Nothing new under the sun?

Reading all the material available on audio, there seems to be fairly widely divergent opinions about how much progress we're making, about whether anything truly new is coming about, or whether it's all just marketing.

On the one hand, you read constant reviews, both professional and personal, detailing how the new speaker takes the listener places they've never been before. "Performance like this cost 10X the price just a few years ago", or was unavailable, etc. Not just speakers, any component. The implication is that major strides are being made and the result is much lower prices for much higher performance.

An alternative view is that there is nothing new under the sun, just slick marketing. With this view, you can buy some excellent equipment from the last 20 years, get great sound, and never look back because nothing being put out today performs signicantly better.

Which is it? Should we all just admit that what we have today isn't going to be bettered any time soon and find another hobby?

The high resolution audio systems today are bettered only by possibilities of more precise measurements to setup the electronic components.

Far not all the 20 years vintage equipment was well engineered for the high resolution playback.

Most people still prefere to buy a new product since they have all possible warranties for malfunction and deffects.

If you posess electronic skills and can detect the problem with malfunctioned audio or video unit, I believe that it's OK to go for used and cheap equipment or even make one yourself.
I only recently have subscribed to an audio magazine & that's because my subscription to the Science Fiction rag I had ran out & I was looking for something else. I only have one subscription at a time. Period. Oh, my wife has some but it's stuff like British & Smithsonian & I can't pronounce those words so I don't read them.

As for new & improved, I think there's so much out there that it becomes new & improved to us because we've never been exposed to it. As for reading the reviews, well, it's sorta like buying a new car. A lot of hype from the manufacturer/dealer & ultimately end user. Sure it's a great product but ultimately you (we) have to make that decision based on our personal preferences. I'm not entirely stuck in the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" mindset as I became caught up in a furious upgrade/audition process (as compared to a rational & laidback process) that did lead me to a cable manufacturer I'm happy with but it took a lot of work to get there. I actually enjoyed the journey & learned a lot about different cables & how they affected my components & how that compared to other listeners perceptions.

It's nice to know the manufacturers are constantly experimenting/revising their gear but that doesn't mean it's better than what's currently on the market. New & improved doesn't mean better although it's worth a look.
Right now, i think that we are at a kind of "point of refinement". While the biggest changes are taking place in digital, the only area that i see making strides is in actual raw parts ( resistors, capacitors, etc... ) and in speakers. Most other stuff is simply working the bugs out or and refining basic designs that have already existed for quite some time. Sean
I think it's the idea that the last 10% of a project takes 90% of the time. It will take an increasingly large amount of resources (e.g. time, capital investment, etc.) to make any tangible progress. That said, it is is a VERY lucrative time for the accessory manufacturers in the high-end audio sector.

Most of us often "upgrade" simply because we can, not necessarily because we have a need. Since there's not really a whole lot of innovation going on with amplification, loudspeakers, turntable systems, or even a UNIVERSAL high-resolution digital format, we focus much of our attention to accessory products that are new, at least aesthetically.

The profit margin on cables is obscene. Other tweaks are often the same story. Expensive fluids, cones, rollers, clamps, compounds, connectors, etc. are all for-hire in the audio whorehouse. Get your cash out folks, it's time to tweak...
I truly believe that you can get good sound without breaking the bank, however the higher "high-end" is pricing itself out of a market, IMHO.

I also believe there's a lot of slick marketing going on as well. Worst offenders: Cable, and speakers.

I can say one thing, I'm keeping my IRS Betas. True full-range speaker prices today are well out of control IMHO.
I am with Beemer. I have a pair of Infinity 4.5's that can compete admirably with my Martin Logan ReQuests in many areas. I still use and love tubes. I still enjoy vinyl. I think the prices today are truly out of touch with reality. Don't usually bother to post on it because it is a personal choice for folks. I paid $500 a pair for my JBL L200 studio monitors brand new. (My first "serious" speaker in 1973) Even with inflation, and so called advances, what does a competing albeit better "horn" speaker cost these days or what do they go for used? Apparently if you can get close to 2 grand for "used" JBL's then we have not "advanced" to awfully far.
Hi Kirk; I don't think it has to be "one or the other", ie there is a middle ground that most reasonable audiophiles buy into (is reasonable audiophile an oxymoron?;>)-- as I think I have.

One thing I've always found intriguing about this hobby is that no two systems can ever be the same-- and I'd bet large money on that. My system is totally unique and nobody can duplicate it with out also duplicating my room, its furnishings, and my sort of lousy local power supply. So to me, my system is an experiment of one.

So, in a way I may disagree with your basic premise, ie everytime I add something new or different , I will (or may) get a different sound/music character-- and I may like or dislike or be neutral about the change. Some of the changes can be fairly profound even though they are just considered a "tweak". My latest tweak was changing a silver plated outlet for a high purity copper FIM outlet for my amp. Well, the improvement was easily equal to the difference between a good $1000. amp and an outstanding $5000. amp. Yet this simple tweak only cost $70.

The cynics/skeptics out there would say "yeah just another high buck product to rip off us audiophiles". But if the FIM outlet were manufactured in mass quantity, price would drop dramatically. I paid for a unique product of very high quality, and it translated into a significant improvement in my music quality and my enjoyment. Cheers. Craig
Improved digital formats, digital upsampling, digital crossovers, digital amplifiers, digital room correction, digital equalization,digital broadcasts, digital recording and digital connections are all new ( in the big scope of things) and exciting developments. With true omni-directional speaker drivers perhaps we can overcome what was once theoreticaly imposible, acurate surround sound. It just might inspire more people to express their creative selves again ( Am I the only one who remembers when preamps had microphone inputs).If only the manufacturers weren't so greedy and actually provided a compatible and finished product that didn't discourage people from investing in the next obsolete product.
Sean, your post intrigues me. This is not a challenge in any way, I'm really curious. How do you feel passive components have improved over the last twenty years? It seems to me that a resistor is a resistor is a ...
Materials haven't changed a whole lot but I will grant you the testing has made some progress. Do you find measurable differences between today's caps, and those of a few years ago? Has leakage improved somehow? Do the caps somehow settle quicker? Being a semiconductor guy I've always taken passive components for granted, maybe I'm missing something? Appreciate you taking the time to enlighten us, Jeff
I think that your post brings up a very important point and that is that audiophiles are fixated on new technologies and technical breakthroughs when, in fact, some of the greatest progress is as a result of refinement. Passive parts, resistors, capacitors, wire, potentiometers have all made great strides over the past few years, designers have learned more about proper grounding, there is so much refinement going on throughout the industry and yet the magazines and manufacturers have us focused on the next breakthrough. We really can't see the forrest for the trees.
I tend to agree with Sean that we're making incremental refinements, in good part due to component improvements. This is certainly true in the digital domain.

IMO, 90% of the overall improvement in mid-to-high end sound in the past 20 years has come from speaker technology and not from electronics.

Good post Unsound. There is much happening in the world of digital-- guess I needed reminding. I just hope that some of it really is to the benefit of best quality music that us audiogeeks seek. Cheers. Craig
Jeff, i think that there have been quite a bit of advances in terms of the materials used in both passive and active parts. Resistors are no longer resistors, capacitors are no longer capacitors, wire is no longer wire, etc...

By this, i mean that we have come to the point that one can measurably demonstrate differences from brand to brand of passive components. In fact, John Curl recently posted that he was able to drop distortion in his recent amplifier project by one one full MAGNITUDE simply by changing one passive component. He simply substituted a Brand A resistor for a Brand Z resistor of the same value and tolerance. By a magnitude, i am talking about a figure of .0X to .00X THD. His findings in this area were important enough to halt production of this product. They did this so that the manufacturer could incorporate these changes into production models before they hit the streets.

Needless to say, John was overjoyed with these findings and that is why he posted this information. He went so far as to comment that people that believed that "resistors are resistors" and that there were no differences between brands couldn't be further from the truth. Given Curl's credentials and previous design efforts for the last 30 years or so, i'd have to take his comments with a LOT more than a grain of salt. Especially given the fact that he was somewhat of an "unbeliever" in this phenomena himself not that long ago. Just ask his business partner, Bob Crump.

Obviously, there is something going on within the resistors chemical make-up that causes a difference in actual circuit use between these two brands. Even though they may measure nearly identical in terms of parts value in stand alone tests, they are performing differently when combined with other factors within this specific circuit. If one were to say that a Brand A non-inductive resistor of 1K ohm and 1% tolerance would measure and sound differently than a Brand Z non-inductive resistor of 1K ohm and 1% tolerance 20 years ago, they would have been laughed out of the engineering society. Yet such findings are now becoming more and more common place. The same can be said for capacitors, diodes, types of metals, etc...

Not only do some of these parts work differently within the same circuitry, they will have different "lifestyles" or operating curves within their lifespan. Due to metal migration in semiconductors, their gain curves, internal impedances, etc... can vary drastically with age. This is part of the phenomena that has been tagged "break in" or "settling". Not only do components initially "change" when first being used, they do so over their entire life span. Some may be more gradual, some may have sharp knee's in their operating curves, some may remain consistent until their point of demise, etc... Shoot, even solder conductivity changes with age. This varies depending on the metals used during its' initial manufacture and how well it bonded when applied to the connection. With that in mind, how much technology do you think goes into a solder formulation as compared to an actual part that has gain and internal impedance considerations ???

As we've had more time to experiment and chart these differences and reactions, the engineers have made quite a bit of progress in terms of incorporating this information and other findings into building better passive and active parts. As such, similar circuitry built 20 - 30 years ago might sound / perform / measure notably different than the same circuit using current technology and "high grade" parts.

As such, many products have simply re-invented the wheel using better materials and implimenting the knowledge that comes along with technological breakthroughs and studies done over a wide period of time. The end result: a "wheel" that lasts longer, is more reliable, produces a more comfortable ride with less "road noise", one that handles better under extreme conditions, etc... Yes, it is still a wheel, but it is one helluva wheel : ) Sean
There is something (relatively) new that I finally bought into (literally). I just bought a Sony SCD-777ES SACD player. It really is as good on SACD playback as the press claimed! I have admittedly become jaded to all the CONSTANT hype for new amps, tweaks, etc.
Unfortunately Sony seems to be supporting this format like Pioneer supported Laserdisc-DISMALLY! The software is scarce here in Phoenix, I bought 12 SACDs & can't find anything else I like locally.
Nevertheless, this player with SACDs is quite a step up from my SONY XA7ES, which was no slouch.
I challenge all of you to beg or borrow a broken in SACD player & try it in your system.
After you hear it in a known environment, (YOUR ROOM, YOUR SYSTEM), I think you'll be quite impressed.
As far as I'm concerned, this Sony player makes all the press about expensive players like the LINN CD-12 "This red-book player may cost $20,000.00, but it sure sounds worth the price" a laughable quote. I've heard the Linn, on a top-drawer Revel system. My used Sony sounds better.

Great question, you make a solid point and so too do some of those who disagree. I'm a little closer to your line of thought. But I must concede the argument that digital advances are making it look like a quantum leap may be ahead. Just not in time for this years Christmas shopping season.

Maybe I'm getting cynical in old age but it seems like our entire country and economy is based on the imperative that everybody should spend every penny they have immediately on something that will be obsolete next week. They should then dispose of what they have for the "new and improved" model just as soon as they get an increase in their credit line. (I'm ignoring all of the pure crap that also sings this siren song.)

All this said, I just bought some new cables, am I a hypocrite?

I just wish stuff was more modular (read plug ins) so we could buy equipment that has a life expectancy as long as ours. How much current equipment will last as long as some of the old vintage stuff still out there. I would love to have the confidence I could grow old with my current system. Sometimes I envy our grandparents. Then again maybe our grandparents were just better at saying "Enough."