If i had a dollar for every time this was said over the past decade my bank account would be filled to the brim! Sure there were some downturns in America right after 9/11, and the Asian 'crisis' about 8 years ago, yet it appears high-end audio is quite alive and well my friends. Look around at all the news concerning various mid-fi companies being snatched up by larger interests. It matters not if we are talking about tubes, vinyl, or some other esoterica, audiophile gear appears to be growing at virtually all levels.
Joe and Jane consumer might be looking at The Next Big Thing concerning digital formats, yet vinyl sales are happily moving along. Classic Records recently released a very expensive vinyl box set and guess what, the entire first run is sold out! In the past decade we have seen growth in the vinyl reissue marketplace while many new (dare we admit it) pop music albums also enjoy brisk sales. Having an iPod is so, like, yesterday. Sure the iPod is great as a portable audio unit, no argument there. Though when it comes to enjoying music at home, some say really cool guys play vinyl. Vinyl is one of those formats that, despite all the digital debates and ever-higher resolution, spinning wax is fashionable... and it sounds great too!
Another interesting trend is the upswing in the Do It Yourself (DIY) community. Kits, kits, and more kits. Sure the tweak guys will take a pre-existing product and use mondo-awesome parts to improve it, yet the demand for kits is quite strong. As a guy who worked for Heathkit when he was 18, it brings me joy to see the availably of kits for the DIYer. What is that i hear, you do not have the funds for the Super Silver Erotica Pro III Advanced preamplifier by Red Poser? Well how about building something that, dare we say it, could be better at less than 1/10th the price? Of course not everyone has the skill to build a kit, or in my case what some refer to as 'spare time.' This is not to say all kits sound better than professionally built units.
When it comes to cost-no-object there is no substitute for years of research and development. Like many hobbies, it is the very wealthy who can obtain the very best. Only a few people in the world, the 'Haves' versus the 'Have Nots" per se, that can afford $35,000 speakers, $20,000 amplifiers, and other edge-of-the-art gear. It is these 'Haves' who help fund high-end audio research and development. Technology in today's megabuck products could very well appear in tomorrows mid-fi. Remember many years ago those lucky few who could afford the newfangled Video Cassette Recorders that cost $750? Today you can walk into your local Sprawl-Mart and buy a VCR for $40... or less! The same situation happens with virtually all consumer electronic products as they mature. Technology marches on, the quality gets better, and the price plummets.
Ok, so the reality is Joe and Jane consumer could care less about vinyl or DIY as they are mounting up their new $4,000 flat panel HDTV. Sure a few years back the plasma and LCD TV crowd were in bliss, but now they are looking at the next level. Many of my friends, and judging from the many e-mails i receive, these same guy/gals are now looking for better audio. Ok, so not all of them will buy upper-fi, yet many of them have been amazed by how good Creek, NAD, and Rotel products sound. The point here is that they hear a difference. Home Theater In A Box may be dying, and good riddance! Sure some people may still fall for this audio on the cheap approach, though quite a few of them are now realizing their mistake and seek something better.
It is at this moment where high-end audio needs to be there for them. We need to think like the automotive industry, who appears to have reinvented and rejuvenated the market to some degree with stylish cars. The muscle car may be back in full force, but so are the Eco-friendly designs. It is right now that we of the high-end audio need not overly push stratospherically-priced goods, but embrace high value for the dollar equipment. Sure many people looking for a new car might read about the newest Lamborghini or turbo Porsche, yet seek out something from Lotus. Mazda and Nissan also make some very sporty and capable cars as an alternative to the grocery getter. There are equivalents within the audiophile marketplace. Audiophile magazines feature these ultra-high-end products, yet we also review many impressive products that provide great value for the dollar.
From what i can tell via the buzz and e-mails to my inbox, high-end audio is experiencing a newfound growth. At the same time manufacturer experience and technological growth is enabling music lovers to enjoy extremely impressive products at real world prices. Each one of us is a representative of the high-end audio industry. We can share our love of music with others by showing them they, too, can enhance their listening pleasures. Our friends need not spend a fortune, though by being introduced to better audio products opens a window in which they can then find their own path to bliss. As i always say, in the end what really matters is that we all....