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PostPosted: Thu Dec 06, 2018 11:22 am 
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Joined: Thu Jul 05, 2018 4:57 pm
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Location: Homestead, PA, US
High end audio is expensive for the most part, but who exactly started the ball rolling with pricing where most people would have to take out a loan ? I am not talking about equipment that costs a few thousand dollars. Nearly 60 years ago in the early stereo era, speaker companies realized that the new consumer need for 2 speakers instead of just one, for mono; was a blessing in that it doubled their profits. The old Acoustic Research AR3 speakers had a list price of $300 a pair, which in today's dollars adjusted for inflation would be at least $2,000. There might have been even more expensive speakers than that back then.The Marantz tube amps, model 7 preamp and model 8 power amp would have cost the equivalent of thousands of dollars today. Same with the KLH model 9 loudspeakers (they recommended using 4 of them !). That would have easily broken the equivalent of today's $40,000. Same with the top of the line Beveridge Electrostatics loudspeaker, a decade later whose list price of $7,000 would have flirted with around $50,000 today. I was watching an old retro TV show episode the other day, and the character was in a bank across the desk from the guy in charge of loans. He asked him if he had any collateral, and he mentioned that he had some hi fi equipment. Imagine today walking in and trying to get a loan by claiming you had some hi fi equipment. The loan officer would feel like laughing. Hi fi equipment has lost its mystique with the masses. The high end is something foreign to the average person. Your average person thinks a good stereo should cost a few hundred dollars. Which makes high end sales not only hard, but ridiculous to many people.

The citing of the retro TV episode proves a point. Hi fi and then stereo had credibility to the masses back then. AR had 1/3 of the speaker market. Your average person interested in superior sound was spending the equivalent of $1,000 or more in today's dollars, which is way more than the average person spends on a stereo today. Products like those mentioned prove that when inflation is taken into account, these so called crazy high end prices are nothing new; at all ! There has always been an opportunistic element in hi fi. Companies trying and hoping to make millions, on products priced way above the norm. Their philosophy goes something like " if people really want something, maybe they'll pay it". The problem is, that opportunistic pricing like that might be the thing that caused audio to lose credibility to a lot of people, and when you lose their trust; that's it. If a pretty good stereo in most peoples minds should cost a few hundred dollars, people have trouble with an even better stereo costing 50 or 100 times more. People Don't like to get taken, and many people view it as that. They do not believe it should cost that much and all but a small percent, just won't pay it. A house might cost $40,000 to actually build, but not a speaker or an amplifier, they know. If products priced like that have no relation to what it costs to build, then they start thinking that maybe their $1,000 amplifier is over priced too. It makes them suspicious and turns them off to audio.

So in the end, corporate opportunism, some would call it greed, has turned many people away from audio. People like to think they are getting their moneys worth; they don't much like the idea that this or that shouldn't cost nearly that much. They would feel stupid that such an expensive purchase would not be the intelligent thing to do. The main difference between now and then is this. As I pointed out, there have always been some ultra pricey items available, but they were somehow abberations, outside the scope of what was considered the norm. Those expensive items existed, but they were not threatening to, or seen to be starting a pattern; an expensive pattern. They were somehow on an island of their own; outside the scope and isolated enough not to be a threat or contagious, and there wasn't that many of them. It's like the gulf of water has disappeared and those items are not only a threat but have infiltrated what most people see as the norm The late Henry Kloss, who designed and gave us the ultra expensive KLH 9's, but he also gave us the very non expensive Advent loudspeakers and lots of other affordable equipment which was great value. It was like "here it is; good sound, but if you really want to go all out, we have this available too, but you don't have to be rich to join the club. The high end should learn that painful to pay is no fun and only a small percentage of people think that more expensive is both highly impressive and practical. It has turned from an enjoyable hobbyists hobby into all kind of other things, in an age where there are all kinds of other things to do, in the cozy confines of an early winter.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2018 12:51 am 
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Joined: Sun Jun 24, 2012 10:17 am
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Location: Everett, WA, US
First, I would like to congratulate you on an excellent posting. You make several great observations, none of which I am able to answer. I agree with you wholeheartedly on everything that you stated. I also would like to add that it is just not audio that has suffered from corporate greed (as a man who just purchased a 2019 Mustang Bullitt Mustang and seeing the sticker on this car compared to my father's 1965 Mustang, even adjusting for inflation, "auto" is right there with "audio"). That said, the greed seems to have carried over to some extent to private sales as well. I see items listed that are several years old and yet the asking price for some items are higher than when the item was new. I am not aware of too many items in the world of high end audio that have become rare or collector's items, and I am not talking about old McIntosh or Marantz gear. No, I am talking preamps from companies that still are in business and the preamp is the better part of 20 years old and that is just one example. So, are people asking more for their old, used equipment as they now need more from it so as to be able to purchase the newer, and as you so aptly pointed out, costlier, replacement or "upgrade" items? Too, is the "high end" charging so much more because there is a whole new generation that cares not for the high end and is completely happy to listen to compressed music through earbuds and hence, the need to make as much as they can from a much smaller segment of the market? I would venture to guess that most of us in the high end are baby boomers or the next generation after them and then the owners of high end equipment drop off after that. I could be very wrong but as one who has attended a fair number of RMAF's in the past few years I do not see many people who are in their 20's or early 30's unless they are working their trying to sell something. Again, just an observation and nothing scientific about my comments.

I might have strayed from your main topic and I apologize for that. I do agree with you though, and there are so many things that I see with the high end that concern me: the outrageous prices for many things new (and now used as well), and how that is going to drive many younger people away from the hobby, also the ever changing formats that require more and more systems changes (LP, RTR, CD, SACD, streaming/computer/DAC and who knows what next). And as you mentioned in your posting, the man who stated to the loan officer that he had some hifi equipment for collateral brings me to one more point; many of us grew up in homes where our fathers had some form of "hi end" gear and we were exposed to the "magic" of what high fidelity sounded like. I wonder how many homes have that anymore and has it all been replaced with "Alexa", home theater, a BOSE system, or whatever one can find at a box store and as such another generation will be lost as there will be no one to role model just how wonderful a moderate high end system can be whatever moderate would be anymore.

Lastly, just watching my own kids who never seem to have a minute to even breath, how many would take the time to sit and listen to music anymore? It is funny to see my son-in-law come to my home and wanting me to fire up the "hifi" so he can sit and listen. He loves it and actually my grandkids seem to like it as well. But to have them get something for their own home, it will never happen. Too much money, not enough time, where would I put it are all the excuses I hear.

The costs and greed are certainly factors. I am happy I started buying and building when I did for I could never afford to duplicate what I have now.

Bravo sir, for your keen insight and a wonderful posting. It is postings like yours that make me wish USAM had a "Like" icon for things!


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2018 3:53 am 
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Joined: Thu Jul 05, 2018 4:57 pm
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Location: Homestead, PA, US
The ones who really know the most how our society and habits have changed are the ones a bit older than us. One guy who is in his eighties, told me tbankback in the 1940's into the 1950's, people used to sit out on their stoops and converse with each other as their nightly ritual. People really connected back then. If someone was in need, everybody would try to help out. People for the most in time just stopped spending their evenings sitting outside and socializing. He said TV is what did it. It drove people indoors; to spend most of their time there. In case anyone hasn't noticed, most of the time you are channel surfing on the main network stations, you will catch a commercial in progress more times than not. I guess that means that there is more commercial time in an hour than program time now. They keep sneakily inching it up on YouTube also. Like inching up prices. Remind you of anything ?

Once television started really catching on, the advent of stereo was next. People all of a sudden were spending loads of leisure time at home indoors, this was fertile ground for audio companies. Hi fi and stereo really took off. Early STEREO lp's were generally well pressed by the major labels with warm clean sound, a fair amount of surface noise though. Then financial considerations began to outweigh quality. Lighter less fussy, but harder sounding early transistor amps, thinner vinyl. Less care about quality. People who can afford equipment that is outrageously expensive to the average Joe, if that's their thing so be it. But companies that tack on a few thousand here and a few thousand there and keep adding on, I think they hope audiophiles will equate their higher prices with a teacher handing out gold stars. Real stars are earned in the classroom not the board room.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2018 3:45 pm 
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Joined: Thu Jul 05, 2018 4:57 pm
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Location: Homestead, PA, US
I have both highly regarded vintage equipment and more modern equipment. Well regarded vintage equipment like Dynaco does still sound good, but if you are used to a good biased into class A solid state amplifier it sounds like it lacks some purity, and a little bit of speed. The tonal qualities of tubes however, is such that it doesn't't have to sound as clean to have a very likable timbre. Speaker drivers, (quality ones) have made big gains in purity and sweetness of sound. The money put into research & development has paid big dividends in sound quality. Cables too have made big gains. The people who do not think they hear big differences in cables are probably auditioning cables that are not truly superior. Some really good cables like Chord Indigo, Supra Sword, Cardas top cables etc. are superior enough that I think a good A/B audition would overcome even the most biased mind. Cables like the ones mentioned can be had used for under $700 a pair often on the used market. They make more than a $700 difference in the sound. Some people balk at spending serious money on something that they view as simple, like a cable, but based on what it does sound wise, its well worth the expenditure. The audio industry has made incredible gains in the last 50 years, but if someone has Marantz 9's driving a good vintage electrostat or horn speaker with a good reel deck or an old Thorens w/ SME arm with a great modern cartridge; they still might be sitting pretty for sound. There were superstars back then too.


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