The recent events within the high-end industry has truly taken quite a few of us by surprise. i am referring to the demise of Listener magazine, as it was one of the best USA-based print publications for its time. The same can be said for Sound Practices from years gone by. Many of us would agree that this industry is not filled with corporate white collar shirt/khaki pants types. Instead, we are a cottage industry abundant with real people making products in such a small scale that most sane businesspeople would shake their heads in disbelief. While traveling to shows all around the world, i have seem the same people touting the same products time and time again. What sets the high-end apart from, say, the mass production audio industry is in the personal interactions.
It is not unusual for Roy Hall to offer his infamous single malt scotch. Distributor Victor Goldstein still talks about having the ultimate gear while touting yet another strangely obscure and questionable company/product that usually disappears into the woodwork to never be seen again only a short time later. Speaking of products, you usually do not see a model SVF3200BK, later being replaced by the SVF3300BK a year later. Instead, the high-end proudly names their creations. As an example, Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio named his top-range loudspeaker (Pearl) after his mother. While at the 2002 CES, Jeff was proudly showing me movie files of his newborn on his laptop computer. i am not immune to such things as years ago the Enjoy the Music.com™ Max Rochlin Memorial digital/video cable was named after my then recently deceased brother. And there is the rub...
Was talking with a manufacturer yesterday and our discussion included the health of this industry. He commented that high-end audio is much like the model train industry. Decades ago there were a plethora of manufactures who supplied many stores with products. It was not unusual to see a train set in homes during the 1950's. As children of that era grew into their pre-teen years, there was a wonderment and enjoyment of such things. Today there are very few companies that make model trains as small manufacturers went out of business or saw themselves swallowed up by large corporations. This is akin to what we are experiencing today with some high-end audio print publications. In fact one magazine has endured three different owners in the past few years alone as it is passed on from one to the next like, as children, we playing the game Hot Potato!
Due to recently moving in to a new home, there have been many items that were not as easy to find today as they were years ago. For many years there has been a desire to acquire a top quality Tall/Grandfather clock. In the mid 1800's it was, generally, only the very affluent that would be able to afford such things. In the early 1900's they became much more affordable and, hence, more mainstream. Another benefit was that mechanical clock technology matured and was refined to a high degree. Fast forward to the year 2002 and there are very few companies that make such devices. Sure there are commercial producers such as Howard Miller, yet they use what many feel are basic quality movements while their cabinet work is lackluster at best in the eyes of a true craftsperson. While there were a few companies that make good quality Tall/Grandfather clocks, it took me quite some time to find one that uses 100% top quality wood construction (veneers need not apply), excellent movements, and my personal choice of hand painted dial/moon phase. What struck me is when i inquired about their products, it was as if life stood still to the 1950s in how truly personal the service was. The same can be said about the high-end...
Can you call Sony and talk with the technician who designed their product? Odds are you can not. The same can be said for Columbia music where calling them leads you through a myriad of nightmarish computer voice choices. Slow death is preferred to those bloody computer voice phone systems! On the other hand if you want to talk about a piece of Manley Labs gear, it is easy to call them and speak with head honcho Eve Anna Manley herself or the designer of their products. The same can be said about many of the small recording labels such as Analogue Productions, Chesky Records, John Marks Records, High-Rez, Pure Audiophile, etc. But all is not well because...
Wake up and smell the coffee folks! While many millions of people drink brown colored water, only a very few will truly realize the joys of top quality espresso (and no, Starbucks' barely passable brew does not count). Of interesting note is this quote from Mark Prince of CoffeeKid.com where he states "After all, most of this talk has been about the science of espresso. I think espresso is as much about artistry as it is about science. New things wait to be invented. New methods of brewing wait for us to try." Mr. Prince sums it up nicely when he writes "There still is no hard and fast rule on what true espresso is, and if you brought together 100 professional, established and well schooled baristas in a room, you'd get 100 different opinions." Amazing how close this sounds to how we all may feel about the sound quality of a high-end product. The good news concerning coffee is that in 1999 there were 108,000,000 coffee consumers in the United States spending approximated 9.2 billion dollars in the retail sector and 8.7 billion dollars in the foodservice sector (source: SCAA 1999 Market Report). In the United States, 3.1 cups of coffee are consumed per person per day (source: NCA). Per capita men drink approximately 1.9 cups per day, whereas women drink an average of 1.4 cups of coffee a day (source: NCA). So where has the high-end gone awry when so many people appear happy with such a lifeless cup of coffee?
Easy to explain... The high-end audio industry is akin to the model train industry who appear to not truly seeking to bring in "fresh blood". Instead, they are generally selling and reselling to the same consumer over and over again. Eventually the model train industry will see the majority of their enthusiasts pass away from old age. Surely there will be a model train industry in the year 2050, yet it will be such a shadow of what it is today, let alone what it was in the 1950's, to become virtually nonexistent decades from today. A great hobby that will find itself homeless as it were.
What we all do today could truly affect what is available 30 years from now. It is not just the job of manufacturers, distributors and retailers to tout the advantages of higher quality music enjoyment through the purchasing of high-end audio. Each of us must act as a promoter of this industry! By sharing our joy of this hobby with others while also helping to educate our friends with the difference between, say, Bose and B&W loudspeakers. It is a long and winding road ahead, yet if we all simply take a few moments of our life to spread the word to others, we plant the proverbial seed to allow others to grow and blossom.
As for myself, this Website is a testament to action speaking louder than words. Answering the countless e-mails from not just converted enthusiasts, but also those who are just trying to understand how music can sound better than "near CD quality MP3" takes up quite a bit of my time. While the workload here is quite high, have been busy seeking other venues for my writings. This is not for other audiophile magazines as in years past, but within what i feel are places where music lovers who would truly enjoy better audio products. Not the "advertorial" virtually unending wealth magazines that are more about status and "mine is bigger than yours" with their characteristic readership accordingly, but within magazines that have music enthusiasts in mind. My hopes are to better promote the finest musical pleasures through better electronics. Hopefully you will find a way to further increase other's enjoyment of music as well. After all, life is to be savored and enjoyed to the fullest. We need to find a way to truly live, not to just exist. Of course in the end what really matters is that you...