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May 2014
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Senseless Rambling
High-End Audio Is Dead... Or Is It?
Plus AXPONA live streaming and other thoughts.
Article By Steven R. Rochlin


  Wow, what an amazing event! The crowd at AXPONA 2014 was immense, with many rooms having lines just to get into the exhibitor's room. As for myself, spent most of the show within our live video streaming production studio. Even after attending well over 135 events over the years, and seeing more than I can count rooms being setup the day before the opening, the actual experience of setting up a room was educational to say the least! In some ways I wish every journalist would walk in the shoes of exhibitors just as I did this past weekend. Of course the workload begins long before the event. Whilst the equipment was already built and tested, there were configurations to be done, boxing, palletizing and all the associated paperwork and chores before the gear is picked up by the trucking company. That alone takes quite a bit of work! Then the truck comes and takes away your gear. For me, the worry of it all arriving safely took hold right up until arriving at AXPONA 2014 and seeing the boxes within our room.

Now that the boxes are there, it is time to unpack and setup. This included figuring out the best way to position things, where the electrical outs were located, and in our case ensuring there was proper Internet bandwidth to bring the magic of high resolution streaming audio/video into your home. Please allow me to apologize to everyone at the show if you experienced slow Internet access as our production used ~15% of the hotel's entire Internet bandwidth! Just so you know, we could have easily used over 25% to stream @ 1080 instead of 720! The Westin O'Hare hotel's IT department was very responsive during our setup and configured their network to allow our network to 'piggyback'. Usually IT departments do not allow such things as it opens security issues. After brief discussions with their IT guy he understood what we were doing and my qualifications for ensuring both our, and their, network would remain highly secure.

Verifying that we had sufficient bandwidth, it was time to unpack the vast majority of gear and position it. Knowing that every venue has unique positioning situations, it was time to custom make Belden coax cables for SDI out from the camera and into the production hardware. Achieving smooth, evenly dispersed lighting was of course critical and, frankly, it was best to use a grand total of zero of the Hotel room's lighting. Instead, all lighting was via our LED studio lights with Chimera. Could go on and on about the remainder of setting up all the gear, yet am sure you can imagine many of the details involved. Of course once the show was over it came time to pack all the gear and prepare it to be palletized for shipping back to our offices.

The above are very broad strokes into the many details involved, the variety of problem/solutions done on-the-fly, etc. As a photojournalist having attended over 135 shows this was the first time being on the other side of the camera. So to all those who exhibit at events, there is now a far deeper appreciation for everything you do to make the magic happen. In fact part of me wishes that every journalist goes through this at least once, if for nothing else other than to truly live in 'the other person's shoes'. Many rooms do have multiple manufacturers/people to aid in setup and tear down. What I did was literally a one-man show end-to-end. With everything carefully packed and ready Sunday night for shipping back to our offices I was completely frazzled! Those who have met me know I seem to have an almost endless amount of energy, thus being completely 'spent' says quite a bit! So to all those who have exhibited, or plan to exhibit, I humbly salute your efforts. It is akin to appreciating your mechanic for doing an engine out service or you personally taking all the bits off the engine to remove it, then repair/service and reinstall the entire assembly. In one case you understand what the task takes to accomplish, in the other you get a far deeper appreciation in the task at hand.

There has to be another power strip—could have sworn I packed it—as I need two more sockets for.... 

Next stop is the Munich High End show from May 15th to 18th.


High Fidelity Audio
It is thriving and gaining momentum.
It seems like the doomers are once again grumbling. They are back yet again (did they ever stop?) concerning the "death of high-end audio". Personally, I'd love to eliminate that phrase in exchange for high fidelity audio. Be that as it may, the fact is high-end audio is not dead and, in fact, it is thriving better than ever! After giving it some thought, perhaps it is an age group that is indeed dying combined with a generational gap and the no longer needed 'snobs' that feel you need to invest over $20,000 to have a 'high-end audio' system.

When the pursuit of better sound within the home came about in the 1960's, it was partially due to having a great audio system was cool. You know, Playboy guys in their 20s to perhaps early 30s had a groovy pad to hang out and a fine sound system was part of gettin' your groove on. Between 1980-ish and 2010 things sorta went sideways as fine audio was no longer really the 'in thing' in popular culture. Instead, it seems to me, to achieve 'modern' high quality sound you needed to spend at least $20,000 to be considered a serious audiophile. The attitude of needing to prove something or being top-tier, supported by self-proclaimed elitist writers, was very prevalent from 1980 to 2010. JMHO of course and all generalizations are wrong as many up and coming music lovers and journalists kept things fresh. Sure we enjoyed the fifth re-release of some audiophile-approved album, yet we also listened to Rush, Depeche Mode, Metallica, Prodigy, and N.E.R.D. to name a few.

If we fast-forward to 2014 those guys in their 20s to 30s during the 1960's are now 60 to 70 years of age. So yes, those into 'high-end audio' of that generation are dying because of the limitations of human existence. In other words, when audio was cool and hip in 1960 are now the same people who are in their 70s… or, frankly, dead. Of course the industry would not thrive if some elitist and Class warfare types preach on about those ancient, narrow-minded music genera approved by 'old guard' types. They would most certainly hold back making high fidelity audio 'hip and cool' once again because even the phrase hip and cool are dead. The youth of the 60's was great, and now we have the youth of those born after 1995 taking the reins of society's new culture. Go ahead and mention the phrase high-end audio to anyone in their 20s to 30s and it is not usually responded with a warm welcome is it? Due to time constraints as am writing this last minute, thus can not get into the ebb and flow of changing culture details. Long story short is that we are actually at a very interesting rebirth of high fidelity audio that is once again, like in the 60s, reaching the masses as a positive ideal. Having a great set of headphones is part of the culture. Ok, so the 'kids' might listen to EDM and other electronic music that might not be considered 'audiophile', they still seek high quality audio to enjoy their music.

First off, available source material is finally equal to that of the recording studio. We can download music at the exact the same resolution as it was produced within the recording studio. Going down the 'food chain' of audio, we have mobile devices like the incredible Astell& Kern AK240 that would totally obliterate the very expensive Mark Levinson Redbook digital from-end of the early 1990s. Keep in mind that $20,000 in 1990 had the buying power (value) of around $37,000 today. Sadly, we do have a few elitists snobs-types that dislike how those 20-somethings are enjoying EDM and highly processed modern pop music versus 100% acoustic classical and jazz. I wonder what the parents of those in 1960 said about the sounds emanating from your stereo with bands like The Who, Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, etc.

As for sales and pricing, high-end audio is doing better than it ever has and sound quality has never been easier to afford! There are many loudspeakers selling quite well that are priced over $50,000, too. Imagine trying to sell a $25,000 speaker in 1960 for 'normal' home use. There are more than a few $100,000+ speakers that are also selling at an impressive rate today. Just to give you an idea of pricing/costs, in 1970 my dad paid around $600 for his pair of 12" Tannoy dual concentric Gold monitor drivers. So those saying high-end audio is dying might want to rethink their position. On the other end of the spectrum, never before has there been such high quality sound achievable for under $2000 for a complete system (in 2014 'value' dollars). The everyday person with a few grand can now achieve higher sound quality than value-adjusted dollars in the 1960. Thus any 20 year old walking down the street can enjoy the music in higher sound quality for far less money than their 1960s counterpart. This under 40 crowd might not call themselves audiophiles or proclaim they are 'into' high-end audio, yet they most certainly appreciate sound quality when they hear it.

So today there are humans in their 20s and 30s having a great time listening to their music collection. You see them on the street, or perhaps riding the subway, with headphones, IEMs, etc and some $400 DAC strapped to their phone… or it could be a stand-alone media player. Sure the price is not necessarily 'high-end' and thus no snob or elitist appeal, yet you can not debate that the sound quality is at least that of a $10,000 system from the 1980s. My point here being that <cough> high-end audio </cough> has never been more accessible and widely available at affordable price points. Perhaps you do not consider these new devices high-end audio, yet the audio quality blows the doors off that hyper-expensive Mark Levinson front-end system from a few decades back. Think of it this way; look at the performance of a Ferrari 328 that retailed from $58,400 to $62,500 ($126,400 to $135,300 in 2013 dollars) versus that of a 2010 Subaru WRX that retailed at $23,617. Does that mean the Ferrari is high-end yet the WRX isn't due to the Ferrari being 'exclusive' and 'high-performance' in its day yet the more modern WRX costs less and has higher performance than the Ferrari plus there are far more WRX cars than the 328?

High-end audio is not dying, yet those who carry the old elitist attitude are. Don't let the door, or casket, hit you on your ass on the way out. Let the rest of us enjoy high quality reproduced music--whatever genera of music that may be--in the new modern lifestyle. Just because the far more affordable pricing and mass production does not equal what you feel qualifies as audiophile in your eyes does not exclude them from being music enthusiasts who want to hear their fave tunes in high sound quality... even if those tunes are EDM or highly processed studio recordings. 

Need more 'proof'? If I was a betting man, turntable companies have sold more products in the past four years then they did the ten years previous. So please tell me again how high-end audio is dying? And if it is, then good riddance as a new phrase is needed to describe our hobby and love for music. Being called 'hip and groovy' is dead too. Judging by the wide age group that attended AXPONA and at various hi-fi shop events, it appears that 'those young kids' resonate with enjoying high fidelity audio and want to own a top quality sound system. Let us welcome them and their favorite modern music just as our parents may have wondered what we find enjoyable with Jimi Hendrix, The Who, King Crimson, Rush and others.

As always, in the end what really matters is that we all...

Enjoy the Music (note the visual style of Tiësto's just-released music video),

Editor and Creative Director, Enjoy the Music.com






























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