Why has audio become so specilized over the years?

I got involved in audio in 1971 when I bought my first system: Sherwood 7100 receiver (there was no remotes to my knowledge yet for receivers); Garrard SL95B turntable with some level of Shure cartridge. A pair of Rectilinear 11 bookshelf speakers.. I was given 30 ft of free zip cord speaker wire the by the audio dealer

There was no IEC input on the receiver or even a perceived need to acquire a better PC. I used a dipole antenna for FM reception, and placed the turntable on a floor to ceiling open shelf system, and one speaker on each side of the wall with an entry door to the livingroom. It sounded good and provided satisfying music Six months later, I added a Dynaco Quad adapter box, and a pair of Avid speakers for the back channels to experience surround sound.....Primitive by today's standards of specialized after market upgrades

Granted, today audio systems's provide greater fidelity of sound, and operational flexibility. Think about it. Most if not all members of AG have either quality separates or a quality integrated amp. Many have replaced standard PC's with medium to expensive ones. Speaker wire is no longer zip cord, or even Home Depot 12 gauge cable, but one brand of a variety of speaker cables boosting state of the art materials, and esoteric outer coverings to eliminate signal loss and RF contamination.

(Some).....turntables, which have made a comeback in recent years, offer an outboarded motors and power supplies. Plinth materials are exotic to insure good to excellent isolation from vibration. Tonearm and TT compatibility has been elevated to a science, and equally, cartridge and tone arm interfacing is crucial.....no more guessing or working from outdated calculations....

20 years ago, (even as short as 10 years ago) built-in phono stages were a given in both pre-amps and most integrated amps. Today, the better pre-amps are line stages requiring a outboarded phono box or phono pre-amp, (or optional uninstalled MM/MC phono cards) often with the option of a separate supply

Though not a frantic trend yet, monoblock amps are often the preferred choice of amplification of some audiofiles; however, one box stereo dual mono amps lead the market. Lastly, the advent of the miraculous one box CD player, has now been given way to outboarded DAC's and separate transport

Without speculating too deeply on these developments, there is one given that is irrefutable, after market product specialization has created a total separate audio market which is typical of and necessary for a healthy for capitalist economy.....the law of supply and demand, and new markets

Against this modest introduction, I would like to get opinion and comments from members, (especially members with large and elaborate systems) as to how much more specialized will/can audio become??? And will future changes occur for reasons of user operational efficiency and comfort, or for the continual improvement in music reproduction. Consider the growing and obsessive movement taking place regarding "music sourcing", that is, music provided from uncompressed computer music files, various Music Server Services, and Music Server Organizers, like Soloose, and other similar products. Maybe, like the predictions of the end of history in the 1980's, we are about to experience the "END OF (TRADTIONAL) AUDIO"

PS, I am beginning to hate my own modest assortment of outboarded boxes and specialized speaker and IC cables....However, they can usually provide beautiful music depending on my mood and the the barometric pressure exerted on the eardrum which affects how we hear. Thanks, Jim
On my way to work,or I would post a longer response.I agree things are not as simple as the late 70s,life in general seemed simpler!I had a Sony or Panasonic reciever with a turntable built on ,sounded great to me!I bought a reel to reel and thought I was on top of the world!LOLThings sure have changed ,,
One facet to this equation is a mantra I hear parroted by many manufacturers and dealers that goes something like, "If I'm going to spend X amount of time on something/with someone, I want to make X000/X0000, not $X0/X00 on it."

While it falls under a philosophy I espouse - work smarter, not harder, I believe it has impacted the hobby in a tremendously negative way. These people are not satisfied to make money in the manner of generating volume sales, but instead seek to latch on to a few key customers who make large dollar purchases. Or, in other words, they want to hit grand slams, not singles.

The end result being to shrink a hobby where the normal red blooded American male was able to sustain countless businesses whose bread and butter were affordable components to the type of lunacy you described where a minute number of entities sell to folks who obsess about things that would provide a terrific basis for someone's PhD thesis in psychology about any of a wide range of sicknesses of the human mind.
I believe quite a bit of this has been brought on by ourselves. It used to be all about fidelity. Being able to reproduce what was recorded. It has gotten away from that. Now people want to have their systems to sound a certain way without regard to whether the are faithfully reproducing the recorded material. I constantly hear people want to make their systems sound softer, more bass, more highs, more neitral and on and on. But what if the music that was originally recorded was none of these things. I guess the era of High Fidelity is gone.
I do not really see it as all that much more complex than it used to be. There have always been separates. In fact, one could say that the 70's-80's was the "down" period of hifi wherein receivers and cassette decks were hot. What has changed I think, is the high end is more costly than it used to be, but this is true in many things.
There are only two answers to this question; either complexity has increased through evolution or it was designed by God to be this way. The second is obviously correct.

Signed: Gov. Rick Perry
Sunnyjim, I remember very old big furniture pieces with built in TV, TT, Receiver and sometimes even speakers. It was difficult to place, to upgrade and to repair. Repair was possible only at home. Today, we got smarter and have very flexible systems that can be tuned to our needs. If your room is larger you buy more powerful amp and larger speakers but use the same preamp. Why to pay for TT preamp if you don't have TT - that would be silly? If your amp or preamp plays better with different power cord - you can replace it. Do you like flexibility of a server more than simplicity of CDP? - you have a choice. I can listen to HDTV and DVD thru my DAC. I don't use preamp since I have DAC with volume control and no analog sources while other people have analog sources only and no DAC. It is all smarter and more flexible - we live in great times.
mass market goods have improved, quality and featurewise, to leave specialist a need to truly be specialized. Remember, the world of 'chips', mass production leave little for the specialist to add.

Granted, today audio systems's provide greater fidelity of sound

Duh, isn't that whole purpose of the exercise?

The systems have evolved and they sound better. It is what it is. I don't see the problem.


I don't believe our way of thinking has changed too much.

I had Dynaco separates, Garrard TT, Shure cartridge, Ampex R-T-R, Advent Speakers, some Tuner, and headphones. I was young (16) but working, so I decided I didn't want to settle for a receiver. However, this system was the best I could afford and it sounded good for my small apartment room. However, there was lots of high-end stuff out there back then.

Today, I have the same kind of stuff but it sounds much better and yea, it's more expensive. I own an integrated amp, that is custom, but still a throwback to the sixties. It is the opposite of complicated and saves me space.

I have never found a decent substitution for my long gone Ampex reel-to-reel. A long void of cassettes. I recently purchased a DAC, it's small with one selector knob on it. Simple. I also got a Squeezebox Touch. Way simple. Soon, I will start playing music files that are stored on a drive. This is all plug-and-play to me, and we finally have quality recorded music.

There are sound lovers, music lovers, and sound and music lovers. This has not changed.
We are infinitely more gullible now than in 1971.

Please pass the power cords.
We have an example of progress in a positive light. Never has there been such choice in audio hardware and software. I suggest enjoying it.
Amen, Stanwal!
Because audio buffs have had many more years now to obsess over these things.

What's possible has gotten better as a result, which is a good thing.

Not to say that everything newer and more expensive is necessarily better though.
As a counterpoint to Gov. Rick Perry's point:

You're completely wrong. People are frustrated with trying to get better sound, so they turn to complex audio equipment, or guns or religion.

Signed: President Barack Hussein Obama
We have an example of progress in a positive light. Never has there been such choice in audio hardware and software. I suggest enjoying it.
1974: magnepans and mcintosh amp/pre with thorens turntable
2001: magnepans and emotiva amp/pre/cd, mac server. + room treatment, ac filtering, dac, ac cords, ics, spk wires, dedicated wireing, isolation gear, ac recepticles, personal modifications.
i think i will stick with my current set up. plus i have 10,000,000 songs at my fingertips.....
God musta' made me back-page for you heathens and political opportunists that just don't get it the first time! Hallelujah
I got involved in audio in 1971 when I bought my first system: Sherwood 7100 receiver (there was no remotes to my knowledge yet for receivers); Garrard SL95B turntable with some level of Shure cartridge. A pair of Rectilinear 11 bookshelf speakers.. I was given 30 ft of free zip cord speaker wire the by the audio dealer
Sounds specialized to me. Sure we have more odds and ends now. But if I'm not mistaken, you could have bought an all Fisher brand, all Scott brand, with the exception of the turntable picked by them also. Oh yes, they would have picked the cartridge for you too. Harman Kardon, Lafayette, Allied, plus some (lot?) others I'm missing
Here is a link to old Radio Shack catalogs. Beside their house brand, look at some brands they carried in the '50s and 60's, plus variety of gear choices. Yes, they had real brands back then. [http://www.radioshackcatalogs.com/catalog_directory.html]
I guess starting around '50 or '60 will get you more stereo gear from them.
OOPS, sorry. Starting 1959 or 1960 will work.
Love the RS catalogs link!

Interesting to see what was hot in electronics over the years.

I worked at RS from ~ 1978-82. Brings back lots of memories....
I got involved in audio in 1971 when I bought my first system: Sherwood 7100 receiver (there was no remotes to my knowledge yet for receivers); Garrard SL95B turntable with some level of Shure cartridge. A pair of Rectilinear 11 bookshelf speakers..
for 1971, this was specialized, if you do not recognize this! not everyone was going to the audio store to get this sort of equipment to listen to music.
Audio was always specialized - my vintage Yamaha integrated amp cost $800 in 1977! how many could afford that back then?
what's wrong with your way of thinking is that you're comparing the complexity of today's equipment with that of 1971's. That's an apples to oranges comparison. The gear of 1971 was specialized for 1971 & used whatever best level of integration (discrete or IC) that was the SOTA at that time. Looking back, it looks like that gear was simplistic.

And, the evolution of audio is like any other industry. For example, in 1903 you can see what the Wright brothers' aeroplane was & today you know the complex F16/F18/F22 fighter jets the USAF flies. Another example, look at Ford's Model T back then & then look at today's complex Lamboghini/Ferrari, etc, etc.

So, my counter question to you is: Why has the aircraft industry & the automobile industry become so specilized over the years?

IOW, use you mind to think a little about the subject rather than just posting a question. A thinking will not hurt you (unless you are one of the 3 stooges who said "I think but nothing happens!").

Bombaywalla, Good point. What you call complexity I call choices, but it is the same thing.

In general, if you think about life about 50 years ago anybody could comprehend world around. You could understand "how is it done" from electronics to medicine. Today's world is so complex that in order understand things you need to get a degree. Nobel prizes in science are awarded in recent years to groups and not individuals. World we live in is becoming extremely complex. When I was 5 I was playing with wooden puzzles while my 5 year old grandson, was navigating internet without help.
I managed Radio Shack #3934 July '78 till May '80....it was company policy for us to work 6 ten hour days....saved the catalogs though, great memories!
I just think it's basic evolution with designers coming up with many new solutions and options for good sound than we ever had back in the good old days. Certainly there are a lot more choices for sources and digital technology has flourished.

Now I'm using digital room correction, which at the moment is not that cheap but it is affordable by many who frequent this site. Given the amount of improvement it made in my listening room I believe this is the future of where hi-end audio is headed. All I know is that I'm hooking up more sources and enjoying my music more and more... and also playing it more often... like right now as I write this. :)
Love the RS catalogs. Fischer receivers with current values on the order of $4000. That is the most expensive I noticed in my short look, but it gives some perspective.
Say what??
Because someone heard a difference.....Jallen
DUH DUH Herman.....the thread was to produce comments, not bumper stickers; When I used the phrase...."today's system provide greater fidelity of sound" I was stating the obvious to continue.....and not conclude, "oh well, time for lunch"

I should have finished the sentence with.... also require much larger expenditures of money....and somewhere in the upgrade phrase to quote BB King....." the thrill is gone"
To Kurt Tank.....let's dispense with the Obama/Hussein reference....its getting old......

By the way, whether this is a your AG moniker, or real name..... Kurt Tank was one of Germany's most celebrated aircraft designers during the 1920 and 1930's next to such greats as Ernst Heikel and Will Messerschmitt. I think Tank designed the original Folke-Wolfe 190 fighter airplane Jim
TO MR.BOMBAYWALLA.... Thanks for responding, I DID provide a thinking man's question, or did YOU NOT THINK WHEN YOU DECIDED TO ANSWER THE THREAD....AND SHOWER US WITH YOUR PROFOUND WISDOM. This is only more proof in a round about way that when you invoke or recall the past in America, you run the risk of hearing from people "who are doomed to repeat it"

Wow, technology is great. Explosives evolved from the firecracker to the hydrogen bomb, so instead of blowing off just a finger, you can kill 500 million people in a nano second.


Regarding "music sourcing", one day, even audiophiles will stop buying music and just subscribe to a audio streaming service.


Duh, because the answer to your query is obvious if you take a few seconds to think about it. why has everything become so specialized over the years?

Pick anything... cameras, cars, toasters, medical devices, spacecraft, weapons, wine bottle openers, bicycles, and on and on.

As technology marches forward there will always be people pushing the envelope whether it is stereos or anything else.

WHY ARE YOU YELLING AT US? You post an open ended topic and get the expected comments that are all over the place and then start yelling when people don't answer the way you want. This is the internet. There are a lot of us whackos out here.
To all who have responded, thank you

TO Herman, I am not yelling, just loudly defending myself. You are right....consumer.products and technology evolve It is inevitable. Let's hope our weapons devolve.

To Viggen, You are absolutely correct and right on. Even an old Billygoat like me,is considering giving it a shot. However, is it really legal to acquire music this way??
And audio* did NOT become specialized, Audiophiles did.
((* audio = music so music has branched out to even more places, and what young person does not have an Ipod or similar music device?)
The money seems to become the thing around the 1980s.
Prior to 1980s stuff was just made and sold. after the 1980s audio was marketed. and the prices started really going up. True the quality also went up, but it was the beginning of 'the High End" and the death of the casual audiophile. Money mattered. And it took a lot of it to be able to be an audiophile after the 1980s.
Sunny. Just sign up for Spotify or MOG. It's free and LEGAL. These are ad supported but you can get rid of the ads with a subscription fee.
elizabeth, think about this possibly. in 1976 i bought a luxman integrated for 1000.00, a pr of allison ones for 900.00 dollars and a b and o 3000 tt for 300.00 dollars. today i have a compete emotiva system [pre, cd, power] and magnepan mmgs+ a velodyne sub that cost 2200.00 list, same as in the 70s. my current system blows the first one away in every area. if you index the dollars i have about 800.00 1976 dollars in my current system. nice huh? now i realize this isn,t high[est] end but to many it is better than anything they have ever heard. i still call myself an audiophile even if i don't have megabucks involved. just my perspective though.
@ c.1960 full Marantz system w, JBL Hartsfields was high end at it's time and unobtainable but only for the few.
It is as specialized and complicated as you want to make it. As for me, I keep it simple. Less is more.
just like medicine....it's the $$$$$$$
Remember the old tv show Green Acres?

A lot of folks today would rather regress back to the simpler days.
And for a lot of other reasons,not just out of spite and contempt for speaker wires that cost as much as a new car.

Actually in the earliest days, audio was even more specialized.

You couldn't just go out and buy the gear, you had to make it yourself from a parts supplier.
How's that for specialized?

Sticker shock for the top level gear has a lot to do with the way people feel about the hobby today.

And yet there is more gear today at entry level prices that sounds better than most of the top level gear did back in the day.

In other words as much as the prices have gone up, so has the level of reproduction.

I am sure there will be those who won't agree with me .

But this is what I have found.

There are speakers available today at the bottom of the price list that perform better than most of the flag ship models from the golden age.

It's the $175,000.00 of today's flag ship model that disturbs.

I can remember back in the early 1980's assembling a system of the best reviewed gear (turntable, amp, pre and speakers), at the time and it's cost brand new was well under what just my present speakers cost today.
Back then most folks could afford to indulge in the Class A,upper high end gear.
Not so today.
But then a new home didn't cost as much back then.
It's all relative.

But if anything I think the emphasis is shifting back towards more affordable gear that sounds like it should cost more than it does, and that's a good trend.