The Hub: Here's some GOOD NEWS from the audio biz

The darkest hour is just before the dawn. Just around the corner, there's a rainbow in the sky. Such aphorisms were used during the Great Depression to either encourage the public or delude it, depending on your degree of cynicism.

Well, here's an aphorism for the new-millenial recession: So what if times are tough? We're gonna find a way to make it anyway!

The audio marketplace has changed dramatically in the past few decades. When times are tough, there is a tendency to focus on those changes we view as negative: stores closed, familiar names gone, a lack of interest from the younger generation.

But there have been at least as many changes in the audio marketplace that are not just positive, but nearly beyond belief to audiophiles and music-lovers of a certain age. Back in the early '70's, believe it or not, the most-reliable conduit of information on new and exciting audio gear was tiny black-and-white classified ads in the back of Audio magazine. Stereophile, The Absolute Sound? They were published sporadically, if at all.

If you wanted product info, it usually meant writing a letter. Getting an answer might take weeks, if the company were polite enough to respond; many were not. Curious about the experience of others with a product, a manufacturer's history or product resale value? Good luck: there were no Forums or Bluebook. Want a record they don't have at the local store? Get out the Schwann catalog, and wait weeks after the store orders it, if they're obliging; write a letter and wait even longer, if they're not.

Let's face it: we're spoiled. Today, in a matter of seconds, we can find out about a piece of gear, see it, learn where it's available, read reviews of it, maybe buy it. Music? Nearly every band or orchestra has a website with enough information to satisfy the most obsessive fan, videos of live performances, sources for discs or downloads. Reviews or criticism? How many music sites and blogs are there? A million, literally?

Really: spoiled. Music-lovers and audiophiles today have an embarrassment of riches. Be grateful for what we have available to us.

While we've had some rough times, the audio marketplace is adapting, correcting itself. News from most dealers and manufacturers indicates increasing levels of sales, at a more consistent level than the up-and-down spikes and troughs of the last few years. Many markets avoided the drastic upheavals of the US market, and whole new areas of the world are opening up as strong markets for quality audio gear.

If those aren't enough causes for celebration, there are probably more genuinely good-sounding moderately-priced audio products than at any time in history. Feel free to cheer. Really.

Audio writer/blogger Steve Guttenberg writes, "The most promising trend is the number of great sounding affordable products on the scene. My blog today covers under $1,000 speakers, for example. I think vinyl's continuing comeback is a good sign, and the remarkable growth in high-end headphones is impressive."

Retailers, distributors and manufacturers today must focus on differentiation, creating reasons for a customer to come to them, specifically, rather than another store or brand. Those who are doing that, are succeeding.

"We're up this year, and store traffic is steady," says Larry Marcus of Ann Arbor, Michigan's Paragon Sight and Sound. "People have learned that they can't decide on a product in 10 or 15 minutes. We have to make products available in the home without the customer getting killed if it doesn't work out."

Distributor Charlie Harrison of USA Tube Audio/Ayon Audio says, "We're on the upswing, we're adding new lines, we have absolutely no complaints."

US manufacturers are actively working to enter the new markets opening up around the world. When Grant Samuelson of Shunyata Research talks about being in the west and east, he's not talking about Colorado and Connecticut. He was stuck in Moscow--Russia, not Idaho-- for a week following the Icelandic eruption.

"Few have any idea what is really going on out there," says Grant. "I do, having been West, East and back again this summer. No one I talk to is throwing in the towel, and all remain positive in their outlook. It is tough out there, but good people and businesses remain proactive and look at improving the positives and letting go of what you cannot control."

Similarly, David Schultz of Transparent Cable is traveling to newly-opened markets, and finds them to be booming.

"I’m at a show in Vietnam right now," writes David. "A large distributor has sixty dealers attending the show. Next stop is Vientiane, Laos, for dealer training.

"The two channel and home theater business is flourishing in the following countries: Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, Hong Kong, Taiwan , South, Korea, South America (mainly Brazil).
India is slowly growing and will be a powerhouse in about three years.
Japan is still struggling, but doing well."

We have new markets, new resolve, and as Anssi Hyvonen of Finnish loudspeaker company Amphion emphatically points out, new opportunities:

"The highend industry has bitched and moaned about iPod and mp3s, but iPods could be the great Trojan horse, the way we get people excited about quality again," writes Anssi. "The hard-disc space is cheap, and transmission speeds such that we do not need compression anymore. What is there to complain about? Now we just need to create systems that people can relate to, play some real music and get them excited about quality. It took me one weekend to lure my 10, 12 and 14 years olds into better sound, once I found a correct approach."

In a future entry of The Hub, we'll explore what that "correct approach" might entail.

Yes, the audio industry is different from what it used to be. In many ways, it's better. While old-timers (present company included) obsess over the differences, newbies are discovering the joys of walking around with a thousand songs in their pockets, openly exploring streaming music and servers, even discovering vinyl.

Let's look at the incredible opportunities in the audio world --and it is truly a world, not merely a national, industry -- and learn, adapt, and grow. We went over the top with the doom and gloom; we admit it. Our bad.

So, we go forward with new rules, and a strong, new aphorism.

Here are the rules: no more whining, backbiting, dissing or dismissing. You've got something to say? Great: focus on the good stuff, the possibilities, the POTENTIAL. No mourning, no moaning. Seriously.

And here's the new aphorism:
SCREW the economy, we're gonna have fun!
That's more like it! Let's move forward and celebrate the opportunities we have! Change can be good, and we have several new directions to focus on.
Wow, nice about face from the prior downbeat article.

I got dinged there for suggesting things were better than ever. I should have waited for this thread.

This is the positive perspective I would concentrate on were I one looking to position myself in this industry moving forward.

Those who cry and complain and blame others are the ones that will get left behind. That's the way it works all over always!
Similarly, David Schultz of Transparent Cable is traveling to newly-opened markets, and finds them to be booming.
"I’m at a show in Vietnam right now," writes David. "A large distributor has sixty dealers attending the show. Next stop is Vientiane, Laos, for dealer training.

What exactly is "dealer training" for cables????
Youths today who attend live concerts do know what good sound is because large scale sound reinforcement systems have improved greatly in the last decade. They just need to be shown that they can enjoy good sound on an every day basis.

Often, all it takes is plugging a pair of Grado SR-60's into their ipod and putting the phones on their head. About half of the time I do that, the result is them purchasing a pair for themselves. Along with their new acquisition comes a realization that excellent sounding products do not have the name Sony or Bose printed on them.
That sexy preamp with the glowing reviews, those new Mark IIa, Signature- Revision 4- Bidux, Counter-Sibilant, Transfixitive, Adulant, Megatrend bi-ampable speakers have your name written all over them. Remember how, as recently as 12years ago, you would have gotten up for those babies in a nanosecond. They really have your attention but your wallet just isn't responding. What's a music lover to do?

Well, it may be time for you to ask your salesman about Audio Viagra.
When the moment is right but your interest just isn't what it used to be to stimulate the marketplace, then just one little pill can make all the difference. Pop one Audio Viagra and you will become sensitive once again to equipment ads and hyperbolic reviews. It'll be like the old days when you couldn't get enough. Talk about an equipment stand!!
Ballan, Map: Thanks. We were always going to get to the good stuff. We just shouldn't have presented everything sequentially, with the good news at the end.

'pines: Different models have different features and pluses, same as any other product. Can't sell the product effectively if you can't differentiate it.

Deci: Yup. I thank you, John Grado thanks you. ;->

Mac: I'm not sure you're getting into the spirit of this discussion....

Thanks to you all for taking the time to post.
Bill- In your "Just how bad is it?" thread you didn't see fit to admonish anyone for providing positive comments even though they did not seem to be getting into the spirit of the thread.

If you want to call this a discussion, you have to be open to disparate viewpoints. Otherwise it is just a cheering section.

Further, I fail to see how the winnowing of an over saturated manufacturing population hurts me as a consumer. If anything, I would expect such a Darwinian exercise to be strengthening to the marketplace. Wouldn't the survivors be the better investment for our audio dollars? Shouldn't we be glad to have the riskier investments culled from our option list?

My audio experience was damaged long ago when FM radio was corporatized, monopolized and homogenized. Like wise, the wide open Sutter's Mill signing frenzy that took place as every label went nuts signing any and every act to a recording contract in the hope of finding their own Beatles bonanza, helped all of us to great exposure and great variety we would otherwise never have known. Today the bean counters have restricted broad access to new music by controlling every aspect of content, distribution and appearance. The whole thing looks canned and packaged to me.

So it comes to this: At times a confluence of influences, circumstances and mass emotion conspire to create a moment, a historical blip, a heady time. We had ours in the 1960s. It spilled into the 70s, diluting as it ran. And we ran with it but the 1960s are gone. Only a few traces remain but the spirit is all but dead. Without the wholesome sense of sharing and goodwill that that time encouraged, we can't revisit parts of it piecemeal. Audio held that spirit longer than most things but it too has lost its verve, due in no small part to the counterproductive efforts of the audio industry. I won't miss them a bit.
This ia a great update. Living in Germany I have been exposed to the European culture of hi-fi. Compared to the economic news in the states, Germany does not seem so affected by the downturn as it was in the USA. I know companies like Opel, a subsidary of GM was scared for a while due to the decline in automobile sales and the GM bailouts. Today, Opel is getting a cash infusion from GM to stay alive. What does this have to do with hi-fi? Well, for one, the perception of a bad economy is not as bad here in Germany, therefore, people are cautious, but not because they do not have money, because they do, but because they want to be sure that whatver they invest money into, it will be value added for years to come.

Many hi-fi vendors I have visited I spoke freely about the downturn in the global economy and the answer was always the same. Business was a little down, enough to survive, but that was it. The same vendors I spoke with were telling me that many European manufacturers were looking at new business models, to include regional home based sellers, ala, USA style to gain markets, albeit, smaller in many regions, versus one or two large stores with their products. The overall impact would be more availability of products, plus each home seller must buy products, adding more to the coffers of the manufacture, despite at costs deals. Times like these are making manufacturers rethink business models and thus the price range of products is becoming more variable to a lower price range versus one mainstream upscale product. I know I have heard of many manufacturers wanting to go global. Octave, the manufacture of tube amps and pre's was well known here in Europe but not in the USA. I spoke with the owner several years ago about the US market and he said he was going to try. Today, Dynaudio is a distributor of Octave. There are many more companies going global and not just to the US, but to India, China, afterall, it is a global market. We as consumers are benefitting. Some vendors are selling products at reduced rates, the option to try at home before you buy is again becoming a store business model, heck, I tried Silent Wire AC32 and Reference power cables along with a Velodyne DD15 a few weeks ago because the vendor allowed me to try it at home. I have personally taken advantage of the more price aware vendors and have haggled somewhat to get a lower price than advertised. I bouhgt my second SME V and Benz LPS was bought this way.

I guess, like any other business model, change must come to adapt to the current consumer demographics. Unless there is a drastic evolutionary change in how we listen to music and watch movies using; speakers, Ipods, record players, reel to reel, cables, racks, CD players, receivers, amps and preamps and and anything to do with source sound and the playback of that sound, there will be a market, regardless of age of the consumer. The demand for certain products will be higher based on the utility of such device for the consumer. If a teenager today feels like records and Ipods are part of their way of life and how they should hear music, then we should welcome that.

Older source components, ala, analog, should not be disgarded as an outdated business model either. Why shut out a potential market to concentrate on a modern technology that is moving so fast that sometimes it outdated in a matter of months versus the virility of the older technology. A vendor should have a good blend of new and old technology, to portray the merits and benefits of each, not to lambast one or the other. Each one of us have our own preconceptions or experiences dealing with audio dealers. My own experiences over the years have led me to believe that there are many dealers who do care about customers, but the business model is outdated.

It is going to take time to make changes for the better and the perceived better business efforts will be realized by the consumer someday, but along with that, the economic news should also indicate the perception to the consumer that all is getting better, where the consumer feels better about spending money for musical enjoyment. That is a part that all stakeholders have to deal with; dealers, vendors, and manufacturers and consumers alike.

Thanks for the update.

A big misconception of old timer audiophiles is that kids these days don't know what good sound really is. I work in a college, and can assure you they have a pretty good idea of what good sound is. They know mp3 compression doesn't sound great. They know iPod ear buds sound like crap. Music may well be even more popular now than its ever been. Or at least more accessable. I'd bet that more people listen to more music now than ever before.

The old timers begrudge the iPod. They think it brings down the audiophile scene by having the masses think it sounds good. If anything, I think the iPod is what'll save good sound. And it has little to do with incorporating iPods into hifi systems. Younger people constantly listening to music may mean that they'll graduate to proper stereo systems once they have a job and a home, maybe sooner. The students I talk to all know a full system sounds far better than a boombox with iPod dock and/or computer speakers.

They're not as stupid as the old timers will lead you to believe. Trust me. I deal with them every day.

What needs to happen IMO is advertising. Placing an ad in Stereophile or whatever other magazine is preaching to the choir. People know there's better sound out there, but they don't know what to buy. Why do most name Bose when asked what's the best stereo stuff out there? Because they're the only ones advertising. If they claim to be the best and no one challenges it, they must be the best. When was the last time you saw a stereo company advertise on TV? On the radio? In mainstream mags? Anywhere?

I see a great opportunity of the entry level companies like NAD, Rotel, Marantz, and so on. I also see a great opportunity for local shops that carry those brands. What needs to happen IMO is the manufacturers and dealers getting together to advertise. I see Rolex ads on TV. They always end with 'Available at these fine retailers.' Why can't NAD make commercials and have a scene or two in it at a local dealer's shop, and give a name and address of the shop at the end?

Another thing these companies need to do is get a celebrity endorsement. No one would have the Beats by Dr. Dre headphones if they weren't 'by Dr. Dre.' Beats headphones for $300 would sit on the shelf. They're decent sounding headphones, but they're no Grado/Sennheiser/AKG. If Grado had ads where Jay-Z was wearing them, I'm sure they'd fly off the shelf.

Another misconception is that younger people don't have money. I see more than my far share of Tag Heuers, Breitlings, and Tissots. Again, advertising. Tiger Woods and John Travolta helped sell enough of those. Ever since Brad Pitt rocked a Tissot in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, I've seen a lot more of them.

The future will be as bright as the industry wants it to be. I'm not saying McIntosh will sell a million units by having Metallica endorse them, but Rotel could. How about Katy Perry endorsing NAD in Men's Health magazine? What about Lady Gaga endorsing Cambridge in Maxim? Don't you think people will start looking for those brands? After they get bit by the bug, they'll move up the ladder like we all did.

Just my opinions. Take 'em or leave 'em.

Great write up from your perspective. Ads and endorsements of products can go a long way to help this business.

Why are there no high end stereos shown in the photos in Architectural Digest? Certainly the people who build those showplace homes can afford to listen to music through a quality system.

Whenever an audio system is seen on a TV show like "MTV Cribs" it is a mass market stereo that was purchased from a chain store. Surely the people who have built these custom houses could afford to listen to some high quality music playback, especially considering the fact that many of them work in the music industry. They seem to think nothing about spending huge amounts of money on luxury cars, clothes and jewelry, so why not on hi-fi?

Fifteen years ago, when Jeopardy awarded merchandise instead of cash to their second and third place finishers, one of the regular prizes would be a Counterpoint and Klipsch stereo system. When those shows were airing, several of my friends and acquaintances asked me about Counterpoint equipment. They knew about Klipsch speakers through the ads they had seen in Rolling Stone but they were completely unaware that companies like Counterpoint existed.

How about some product placement in magazines, the movies and on TV?

P.S. Has anybody noticed that Sota Turntables are mentioned in the end credits for the TV show "House"?
There has been placement, but it's been weak IMO. Dr House uses his SOTA turntable often in episodes. But TTs will be a novelty thing to 99% of people IMO.

Joey and Chandler had some Martin Logans in Friends. Never played them or talked about them, as far as I know.

There were some McIntosh seperates in The Departed. The remake of The Italian Job had an NAD receiver "so loud it blows girls' clothes off."

There's definitely a market in the younger crowd. If they can afford iPods, iPads, iPhones, Xboxes, Air Jordans and so on, they can afford an NAD 325BEE.

I student that I converse with regularly about music has a few expensive guitars - Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul, and a couple others. He'd buy a good system if he knew who made what and where to find them. He though Bose was as good as it gets, but knows it doesn't sound as good as they say it does. I turned him on to an inexpensive NAD and PSB system. He'll move up to a Rega system when he graduates.

Another thing that needs to change is the dealer snobbery. In the NYC area it's horrendous. I've heard it's not much better elsewhere. They need to stop looking down at people who aren't made of money and don't listen to 'audiophile' recordings IMO.
@Decibelcat: I've worked on projects that have been featured in AD and other architectural/design publications. People who spend the energy and money to have well designed homes don't want technology showing. I spend most of my time on projects making sure things are "out of sight". The technical aspect is easy, it's the "integration" that takes a lot of work.
About a year ago, my favorite local dealer told me that his business was booming surprisingly in direct contrast to the economy.

His shop carries only good sounding gear at various price points. Most of what he sells offers excellent value. His overhead is low, being open mainly on weekends. He has never steered me wrong over the course of many years.

That's a good combo that appears to be working.
Why aren't they buying the knockoffs coming from that area?
Everytime I try to sell something here on Agon, I have 3 people from Asia asking me to ship to them.
It has exploded over there, and they want all the US stuff for sure.
Not only audio, but clothes, shoes, cars, computers, and audio for sure.
These facts have been known for the last 10 yrs.
Its just that it was underestimated as to their interest.
Companies are actually understaffed to compensate for the demand.
Its the largest market in the world, period.
The US looks like a pea in a pile of grapefruits compared to their markets.
I worked for Whirlpool for 16 yrs, and a friend of mine was sent to Asia as a manager for their market.
He told me they were extremely unprepared for the market value of our (US) products.
Rumour has it, thats why Whirlpool invested heavily in Mexican production to keep up with the demand.
Every company is unprepared for such a market!
Billions, upon Billions of consumers, everyone clammering for US made products.
If Sam Walton was alive now, and still believed in US made products, he would have surpassed Bill Gates long ago as the richest man in the world.
Bill would be on food stamps compared to Sam.
If you think about it, if we did not move most of our operations, and production over to China, they would not be able to afford our products!
Not that I am happy about that, but I think in the long run me may get 60% of our investment back in this lifetime.
The next generation may reap the harvest for sure.
Me, I am to old, I am breathing heavy from typing this!
For the most part I am in agreement with Audiogon Bill. Screw it lets have some fun. Yes the previous threads were enlightening to where we have been and the ills of the audio industry. Not the first time that the economy and other factors have dealt a blow to this hobby/business nor wiill this downturn be the last we will see. It is just that this one is deeper and more profound than those of years ago.

I would not have stayed in this hobby for 53 years if I did not enjoy what this brings to me each day. Oh I do remember the good ole days as Bill pointed out with having to order records you wanted and write actual letters and mail them for information, that I do not miss at all. Yes the internet for all it is, has brought forth very many positives we could only dream of 30 years ago or so.

But with all things being equal, the cream always comes to the surface. Yes things will change, that is a given, some of us will embrace the new direction, while others will remain steadfast in the past. I have always chosen to move forward. While the dealers and maufacturers may be on life support, those that have strength will imerge stronger than ever. I am optimistic about the future of this hobby/business and I believe in some areas we will soon see some very major breakthroughs in speaker design, digital delivery and amplifier technology. Lets face it Pass Labs, Spectral, FM Acoustics are not sitting idly by, no doubt their R&D departments are exploring breakthrough designs as I write this. In a couple of years we could look back on this as a blip on the radar and all made changes to deal with it.
Mac: agreed, the strong survive. Those brands that are doing best right now are those that have carefully developed a strong, well-controlled dealer network over decades. Audio Research, McIntosh, Magnepan and many others are doing well.

Wasn't trying to quash nay-sayers; just thought we'd already banged the hell out of the downer-drum, and was trying to concentrate on the positive side of the equation. And yes, when "socializing" often consists of sitting around together while texting other people in other places, it's hard to mimic the spirit of the past. So it goes. Not dissing the young; I just find it a little bewildering.

Audioquest: thanks for the informative and upbeat post. One thing I've discovered through the years is that Euro manufacturers seeking to enter the US market often have much larger-scale ideas than the potential distributors in the US. I'm glad Octave has paired up with Dynaudio. There are a lot of other exciting central-European brands that offer superb performance and excellent values; similarly, the most exciting brands I see coming out of the US right now are the value-kings like Peachtree, Virtue, and a whole bunch of speaker companies. Some are made completely in the US; many are not. These days there are so many global component suppliers it's hard to tell what comes from where, anyone.

As much as I admire the ulta-high-performance cost-no-object pieces, those aren't what bring newbies into the fold. I'd rather see more people genuinely enjoyng music in their home, rather than some fund-manager showing off monoliths in his living room that are rarely played.

Kbark: Yikes! Too many good ideas to even comment on, but the idea of Katy Perry saying "Go, NAD!" in Men's Health is a killer. The issue that has always kept audio companies from mainstream advertising and endorsements is, of course, money. Smaller companies don't have it, and the larger companies, such as the ones you mentioned, do seem to maintain an odd radio-silence when it comes to mainstream advertising. Back in the '50's through the '70's, bigger brands such as AR and Fisher often advertised in upscale mainstream mags. Today, only Bose comes to mind; they're a privately-owned company, BTW, so numbers aren't disclosed--but they're thought to do two BILLION dollars a year. Coincidence? Unlikely. Second thought: Monster comes to mind, as well. Dollars unknown, for them, but most people recognize the brand.

And no, I don't think young kids are stupid, at all. I just think they need more exposure to good audio than they often get. I'm grateful for the long-suffering retailers who allowed me to hang around when I was a teen. I can't say I see much of that happening, these days.

Deci: in my experience, the show-houses don't want the gear showcased. Product-placement? It costs major money. Some years ago I worked with the maker of a striking and expensive amplifier at CES, and we were approached by a placement-broker. They wanted $50k to get seconds of screen-time in a third-tier movie with no major stars. Few audio companies can drop that kind of cash for limited returns, and it likely wouldn't be the best use of the money, anyway.

House also has Piega speakers in his office, no sign of what powers them. He used to have Duevel speakers at home. I haven't heard that those placements really drove a lot of business to those companies. That would require a lot of exposure in a lot of different contexts and venues; besides which, TV shows rarely have "where to buy it" listings, as some mags do.

Kbark, Ballan: more good stuff. Thanks.

Map: Yup, value is key, especially in a down economy. As I said, the most exciting products I see are in the sector audiophiles would label "entry-level" or "mid-fi", and a lot of dealers are doing well bringing folks in with those lines. And upselling them, eventually.

Pep: Made in USA is still meaningful in many markets, ironically moreso over there than in the US itself. Go figger. I was astonished and dismayed when production of JBL pro and high-end gear was moved from Northridge to Mexico. So much for that heritage and that marketing advantage.

Ferrari: Thanks as always for your perspective; it's always heartening to hear from someone who's been mucked-up in this business even longer than I have!

I have no doubt as to the survival of reproduced music in the home. The delivery-methods may change through the years, but the intent is the same as ever, and the tools are available for sound-quality to be better than ever. I, too, am optimistic, while remaining fully aware of the current problems and the future challenges. Ain't no way this stubborn old coot is giving up!

Thanks to you all for your insightful and thought-provoking contributions! Keep 'em coming!
You could say we have come full circle. Before I was old enough to get involved, audio reproduction for the home was the result of commercial products coming into the homes of industry people and Popular Workbench types. As it morphed into domestically more acceptable forms it was considered a luxury that was available only to the doctors and movie stars of the day, and those who could make their own. Toward this end, many kits and building plans were marketed.

When soldiers and sailors had the opportunity to buy Japanese gear dirt cheap during the Viet-Nam conflict overseas, they did so and brought them home. These items then began being imported in volume and, with the help of the British Invasion and drugs, a culture erupted. High end audio could be viewed as a natural consequence of that eruption. As we refined our systems, we invited ever more sophisticated and refined reproduction. In the 1980s, many entrepreneurial types found ways to involve themselves in this growth industry because they were dealing with retail margins at car prices. Money flowed and a prestige culture emerged with the impetus provided by a healthy economy and a collusive review/promotional sector.

All of this continued until where we are today. The economy has receded and the pricing of our dream equipment has escalated exponentially. Now, once again, it is becoming a hobby for only the rich and the DIY.

So maybe that is part of what keeps the young from enlisting. In our day, we held the dream of a $2000 pair of speakers as the carrot we would chase while we made do with our Time Windows. Today the counterpart of those $2000 speakers, costs $200,000. The carrot has moved too far - for most it is out of sight.

Ferrari mentioned three manufacturers who might provide exciting new options that would help to engage the interest of new audiophile -- Pass, Spectral and FM Acoustics. Of those three, only Pass could be said to be less than esoteric uber elite. And Pass costs a whoppin lot of moolah if you are just starting out. Imagine laying out what you have in your system right now.

Also, wouldn't you expect a newbie to be interested enough to read up online and get the rules of sense and judgement before making his/her first bid? Anyone who does that is apt to discover that used gear will stretch their limited funds a lot further than new gear. How does that help the industry? The only benefit I can see lies in the possibility that whoever sells the used gear might buy a replacement. However, it is likely that the seller in question is like me and would just be delighted to empty the closet of an unused piece of audio stash.
Agon Bill -
It takes money to make money. No other way around it. I don't think it would be worth the time and money for the expensive stuff like Mac, Bryston, ARC, et. al. Lenbrook (who owns NAD, PSB, Audioquest and a bunch of other non-audio stuff) probably has the money and means to produce far more units. They're the one who should go all out IMO. An NAD and PSB system can be bought new for an XBox user's budget. What if they advertised something like 'You got the best TV to see what your XBox is capable of, now hear and feel what its capable of.'

Microjack -
I agree with a lot of what you say. But, I don't forsee Pass Labs being the company that brings in the masses. Its just too expensive. Its definitely worth the money, but people who are used to Sony and Bose won't think it is. Pass isn't working class budget gear. I think the entry level stuff like NAD, Rotel, and Marantz has by far the best chance of roping in the masses.
Boy do I agree and how! Sound can only get so bad and interest in good sound can only deteriorate so far before it improves. People have been led down a terrible path by the computer geeks who now constitute the bulk of "consumer electronics writers" and the previous generation of mainstream audio writers who spent most of their time trying to prove that "everything sounds the same."

There's an audio "tea party" building and it's coming from a younger generation deprived of good sound. It's spreading virally. When a kid hears it for the first time, he knows it!

A fanatical audiophile I know runs a cheese shop in New Jersey near me. Well he did until the rent got out of hand and he had to close. So he reinvented himself and now has a successful cheese and appetizer concession in a good wine store in the same town.

He was written up today in the local paper and he talked about the younger clientele he's seeing looking for better cheese... a kid in his twenties came in and he gave the kid a taste of something pricey that the kid really dug but couldn't really afford.

He gave it to him anyway at the pricepoint the kid was looking at.

"He will be a future good customer" the cheese merchant said to the reporter.

That's a lesson audio retailers need to learn instead of throwing kids out of their stores!!!!
Mac: oddly enough, the virtual world has created a bonanza for DIY stuff. Surprised we haven't seen more mainstream audio DIY products geared to the audience of MAKE, Wired, and so on.

When I was a teen, the most-expensive Ferrari was a Daytona Spider. At the time, I sat in one with a $30,000 sticker, which seemed unfathomable. Now, what's the highest priced one? Whenever they sell out a special edition, they come back with an ultra-Enzo, or whatever. Such is the way of the world, and a tiny bit of that applies to audio, as well. So it goes.

Bark: I think I need to take you with me to pitch-meetings! Thanks again.

Michael: Thanks for the viewpoint and anecdote. I agree that we all need to work on future enthusiasts, customers and clients, rather than just shutting them out. Had I encountered that attitude as a teen, I'd proably be working in a NORMAL business! Close one!

Thanks to you all for your contributions!
Groves makes a great point about no throwing out the kids. I wa strying to make that point earlier, but his antecdote was far better.

Too many hifi shop owners look down their noses at people who aren't spending an arm and a leg on gear, and people who aren't demoing gear with 'audiophile recordings.'

I remember trying to hear an NAD 320BEE when it first came out. One dealer who carried it and had it on the floor told me to buy a Marantz stereo receiver instead because " that level they all sound the same." "They all sound like garbage." That's not paraphrasing. When I asked hime why he sold garbage, he responded with "Good day."

A different dealer told me to buy the cheapest gear I could find because my music "...will sound equally awful on anything." I guess Pearl Jam sounds the same on my Bryston B60 as it would on a $99 boombox. Who would have known?

Then there was a great guy who sold stuff that no one I know could afford. I wandered into his shop one day and looked around for about 5 minutes before he asked if I needed any help. I responded by saying "I wish you could, but I can't afford anything you sell." He smiled and said "Either can I." He owned the store. He let me play with a Halcro and Verity system he was getting ready to show to a customer that totaled about $150k or so. he had great insight on gear and told me who to see to demo it. If I win the lotto, I'll buy something from him.

There's too many of the first two guys and not enough of the other guy IMO. What will a 18 year old kid who just saved as much as he could to buy a stereo feel like walking into the first two guys' shops?

Don't get me wrong, there's arrogant people in every field/profession. There just seems to be more in audio stores than most other places.
Thank you for posting such awareness of the fact that "we create our own reality." As a dealer for the past almost 21 years, I am so grateful for the most beautiful choices ever for the playback of one's favorite music. It has never been better in that regard and can only be appreciated as a growing curve over the past few decades. I am grateful to be in this business as the purveyor of literally "Good Vibrations" and for the customers in my life who are also of this persuasion and passion!

Cindy Kerr - Owner
The Audio Gallery
Lake Oswego, Oregon
Bark: Never really understood the basis for the arrogance. If exclusivity creates power, wouldn't inclusion--and taking folks' money--create more? And way to go, dealer,for bad-mouthing what you sell while simultaneously dissing the prospect. Had you pulled out a gun, you would've had a trifecta of "Things You Should Never Do in Retail"!

Cindy: Nice to hear from you! The Portland area is beautiful, and great for audio: Positive Feedback, Tone, lots of great manufacturers and dealers. I thought I knew all the dealers in the area; sorry to say I don't know you, but I'm pleased to meet you.

I appreciate your upbeat take on the industry, and your role in it. With that kind of attitude you're sure to prosper for years to come.

I nearly moved to Portland once, but didn't as all my family was light-years away. Now that they've died off, perhaps I should reconsider!

Thanks to you both for your contributions.
Even in the 1990s, tracking down high end gear was somewhat of a wild goose chase. I'd drive an hour (or three) to get to an audio store that was supposed to be a dealer for brand X to find out they only have the entry level model on display and anything else would need to be ordered sight unseen.

Now, almost 20 year later, unless you live in maybe the top 4 or 5 metro areas in the USA, then trying to see and buy any worthwhile gear is almost out of the question. imho
Every time I read Audio Bill I think of the book/movie Ship of Fools. The prices are ridiculous... the 'science' is voodoo .... Young people are a lot of things, but stupid ain't one of them. they know they don't need or want insanely priced gear to hear the vulgar noise that passes for pop music today. if this hobby is saved it will be polk and marantz etc... that will save it.

6550: I wonder sometimes if the difficulty of actually seeing gear isn't part of what attracts some to the cult. Doesn't make much sense, but still....

Rok: I think there will always be tweakers, and I think people will always want music available to them both on the run and in their homes. The form the gear takes? That I'm not so sure about.

Thanks to you both for your comments.
Fun is where you find it and America's blind obsessive pursuit of same will careen lurchingly onward in unexplainable, unjustifiable and unpredictable ways, aided by marketing magic and gullible overspending minions. High end audio is a small float near the back of the parade.

Making sense of this scenario is a fool's errand. Thanks for all your help.
On November 2, 2010, we will be holding auditions for the cast of "Idiocracy" all day. Don't be late.
"6550: I wonder sometimes if the difficulty of actually seeing gear isn't part of what attracts some to the cult. Doesn't make much sense, but still...."

I agree, it does. The "thrill of the hunt" is part of the game and is somewhat fun. It takes a little tenacity and desire. And knowing you have a product that very few will ever get is part of it too. Not meant in an elitist way, but more like "no pain - no gain" (sort of).
I think before we jump to conclusion on GOOD NEWS and cheer about it we need to see some concrete numbers to prove it. Numbers like %age increase in export or revenue from last year to present in certain amount of select time frame.
and Demographics , with numbers, who is buying these boat load of expensive equipment? etc...

BTW, What happened to the thread what do we do now?
Mac: Ah jeez, if you're thanking me for helping in a fool's errand, that makes me...what, exactly?

6550: Weird, ain't it?

Nil: One of the major points I made in past entries was that there ARE no numbers to work with. High end audio is defined largely by muttered comments over cocktails and panicked emails. If we don't have baseline numbers for "Before", whatever we have for "After " will be meaningless.

This is, essentially, the "what do we do now?" thread; I simply decided that title sounded far too forlorn, fatalistic and pathetic. Screw that. Sorry for the confusion, though.

The gloomy nature of two out of three comments brings to mind comments from Robert Townsend's classic business manual, "Up the Organization":

"There are only two reasons to be in business:
1. Make money
2. Have fun.
If you're not doing either...then what ARE you doing?"

Thanks guys, but LIGHTEN UP!
>>09-26-10: Macrojack
On November 2, 2010, we will be holding auditions for the cast of "Idiocracy" all day. Don't be late.<<

You have my vote.
At Purity Audio Design, we are only looking forward. You can't dwell on the past. The outcome of RMAF 2010 proves that this industry is on the upswing. We took our chances and debuted our whole line at the show knowing that music is still strong in the hearts and souls of people even in a down economy. No regrets. It was worth every minute and every dollar.

Yes, things are different but again, still the same. Consumers are still looking for high quality and high value so not much difference there.

We're not complaining. It wouldn't do any good anyway. Things are looking good and as long as we still enjoy what we do as well as keep food on the table, we'll continue on!!