Is this the end of HEA?

This last year has made my ears perk up. Honestly I didn't even know the article above had been written until now. What I did know was listeners have been in touch with me about the future of HEA and their future as advanced listeners. It's been nice to see folks getting in touch with me and even nicer that they are doing so because they wish to settle into their final system sound. To say things in their words "it's been an expensive ride" and most of these folks aren't sure they've gotten a fair shake always from the hobby. Many feel they have bank rolled a part of a hobby that hasn't always delivered the goods. Basically instead of telling listeners that this is a variable hobby the "experts" pushed a very expensive game of component Plug & Play onto the discrete audio generation. I remember those days of guilt buying where a dollar amount was used as a representative for quality, when it meant no such thing. I knew first hand this was not the case as designers scrambled to make up-sell products that sounded less musical than the original products that put their name in audio fame. I also could see the HEA decline happening but still was giving the benefit of the doubt to those saying HEA was just fine and growing. Mom and pop stores for the most part have vanished in the US with the exception of a few creative thinkers. New expensive products are being adored but I don't see many actually buying them. Now I've got my eye on T.H.E. Show (Richard's show) and wondering if it's happening or not. Richard and I have talked many times about what will happen to HEA in the US if T.H.E. Show and CES cease doing their thing in Vegas. I wonder what Richard RIP is thinking now sitting in the clouds.

I am very excited to see the next few years come about even though I know some are still buying into the old paradigm that the HEA is the cutting edge with only a volume control to adjust and a fork lift included with every purchase. Going to the CES web, I have my answer for Vegas. Going to T.H.E. Show website I'm still in question. If these two are no more, in terms of HEA, who's next?

Michael Green

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HEA will become a marginal hobby like coin and stamp collecting (I do both!). The average person will be listening to a digital streamer connected wirelessly to Class D - powered speakers. And will own no physical media! 
 I agree with you on a couple of points,
cost is definitely not representative of sound quality and
Greed is ruining the hobby. Everybody’s looking to make a big big bucks on whatever they produce. 
Us baby boomers will be dying out...that may be about all she wrote by the time that happens.

Still, there's actually never been a better time for "affordable audio" (our terms, not the manufacturers'). Too bad the overriding perception among audiophiles is that that just isn't so. Once the baby boomers are gone, the makers are going to have some decisions to make. Hope springs eternal, but I still have my doubts, too.
From what I have observed of friends and neighbours...
- sound quality of new hardware is much better and more affordable than it was just a few years ago (Bluesound, Sonos etc...) and they are happy
- convenience is a huge factor to most people - e.g. smart phone control
- high quality Sound bars are very affordable and now loaded with "features" and is often considered and essential add-on for the new TV
- most people do not sit down and "listen" to music anymore - it’s more for background music
- the sound quality "gap" between affordable audio systems and HEA systems today is getting smaller everyday - e.g. new class D amps seem to perform exceptionally well and are quite affordable
- HEA systems take up too much space - a dedicated room? Really?

The excellent audio stores with great listening rooms is rapidly becoming a thing of the past - so people no longer have a place where they can go an listen. (Damn you Amazon)

A/V systems, with their over processed soundtracks makes is difficult to appreciate the subtleties of live recordings that are present in 2 channel recordings. It’s all about the "effects" and not the details.

People have more disposable income these days - however, they tend to choose mid-fi components and they are not willing to research components, cables etc. anymore because most gear these days sound pretty good.

I think there will always be a niche market for HEA - there are still a few curious people out there - but from what I have observed it will be a shrinking market segment!


Watching the pendulum swing from expensive, high mass and complicated back to simplicity, low mass and thoughtful is exciting.


Exciting? Well, I suppose, unless you’re a high-end audio, brick and mortar retailer. At least the next generation of audiophiles will be able to spend a smaller portion of their income on decent sound.
Invite young people to hear your high-end system. What they don't know exists doesn't exist. 

Most high end systems I ever heard, and I’ve heard a bunch, were disappointing. I’d say they probably fall under the category, Looks Good on Paper. I certainly wouldn’t consider allocating a huge amount of 💸 💸 💸 If I thought that’s the sound it would buy me.

I think it all started around 1980 when the big audio show was in DC. Somebody was demonstrating the humongous Infinity Reference System with a big RTR tape deck and AUDIO RESEARCH tube electronics. The dude on stage announced proudly, “see if this sounds live music to you.” Unfortunately, when the sound came on and filled the auditorium it was so bad everyone immediately got up and walked out.

A rich man 💰 has about as much chance of getting into audio heaven as a camel 🐪 has of passing through the eye 👁 of a needle. - old audiophile axiom

"Exciting? Well, I suppose, unless you’re a high-end audio, brick and mortar retailer."

I think if someone is a creative marketer they can profit. But their existing paradigm will have to be flexible and adapted to a newer style of listening hobby. Keep in mind HEA brick and mortar has been on the decline since the late 1990's. They've had a lot of time to reinvent themselves. It's not like someone yanked the rug out from underneath them.


"Invite young people to hear your high-end system. What they don't know exists doesn't exist."

There are more young people listening to music then ever. There are more people of all ages listening to music. And, there are more people listening to quality sound then ever. People are simply being more practical about their listening on one end and more advance and practical on the other.


Young people are mostly idiots like people of other age groups. Politics has proven that by the morons and lunatics that have been elected. The few that aren’t idiots will try to experience something better than the drooling masses. Meanwhile another foe of HEA has appeared over the last several years: apathetic attitudes toward listening to media-based music. That and short spanned attentions and need for immediate gratification from everything things have been killing HEA. It’s inevitable that HEA will cease to exist, it’s just a matter of time. There’s just not enough room in the lives of enough people for HEA. 
These are the golden days of hifi. More to listen to than ever and lots of affordable ways to do it with very good sound quality.  Too bad pop music is so predictable and cookie cutter,  more than ever, but don't let that bug you. 
Pop music and rap are an avoidable irritant. Good thing is we’ve got music from the before the 80’s happened. 
Getting back to the OP's question, I see the coming end, if not thinning, of HEA shows but not the end of HEA sales. People have adapted to the internet way of business so the only nut to crack is how to get this generation interested. 

From what I've read, Europe is still going strong with lots of innovation coming from Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia, Greece and the like with built in audiences who still like to listen the way we do.

When we lament the loss of participation here, stateside, I think it has a lot to do with culture and trends, which can be very fickle and short lived. The way we listen will ebb and wane but never go away. It's been around for a long time which is a sign that it's doing something right.

Innovation has to settle in with HEA seriously in mind since it's already baked in. The only problem is cost: people don't have the disposable income they used to. Better minds will step in where the old guard falters or fails so the look of things will change but the end result should be satisfying. It'll just take some getting used to.

In the meantime, there are still some brick & mortar venues out there so everyone should do their due diligence and keep in touch. For me, it's Acoustic Image and Elliot Midwood, who's been so gracious with his time and expertise. I try to visit a couple times a year even though I'm content with what I have but it's nice to visit, chat and listen. A couple of times I've done that when Todd Garfunkle (MA Recordings) has been there and it's nice to get a peek inside the curtain. 😄

Which reminds me, I'm long overdue for a visit.

All the best,

I agree with Mapman "These are the golden days of hifi. More to listen to than ever and lots of affordable ways to do it with very good sound quality."

This is where I am at as well.

Notice in the article the name "high performance audio" was used replacing "high end audio". This happened a few years back trying to increase interest.

IMO this is a great time to be alive for music lovers. There is sooooo much music available to us now. That said, I believe there will always be people who want to hear that music recreated as close to live as possible & will buy equipment that accommodates that end. Hopefully the cost of such equipment will become more in reach to those desiring it. As stated many times, look at how much digital has improved in just the last 10 years. 
“Politics has proven that by the morons and lunatics that have been elected”

Just FYI, the political rant belongs on another forum. Not here! It’s nice to know your political leanings, but I (for one) really don’t care about them.
@sleepwalker  I used to think the same way about rap as you stated in your post. However, since this is the GOLDEN age of music I was able to discover rap that I liked via the internet (mainly TIDAL). I just did a filter on my digital library for rap and I have 51 titles listed. I am rather shocked at this number but there are some great discs there.

Recently, I was also able to listen to tons of 60's - 70's soul music via TIDAL, real deep cuts in albums. Stuff you never hear on mainstream sources. I am incredibly richer for it and my musical collection has grown significantly.

A lot of people like myself out there discovering music. Maybe they will also start to care about hearing this music and any music in a higher quality format than in ear buds or computer speakers. The fact that high quality headphones are becoming rather popular leads me to think that they could be a gateway drug to High Performance Audio systems for this younger gen. 

In reference to the OP, I think that it’s the CES show that’s the problem.  The author cites the high price of hotel rooms, the competition from other shows mainly European that have siphoned off attendees...
  I live in Chicago and have spent a day at Axpona each of the last 3 years.  There has been a venue change, some weather issues, but it appears that the show itself is thriving and busy, but then I am not sure what I should be comparing it with.
  There is unquestionably a generational change at work here.  The companies that will be relevant twenty years from now will have figured out how to make good sound matter to the world cf cell phone and tablet users and provide products that integrate well with those products.  It is possible that six figure components may disappear.  I think Multichannel Audio May make a comeback as wireless speakers improve and room equalizer apps that can be operated from cell phones become more ubiquitous.  Magazines such as TAS and Stereophile will probably become irrelevant as no one will be shelling for the kind of gear they push
@yyzsantabarbara I understanding your want to keep the scope open for anything that might be a pleasant surprise, but I’m not that flexible, possibly my loss. My opinion of rap has been soured by all the crime and posturing that has been promoted as a lifestyle by rappers, not to mention the form is aurally abrasive to yours truly. But, one man’s poison is another man’s pleasure, and you are certainly entitled to your choices. 
Harry Pearson introduced the term "High End" to audiophiles. J. Gordon Holt preferred the term high performance; that's nothing new. Also not new is the concept of moderately priced-high value hi-fi. I know we live in an era of simplistic bumper-sticker slogans, but come on, man.
I wouldn't know, I've never had a bumper sticker. Isn't that a 60's & 70's thing?
Reading OP, I got the impression it is about High Cost Audio, not High End Audio, whatever the definition of High End Audio would be.

"Watching the pendulum swing from expensive, high mass and complicated back to simplicity, low mass and thoughtful is exciting."
This is really multi-layered thought. I think it is correct in the end.

iPhone, becoming a primary music source for many, is not exactly cheap and is only one source.

High mass, bulk, is definitely going away. Even very expensive components are these days often relatively small. It used to be, the heavier the better.

Complicated turning back to simplicity is true, when it comes to ease of use for the final user. It does not seem so simple when taking into account technology implemented for simple common, dare I say "most common", way people listen to music these days. I suspect there is way more sophistication and engineering/designing (pick your favorite word for "inventing" or similar to it) going into a miracle of music playing via Spotify, or an African Internet radio, on an iPhone than it is going into a nice old-fashioned system, even the heavy "over-engineered" one. Just my guess. It may be a mistake interchanging "smaller" and "simpler".

It may be a wonderful time to explore the music, but it is not because it is simpler deep inside. It is because it is much more complicated and many bright girls and guys made very complicated things simple for us to use. That is thoughtful, indeed.

What I think your analysis of the “shift to low mass uncomplicated and less expensive systems” ironically and mysteriously overlooks is the primary reason for such a shift - sound quality! Hel-loo! Nobody is suggesting we go back to listening to mp3 on iPods. If you like we can review the whole list of reasons why sound quality is the impetus and intended result of downshifting from high mass, complex, expensive systems to lightweight, very simple, and very inexpensive systems. I’m sure that is what MG had in mind in the OP.

You are partially right. By far, the largest number of people who listen to music are doing it on low-mass systems, namely cell phones. They are connected to some kind of ear/headphones or, at home, to Bluetooth speakers or similar quality equipment. Nobody switched to those because of sound quality, except maybe you. They switched because of convenience. It has been that way for about 40 years.

Sophistication and advancement of technology made it possible that higher sound quality, whatever that is, is nowadays available from smaller format devices. Add to that the possibility to get content that was previously practically unobtainable. End-user experience is definitely simpler and richer, but technology used is far more complicated. Nothing wrong with that. Give it another 50-60 years and common devices will approach the sound quality of your Walkman in a package that will fit in your pocket.

I think Michael Green is right. Overall music listening is switching to smaller and easier-to-use devices but the driving force behind it is not sound quality. It is convenience made possible by advancements in technology. How room tuning and other approaches fit into that story about smaller and simpler is another topic. Kind of exactly the opposite, but not harmful at all. Thankfully, it is hard to take cover off an iPhone and continue using it as before.

All of that applies to major market, not very small marginal group that takes pleasure talking about fuses, cables, pieces of wood under the electronic components, and what not. They are in their little world that is less and less important to anyone, including show organizers.
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Lots of good insight on this thread. One of the additional cultural forces that ties in with the shortened attention span an earlier poster mentioned, in America at least, is a decline in the notion of excellence. Look at all the 5 star drivers on Lyft and Uber. Very high ratings on Yelp for objectively mediocre restaurants. Writing styles of published authors that have declined from an 11th grade level in the 80’s to a 6-8th grade today. Questionable talent on America’s Got Talent. New employees who expect high pay but bring few skills to the table.

A reporter once asked Miles Davis why he practiced 4-5 hours a day. “You are the Miles, surely you don’t need to?!” To which Davis responded, “I am the Miles BECAUSE I practice five hours a day.” 

The very notion of excellence and the hard, consistent work required to achieve it, is in jeopardy in this country. Why should critical listening be any different? It is also a form of excellence that places a demand on the person listening. 
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I'm sure there were a very serious group of individuals sitting around worrying that their Marconis were failing to gain traction. They were enjoying listening to Caruso live on a single speaker and were certain the apocalypse was upon them. Then, came the jazz age and '78's. That group couldn't understand why anyone would want to use tape...or '45's...or FM...or, gasp, stereo!

Humans will always consume music and they will do it in a way they choose, not the way the previous generation chose. It should be fun and enjoyable to listen to shouldn't be so serious or complex as trying to solve the ticking time bomb at Chernobyl.

I see alot of young people discovering vinyl and the social aspects of spinning records...building speakers...serious headphone setups. The shrines many on Audiogon have built with 200 lb amplifiers and 500 lb speakers are dinosaurs.  I'm sure dinosaurs saw it coming and all the paw wringing they could muster didn't change the outcome.

I am sorry. I do try to keep you out of the holes you keep on digging under yourself. I succeed at times.

At some point, I will look up what your baby, rabbit, and fox references may mean.

When it comes to mid-fi, my Walkman can beat up your Walkman.
"I see alot of young people discovering vinyl and the social aspects of spinning records...building speakers...serious headphone setups."
Observations like this, undoubtedly true to whatever extent "a lot" is, puzzle me. A lot of my communication, daily, is with 15ish to early 30s people. Basically, I am surrounded by them. I would think they are the "young people" we are talking about here. Over the last decade, maybe more, only one wanted to buy a turntable and that was an $80 wish. She wanted it not to play music but because it would look cool in her room. She, in fact, did not even plan to play it at all. She said she would continue listening to her iPhone.

Where do you guys see all those young people doing these things? Who are they?
dramatictenor, I fully agree. Standards are mostly low, very few seem to be interested in excellence. But to sort of defend the majority who are not - they are not capable of excellence regardless of effort. So what would they do ? The answer is obvious - they will try to set new much lower standards and call them excellence or try to eliminate the concept altogether. Besides, being capable of giving an effort is an ability in itself as well.
Hopefully, it is temporary because if it is not we are going to become a race of robots and insects.
It's a little unfair to compare to Miles, no-one can play quite like him, this is a very rare talent.


You are partially right. By far, the largest number of people who listen to music are doing it on low-mass systems, namely cell phones. They are connected to some kind of ear/headphones or, at home, to Bluetooth speakers or similar quality equipment. Nobody switched to those because of sound quality, except maybe you. They switched because of convenience. It has been that way for about 40 years.

The real reason millions of lemmings are connected to headphones is because a rapper made them think they needed to. SQ is not even a consideration. 
HEA is dying in US since young people are not interested in expensive HEA.

It is same in Asia and Europe too.

But it is going faster in US,

Watching the pendulum swing from expensive, high mass and complicated back to simplicity, low mass and thoughtful is exciting.

The author of the bleak but futuristic “Idiocracy” was spot-on.

The days of simplicity are long gone, and with it purity and directness of the signal chain. Everywhere, hoards of lemmings pump monotonous “top 20” tripe into their ears, consisting mainly of the latest bubble-head “pop” “singers” and rappers. The bar has been permanently lowered. Sound quality is not even on the distant horizon for these unfortunates. 
They often don't even have a more or less permanent place to put this stuff in. They are portable themselves. Often disposable too - doesn't matter which one to hire, most are just the same.


"The real reason millions of lemmings are connected to headphones is because a rapper made them think they needed to."

I was thinking about headphones more along the lines of people using them with Walkmen ever since 1979 or so. No doubt that Beats by Dr. Dre, if that is what you were referring to as "rapper", elevated aftermarket headphones into some other galaxy. However, it was a couple of decades after sidewalks and urban transportation had become flooded with head/earphones. I think that rapper convinced people to buy his particular brand and did not change the mode of listening towards headphones that much.
By the way, Michael's best Chameleon speakers used to cost $15k, not much by audiophile standards but quite a lot, and now he advocates cheap s**t. And that's in addition to complete lack of ideas regarding acoustics. Maybe he forgot everything he knew.

Actually inna I would consider all of my speaker designs to have their place and their place in design history. If I ever produce the "LOW" loudspeaker you’ll see a higher price tag again, but I would doubt there be more than 40-100 folks that would spring for them at just shy of $20,000.00 with all the trimming. I might be surprised but that’s what I would guess purely based on the age of High Enders getting up there. The Rev Combo however is a different story topping out at $8,000.00 fully loaded with all the trimming. The Rev6 starts at $1250.00. Hardly cheap, seeing that these are the only "Tunable" speakers on the market using real guitar boards as baffle boards. My drivers are made with LTRedwood baskets, hand voiced, I wouldn’t call that "cheap". So first lets define "cheap". I’m not and never have been "cheap", I’m fair and pour my soul into what I do. If you think that’s cheap okie dokie, but I think most owners today think they’ve hit the super audio jackpot when they get one of my speaker sets. Same goes for my other designs all the way up to the Tunable Rooms :)

Now saying this, there has also been those who have had me design million+dollar systems in my life most of them putting the focus on the acoustics and full tunable system.

When it comes to the electronics this is where I part from HEA. Everything I make, I make for a reason to produce music. Heavy chassis don’t produce music. So if I cut out the heavy chassis that’s part. Heavy heatsinks don’t produce music, there goes another chunk. I don’t like the sound of enclosed heavy transformers as compared to open transformer designs, that’s more cost to hack away at. Thick pc boards, nah, I again like the old style for tone. Bigger transformers next to chips, disaster. So when you start to see the parts and pieces come together for what I like to tune it starts to shape the pricing as well.

The most expensive set of amps I had in last year were $30,000.00. They got stepped all over by almost every other amp I had in the house "Tuned" vs "Tuned". The company asked that I not mention their name as they bought the amps back from us.

If some of you wish to change my meaning around to suit your narrative I don’t have a problem with that, Tunees are reading and that’s what counts. Everyone has their reasons to paint their own pictures.

Michael Green

Great posts @dramatictenor and @inna.

"bumper sticker slogan". The operative word was obviously slogan, not bumper sticker. The misrepresentation of that phrase is yet another example of that very bumper sticker mentality.

Well, Michael, I was mostly talking about your approach to the source and electronics. It does sound like nonsense to me. As for your current speakers, I did take a look at the website. No full range speakers. Pair of monitors plus one sub is not the correct way of doing it - two subs not one, and some would say at least two subs.
All this looks almost mass market sold on amazon stuff advertised by funny girls. That's my impression. Build real audiophile speakers, people will listen. " Walk not talk ".

LOL, from the latest review of the Rev6

"In my listening, these speakers strike an incredible balance between musical ease, refinement, clarity, punch, and spot-on harmonic completeness and accuracy. Paradoxically, they are able to exhibit effortless control and a sense of unbounded energy at the same time. I understand that Michael Green treats the drivers with a proprietary reinforcing compound, so that may be what’s behind this remarkable quality. I’ve done many a double take when I think I hear an actual piano, saxophone or cymbal playing while I’m in the other room on the computer. The attack and decay envelopes produced by the Rev6’s are fully rendered and precisely reproduced. In fact, this characteristic may be the speaker’s most identifiable quality and at the core of what makes the speaker sound so natural and realistic. The speaker’s rendering of all forms of percussion, for example, is simply head-turning and serves to naturally connect the listener’s body and soul to the music. Audiophile friends that have listened to my system have made similar comments about these speakers. I have never become fatigued listening to the Rev6’s."

I like it when you guys sell products for me. And your obviously selling products for the new generation of audiophiles.

Michael Green

To address inna’s remarks about full range and subwoofers. I find that the most popular audiophile setup is the 2.1 speaker system. 2 mains is cool, but not the most efficient way to get a room charged deep full range and soundstage complete. I have designed the Rev6 and Rev60 for around 30 years. Sorry inna but the newer Rev6 beats up on the old Rev80 and 80i. I don’t have a problem making custom designs with the bigger woofers by request but I’m really happy with the performance of the 6. The Rev6 Combo has been the jewel and so easy to set rooms up with. At the same time if someone wants to go multiple Sub wild I have several different Sub designs to allow the listener to define from 200hz down in different pressure zones of the room. With the super sub guys I have 5 different 15" drivers that I like to use that all have different tones and are of course tunable (I do 10"-18"). Some are free air Subs and some enclosed. 2, 3 or even 4 subs can be used but I always recommend going 2.1 at first so you can tune in your room first before going too crazy. The right amount of RoomTune and Rev setup is pretty darn good sounding.

The Rev6 is full range, however having the Combo is pretty special for example, your playing one recording with perfect harmonics and extension and the very next recording sounds squeezed on the top end and shallow on the bottom. One or two simple adjustments and the new recording is sounding as full and balance as the first. This is where we are going as audiophiles. A more flexible hobby and more musically refined.

So, inna maybe you wouldn't dig my speakers, don't know, but there seems to be a musical ear out there that they are hitting. And certainly the most flexible.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. High End Audio has precious little to do with equipment or cost. It’s actually surprisingly easy to assemble a very expensive Stereophile Class A system that sounds very generic, boring, two dimensional, amusical, irritating, thin, metallic, thuddy, compressed, distorted and/or like paper mache. 😛 We want tuna that tastes good, not tuna with good taste. 🐬

The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry. - old audiophile axiom
"Maybe he forgot everything he knew."
Maybe he learned something new along the way. We all change our perception of things at some point. Better that than to stubbornly push one "wrong" view forever. Nothing to do with Michael Green’s speakers and their real value. I know nothing about them and would give them benefit of the doubt until I hear them (and I doubt that I will ever have a chance).
"Heavy chassis don’t produce music."
Over time, reading through advertising materials, I got the impression that is why they are put there. To reduce vibration or something like that. Basically, to minimize "producing music". Isn't it good then?
Glupson, My son has a nice system with my old Polk SDA speakers and Hegel Integrated. Mostly mid-fi, but he is young. He mainly listens with a NAD Dac and 650 headphones.

My Son-in-law bought records for almost a year, and now has a Project table he researched and bought. He picked up some Elac B5 speakers, and I loaned him a Rotel integrated and a sub. He is in hog heaven.

Both better systems than I had in my mid Twenties.

My Son-in -Law sits in my seat, and just says over and over, I can’t believe this is the same music I listen to at my house, so he understands what better is. My Daughter says they get my big heavy horns when I pass. Hehe,They will have to wait another 30 years, God willing!

That is one audiophile family. I just never encounter people, not even older to be perfectly clear, who are interested in higher quality sound. Your family is probably unusual, when it comes to listening to music, although it is really great they enjoy it.
We are definitely unusual. ;)

As far as buying $150,000 speakers. Not going to happen, so I agree somewhat with the premise.

MG pops in with this audio death spiral stuff to sell his products. Surprise! May the best marketer win.

Speaking of low mass, that’s really important in the drivers in loudspeakers. If low mass is a design criteria and objective (rather than a marketing slogan), electrostatics have far less than dynamics (cones), so why not design, build, and sell them? Roger Modjeski of Music Reference does just that, even offering a direct-drive tube amp to mate with them, which provides the second MG commandment of simplicity. Now THERE is some walking it like you talk it, putting your money where your mouth is.