it's just all that much cheaper.

And as for a company like Wilson doing business as an internet operation. Not sure. I will say that people do buy Wilson speakers all the time here on Audiogon. So the used market is willing to buy these products mail order."

Its possible that I wasn't clear on that. I wasn't talking about all products. Just the ones that are more expensive and specialized. I used Wilson as an example, because in order to set them up for a proper demo, a lot goes into it. A good room, assoc. equipment, knowledgeable setup people, etc... Like many high end products, they're not meant to be sold mail order. I then said that if you don't have a good new market, the used market will suffer. It has to. Without people to buy new Wilson's, there won't be a used market. That was the whole point. I agree that people will buy used Wilson's here on Audiogon, but people have to get them first new. And without B&M stores, brands like Wilson, will probably not survive.
I see that the link I provided in my previous post no longer goes to the post I was referring to, due to posts that were subsequently placed in that thread. The post I was referring to, regarding the claim made above that "the irrefutable tenet in this hobby still reigns true: you get what you pay for," was this one:
08-16-14: Jmcgrogan2
Knghifi, I know another Audiogon member who sold his Andra II's for speakers that were less than half the price of the Andra II's, but much better sounding in his opinion. Spending more money can get you better sound quality, spending less money can get you better sound quality. So what does it all mean?
Regards,
-- Al
High end audio is better than ever its kicking ass!!
"I can't remember last time I bought anything of value at B&M that wasn't drop shipped. There's NO reason to stock anything except for demo/display units.

The only differences between B&M and internet are physical location and ability to demo components but at a STEEP PRICE. If you're an educated consumer, don't need B&M IMO. Bye! Bye!"

Did you even read my post? If the above is true, can you give me an actual example?
"High end audio is better than ever its kicking ass!!"

As evidenced by the abundance of wires costing 4 digits or more these days. Not to mention "fancy fuses".
Did you even read my post? If the above is true, can you give me an actual example?
I was replying to your 1st post.

My post requires moderator approval so sometimes it doesn't get posted for dayssssssssssssss.

What examples do you want? All components in my system were drop shipped from factory.
The point I was trying to make is that there is a wide variety of places to deal with. Some suck, but there are some very good ones, as well. I wanted some examples just to see what type of retailer/brands you were dealing with. Quite often, manufacturers that are either new or not doing well lower their standards. Established brands in good health, are far less likely to allow low service, internet type sales. (not to be confused with retailers who are breaking their contract and getting away with it.)
08-19-14: Zd542
The point I was trying to make is that there is a wide variety of places to deal with. Some suck, but there are some very good ones, as well. I wanted some examples just to see what type of retailer/brands you were dealing with. Quite often, manufacturers that are either new or not doing well lower their standards. Established brands in good health, are far less likely to allow low service, internet type sales. (not to be confused with retailers who are breaking their contract and getting away with it.)
TAD speakers, VAC and ARC components. I have no dealers in my area so purchasing local is not an option. All I need is a legit and honest business so I get what I paid for. Don't care about service ...

I guess a better question is, what can't you buy online these days? ... and can you stay in business with old business model? B&M are fading and malls evolving into HUGE food courts.

If you can't beat them, change the law. Proposing internet sales tax to keep local merchants competitive. At the end, we customers pay for inefficiency thanks to the politicians. IMO, if you can't compete, back to drawing board or quit and stop crying foul.
I like to add, with dwindling B&M, it's more difficult to find one that doesn't sook. With internet, you have the world at your finger tips.

Plus with big ticket items, why pay the sales tax plus their overhead (lease on bldg, staffing, utilities, interest on demo/display ...)

Several B&M told me majority of their revenue is from custom installations. Internet, technology and efficiency have commoditized goods so we've evolved into a service economy.
IMO its dead. Even I now would take a more budget on or in wall setup over the huge better sounding floor standers. Only way I have anothe floor stander setup is if I had a room on my house just for me. In a living room, family room, no way. You simply give up to much.

Gear prices are to high also. 1k speakers in todays market needs to greatly impress. Few speakers in that price range do at all unless wanting a small room stand setup.

Once I sell my current floorstanders someday, Im going all on or in wall, no question.
My favorite speaker company is still designing and building an outstanding product. I know there are high quality electronics out there. So IMO all is well--it's not a case of "audiogone."
It just keeps chugging along.
Yes and No.
Yes - for people who don't care about good music and sound.
No - for people who care about music and good sound.

We are on this site because we love music and this is our hobby. 99% of the people I know don't care or have no interest.

Do you care about egg shell carving? That apparently is also a hobby and so is Cigar band collecting. I don't care about them!
High-end follows the wealth distribution, which is flowing to fewer and fewer people in the U.S., and also to nations in the East.

There seems to be a new price model targeting this new, narrower customer base of concentrated wealth around the world. Outrageous markups can make the vendor rich when the customer base is not price sensitive, and also be an easier business model than dealing with higher volume at lower margins. Sell 1000 $5000 power cords and you're done.
The most expensive stuff seems to continue to get even more expensive so I suppose it is not dying assuming someone actually can still buy the stuff.

I suppose nobody wants crappy looking pro stuff in their palace.
I guess you would have to define what "high end audio" actually is.

I was talking to a guy last weekend who swore he was an audiophile and had a high end system. It was a home theater system that ran around KEF speakers, a Denon AVR (top of the line) and an Oppo DVD Blu ray player. He swears music is more important to him than video, and his rig can do music ridiculously well. Also, surround sound music is MUCH better than stereo sound.

I just met him last weekend, he is a neighbor of some woman in distress I was assisting. Her audiophile husband passed away 7 years ago, and her system has been on the fritz for 5 years now. Turned out to be a couple of blown rail fuses in her Threshold amplifier. She also had a conrad johnson preamp and Quad ESL-63 speakers, Thorens turntable, Nak cassette deck, Carver tuner and JVC CDP. The neighbor came to help me pull the amp down, it was on a shelf 7 feet high. Who the hell puts a 100 pound Threshold amp 7 feet up off the floor?

Anyway, once he heard the Quads up and running, he had to admit that he was surprised at how good that "old gear" sounded. I'm wondering if he is now questioning whether his system is still "high-end".

"High-end" is in the ear of the beholder.
High end means costs more money on teh grand scale of things. Plain and simple.

One can say that if it sounds good its high end I suppose, but it isn't.

I can buy very nice shoes and clothes in many places, but Nordtrom is where the high end stuff is sold. Same true with jewelry and Cartier.
10-16-14: Mapman
High end means costs more money on teh grand scale of things. Plain and simple.

Again, define grand scale, not so plain and simple.
Many folks think a $2000 AV Receiver IS grand scale, while others feel that a $2000 power cord is NOT grand scale.
If high end audio is a state of mind, I think the high end is alive and well.
Grand scale at least runs well up into 6 figures, maybe more in rare cases. At least that is the grandest I have seen mention of.
98 % 0f US population thinks a 2k receiver is grand scale.
10-16-14: Mapman
Grand scale at least runs well up into 6 figures, maybe more in rare cases. At least that is the grandest I have seen mention of.

10-16-14: Schubert
98 % 0f US population thinks a 2k receiver is grand scale.

That is my point, thank you gentleman. Grand scale and high-end means many different things to many different people. High end, and whether it is dying or thriving, is all in the mind of the beholder.
The 99th percentile is grander and more high end then I suppose, and that 100th even more so.
You can't be high end if too many others are higher than you.
I agree with Charles 8/17 post. There is so much great gear at all price points, analog and digital, that I believe it hard not to enjoy this hobby. Also true for the quality of music. The fun is seeking out what you like. One needs not get consumed with the preferences of others.
A better question might be how "high end" must gear be to sound like it?

My thought is that like with most technology, good sound is more a commodity item these days and less of a luxury, and it is easier than ever to approach the best the "high end" has to offer for most.

A lot of cost still has to do with scale though. It will always cost more to get high end sound in a larger venue than in a small one. That is for sure! Toss in aesthetic issues that concern home audio mostly and that ups the cost as well.

ON the smallest scale possible, I have a pair of Audio Technica headphones I paid less than $30 for that delivers a lot of delight at lower volumes even when used with commodity level computer gear these days.
For context, back in the 60's and 70's, the sound possible out of most home gear in use for listening to music outright sucked in comparison to today. The shortcoming were clearly apparent in most all cases. From tube tabletop radios to transistor radios to phonos to 8-track to cassette to FM to compact systems to even most component gear available in teh day, all were limited compared to even the most common and simple portable gear available today, which may also have limitations, but largely due to the scale more so than most anything else IMHO. Sure mp3 is limited as well, but I would love to have had an IPAD and headphones even back then.

Today, good sound is a commodity. PEople get it many ways as it suits them best.

We are all spoiled by all the good things we have available these days IMHO and none of us here most likely should have any real reason to complain about sound quality available IMHO. There are much bigger issues out there worthy of our attention.
I don't think the high-end is dying although it may be changing.
IMO: There's as much great stuff available now as there ever was.
I agree. I don't see the fan base dwindling per se. However, I think there's too much worrying about what type of moves people in their 20s and 30s are gonna make. I remain optimistic that at least a small percentage will get into high end audio. I'm in my early 40s, and back in the 70s and 80s, stereo systems were more highly regarded. But, it mostly was *not* high end, it was more mid fi and low fi.