The Single Piece That Started Today's HIGH END ?

I have no idea myself but it has been suggested that it may have begun in the mids 1970s, with a Mark Levinson preamp. It apparently cost more than anything anybody ever concieved a piece audio gear could cost before. It may have simply been here since the start of McIntosh (1949) which was always a more expensive and exclusive brand. What are your thoughts?

The early McIntosh and Marantz tube amplifiers, as well as the Klipsch and Altec Lansing horn speakers. How about Quad ESL Loudspeakers?
It really was in the mid 1980's that the sudden price jump surprised me!
Like the Infinity IRS before the jump was $20,000 and soon after was $70,000.
That is a BIG jump.
Almost everything in high end had that giant price jump about then.
Why I do not know.
How do you define 'today's high end'. If your definition is based on the beginning of major emphasis on 3D imaging then I would have to nominate the ARC SP10II in the early 80's and the CJ Primere 3 as well although sonically it was not as balanced (neutral) as the SP10II.
I think it's naive to believe that the high-end began with the introduction of a single component... Probably a better question would have been: "Who were some of the early pioneers of high-end audio?"

When I think "vintage," I think of names like Fisher, Scott, Klipsch, JBL, Marantz, and McIntosh. And I'm sure there were quite a few before those. One of my friend's dads had a nice console when I was about 12, which had an Ampex tube reel-to-reel tape deck, Fisher tube amp and tuner, and he also had a cool Rek-O-Kut turntable, I think it had a Fairchild arm.

My own foray into higher performance audio began with solid-state gear from Layfayette Radio in the late '60s, and a little later I bought the original AR turntable with a Grado cartridge, a Dynaco ST-120 amp and PAT-4 preamp and some AR 3A speakers. I had a pair of AR 2Ax speakers as rear surrounds in an early pseudo-quad setup. It was kind of cool at the time. Later I got into tubes, electrostatic speakers, Stax headphones, and all types of other gear.
Well I have been in this hobby/business since 1957,when all its was was tubes and mono and about everything was kit built. In my opinion and speaking of high end as to its real start was about 1975 or 1976 with Threshold, Levinson, Krell and CM Labs. The first of the true mil-spec products,and a build quality that had not been seen before. These products finally delivered not only the promise of high end, but redefined audio components in America and were American built. Many of these early units from these companies remain in service today some 25 to 30 years since they were new and continue to deliver the promise. Prior to the debut of these, most of the gear,just did not have the sonics or build quality of these units. This was a major quantum leap in audio and remains so since the mid 70s.
No doubt Mark Levinson JC-2. It cost about $1000. The AR SP3a which was
considered the best at the time was $350. People thought I was insane
when I bought one.
I was around, and geeked on audio in in early 1970's. I think you have to separate the US, European and Japanese markets as very distinct from each other at that time. In the US, there was an 'old school' consisting of Marantz tube equipment (7c preamp, 9 amp, 10b tuner), some electrostats like the KLH 9 and a few other pieces that, while 'old,' were still considered legendary in the US- by then, horn speakers had pretty much fallen out of fashion for consumer audio.
Levinson's introduction of a very expensive solid state preamp which, if memory served, had a john curl phono section, ARC's introduction of the SP-3, the entry of the Linn, starting the revival of belt drive and, a little later, the dahquist DQ10, which emulated the appearance of the Quad electostat- I remember double-Advents, a cheap speaker but used in combination with the Phase Linear 700 (there was no 'A' at that time) making waves, literally and figuratively. Maggie's came into play at around that time, too- big Typami panels- played louder than the competing electrostats.
My dream in those days was to find a Dukane Ionovac. :)Of course, I was always a little strange. Still had my Phase Linear when I bought my first set of Quads. No, not a synergistic match, but the Dyna Stereo 70 was.
Well, I think we need to define "high-end." If it simply means "high-priced," then I can agree with what Elizabeth and Ferrari have said. However, if there is a correlation to performance or high-fidelity then I have to disagree and say that it started much earlier. Some of the old tube amps with the Klipsch or other high-efficiency speakers still sound pretty impressive even when compared to today's current, high-priced crop. And I realize there have been many refinements over the years in parts quality and driver technology.

I think certain aspects of performance have definitely improved, like lower distortion and lower noise, but some of those early systems did some things so fundamentally right and were exceedingly musical and dynamic...
I suggest that "High End" is a design and manufacturing philosophy, more than any particular piece of electronics. Back in the 1930s Stromberg Carlson, among others, built console radio/phonographs that were sonicly greatly superior to most, cosmetically styled, made with the finest workmanship, and, of course, priced accordingly.
Keep it coming guys this is interesting. I own some of the vintage pieces mentioned the classic horns, 46 y.o JBLs, an SP6 ARC preamp, but I think the preamp I was looking for is the one that Dr.Joe mentioned which was the JC-2- more than 3 times the price of the ARC sp-3 and insanely priced for its day.
I also have a great deal of resoect for the pioneers. Believe me I was raised with a system like that, my Father's REK O KUT and then Empire console had the JBLs I now own, a Sherwood amp and tuner -all tube of course- Got those as well, and at the last a cabinet for one of the earliest Sony reel to reel tape recorders/Players (you could occasionally buy recordings on tape in those days.) This console was built buy a master cabinet maker and was at least 18 feet long.
I really appreciate the vintage stuff. But I Like Ferrari's answer the best so far, the question isn't simply cost, although that clearly helps define whatever high end really is, after all some really inexpensive stuff can sound pretty darned good. But the emphasis on cost no object get the best sound you can no matter what the market. Which is why I appreciate Elizabeths answer as well suddenly there was this enormous price increase and a market for it. Now called called High End.
Not that I can afford it. I have a simple tube modern tube amp aside from the vintage amps.
I also own a transition period piece when Accuphse was born from the Kensonic group although that name is not anywhere on this preamp, its a fabulous piece in my view with limitations. Don't know the defining piece was it the Mark levinson, was it the first Krells, was it the Infinity IRS V which I have had the privilige to hear,the actual pair Arnie Nudell demoed for New Tork Magazine I believe, not a Hi Fi magazine, that he called the worlds ultimate speaker then put into storage for about 20 years and now owned by a friend. was it when Accuphase was born?

Another real question is was it the advent of the moderm tube amp movement and the return of analog. Etc.
Agree with you Eldartford it seems to be a philosophy more than virtually anything else.
Not so much a philosophy as a vision of what could be accomoplished. Without question, Nelson Pass has been a visionary in the arena of high end audio since the mid 70s. Few are his peer,period. Remains dedicated to two channel audio and continues to push the audio envelope to loftier heights with each design. His gear sounds the way it does, because in all reality he is a Physicist, not an electrical engineer.

Pressed to mention one piece that started high end,I would have to say the Threshold 400A. Was present at its debut. Few products have a mesmerizing effect on people,but I remember that night very well some 28 years later. All who were present were just stunned by the sonics of this amplifier, beliefs were truly shaken to the core that night.One would had to be there to see the expressions on the audiophile faces that night. That period of time when solid state finally delivered the promise that had been expected. In fact a week later I bailed out of all my tube gear and went with Threshold and haven't looked back since. I was already 20 years into this hobby and was probably getting ready to leave it,when the Threshold debuted. Been firmly entrenched in the Nelson Pass camp ever since.

But no doubt in my opinion of 48 years in this, the debut of the Threshold 400A, was a pivotal moment in audio. With the introduction of Threshold, Nelson Pass not only raised the bar of achievement but clearly redefined the role of audio components. And in doing so created a dimension that was to become as we now know High End Audio.
I'd say somewhere in the 50's with the introduction of the Quad ESL 57's. Next thing to really rock the hifi-world was the introduction of the Philips CD100 in '81 ('82?). The Meridian remake (MCD100) showed that CD wasn't as perfect as everybody claimed it to be. Just my 2 cents though.....
The original Quad brand amp/speaker combination provided a naturalness & clarity for all to emulate.