168 responses Add your response
Has been discussed regularly on Audiogon. Here are some prior responses/thoughts:
1. Culture places less importance on musical activities, thus less demand for HEA
2. Listening has migrated to streaming and quality is sometimes unavailable, sometimes not of interest
3. Listening styles have moved away from demanding content (such as classical and jazz) to pop and hip hop that requires less HEA
4. Americans have less disposable income (paid your health bill recently?)
5. Younger generations are visually oriented and prefer video games over straight listening sessions
6. And get ready for the "no everything is great and HEA is thriving like never before" responses -- worthwhile checking to see if these are made by industry people...
The HEA of the 80's can't realistically survive in 2018-forward. It's decline has been happening since the mid 90's, no surprise here. I can't imagine folks thought the over built over priced hobby was going to interest the modern Audiophile.
Audiophiles are getting out of the trophy collecting and into their listening, movies, games or whatever. I'm seeing an increase in the hobby, just not the way over the top build hobby. It's not the early 90's where the magazines pulled off that amazing revolving door of plug & play. That was insane, literally! The pitch was "My system doesn't sound right so I'll buy another component". That's pretty crazy but they managed to sucker folks into it. Now after a couple of decades of that (whatever that was), hobbyist are not buying into it anymore, why should they?
Yes, the size of the market continues to age and ebb away. It’s not gonna get any easier. In fact with the economy rolling right now, this may be as good as it gets by far.
Some new blood is coming up from the high-end headphone crowd, but it’s not feeding into 2ch staples like speakers and monoblocks (maybe just DACs, at best). And Audiogon lost a good chunk of its traffic to the site rewrite some years ago -- older folks don’t like to adapt to tech, and get easily/permanently frustrated. Maybe they should’ve kept both systems up while they refined the new site (which I do like, now that the bugs have been worked out).
But also, a lot of sellers don’t seem to have a clue that they’re pricing items way too high. You gotta be realistic, and the #s you find in the BlueBook/etc are often FAR off a sellable price. And the worst trap is getting stuck holding the bag with at item that was a "flavor of the month" flash in the pan. A couple years on, and you may find you can’t even give it away.
Millennials. I don't think many of them buy new or used HEA. The older generation audiophiles are dying off. Most of the younger generation I talk to have little to no interest in HEA. They like music mostly of the portable variety and seem to listen more as a distraction than anything else. I do believe there are a few younger ones out there that like HEA, but no where near enough to support the hobby. JMHO.
I have noticed, the audiophile is selling less here as most of the ads are from audio retailers who have turned to Audiogon to sell because they have little to no foot traffic. I am tired of seeing the same ads for equipment by the same seller at 3-4 times a week. You click on "new today" and you have 60+ ads from TMR that were the same they posted a day or so ago. I am not picking on them as I have bought from them 3 times and have been extremely satisfied with them but they and like 6 others make up the bulk of the Classifieds.
A lot of people asked me why I sold a $1970.00 Tuner for $400.00. The simple answer was no matter what Blue Book and Hi-Fi Shark said, 400.00 is all it was really worth in today’s day of streaming and internet radio. Most sellers here including the pro ones are pricing the equipment way above what their worth is. If you are selling an amp you bought off someone who made maybe 5 of them and is now deceased, you can’t expect to get 5K for it!
I used to look at the ads daily. Now, it is 3-4 times a week as the ads are mostly the same. I stay here for the forums now and to learn new things & sometimes argue.
Fewer people are listening to two-channel audio. Television viewing and on-screen gaming are more attractive to younger folks. They don’t just want to sit in a dimly-lit room listening to music from a pair of speakers! They look at this as an old geezer activity!
>>>>>That’s very observant of them. 👀
I don't think there is any question that the trend is downward. But, the question is abut the current cycle. Sales are very slow, possibly slower than they were after the financial crisis in 2008. How is that possible? I personally believe that most sellers are wildly over-optimistic in setting their prices. I am always surprised to see items I sold 7 or 8 years ago routinely listed for 50+ percent more than I sought. Part of that is the growth of dealer listings. I do see well priced, popular items selling in a day or so.
If you are not in that category, well, you might as well be playing the lottery!
reason sales are soft ?? true audiophiles are slowly becoming extinct. I grew up listening to vinyl and analog tape since I was 5 years old, now I’m 56 and the formats are ingrained in my psyche. my son is 19 and listens to everything on his Iphone with earbuds. the only hardcopy he actually may play is a CD in his car, but it’s usually Sirius radio stations. the only record player he had, was a vintage one I bought for him, for show and tell in 1st grade at school, using 45’s. I have a ton of vintage gear, offered him to pick/choose a setup of amp, speakers, turntable, tape deck for his apartment- he politely refused- refused a free stereo system worth over a grand that sounds great. as we older fellas die off, there is not an unending stream of newcomers into the market for stereo gear. talk stereo imaging and disappearing speakers to these kids, you may as well talk about UFO’s and the Loch Ness monster. you get blank stares or laughter. eventually high end gear will be sold for pennies on the dollar, as the older generation dies off, the next generation won’t even know what it is, or even care. it’s like the model T’s that used to bring big bucks at auctions, now have to be given away- cuz all the old timers who grew up driving them, and would pay big for them, are dead. stereo has become obsolete, it’s a 1950’s music medium delivery system. it’s days are numbered. if you have gear to sell, sell it now, for whatever you can get. the prices are only going to go down with time. really, if I kicked the bucket tomorrow, my wife and kid would be selling my vintage tube stereo amps and solid state amps for $10 each, or giving them away, or dumpstering them- along with all my reel to reel, cassette, 8-track decks, and turntables they wouldn’t know any better. nor have the time to market them correctly on the net. the local markets for stereo gear are nil. wake up and smell the coffee, stereo gear is not fine art. it takes a technical mind to understand and appreciate it, and the current crop of youngsters is severely technically dumbed down, when it comes to home audio. their home audio is a android phone or iPhone, that sounds like a 1965 transistor radio with an earbud. these corporations like Microsoft and Apple, have succeeded in dumbing down the consumers tastes to bare minimum, so they can make it cheap, sell it high ($1000 for new IPhone 10), and use cheap offshore Chinese labor to manufacture it. then import it into the USA by the millions and sell it at Walmart. that's the state of home audio today.
A) the economy sucks for most people except the rich
B) the rich are more interested in fads, like Sono, Bose, etc
C) there's way too much HEA out there already
D) the few younger, poorer audiophiles (like myself) are having a great time exploring vintage audio. Why spend $1000s when $100s on craigslist can get you an incredible system?
advance in music format such as streaming have some part of the issue.
Why pay for a fiscal format if you can stream it with a nice DAC you will have very similar effect.
This affects the front end of the equation.
The Younger audience is not interested in HEA, because they mostly were not exposed to it.
@akaim8 you really make an excellent case.
I'll extend your position by mentioning Amazon Alexa. My sister's family and my best friend's fall into my demographic, mid-late 40s. Neither has an audio rig, though my buddy put together an Onkyo based system in the early 90s that one could argue represented HEA at the time, albeit at the lower end. Both families really love music, so it's not for lack of interest. Both now have Alexa in their home, with speakers across several rooms. Whenever I'm at their homes, most of the time music is playing, preceded by, "Alexa, play me Steve Earle's best songs." I can't tell you how many other people I hear talking about using Alexa in the same way
Since he's joined the site recently, Michael Green brought tremendous insight and refreshing perspective. Obviously, no one served on the front lines more than Michael, and so many of us took cues from him over the years to improve our systems. He often makes the point here of the high-end audio business taking a turn in the mid-late 90s, and falling into decline since.
I perceived that same shift myself at the time. And since...
The manifestation of that fall is something that always struck me as being off-kilter, but sounds logical to so many that my trying to refute it over the years normally fails to resonate with folks. It goes like this...a dealer or manufacturer states it takes just as much effort to sell a $100 item as a $1000 item. So, in the vein of working smarter, not harder, I focus on customers interested in the $1000 item, as opposed to the $100 item, as I'm working 10X less. Seems reasonable and smart, yes?
We normally bypass the disproportion of that, in that the $1000 pie is far smaller than 10X than the $100 pie. Anyway, that's the way the market, and we now need to multiply these $100 / $1000 numbers by an order or two of magnitude to represent the current state we all lament for the sadness and smallness of the market / business / hobby. Combine this path of pricing with the backfill of lower cost HEA components with tweaks that strike most outside the hobby and many inside as sounding both ridiculous and impossible, and should any of us feel surprised how this morphed into a lunatic fringe of the lunatic fringe?
I'll contrast what high-end audio has become with an article I read in the late 90s about a guy who blasted on the scene, creating a fortune running a bank modeled after McDonald's and The Home Depot, instead of the normal bank and Post Office. It was all about low cost and convenience to the customer. The bank stayed open in the evening and on the weekends, including Sunday. Regardless of what you think of McDonald's food and service, or this banker as a person, his analysis into the success behind McDonald's struck me as brilliant. Again, he made an absolute fortune, though impropriety caused the powers that be find a suitable bank to take over, aka TD Bank. I think we can find a similar pattern and important lessons to learn in not a lot of $20K tube amplifiers getting sold, but certain companies dealing out more fuses at $100 a pop than we could have believed a few years ago
Some great replies so far. Particularly interesting points about the trends of the new generation. Personally, I very much hope that HEA will NOT be going the way that akaim8 states. OTOH, the one thing that does strike me as a MAJOR problem for HEA is the "one man" aspect of the hobby. In one of the Absolute Sound issues, I read an excellent article by Gary Koh relating to this issue. I am certain that this aspect could be one of the main contributing factors to the potential demise of HEA. Question is how do we change this??
I’d like to throw out one more concern on the resale topic... if you scan the items for sale on audigon, then scan a bunch of threads...what you may notice is the same 100-200 names... not a very big pool of regulars who might be potential buyers.... which then pulls more buyers and sellers to eBay, Craig’s List, etc. which seem to be lower price alternatives.
Vintage sales are hotter than ever on eBay. You name it Pioneer, SAE, Technics Pro, Nakamichi, Yamaha, Sansui silver are selling like hotcakes. They're priced "right" according to condition and market demand. Prices remain in the realm of blue collar salaries, and not the stratosphere as some of these lunatic marketing types would have you believe at the trade shows. Frankly I can't understand how HEA has stayed relevant as long as it apparently has. There is no great enigma at work here. Give the public what it wants and they will come.
All I know for sure,that last year was a outstanding year for me to sale 50k worth of unneeded gear going fwd and purchase 2 nice pair of speakers for 1/3 of new price that will be keepers for a very long time.
The used hea markets have dropped even more in one yrs time and I certainly wouldn’t want to try and sale anything now,might as well just give it away.
@jmcgrogan2 thank you for your comments, John. Hope all is well back in the Philly area...
You bring up excellent points on the internet and the state of society. Obviously, the web turned most retail businesses on their ear. My previous point was the rising price trajectory of one to two orders of magnitude crippled what we used to considered the audiophile world, and shrank it more than proportionally. Though the internet rose at the same time, I don't blame that on HEA's decline, as it could (should?) have actually grown the hobby. Personally, I'm surprised this many brands have survived until today.
Of course, you may disagree with how I see things...
I saw the internet change high-end audio in several ways. The information explosion provided sources far beyond the two magazines. The many internet publications, forums like Audiogon, and email allow us to discover and discuss brands, setup, experience, etc. we often had little to no previous knowledge of. We transcended the days of relying on the advice of friends and local dealers, with this newfound access to these brands and their personnel yielding almost instant satisfaction compared with the days of sitting down to write and send off an actual letter or the once expensive long-distance telephone call. Going the other way, it allowed the mom and pop or one man band audio companies to compete on a more level than ever playing field with the bigger names in the industry by providing low to no cost advertising and the ability to interact with a nationwide and even worldwide customer base, and to even bypass the need to build a dealer network via direct sales and eCommerce. Except for a very few companies that guarded geographic integrity, buyers now interacted with a far greater dealer circle and used component wells. All of this increased price competition on components to something that just didn't exist.
Still, component pricing took off on a level that we could not have imagined 20 years ago. Back then, most considered a $4K speaker the investment of a more than dedicated audiophile. Somewhere around 5 years ago, I almost fell off my chair when I read a post here lamenting the flaws of a product, "you just can't get that good a speaker for $35K." Things have only gotten more expensive since. Call me out of touch with current reality, but I still believe one can buy an awfully good loudspeaker for $4K, though that now often has to come from the used market.
Anyway, in the past decade, I've turned the other way. Having access to now afford the kind of things in life we used to dream of as younger men, I find less fulfillment, and even disappointment in the bigger, more expensive, garish item, audio and otherwise. It's a rare component, loudspeaker, cable built to impress that actually satisfies me. I feel happier and hear more music and soul in the simple typical 10 - 50 watt tube amplifiers than those with more than 100 watts, or additional and complex circuitries designed to take care of myriad supposed issues. I could say the same for loudspeakers, etc., but the point has been made
Great post trelja. I still question the reason behind the more recent trend in the market...the one that has seemingly majorly softened the market for used HEA. Trying to sell some of the gear on portals like the one that I am typing on, has---at least according to several of my a’phile friends-- resulted in almost having to give away gear! OTOH, we are constantly hearing of the new HE product that is pushing the asking price into the stratosphere. Presumably there is a market for these pieces...and a big enough market that it makes sense to continue to push the prices upwards and upwards.
Looking at the new WAMM speaker or the new D’Ag Relentless amps would seem to bolster this trend. Not sure how many of the buyers can truly afford this gear, but there must be enough for the manufacturer’s to feel safe enough to produce it.
Hate to think of the potential loss of $$ once it gets to the used market, LOL.
The equipment was always..supposed to be about servicing the music.
When you look at the whole scenario and package presented in the now, as presented to anyone looking at it, as potential to listen... you can’t blame the younger folks for going for the music first, over the equipment.
The very idea and emergence of Napster and it’s wild ride - told you all you needed to know.
First we had to build the ability to actually listen to prerecorded works. Done.
Now we are technologically evolved to the point that today’s mediocre technology, at low cost, can serve as a conveyor belt into many magnitudes more of music, as compared to all situations prior. And moreso every day.
Nevermind all the connected socio/cultural-politial-coporate/economic indicators.
The view and reality presents some very simple choices.
It really is all about the music. Not the gear.
The Magico founder Alon Wolf based his business model on the new A3 for a projection of selling 1000 sets; at $9800 that's close to 10 million and enough to cover his substantial equipment outlay. Of course he is following a certain marketing approach: build a clientele for the very top end then offer a more reasonable product to increase sales volume.
Will be interesting to see if the enthusiasm for the new design continues although the first run appears to be sold out.
Are there 1000 audiophiles out there with ten grand to spare? If so, then HEA may have some legs after all.
A local,well respected audio dealer told me a few years ago,that he had to switch his focus to home theater to survive.While he does still sell some high end 2 channel gear,home theater equipment pays the bills for him.Super guy and very knowledgeable,but most of the customers come in for receivers and projectors and things like that.Very few guys like him are left in my area.Someone that could help you with your next hi end purchase,and answer questions you may have about it!Magnolia took a lot of business away from another retailer that closed resently.That retailer told me that magnolia could sell similar stuff cheaper and offer financing.They just couldn’t compete anymore.That store was also full retail all the time!
Interesting post craigl59. I think Alon may have hit on a winning strategy. Even if he sells half of that number, then we are looking at close to $5M in sales. OTOH, I'm certain that there are a lot of manufacturer's and dealers who would prefer to sell just one piece at $5M! They probably think, and maybe rightly so, that it is just as easy or even easier, to find that one guy who will fork over $5M, than to have to sell 500 pieces...never mind 1000!
Emotiva is following the same move towards HT; their success with the XMC-1 preamp and T1/2 speaker sets has pushed them logically in this direction. Their new design for a multi/multi-channel new pre (7 channels and up) is based on the belief that additional speaker combinations and Atmos-type additions will continue to sell the best.
Video over music always in out current culture.
"my son is 19 and listens to everything on his Iphone with earbuds."
+1, exactly the same for my son, who is 18. So I bought him a pair of great Etymotic Research earbuds ($400) and a dac for his computer (an Oppo) and he's good. He has no interest in even learning the turn-on sequence for my tube electronics.
I have 17 year old teen-age twins--both spin records. One owns 3 crates of records, the other owns 4 crates. Importantly, they were each gifted their first crate by a great friend of mine who used to be a college radio DJ. Steve is the man! In Dallas, several new record shops opened up in the last couple of years even as the largest CD shop, CD Source, shut down. Josey Records (which has a few locations) is mostly average used records, a serviceable amount of new records, some CDs, and a section that sells audio gear. The audio gear is pretty much entry level. The place is fairly busy and has a young crowd (teens and 20 somethings) and the Agon aged crowd (old guys). Very few people in the 30s and 40s crowd. Since most of us started with entry level gear (that is a sensible place to start IMO) HEA might simply need to wait for its up and coming customers to work their way towards higher end equipment over time. And we probably need to acknowledge that uber-expensive gear, like an uber-expensive car, is an ultra-luxury item. Not necessary for enjoying the audio journey: but a great ride when the chance to experience it comes along.
I have a small record shop in NJ specializing in Classic Rock with about 1,200 records in stock and a good supply of vintage stereo equipment. We play records all day when we are open on modest equipment - I switch it around but am currently using a Technics Integrated amp SU7700, Sony PS-FL5 turntable and decent vintage Infinity speakers - basically $425 system as priced in my shop. Most of my customers are exactly as you describe age-wise. Almost all of the younger customers are using Crosley type all in one record players or new suitcase players and have zero interest in the better sound they hear in my shop as they spend sometimes hundreds of dollars on vinyl. Oh well!
@jimman2 Thanks for this post. Well, at least they are spending hundreds of bucks in your shop! My boys are using a Music Hall 2.2MMF TT with the stock cartridge. They got it for Christmas several years back after asking me to drag out some vintage components I had in storage. Anyway, the path I'm seeing among their friends is they come over and hear my boys' setup. Most like it but aren't going to to do anything other than listen to free music through their laptop and earbuds. But, one friend, after hearing separates, cut a deal with his dad to work for half and his dad would cover the other half--he bought some entry level separates and an audiophile is born. That family has financial means. Another friend heard my boys' system and went home and dug out his grandfather's all-in-one record player. That family has limited means. But another audiophile is born. A glimmer of hope is out there!
There are a few factors at play I believe:
1. Many younger people are still saddled with student loan debt and while unemployment is nearing record low numbers, wages haven’t risen as they should have so money is tight. Boomers who got caught out of sorts during the financial crisis are holding on to their jobs longer instead of retiring, making advancement harder.
2. Partly due to the above, but also due to other trends such as younger people choosing more urban dwellings than suburbs, many younger people don’t have the space or the privacy (either roommates or living in apartments where you can’t play a stereo much without disturbing your neighbors, or living at home with parents where luxury purchase would be frowned upon plus the noise issues) to set up nice stereo systems.
3. Because of both of the above high end headphone sales have been booming. You can get an extraordinary headphone rig for a tiny fraction of the price of equivalent speakers, it takes up virtually no space, won’t disturb the neighbors or roommates, etc. Headphones can easily be HEA, and while they can’t do everything that real speakers can do, they can provide an incredibly enjoyable musical experience without the expense and inconvenience of 100lbs floorstanders and the associated gear.
4. For those who are interest in traditional speakers, the quality of budget gear has increased exponentially over what it once was. Easier access to computer modeling and computer aided design, a better understanding of science-driven speaker design, and manufacturer-direct selling via the internet have all helped bring the price of entry to very satisfying sound way down. Elac, Q Acoustics, Hsu, Emotiva, RBH, Philharmonic Audio, RGL, etc, have proven you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to get a great experience.
5. This one may be controversial, but the prevalence of snake oil in HEA turns a lot of people just starting into the hobby away. Cables costing hundreds of dollars or more, vibration control for solid state electronics, ‘audiophile’ fuses, mystery boxes that claim to have magic properties, etc, it all comes off as both silly and slightly deceptive. At least the magic crystals of the past could be laughed off, today there’s a veneer of misleading pseudoscience being applied by purveyors of what usually amounts to nothing more than audio jewelry.
It certainly seems that the “rediscovery” of vinyl has helped with bringing the younger crowd into the hobby. The physical media is a great way for young people to discover music and to alert them to the pleasures of collecting music. The next big return will be the CD.
IMO, the ability to stream is a great way to listen to a large variety of music, but it has too much of a “throw away” aspect that will ultimately loose the excitement of opening that new record...or even CD.
While this is an interesting point, it does not seem to have much to do with the original topic that I posted, at least IMO.