First off, guys like you, Mike. That's what's better about audio. I've been interested in McIntosh gear, and you've been exceptionally helpful in my quest for information. Without the Internet, and your willingness to help, I'd be lost. Thank you.
The introduction of the web has produced some very real changes:
1. sped up a change that had been in process for the last 25 years ... there are less brick and mortar stores. The physical stores that remain are distinctively more high-end.
2. made more equipment from more manufacturers available for purchase. I "upgrade" far more quickly. I rarely use something until it falls apart.
3. permitted the consumer to buy from just about any dealer anywhere ... less dealer loyalty ... more difficult to enforce dealer territories.
4. allowed the enthusiast to spend increasingly more time devoted to this hobby.
I think back to the first real hi-fi system that I purchased in 1979 (Pioneer 636 receiver; Dual 1257 turntable; EPI 100 speakers). I had a choice of easily a dozen stores in Manhattan alone to listen to the equipment. Hi-Fi had broad appeal as a hobby and owning a good stereo was as important as owning a car. But at the same time, I was also limited in my choices, as I could only buy the brands that were available in these stores, as purchasing by mail was not something that a lot of people did. Getting a UPS or FedEx delivery, was fairly exotic and costly (a package courier by law had to affix first class postage to anything that was sent out). Not only was "list price" strictly enforced by dealers and manufacturers alike (Pioneer spent millions litigating this in the courts), but so were dealer territories.
As late as 1995, if I wanted to buy ADCOM or KEF, I had to go to Harvey's. If I wanted to buy EPOS, I had to go to Sound by Singer. Right now, if I wanted to buy a pair of EPOS ESL3 speakers, I can think of at least 5 places to purchase them without leaving my chair.
Lastly, I can and do spend many hours on-line immersed in this hobby. I am not limited to a handful of monthly magazines or speaking with my buddies to keep abreast of things.
It's a bit of a mixed bag, but overall the web has made the hobby better.
Tons of information, almost endless options/selection, greater and immediate access, and an outlet for selling that is affordable and offers great exposure
the demise of the neighborhood stereo shop was happening when less than 2% of consumers where using the web to shop. it is estmimated that 35% will use the web (instead of brick and mortar) this christmas, and for electronics 'in general' it could exceed 50%. Unfortunity the store-fronts out there in america have wound up being demo outlets, where products are auditioned and not bought. in that respect its sad. the biggest thrill i ever had was(around 1974) comparing the large advent (in a shop that had speakers ten times as much on hand) to the epi 100...like my life depended on it. i remember the clerk telling me that there were speakers 'bigger' and 'more expensive' than both those two jewels, but there their were none 'cooler'.at that moment in time who could argue.
The internet and Audiogon are a double edged sword. There's a lot more information readily available, but the quality of that info can be very questionable. I firmly believe that a newcomer to high end audio is better served by a good full service dealer than wading into the forums at audiogon. For the experienced hobbyist the situation is reversed.
One thing I've noticed on Audiogon is that someone will ask about a specific piece of equipment and a typical response is "it's great, I had it for a year before changing to something else that I had before putting together my current rig". The internet has lead to greater equipment experimentation, but I really wonder if it has led to greater consumer satisfaction. Constantly swapping equipment is great if you're an equipment junkie, but it's a pain if all you want to do is listen to music.
My system is a hybrid of store-bought and internet-bought pieces. These forums are helpful as starting points, but the store is the only place to listen and audition, usually. One exception to this was the Odyssey Extreme monos, which were posted for sale by a member who lived in the adjoining city and could therefore be auditioned. I have mostly eschewed faith-based internet purchases for components, with the exception of a Rotel Preamp and Dodson DAC I bought, which turned out to be a fabulous purchase. I did purchase the Odyssey Tempest Extreme preamp directly, brand new, from Klaus, but only after a great experience with his amplifiers. Cables have been purchased mainly, but not exclusively, on the web.
I agree with Onhwy61 regarding the usefulness of consulting with a dealer for neophytes, but would add that if you are fortunate enough to have one or more great ones (like I have been), then the dealer is extremely helpful for the more advanced audiophile as well. It would not have been possible to assemble my current system without the help of Duane, a dealer. Wanting his store to remain in existence and prosper, I have made purchases there accordingly. I have not auditioned pieces in the store and then purchased identical units on the internet. Overall, the majority of my dollars were spent in brick and mortar stores, with the internet playing an important but nevertheless adjunctive role. For me, I think that was quicker, easier and smarter in the long run.
Things can look great on paper and be favorably reviewed, but sound horrible. I had such an experience once with respect to loudspeakers. The discordance between my trumped up expectations and the reality of the audition (I went to the company to listen) was astonishing, and in a very bad way. There's no way to learn this about any component of a sound system without listening for yourself. That requires a store, with smart, honest and helpful people, like Duane.
I think the disappearance of the stereo specialty salons is something that is disappointing and unfortunate, but inevitable.
I can vividly recall, years ago, some very impressive demonstrations I heard at local audio shops and talking about the latest amps, speakers, and other audio-related topics with salesfolk who were really into the hobby and who were true experts in putting together systems.
From the early AR acoustic suspension speakers, to Dahlquist DQ-10s, to the original Acoustat X, the Infinity Servo-Static 1As, and then the big Magneplanar models, I heard some really great demos -- and with my own familiar handful of recordings that I brought from home.
By using dealers for demo purposes only, and then going out and buying whereever the lowest price could be found, we (collectively) have sadly put many good, well-intentioned dealers out of business. The kinds of amazing demos I witnessed decades ago are a thing of the past.
The scant remaining dealers are forced to carry products that are either high-end, or from small niche companies. Most of the high-end stereo shops either closed, or went into mass-market (and upper-end) home theater products. No use trying to compete with the www, Best Buy, or Circuit City.
I understand that now, if you want to buy high-end, you can go to Best Buy and hear the fine Martin Logan electrostatics hooked up with zip cord to a Rotel receiver and a mid-fi CD player. Best of all, your expert salesman will be a pimpley-faced kid that uses an ipod or MP3 as his personal reference...all that with the crowded, noisey, kaotic ambiance of a mass-market superstore.
So while I think the NET is great for information purposes and for getting low prices on gear, I must confess I do miss some of those old stereo shops I used to frequent.
In particular, there was a shop called Hi-Fi Haven in New Brunswick, NJ, that always seemed to have the "hot" gear and had knowledgeable, enthusiastic salespeople who would patiently answer your questions and spend time with you, whether you bought from them or not. I have to confess that I was a bit upset to learn of their closing and to realize that some of their best, most knowledgeable salesmen had gone to work for mass-market, mid-fi chains. That was as big of a shame as it was a sign of the times.
I know there are still a few terrific dealers out there, but they are few and far between. If you do manage to get a great demo and savvy advice from one of the few competent audio shops left, then I would encourage you to buy some product and support that dealer instead of going home and combing the www for the best possible price.
Plato: I agree with that philosophy.
wow howard,thanks & im glad i could be of help.
i also remember when owning a hi fi set up was important to people but now its like most younger people feel the need to keep busy outside of the home instead of any leisure time at home & music has turned into more of a time filler instead of an art form.
im not so sure though about the net killing off the dealers,i think its part of the reason but i think the main reason dealers have dropped like flies is how fast paced the newer generation is,they dont want to take the time to go & listen to a real hifi system when its so much faster to pop into a best buy & take home their purchase with them instead of waiting even if they are buying pure crap its instant gratification,i also think that most salesman have lost the ability to size up a customer.
dealers got me started in the hobby but the web got me much more interested .
The personal computer (a modern inconvenience) has changed the way we do business and our lives forever. I'm a tire kicker and much prefer to see, touch & hear a piece of audio gear before I buy it. Of course once you bring it home sometimes it didn't always sound quite as good as when it was heard at the showroom.
I believe that even dealerships that use to rely on mostly walkins are now having to rely more on the web to sell their gear, more coverage. In fact all members of Audiogon have become salesman in their own right. On the positive side, I feel that the web gives us far more choices and better deals but for the worst it lacks that hands-on personal touch. I can tell you one thing for sure, FedEx & UPS are laughing all the way to the bank.
If it was not for the brick and mortal stores I would have never gotten involved in this hobby. Those stores ruined my life! (Just kidding)