What’s really hurting the audio hobby?


Maybe it’s the audio dealer experience? Where else can newbies go to get started in this hobby. Isn't that where most of you got hooked?  Let me describe my latest visit to an audio store nearby. I won’t use the store name here, as that’s not the point.  Where I live there is really only one audio store left. That’s strange because I live in a very wealthy community. The Friday after Independence day, me and a friend went to this local audio store.  First time back there in years. We are both looking to upgrade. They have 3 audio rooms and two home theater rooms. The hi-end audio room (the store’s term) was an impressive room with extensive acoustic treatments. Mostly McIntosh gear. Sitting in the listening chair, you are looking at 600 watt Mac monoblocks running some nice tower speakers. A massive JL Audio Gotham subwoofer unit sat front and center facing the only listening chair. The McIntosh turntable was spun first. Sloooowww. It took my friend less than five seconds to point out the TT was running slow. The salesman had started to play Pink Floyd-Wish You Were Here, and it was noticeably slow. So the salesman flipped the switch to 45 rpm. Yes, that happened. He figured out it was too fast all on his own. Fiddle and poke at the TT for a bit and then the salesman said- "I’ll let them know it’s broke". Then he said he would just stream some music from a server. Bass! All you could hear was bass, and NOT good bass. He turned the subs down a little when asked, but all you could hear was tubby, muddy bass. The big tower speakers were overpowered by the sub.  I really wanted to hear what the main speakers alone sounded like, but could not get the salesman to shut off the subs.  On to the mid-fi room (the store’s term). The salesman tried to play us two different turntables. Neither turntable worked. One would not power up, and one was not hooked up to a system at all. Let me point out we didn’t care what source they used. I did say we both run analog and digital sources. Nothing interesting in the mid-fi room the first time through. Next room (no name) was a wall of bookshelf and small towers run by a wide selection of integrated amps. Not bad sound from some. Again, we were told this is “streaming quality audio”. This was the third time he mentioned we were listening to streaming quality audio. I took a guess at what that meant and asked if we could hear higher quality audio. So he took us back to the mid-fi room. He popped in a CD.I could not tell what CD equipment was being used. I think a Rotel integrated was selected. Everything in the cabinet was black faced behind dark glass. Not sure what CD it was either, but since he only had one, I let it go.

Big change! The Paradigm towers were now making good sounds. A big difference from his “streaming quality” demo. Next we switched to a pair of GE Triton 1s. I seriously might get a pair! They make nice sounds. By far the best thing we heard. There was more that happened that contributed to a poor experience, but I will move on.

Here is my point- What would anyone new to the hobby think of that experience? It took two seasoned audio guys pushing the salesman for over an hour before he played anything worth listening to. Would you buy anything from this place. Would you send a newbie in there? Let me know if I'm off base in thinking these audio stores are killing themselves off by the way they do business. Or is it just my misfortune that I have not been in a good dealer showroom in years?

vinylfan62
Are you even sure there is such a thing as a good dealer showroom any more?
We have a lot of knowledgeable and ethical dealers here in the Northwest that know how to demo gear - Echo Audio in Portland, Desco Audio in Olympia, Gig Harbor Audio, and Hawthorne come to mind.  Most are run by people who are obsessed with music and good sound.
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Elizabeth, I sort of see your point. But I hadn’t been back to the audio dealer I wrote about in years because of the previous experiences I had there. There were other dealers in the area that received my business. Those other dealers are closed now. I guess my group of audiophile friends didn’t spend enough to keep them afloat. I will take my business to a shop across the river. They don’t carry much high end equipment. But they are new and are trying hard to serve customers. Nice people to work with too. I bet they can order some items even if they are not a dealer of that brand. No other stores within 50 miles. 
Mass stupidity and apathy has destroyed the credibility of retail in general. Add the flooding if the market with really crappy inexpensive products to that, and you have the factors that are making this hobby more of a challenge to fully pursue and enjoy. 

Southern California has lots of good hi-fi dealers, and lots of audiophiles. It spoiled me, as did Northern California (another audiophile haven). It’s a different scene here in Portland, and Seattle is quite a drive. It’s okay for me (I have all the gear I need), but it can’t be helping keep the torch alive, if there’s one to be kept.

I’m not sure younger people can sit still long enough to have any use for a good hi-fi. They’re so distracted: constantly fidgeting, checking their phone, texting about who knows what. Plus a lot of the music I hear them listening to would not really benefit from a higher-quality system, it seems to me.

But ya know, audiophilia was always a minority passion. Those who sincerely care about sound quality will find their way to it. Whether or not there are enough of them to support the high end industry remains to be seen. But I won’t be here to find out ;-) .

Some dealers may be a problem, but I think it's primarily decreasing demand for quality audio systems.  My interest was NOT born in dealerships (as you suggest), but from music lessons and playing in orchestras starting at age 8.  When I started playing records, I craved more realistic reproduction of the sounds I knew and loved.  Dealers became both a vehicle (re: equipment) and an obstacle (re: salesmen) in my quest.

On decreasing demand: younger folks aren't exposed to live musical performances that feature real instruments and voices as much as we were when I was a kid (BTW - get off my lawn!).  Their music world is dominated by digital facsimiles and convenient, on-the-go listening.  They mainly want to hear the beat, poetry and "sound" of the latest pop creations.  They're not developing a desire for a home system that better recreates the sounds we audiophiles crave.

Please don't offer anecdotal exceptions; this is my impression of a general trend, not an indictment of every single young music lover out there.  Just my $.02.
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Big_greg, you’re right about the pnw. Kurt at Echo Audio in Portland makes everyone feel special. That’s one of the few stores I never felt uncomfortable in.

The other was Art of Audio in Beaverton. Kriell, Pass, ARC, and Magnepan gear but never made a broke 23 year old feel unwelcome. I think they’ve been gone for a long time.

if Fred’s still open? That was another great store in Portland.
I've had similar experiences with the local dealer here in my town. Years ago when I got into audio, we had several good stores around and would visit them nearly every weekend. Not so much now.
I've been to my local store about 5-10 times in 3 years and each experience was similar---on each visit, I thought things would get better, but alas, no.
First, the lighting is awful---the front of the store is too bright and the audio listening rooms are too dark. I don't think they've vacuumed or dusted in years. Audio furniture is very cheap and half-ass put together. When you ask to see a certain product, they show you something else. I have yet to buy anything there. I use an independent dealer about an hour away and I'm totally pleased. I really don't see how our local store stays in business.
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What's hurting the hobby is cell phones, social media and convenience = very small % of population care about great sound - just as soon listen to Echo Dot because it's easier. I was over at a friend's house couple days ago and noticed he had a new Martin Logan center channel. I asked him how he liked it,  he said, "makes sound like it's supposed to, I can hear voices fine". So even people my age that grew up in an era of hifi shops (50-something) don't care anymore. My son's (20's and 30's) couldn't care less. They would rather listen to music on their cell phone speaker. My take-away is audiophiles (or even just people who care at all) are less than 1% and falling. If they do anything to improve sound it's bluetooth in-ear-monitors for the cell phone - their limit. That's the future.
I'm going to go with the excessive coverage of unobtainable gear and loss of DIY engagement.


In the 1960s and 1970s the hobbyists were the inventors. They built the industry. It has gone from this kind of get your hands dirty hobby to one for the rich. The true cognoscenti have been ignored and replaced by reviewers who, in essence, insist that gear is worth what the MSRP is.


We need more hobbyists who are into fun, experimentation and sharing their discoveries, as opposed to buyers who are showing off gear they barely use.
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And the computer/smartphone/internet has killed interest in traditional audio gear among the 20 - 30 yr generation! 
Siri, play some music for me on my new AirPods (with wireless charging). New TV ad seen recently (filmed in b&w!).
Alexa, play some Taylor Swift for me (world's richest performer, according to Forbes!).
+1 mwatsme! One of my neighbors is a 51 yr old pro rock musician. I asked him if he had a stereo system. "No, I only listen to my computer's speakers"!!!

vinylfan62


Excellent points all around. Where are you located? Whom is your local dealer/retailer?  Happy Listening!

I have been going to a lot of dealers in Southern Cal and they are excellent. A few really good ones in Bay Area too. I ended up learning more after each visit.
I went into an upscale dealer recently for the first time. We chatted about my gear and equipment in general. The salesman showed off their listening rooms including some with serious six-figure pieces. The dealer was pleasant and proud of the store. We chatted jazz and vintage gear. I assumed they'd be happy to demo their awesome kit. Not happening. The excuse was that the gear wasn't set up (looked set up to me) and/or powered on (come on!). I do understand that I had no appointment but the store was empty and I don't mouth breathe. No inclination to go back.
To me this hobby is driven by those who actually sit down to enjoy a listening session with out distraction. This requires a system that draws one into the experience, thusly driving the search for such a system. Regardless of budget, system development requires knowledge of ones preferences, of what it requires to meet them within the context of a complete system, and the environment wherein the system resides.  

There are just not that many who fit this description. For most, music can be enjoyed without such attention. 
True that there are fewer and fewer it seems these days interested in paying attention to all the details that make up the music. Popularity of classical music, the backbone traditionally of the hifi/audio world, also seems to be on a death spiral these days as the generations change, at least in the US. That’s a true shame!

Times change.


It's "my friend and I".   I have a fairly good dealership near my home in the Phila suburbs. Luckily I found the right salesman and he helped me. I'm happy with my purchases. I think the bad experience the writer had is not that rare today.  Actually, I'm finding the marketing strategy of "volume selling" to be almost everywhere now; buying a car, a cell phone, or a knee replacement. Try to get someone to repair a clock these days. Oh well, all and all, audio life is still pretty good.  
Several comments in this thread seem to lament a supposed decline in high end audio but nothing could be further from the truth. The irony here is that in spite of a declining dealer base the luxury stereo business is booming. There are new brands being introduced into the US market almost monthly. Established brands are growing. Audio shows like AXPONA are getting bigger every year and more prolific (i.e. Tampa). The selection of new affordable gear has never been better. And to top it off, this is the golden age of attractively priced used equipment.

As young people settle down and want to listen to music at home they are putting down their iPods and buying modest stereos, including turntables. It's important to note that the boom in vinyl has mostly been from younger consumers. I think they mostly get into this through the example of their friends and word of mouth. In my youth I frequented a few audio stores that were patient and well run and I built a nice system over a couple decades. It looks like today's young people follow a different route but rumors of the death of high end audio have been greatly exaggerated.
Here in my town we had only one dealer left following the collapse of the Sony franchise here in the Midlands. That was until a couple of weeks ago, when all of a sudden they too were gone -without much of a fanfare or even a closing down sale.

Sure they were more of a fast food type of audio dealer, but now they’re gone.. nothing. Nothing except online stores and sites like this one. eBay and Amazon conquer all before them.

So, as they say if you can’t beat them, join them. Dealers may need more than ever to make sure their online trade remains competitive.

But how do you make the numbers work?


Simple logistics has hurt both the music industry and the HiFi retail landscape. The primary bankroll for both of these used to be plentiful.

What changed?

The methods of consumption and the mindset by this demographic that they shouldn’t have to pay for what they listen to. That mentality nearly bankrupted the major record labels, but there seems to be a move toward “pay for what you use” instead of the former assumed entitlements. 

The content also changed. This crucial demographic has moved to a completely different genre. With this, the requirements of sound system gear to reproduce this completely different genre have changed for the worse. Sound quality is not a concern of this crucial demographic. They are simply looking for the loudest bass and certain brand names. 

HiFi does not fit into the world of the demographic that used to demand sound quality. Because of this, our hobby has lost the unbridled ed enthusiasm it once was afforded. 
I agree with 8th-note in that there has never been a better time to be interested in this hobby. More choices as to sources, avenues of amplification, and speaker designs at all price levels. The avenues for acquiring the knowledge required have expanded. 

As to the change in percentage of the population that is interested in audio as a hobby, I am not sure. 
The dealer experience: stereo, cameras, table saws, anything involving good, better, best, fantastic is and has always been subject to the level of acquired knowledge, seller and buyer, and showroom experience.

Newbies, unprepared, then and now, are like fish in a barrel. And they are looking into a huge pandora's box, often talking to the Pied Piper of the moment.

I'm 71, I grew up during the growth of the industry, NYC: late 60's; 70's; 80's. My office was on 44th, 1 block from Stereo Alley (after it moved twice). Harvey's was the premier store 45th and 5th ave. Others scattered around the city. Leonard Radio was in the ground floor of my building, the original Hammond Organ showroom.

A few dealers around me in NJ, the closest Stuarts Audio still going in Westfield.

My acquired knowledge allowed me to know if a salesman (no women then, or now that I have met) knew what I knew, and more, and if truthful. You became friends, ..., my friend Wayne at Harvey's used to call me when a nice piece came in on trade so I would know to watch the used shelved in the back. I still have Carver Tuner, Carver Cube, Tandberg Receiver, Velodyne Subwoofer. My friend Phil at Leonard's called me when Ray took in a pair of JSE infinete Slope Model 2's that he knew I absolutely loved. Together we hustled them out of Ray's grasp into mine.

Other showrooms around NYC, rarely visited, the experience was NEVER great, but varied from pretty good to very poor. None of them had any respect for my knowledge or knowledgeable questions. These were ones I had to block out some time and travel to get there, so the disappointment was magnified by that.

Stereo Exchange was and still is a good experience, They rely on you knowing what you want, or might want based on their stock and prices. More of a flea market of quality stuff only.

Original 47th Street Photo, when it was upstairs on 47th street, was basically "Come back when you know what you want!". 

Today, fewer dealers, an enormous myriad of choices, much harder to educate yourself about it all, (same for salesman), and the unlikelihood of becoming friends by repeated visits, makes it a whole different world.

Good luck to us, heaven help the newbie.
Mail order.  Companies selling direct and stores like Music Direct.

What can't be denied is that independent B&M stores are disappearing.  15 years ago where I live there were two; today there are none.  Now if I want to go to the nearest (and not most ideal) store, it's a 2-hour drive.

Mail order and trial periods with return privileges start to look better and better.
None of them had any respect for my knowledge or knowledgeable questions.
  @elliottbnewcombjr

In a world where everyone is waiting to talk, there is a bushel of truth in what you say.
My last experience in a B&M store was so bad I promised myself I was done  and would take my chances buying online.. I called this store to verify hours and get directions, said I would like to come down the next day ( 2 hr. drive ) and hear a certain speaker they had. Come on down , we open at 10:00 am,no problem. When I showed up the next morning I was met by an arrogant greaseball who said, " I dont know who told you to come down today, we operate by appointment ’ ( there was no one else in the store the whole time I was there ) When I said I had driven 2 hours to hear the speakers , he rolled his eyes, told me to go get lunch somewhere,come back in an hour and he would see what he could do. When I came back he had a system set up and let me listen to a few tracks he had selected ( I brought my own music ) I quite liked the speakers and asked if it was possible to try them in my home if I left him my credit card . " Oh no , we only do that for our customers! ’ he said laughing. When I asked what he would sell them for , cash, he quoted me full retail price. I asked if there is discount for paying cash, he said again, "oh no, we only do that for our customers " I pulled a very large wad of $100. bills out , waved it in his face, and said I was going somewhere that I could be a customer too. I also called him several things that are not fit for print.
I've been in the Navy for 22 years I have traveled all over the world (26 countries and counting) I tend to visit High end audio stores when I travel. The one thing that seems to be a constant is a variation of the same 6 products in every one of them. Then a few sprinklings of something new or different usually due to the country or location more then anything. 

I'm also tired of the middle men why cannot a dealer deal directly with a manufacturer we do live in the age of 24 hour delivery to anywhere in the world.

 Also I see a trend were the high end audio stores that still exist are dividing into two major groups one to service the middle class and one to service the very wealthy. . 

 I even had a manufacturer say to me once that its easier to service the very rich and sell 20-50 of a very expensive item then to make thousands of less expensive items and have to deal with that many more issues with after sales service. 

Interesting to note that many of the negative dealer experiences being discussed arent new problems, not by a long shot.  Bad shops and salesmen have plagued this hobby since its inception!
Throughout the many decades of being a avid audio fan. The passion came from MUSIC and the knowledge came from family and friends. Stereo stores did little to excite any passions that were not already there, very rarely did audio salesman offer up any real information, heck, to this day the few stores that remain STILL have the same dry, lame, mostly clueless people working in them.

Matt M
Several comments in this thread seem to lament a supposed decline in high end audio but nothing could be further from the truth. The irony here is that in spite of a declining dealer base the luxury stereo business is booming.


This is actually my point. I lament the decline in the hobby vs. lamenting the high end. The hobby has gone from a broad based, get your hands dirty and you can participate too hobby to one for the wealthiest.


Truth be told, there's plenty of room for DIY, but that's not who is left.


Best,
E

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When was the last time you heard some say "I take the bus because car dealers are such jerks.
You should read the posts on cargon.com. Tons of posts about taking the bus.
Would people be interested in a new thread to talk about the good dealers? I have heard of some mentioned in this post like Echo and Gig Harbor. That’s impressive since they are halfway across the country from here. There are many more I’m sure.  
There’s a short thread topic.
I had a poor dealer experience about 2 months ago. I made an appointment and the dealer knew exactly what I wanted to demo. When I showed up, he was not there. I met an employee who was clueless and I wasted my time. I’d never consider this dealer for anything going forward. I live 100 miles away and fortunately had a trip with my wife included in the junket so it wasn't totally wasted. However, if anyone ever asks me about this shop, I’ll tell them my experience. In many ways, it's easier to just demo at home with someone who will ship what you are interested in. I was hoping to support this "brick and mortar" dude.
Audiophiles in L.A. have Audio Elements in Pasadena (Brooks Berdan's son), Brooks Berdan Ltd. (Brooks' widow Sheila now manages the shop, and still has expert repair technician Tom Carione and vacuum tube expert Joe Knight on staff), Optimal Enchantment in Santa Monica (longtime ARC/Vandersteen dealer. Owner Randall Cooley is a fantastic guy), Shelley's Stereo in Woodland Hills, and a couple of newer one-employee shops that have great lines (EAR-Yoshino, Townshend) that I didn't visit before I left town 3-1/2 years ago.
@mwatsme
good point (s).

@Eric
Ditto.
it is a brave new world and those under 40 as was said, seem to care less about audio fidelity despite streaming services that are offering more and more HD content.

unless of course this demographics upper tier ecconomically speaking.

its a buyer's market out there and the overwhelming bulk of dollars being traded into music see nothing much more beyond the devices they can hold in their hands or back packs for playback and personal 'micro' audio seems the ticket today more than ever before.

I hear folks talking more about headphones and or desktop streaming devices than anything else.... well, big flat screens aside., of course.

I feel going forward that dealerships catering to the high end market are going to have to be more competitive, and personable. in fact, I feel these few and far between upper end sellers are going to be forced to add something to the buying equation one can not find online or with immediately adjacent competition.

in a word, 'service'.

the days of those showrooms which are attended by snobish, arrogant, elitists should be seeing the writing on the wall... like dinosaurs they are doomed... if they refuse to change towards a more customer friendly service first and foremost business plan.

as well, B&M shops are going to find their inventories getting more scarce and their profit margins slimmer from sheer online competition which they can no longer afford to ignore as viable opposition.

as tedious as it is, the Audiogon shuffle remains a viable means for an immense number of devoted audio enthusiasts...

buy... try.... sell... repeat until the outcome is the one desired. or you tap out.

the dark web has had a severe damaging influence on local audio shops for sure.

moreover, the last two generations have been mesmerized with instant gratification via the web, and the consequent mobile devices allowing access, and this trend is no longer a tred but it has become the standard, and its growing.

as American society has become a see and be seen, maintain high visibility Facebook oriented culture, audio outlets will have to work all the harder to attract this 'new blood's' interests and their finances.

it may be too dedicated audio showrooms may have to branch out from dedicated two ch and or HT only shops to something like acoustic room optimization, or screen optimization services, via ISP or other accredited   educational suppliers.

maybe even whole house automation or perhaps even installation and servicing of car audio systems on higher or more professional levels that end users can not achieve on their own.

Audiophiles are the ones hurting the audio hobby.  Listening to music is supposed to be fun.  Audiophiles have turned this fun activity into a life long struggle, a journey, with hard won knowledge and years of frustration evidenced by endless equipment changes.  Audiophiles don't just listen to music, instead they have listening sessions which in some cases involve critically listening.  Does an audiophile ever get up (or get down) and dance when critically listening?
Hi, I'm Onhwy61 and I'm an audiophile...
I think we should not underestimate how much younger people, and by that I’m saying 35 and under, hate shopping in stores.  If it is not online it doesn’t exist.  This aversion makes it less likely that they will be introduced and then become interested to this hobby. 

Three other things also come into play...lots of student debt, fewer good middle class jobs and very busy lifestyles.  

As for audio stores... almost no stores in any arena have managed to stay relevant. 

I agree with the comments here about the interest in better sound being driven by the love of music. I think it has to be. For me, it started when I was a musician in a band. I noticed when we piped music through the PA system between sets, it sounded better than my home system. Not just louder, but better in many ways. I'm a drummer and the PA system made instruments and vocals sound more real than my receiver and speakers from Pacific Stereo. So instead of heading back to Pacific (or the CMC Stereo that was across the street from it) I went into a real audio shop. The salesman there took the time to explain some audio basics and demonstrate the differences. Knowing I was a drummer he played a few tracks on different systems. He said, “notice how the cymbals don’t sound like sandpaper blocks rubbing together”. That was the lightbulb moment! That salesman was my first audio mentor and I spent a lot of time and money in that shop. I don’t think my experience is unique. How many of you got started in a similar way? My post was kind of a lament that new people trying to get into this hobby are less likely to have this kind of an experience.

The positive news is, I think there is a good chance that all the interest in vinyl from the younger crowd could entice some of them to want better sound. I recently went to a tent sale for used CDs and records. The place was packed. I saw people in their 20s and 30s buying huge stacks of records. The interest in music is certainly there. To me, that’s more important than the interest in high-end audio. However, one young lady in our group asked me where to go to get a better turntable and possibly better speakers. The disease is contagious! The bug to have better sound will bite some of these folks. How they learn about better sound, and the opportunity to experience it, is not as easy as it once was. I'm happy to help. Sharing my knowledge and my passion for music and sound helps me enjoy the hobby. I just wish there were more people interested these days. Does this describe many of you as well?

Snapc the other thing you didn’t mention is most people under 35 don’t listen to music. They listen to rap, which does not require sound quality. 
There’s only one hi-fi store in the very wealthy Boulder community. They are quite elitist there.  I don’t wear the right clothes when I come in. Blue jeans and sneakers. They prefer wool and leather.  They sell a huge amount of home theater stuff in our area. It’s difficult to get anybody to even speak to me, whereupon they seem bothered. My only interest is two channel as my listening space is very small. When I asked to look at a $4000 pair of Focal monitors.  They had none (what?) So instead of the salesman showed me an $8000 pair of floorstanders-that was useful. (BTW,  they had the same “sound” as my $2000 solo 6 w a sub - not worth $6000 more )  I can’t wait until the Rocky Mountain Audio fest where I will listen to Audio Note’s AN-K.