1990-2000 was also before home theater really beat audio into near submission, so good time frame.
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I doubt anyone can argue any high end stuff is 'bad sounding'. As you say, system matching is really important.
I will venture to argue that there is a lot of high end stuff that is not particularly good value for money (ie., sound vs. cost). Part can be attributed to packaging (really cool design) that plays little or no part in sound quality and part profit margins which don't diminish but increase with higher end stuff. I've heard different people say Krell, Wilson, Linn, Naim and McIntosh they felt sounded like crap - but again cost/value, system matching. Personally I don't get Naim or Linn at all, having listened extensively to both.
To me most of Joseph, Revel and B&W speakers sounds horrible. To the same degree I'd count Merilyn VSM.
The most Unique speakers in that case are Martin Logans. They sound horrible in any set up and any room.
In amplification I'd count in this category Cary amps, preamps and digital players. Heard them many times not even once liked any.
Although, there are lots of fans for the equipment listed in my bad sounding list. Someone might hate for instance Aerial or Totem speakers that I have and belove set up with Sunfire/Classe gear and it's all normal. We're free to express our personal preferences.
This is all pure opinion and while interesting its useless, its not really hard to make something sound "good" and we should expect all to sound at least reasonably good especially if thats the focus instead of mass consumer gear thats price is first concern.
As mentioned value is the real question, how well does it perform for what cost it demands and just what can be justified as its MSRP. Thats where countless gear IMO opinion doesnt live up to hype, cost or claimed expense to create and build.
I personally agree completely that the 90's were the best time for audio based on several facts.
The Computer revolution had made many parts available and resources for higher grade parts available at prices that were never seen before
There was finally an upturn in the economy after the 80's were I dont think 1 decent car was made IMHO amongst other products and there was finally a demand for quality products along all spectrums
Computers showed many people that their computer would play their beaten CD's that would skip in cheap players and started realizing the capabilities of HIFI that would have never made such a connection (Late 90's but before Y2K)
Also there was a greater selection of tubes available at the time and there is still a great one but when you design a product you need a TON of tubes on hand at all times.
Also theater hadnt dominated nor had MP3's Which have led to IDocks and HTIB's Running the industry
Also one last point a company like the good guys could still exist where they sol some decent gear as well, Now I dont know of another Chain besides Best Buy, I hear there are still a few magnolias (Owned by Best Buy)
Now adays it seems like everyone sold out and you have to find the cool independent folks or go with golden age and maintain it unless you have an awesome budget IMHO
As prices of products go up, so does your level of expectation of what you get for you money. Personally,
I think any speaker over 25K is overpriced regardless
of the performance (unless the voice coil is solid gold).
Hey, it's just a speaker! However if you listened to the
Wilson or Sonus Faber speakers and they sounded bad, it
was probably due to a mismatch with the room or the
equipment they were using as both sound about as good
as speakers can sound in their price range.
I would also share your thoughts about speakers that cost larger than luxury vehicle. Regardless, if some R&D done you can get same or better performance for your room getting away 20 times less.
Recently I've auditioned http://www.amazon.com/Event-Opal-750-watt-Active-Monitors/dp/B0020J23L8 and was truly impressed with price for performance.
human beings are not perfect. they make errors of all kinds. in a variety of endeavors both good and bad things are the result.
thus , it should not be surprising that an inferior product be produced,
of course it is useful to provide a definition of what high and low quality is.
otherwise , as camelboy suggests , taste will prevail.
Most experienced audiophiles wouldn't be so presumtious as to state, as has been in this thread, that several highly regarded products sound "horrible" without providing more detailed information before making such bold statements. Overpriced, poor value, overated IMO is a better choice of wording when making general comments, IMHO. Poor system matching, taste, musical preference, personal bias and other issues are usually at play when folks make such comments especially when I personally know some of the said products are considerably better than "horrible". What a useless adjective in this discussion.
Having said that I agree with the camp that there are numerous poor value to performance products. Also "bad sounding" is relative. I firmly believe this hobby is as much about sound as reproducing music accurately and how one likes their music reproduced is just a matter of personal preference which is precisely why there are so many different flavors and directions to follow.
IMHO the "golden age" for high end audio is today, not 20 or 30 years ago as suggested. There are many more options for folks today than ever. The "good ole days" always seem better in retrospect than they were in reality, more nostalgia for a period closer to our youth. However there are a few "classics" that will always be highly regarded. Today component parts are better, new composite materials for speaker cabinets are more numerous as are overall choices. The only area that probably isn't as good is the quality of vacuum tubes today compared to the "golden age" of RCA, Tung Sol, Mullard, Telefunken and the like. They surely were manufactured to a higher quality standard than today where their manufacture is limited and there is greater variance in electrical characteristics. At least that I can say with some certainty based on my experience.
"Just because it is billed as HIGH END does not mean it sounds that way."
But thats one HUGE problem, who defines what is "High End" and does "High End" even have a sound (ofcourse it does) but if 10 people have 10 different opinions who is right and if one of them says its not at all high end is he wrong or are the other 9 all wrong?
it is obvious that any product designed by imperfect human beings can perform poorly in some respect. consider expensive cars. some are not mechanically or electrically reliable.
regardless of the definition of "high end" and regardless of the definition of "good" sound there will always be products that disappoint. period.