The Death of the High End Audio Store

Priaptor -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 11:11

Never has there been more products released all with rave reviews than there is now and never have there been less locations to listen to them, with those numbers dwindling every day.
 
What is the high end audio dealer to do?  
 
Is he/she going to carry four different speaker lines, with each model so that the interested buyer can listen to them all?  And if he/she does, does the interested buyer walk in, spend three hours auditioning, a reasonable time particularly if the buyer is going to spend 50K or more.  The buyer says thank you Mr. Audio dealer, I like Speaker A, but you know, I can get them on the internet or from the manufacturer directly for 20% less than you are selling them.  I understand you have this overhead and I really appreciate all the time you spent educating me, but money is money so screw you, I am buying it from the guy who is going to save me 20%.
 
Of course the audiophile is a finicky character, who wants to audition before he/she buys.  Of course they should.  But how do they do that?  As the high end audio dealer with a storefront becomes a dinosaur, this may be possible with cables and small inexpensive components from the dealer on the NET, but who in their right mind is going to send someone 25K monoblocks or a 10K DAC or 10-50K speakers to "try them out".  
 
Unlike computers which is a high volue low margin business, where the specs speak for themselves with little difference between the products and ordering from the NET has become the norm, the same activity with high end audio, will and is guaranteeing the demise of the shopping environment we all cherish to help us make our decisions to purchase these very expensive sources of enjoyment.
 
So is the future one destined to buy based on what a reviewer says is "good or great" and find the lowest price?  Every reviewer here tells you let your ears do the listening before you buy anything and don't just trust the reviews.  But how is that to happen going forward with all the innumerable products on the market, with almost everyone getting  "the new best......" review and no place to audition them.  Are the shows going to become the only forum for an audiophile to audition a product of interest? I have to laugh when I see "best in show".  These systems may sound good in in a show but without an optimized room, a hotel room no less, are you really getting a true audition?
 
Unfortunately, we the consumer and the manufacturer, the former in our desire to place price over service and access and the latter in their desire to maximize profits, will lead to the demise of what I always enjoyed, namely the audio dealer. 

JLeeMD -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 13:16

I live in a metro with over 2 million people and there is only ONE "high end" audio dealer in town.  Even then, their primary focus is the home theater market.  Thus, it drives me nuts whenever reviewers or others on this forum say "let your ears be the guide."  This is not a realistic proposition for many (most?) of us!  The reviewers for TAS and other well-regarded audio publications must realize that their reviews are IT for many of us...don't want that responsibility?  Give me a better solution. 

When I bought my Mark Levinson integrated amplifier, I relied in Marc Mickelson's review in Soundstage! as I had no opportunity to demo. When I bought my Esoteric SACD/CD player, I relied on Neil Gader's review...again, no opportunity to demo. Ditto when I bought the Dynaudio Confidence C1s...thank you Wes Phillips. TAS reviewers must realize that this is the reality for a large % of their readership. To continually advise we "trust our own ears" is to turn a blind eye to reality.

9ballbump@gmail.com -- Thu, 01/26/2012 - 14:54

I was a very lucky young man, at the young age of 22, a wife and two great baby boys, I was able to work at a retailer called "THE FEDERATED GROUP. " We sold mid to high end stereo gear and we had the greatest training program of any retailer, PERIOD. If you wanted to sell audio you
could not hit the sales floor if you didn't pass. I felt so proud to be there , our customers got the best service anywhere ,and on top of that I COULD SELL !!! $$$$$$
all thirty of us salesmen made an incredible living. Then we heard of a new company " BEST BUY " within a couple 0f years it was all over.
the GROUP closed , went to PACIFIC STEREO and they closed too, our hobby is at a great loss and in some danger if we don't support our
finest stores ,they are not getting rich, they love this hobby. We should be able to go to a physical store and look and test and hear what we want to buy, internet buying is not always as good as it seems. PRICE IS NOT EVERYTHING!

G.E.BUMP

Josh Hill -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 13:18

But is it only the consumers and manufacturers?

I just watched a talk by HP in which he castigated the failure of high end dealers to make any effort to attract new and younger blood to the hobby. Others have said the same thing. No iPod docks. No headphones. Nothing that would connect with kids who listen to music in a fundamentally different way than we do.

For all the talk about the vinyl resurgence, I don't think that two channel LP's, played through vacuum tube equipment that grandpa would have recognized, into dedicated speakers has much to do with the future of audio, as opposed to the habits of us boomers.

The future of audio is portable players and home theater surround systems, with computer speakers, car audio, gaming, and what I suppose you could call "party audio" all playing supporting roles. It is digital and it is computer-centric rather than component oriented.

If the high end wants to survive our generation's fade to black, it will come up with products of value to the new generation, products that will make a kid with an iPod and a pair of earbuds want to walk into the store.

Meanwhile, several companies have demonstrated that you can sell amplifiers and loudspeakers online with a money-back guarantee. I feel the absence of high end stores myself, since I no longer live in a big city and will have to travel to hear the equipment I'm interested in. But I think reviews (to narrow the possibilities), trade shows (to provide a rough idea of sonic qualities), and money-back guarantees or trading on Audiogon are the way things will be going for those of us who don't have easy access to high end dealers. That and the occasional trip to a city when a major purchase is in mind. I wouldn't do that if I didn't mean to purchase the gear from the dealer who had taken the time to demonstrate it to me, but I recognize that not everyone will be as scrupulous. Guess we'll have to bow to the market on this one.

Priaptor -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 16:45

I watched that same talk by HP. I understand where he is coming from but it is literally impossible for the "dealer" to do what he is asking when there are so many products and so many different combination of products and literally impossible for a dealer to host all the products and combinations of those he chooses to represent.

Unfortunately the manufacturers, if they want to survive themselves are going to have to help the audio dealers with storefronts survive or they will be selling only through the internet and few if any will be willing to let someone try a 25K amp, etc. Right now the manufacturer, to give the dealer the honor to sell his/her product, requires them to purchase a certain minimum, guaranteeing the manufacturer their money at the dealers expense. The manufacturer literally has no skin in the game because whether that dealer ever sells their product, the manufacturer already made money selling to the reseller. Of course, not every dealer will buy every product the manufacturer offers so even if they are the "exclusive" dealer in the area, doesn't necessarily guarantee that going into the store means they will have the product you want to hear.

Personally, I don't like the direction things are going and there are just too many products and too many every product is the best thing ever reviews. Unfortunately, given the current circumstances, reviews are becoming more important and unlike the old days, there is just not enough objective or subjective differences being reported between the vast number of products out there.

JLeeMD -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 16:58

There are too many generic reviews out there. However, there are reviewers willing to "take a stand." Take for instance JV who will take a stand and say "this is the speaker (Magnepan) I would buy with my money." Or RH who in a recent response to a letter stated he would buy the Revel Salons were he not in the industry. Or AHC who despite having an annoying habit of saying not to buy without auditioning will say he likes and buys cables from Audioquest and Kimber Select. I need reviewers to guide me with their true feelings. Anyone find Robert J. Reina's reviews in Stereophile helpful? Every review ends with "Well done XXX."

Josh Hill -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 19:35

I agree. While I don't think any reviewer can provide the last word, I want to know what a reviewer thinks -- to see the same frankness in a magazine that I would hear from him in person. Otherwise the review doesn't do me much good. And while I agree that it's best to listen to something before you buy it, since that's no longer always an option, if you begin with a frank opinion from a reviewer whose tastes you've found similar to your own, there's a very good chance that the product you buy will be right for you. If not, you can sell it on Audiogon and try something else.

I'm making my first forays into this new world. First I bought a pair of MMG's for my home office -- that was almost a no-brainer because Magnepan is such a reliable company, and in fact, I was so blown away by how good they were that they ended up the temporary speakers in my main system, while I poke around for a permanent replacement (since my old ones are too big for my current listening room). Then I bought an amp and a sub on the basis of Internet scuttlebutt (not even reviews). Haven't tried them out yet, but it will be interesting to see how they work out.

JLeeMD -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 20:05

Certain publications like Sound and Vision are completely worthless because their reviews almost read like "paid advertising." Stereophile has a few writers who are candid (Fremer, Litchke) but otherwise is not a whole lot better. Right now, I find certain online sites such as The Audio Beat and the UK magazines (Hi-Fi Choice, Hi-Fi News, Hi-Fi +) to offer the most candid reviews. With TAS, honestly, I get confusing signals. Certain products get rave reviews but then are not included in the Editor's Choice Awards. Or worse, certain products are listed several times in the "Recommended Systems" but are omitted from the Editor's Choice Awards. Or they are listed in the Editor's Choice Awards but are omitted from the Buying Guide. I find myself asking if they are trying to "spread the wealth" with their advertisers. Sorry to say that because I LOVE TAS but I find it very confusing which products TAS really believes in and which ones they don't.

Josh Hill -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 20:31

I know what you mean. At least TAS has a recommended components list of reasonable size: Stereophile's seems to include just about everything that they've reviewed. But I don't think you'll find anything like the clear, and clearly delivered, comparisons you once saw in these magazines. Frequently, I find you have to read between the lines, as you did back in the days of High Fidelity and Stereo Review. But it's intermittent: sometimes you'll still see a reviewer expressing a frank opinion, or ranking.

All of this might not be a problem if you live in Manhattan and can listen to the top candidates at will, but it makes things a lot harder if you don't.

Sam -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 16:58

The manufactures have a factory. They should have ONE only one dedicated room needed and let people audition their products with the best matched equipment for their product in the manufacturers eyes. i.e. the Manufacturer should take charge and sell DIRECTLY and Cheaper and have the option of a customer willing to come to their factory for an audition. Or may be set up a CES type of thing in a controlled setting in fewer spots in the country or something.....the Dealers are out the door already...why cling onto a lost cause. would the music industry push to keep brick CD stores going as best as they can at any cost? NO....so its also time for the dealers to go...and direct sales to start. Im not saying this to be mean but just as the trend is going. We can keep fighting to keep the CD transport going, keep the CD's being sold at the store going, DVD's going....but its not goona hold....its what the market and world is moving to....and the world is moving away from the examples that I have given. better to just accept that and come up with another solution.

Josh Hill -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 19:25

I'm afraid there's going to have to be a shakeout. I mean, even if we keep buying the same amount of stuff, there are going to be fewer of us every year, and fewer stores, and that means lower sales.

DaveC -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 16:42

 The culture of social interaction has changed. Small businesses of all types that serve individual needs and run by knowledgeable people are disappearing. I used to go to the record store to flip through albums with my friends. One could make the same case for live non amplified musical performances that fewer and fewer people attend.  People have to have a standard of live music by which to compare reproduced music.  The irony of the computer age is that while we may be more connected electronically we are in fact more isolated from each other in what used to be the social interaction. This forum is an example.  We share our thoughts but anonymously.

Priaptor -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 16:48

Your points are dead on. However, few people will be willing to fork over the kind of money these things are going for without a listen.

Sam -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 16:52

Its time that Hi End audio realize and accept the fact that the dealers as they used to function will or have faded away.  As seen at recent audio shows...the audio industry is moving to attract new geneartion with digital almost completely moved on to computer audio.  i Tunes with its higher bit rate offering announcement, and some artists advertizing to "hear what we hear" is a great starting point to attract the next genaration.  It will take time but I think its happening faster than we think.  The secret is in computer audio and the proof is in recent audio show trends where some of the best of the best gear is being  played via computer.  Generally products that are $10K to $50K or $100K etc... will be available somewhere and im sure arrangements can be made to go listen to them either by taking a flight to the place or arrangeing something with the manufacturer.  As far as most average there is so much out there that that it doesn't make sense to keep everything for audiotion.  Even best buy doesn't have all the brands. its not possible.  But the Ferrarri of music systems are out there and after finalizing a final check list im sure they can be test driven.  As for the rest of it.....the reality is that a review will drive some decisions as JLeeMD mentioned.  Its not worth it to spend $700 on a trip to buy a $2000 product. but its worth it if buying a $50K one for example.  you win some and loose some.  Cant have everything in life. As the market has dropped over the years and older guys dieying out or not buying and younger people not even knowing what to look for or whats out there....buisness has slowed down and service is down the toilet.  A high end dealer these days is in a neck to neck competion with the nastiness of a car dealer. Both are fun to see getting worked up so much over a little bit of money....which i guess for them is a big survival factor....such is life.

Priaptor -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 19:23

"As the market has dropped"

Not by the price or number of products, quite the opposite. It is the consumer who going to kill the high end dealer as we knew it. I don't care how much it costs, few are flying anywhere to hear anything. And if they do, what they hear will not necessarily be the system they want to hear it on. The computer might be the delivery methodology of the music in the world of high end audio in the future but it will also be its demise

Sam -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 20:18

I humbly disagree with you Priaptor. The consumer doesn't have thousands and thousands of $$$ that the products are going for these days. The price of products is out of this world crazy. Only someone who has crazy amounts of money or who is foolish enough would spend that much on some of the things some companies are asking. Its almost like a fashion to price cords, cables, speakers, amps., and u name it in the stratosphere prices and get the award of best of the best. Also too many companies even half--- products get put out in nice shells and cases. I think these 2 factors alone will demise Hi end audio. There are some legitimate companies providing cutting edge technology and sound. But not all of them. A lot of it is hype and in the last 10 years the "audio jewelery" factor has taken a big effect on things. I think R.H. gets quite impressed by it....recently he gave an integrated amp the best honors...it was like $8K with an amazing paint job and knobs. I honestly feel that High end audio is on its last leg. (unless we get the next generation to get on board-which they are trying). I feel that the oldies who can afford this stuff are being squeezed out of what ever amount can be squeezed out of them and they fall for it. The pricing is not this high because there is magic technology in them or they sound out of this world. Its what the few older, wealthy audiophiles left will pay for them. And they do pay for it. Which works great for some magazines and manufacturers as they can all share the kill. I am not accusing the magazines as connected or corrupt but they are in the business and they make a living off of this. As the prices of the same Audio gear keep increasing $2K to $3K a year one has to wonder how much will be squeezed out of the true audiophiles. And obviously the prices are high and keep getting higher is because less and less people are buying this stuff. There for more must by charged from those who are willing to cough up the amount. Change that model and may be change will happen. providing cutting edge technology doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. look at plasma TV's, Blue ray disks and players.......its getting the people on board by proper marketing. If you just want to make money on the side and do hi end audio as a hobby then the current way is fine....one or two people will buy a $40,000 cable from you every year and that's great pocket money....but the guys who are buying this will not be around much long....then what? I am sure my kids nor my grand kids would ever spend on a stereo what is considered the norm these days in the high end audio world/magazines as cutting edge sound. They probably think our generation has gone mad spending this much on these things.

Josh Hill -- Sun, 02/27/2011 - 08:45

It will bother me not at all if nobody spends $40,000 on cables. There's so much snake oil in high end audio, and by that I don't just mean fraud or flim-flammery but items that are crassly overpriced for what they are.

I don't know about anybody else but I just ignore the overpriced stuff.

Sam -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 17:20

one other interesting idea which actually a dealer told me.  This dealer was in buisness eversince I could remember.  They would have guys hanging out there at that store in the good old days.  Few years ago he decided that he would close shop and move the buisness to his home.  i.e. sell from home. ah ha....what an idea.  People are not roaming the streets or going to stores to audion much these days. youngsters and even oldies do everything on the internet.  They search things online and online it just gives an address for the dealer....that could be a home address.  The advantage now he's not worried about overhead, and if things sell from home then great.  Being a dealer will become a hobby as well now.  How much one wants to invest or cling onto being a dealer is also a choice.  I have seen some dealers with broken teeth, no hair cuts, clothes with holes in them(not for fashion) they look like homeless men but they don't want to leave high end audio sales.  I'd say if its not working go to another route...why destroy your well being or life over it.  If it aint working it aint working....let it go or use it as a hobby.
And those who are doing well....look at their shops or warehouses and how sharply they are dressed etc....thanks to TAS...notice ....Magico, Sooloos, Basis, etc..etc...are in top shape. and they can afford to keep going.  Others might have to bite the bullet and go the Hovland route.
another desperate way to sell is like these guys: http://www.stereomojo.com/Products%20of%20the%20Year%202010/Stereomojo20...
 
just don't do it! lol I couldn't stop laughing at this. Desperation on the last streach.

Sam -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 20:37

there should be a fine to Wallmart and Best buy for selling what they sell in the Audio catagory.  Thats not audio systems or players.  If we can remove that garbage and get some of these other affordable companies there it would be great.  When was the last time you saw and Oppo at wall mart or best buy? B& W, Usher, parasound, odyssey, NAD, Cambridge,Rega, Kimber....? I mean these are not $100 products but If some of the lower models by these companies are sold to the world as the High end products at Wallmart and best buy may be things will start moving.....then as more are sold prices could be dropped.  if a millions of Oppos are being sold the price can get lower then what they are now.  Look what happend with computer prices, hard disk prices, DVD's, Flat screen TV's......only the ultra rich used to have these 20 years ago....and now everyone has it...and that too some of the top stuff in affordable price ranges. I don't know.....I cannot blame at least the american consumers who look for the best of the best out there in everything weather cars, phones, shoes, homes, computers, tablets, tv's......and one thing that they hate and don't want at all is a great sounding stereo....I find that hard to believe.  The blame does not lie with the consumer. There must be other reasons on the buisness side.

Josh Hill -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 20:57

I don't really know but I kind of suspect that good sound is something that requires a reasonable demonstration. Otherwise, what are people going to base their decision on? A fancy-looking front panel? List of features? A salesman whose knowledge of the product is limited to the sell sheet?

Now that the mid fi store is gone, there's really no one to demonstrate this stuff to kids. And the high end stores don't want their patronage.

Besides, they really do listen in a new way. The old two-speaker component stereo doesn't have much of a role in their lives, the LP and tubes even less. If there's to be a new high end, I think it will have to come out of the new technology, and that's a hard sell owing to how things are structured at retail, it's kind of hard to peel off the audio, so it gets second fiddled to electronics generalists like Best Buy, to computer stores, to home theater, etc. Still, it doesn't help that the existing high end stores -- and the audiophile magazines -- make no attempt to appeal to a more youthful market. I've seen kids say some scathing things about the typical high end store.

Sam -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 21:34

The good products will sell themselves with even simple setups. U don't need a super dealer for it. I phones, flat screens, bluerays, bmws sell on it's own merits. Those dealers in other seperate stores could work at these big chains. Like the old days pharmacists who used to own their own shop and now work for savon and walgreens. You go with the trend and what will move things along.

Josh Hill -- Fri, 02/25/2011 - 22:06

At the very least, you need a minimal setup in which people can listen to good source material in reasonable acoustics with reasonably matched equipment. But I guess it's all moot if the product doesn't even fit a need. Kids aren't interested in LP's or tubes or dedicated two channel stereos. They aren't interested in CD's and they aren't interested in components, never mind exotic interconnects for analog gear. These things are for the most part obsolescent and I think we have to acknowledge that and move on, to components that they might actually want to use.

9ballbump@gmail.com -- Thu, 01/26/2012 - 14:50

mr. you are just plain wrong , NAD at WALMART you have got to be kidding!

G.E.BUMP

returnstackerror -- Sat, 02/26/2011 - 17:07

There is also the issue of disposable income and the male orientated nature of our hobby.

If you cast your mind back not too many years, the average younger male with audiophile/hi-fi pretensions had just a handful of basic potential interests on which to spend his income on:

1- the opposite sex
2- Alcohol
3- Cars
4- hi fi
5- Other gadgets

The last category (5) was essentially empty of products, maybe a nice watch.

Young males have the same basic interests but category (5) has exploded:

- big screen TV’s
- Computers
- Game systems
- Smart phones
- Portable devices (Ipads/Ipods etc)
- Surround sound
- In car entertainment systems

So essentially (4) has been superseded by (5) and (1) is still (1)!!!

So to get (1) you needs lots of (5) and (4) doesn’t matter to get (1), but (5) really does.

So when you have X dollars to spend on (5) so you have a chance to get (1), you have no time/money for (4).

So if (4) doesn’t matter anymore, then old style dealers don’t either.

It not about sound quality, its about personal income distribution.

And a final point, today’s society is about instant gratification/information and lack of attention spans so in general the average young male doesn’t have the inclination to spend hours researching/auditioning (4)... when he would rather be researching/auditioning (1)!!!

So my point is......no younger males coming into the hobby.....the existing audiophiles are dying/getting older/reducing upgrades..... therefore lack of demand for dealer services.

Priaptor -- Sat, 02/26/2011 - 17:54

I like your logic, but you are obviously younger than me.

As you get older, #1 becomes not only much less important, but a big pain in the ass as they interfere with the fun of #2, 3, 4 and 5 to name just a few of the things that make them a pain in the ass

So if, Darwin is right and the evolution of species adapts with time, your #5 should move up the evolutionary scale as the importance of and ranking of #1 moves down. So there is still hope for high end audio.

Sam -- Sun, 02/27/2011 - 00:38

Both of u guys, These two were by far the most funny posts. And I kinda agree with both of you. Young are busy chasing one thing oldies another. Although some older guys risk loosing everything over #1.

Priaptor -- Sun, 02/27/2011 - 05:54

Sam,

As to your last sentence, that is Darwinism at play once again.

Elliot Goldman -- Wed, 03/02/2011 - 12:10

Sending a copy of this to your wife!!!!!

KegSOUNDCo -- Tue, 03/01/2011 - 21:21

HAA! This is my first reply / post on this AV forum. I came here looking for information regarding speaker design, custom home-theater and live-sound-reproduction systems, I didn't know I was going to be entertained! That is a hilarious posting, but the underlying point is absolutely true and insightful. Society is changing... will there ever come a day when women, too, become the audio aficionados that we are!? I look forward to reading more of your posts, returnstackerror.

j nathan -- Sun, 02/27/2011 - 00:55

The main reason why High End audio dealers are going away is because consumers don't strive to aquire high end audio.  Consumers still work hard and save to buy Ferrari's, Rolexes, Mansions, even Bose loudspeakers, but high end audio isn't on the list...not anymore.  It's really an image problem for the industry.  Where in popular culture is it even remotely cool to own high end audio?  I haven't seen it.  It also doesn't help when online blogs such as CNET, Engagdet, Gizmodo, etc says its perfectly fine to spend $1000/ year for cellular service plus $500 for the latest smartphone, while a one time purchase of $500 loudspeakers is pricey.  
Another problem, that may be insurmountable, is consumers' faith in internet "Research".  Today most consumers value comments posted on forums more than the actual product demo.  Consumers trust random strangers online far more than their own eyes and ears.  Scary but true.
My remedy is that High End audio manufacturers pool together and market the industry the same way the milk,egg, and beef industries do.  A commerical or two would go a long way. The remaining dealers must inspire and embrace the gaming community which is full of Gen X'ers with disposable income and old enough  to remember what hi-fi actually is.  (The headphone/DAC/PC speaker aspect of the industry is a race to the bottom full of online e-tailers.) Audio publications need to drop the vinyl/tube/cable fetishes for the sake of their own survival.  
I'm 35 years old and currently building out a retail High End audio/video store.  I'm very confident in my own business capabilities but I can't succeed if the industry crumbles around me. 
 

Jeff-65 -- Sun, 02/27/2011 - 08:20

I see a bright future and it will be driven by none other than Apple.  Apply Moore's law.  I have a new iPod Nano.  An engineering tour-de-force!  It cannot possible get any smaller, it is actually so small that I keep it in the case with me earphones.  However, the drive size will keep getting bigger, that's happening now.  As the iPod drives get bigger Apple will start to resell music at a higher resolution, as is also happening now.  Likely first at a higher res MP3, then at lossless, then ultimately at higher res than CD (I can't wait!)  As the drives grow in capacity and the higher res files move to the forefront, it behooves Apple to push quality.  We see B&W Zeppelins and increasingly higher quality headphones at Apple stores.  How long before they start showing Peachtrees and B&W stand mount speakers?  The move up-market is a logical progression for Apple -and they can singularly drive the market.  With this increased exposure in the lower and mid-end, I see a potential resurgance in higher end boutiques making a come back.  These might possibly be combined with other high end items.  Why not combine fine watches with some high-end audio in a fine boutique?  

The consolidation of the industry might also drive some boutique shops specializing in group brands.  B&O does this now and I believe that it is working for them.  How about a Harmon shop in some big cities showing off their Levinson, Revel, and Lexicon brands?  How about a D&M store to promote McIntosh, Denon, and Snell?  This would raise awareness and acceptance of the high end and might facilitate other brands to consolidate or co-op into retail-wholesale partnerships.

Finally, there is the generation gap.  I believe there was a music void, particularly in my generation to the generation after me (I'm in my mid-forties).  People today in the mid-thirties to mid-fifties, the primary earner demographic, are particularly uninterested in audio.  It was not the "golden age" of 2-channel and tubes of our parents.  My generation was in the void of all of the distractions of home theater and computers and the dawn of the Internet, without music being a big part of that.  The next generation, now in their 20's, grew up with music as an integral part of their machines.  They listen to music constantly, on their headphones and on their computers.  There is also an incredible amount of both new and old music for them to enjoy.  When I was 20, in the 80's, there was barely 20 years of rock and roll music in existance (and through albums and cassettes were pretty expensive to access.)  Today there is almost 50 years of rock and rap and pop and all types of other music for young people to enjoy.  My young friends (I'm in software and my business partners are in their 20's) are music crazy and enjoy Led Zeppelin as much as Jay Z.  There is also some incredible jazz fusion such as Lettuce and Soulive that kids love today.  I recently played some Stanley Clark for my young business partner and he flipped over it.  So this iPod/computer audio generation of music freaks is growing up.  As they get older and start making more money and their tastes improve, a flight to quality is a perfectly logical progression.  Combine this with an increase in the availability of high capacity drives filled with high rez music and heavily promoted by that rare company that can singularly move the entire youth market -Apple, and you have a wholesale shift to a brand new luxury industry: audio!

I am looking forward to enjoying the next 20 years in this great hobby! 

JR

DaveC -- Mon, 02/28/2011 - 15:04

I think that returnstackerror got it right.  Young men today have a plethora of new technology desires to sublimate their less than fulfilled romantic desires! As far as we oldsters are concerned I am reminded that Winston Churchill once said: "Don not worry about avoiding temptation, as you age temptation will avoid you". 

Peter Ayer -- Wed, 03/02/2011 - 17:26

 I agree with most of what has been written about the demise of the traditional High End retailer.   The market is what it is and the industry is changing how it sells products.  I have bought my most recent, quite expensive, electronic upgrades from a virtual dealer who offers a 30-day in-home trial.  The only risk is shipping costs for returns which can amount to $400 for heavy Class A monos.  
However, I am seeing a completely different way to audition equipment.  Over the past several years, as I have made audio friends, we have been taking the time to visit each other and hear each other's systems.  The settings are often much better than the dealers showrooms and if we hear a component we like, the host gets us in touch with the small manufacturer and we arrange another audition or simply buy the item.  These are all vinyl, often tube, two-channel only systems.  My point is that the dealerships are being replaced by in-home auditions at friends' houses and by small home-based dealers.  The occasional audio show like RMAF also adds some experience, though not as good.
The industry is changing, but it is a very exciting time because systems are improving and hi rez will approach the better analog systems some day.  
 

Sam -- Wed, 03/02/2011 - 17:42

Peter you are right on the mark. In the last few years I have bought at least 3 different components from three different dealers. NONE OF THEM HAD THE PRODUCT ON DISPLAY OR DEMO. I guess they can be called a virtual dealer. They email, talk on the phone, and say I am a dealer for such and such, i'll take good care of you, we provide the best service yada yada yada. And yet all they do is order the product from the manufacturer and when its delivered to them they either ship it to me or I go pick it up. as is. My point is Why cant the Manufacturers sell it direct at a reduced price. Why does a dealer need a cut for not doing any thing? I go to work and I get paid for doing something. Why should dealers who don't even display or demo for clients just get paid for nothing? They talk about things but you already know about the product from magazines, or you heard it at the shows and at your friends....why does a dealer need a cut for the product that is a manufacturers creation and consumers hard earned money? No work should be equal to no pay. I think being a dealer should be a hobby now and Manufacturers should sell direct or allow factory tours and auditions on site. We are gonna be dead soon...and our kids/grand kids are not gonna put up with this. Do some work and earn a living!!! Again i am not trying to accuse all dealers but some of them are just sitting around doing nothing. no sympathy for them.

Peter Ayer -- Wed, 03/02/2011 - 18:16

Sam,
The dealer I'm buying my amps from is a direct arm of the manufacturer. I don't think the company wants to handle the direct selling of their amps, but they do offer great service and always respond to customer's inquiries. The dealer takes electronics in on trade as you upgrade to the newer units. They get repaired or updated, or simply checked over by the manufacturer and then resold on the used market with the blessing of the company. The dealer does offer discounts and is very knowledgeable. He is one excellent example of the way the industry is moving. I also know a guy who is going to start a business selling audio items out of his house. He is a real enthusiast and should offer excellent products and service for his local area. Yes, the days of strolling down the street and into an audio salon are coming to an end, but access to products will continue and service will continue, the High-End is just becoming more of a niche. Enthusiasts still find ways of buying and servicing wooden sailboats, fly fishing rods, and all types of luxury items. Now, how to attract younger music lovers to the hobby, that is another matter.

Sam -- Wed, 03/02/2011 - 18:49

Peter sounds like you have a great dealer. Its nice if you get to know people like that and you can trust them and their judgment as well and they help out as well so that's good. Also one could become part of the insider club. Kind of like the audio reviewers who buy some of this crazy expensive stuff for them selves. There is no way they can afford that kind of stuff at full price....I mean come on! the rest of us according to R.H. book should and will need to shell out near the MSRP/list price for the products. I don't like the idea that one dealer is pushing for list price yet others giving discounts of 20% and beyond. Why??? will the younger people put up with this? The younger people know when they buy an ipod, iphone , mac book, dell, or anything else for that matter that the price will be very similar to what everyone else might be paying. Such is absolutely not true for the high end. neither for car sales. Those who are in the inner circles and know the know how can get products at great deals and hefty discounts. or even trade up at great deals. This idea of free market and trying to make money off of other people or doing nothing and making profits is plaguing our country. you are right...the younger people are the key here! one can nickle and dime oldies for so long......we have to set up things including sales tactics and exposure to the younger generation to make it move along. or else yea it will turn into wooden sailboats, fishing rods, and what not as a collectible. To me the dealership store are out except for a few....and the only future is to cater to the youngsters who are either making good money or are so passionate about music that they will keep extra money aside for their goodies. They will not shell 90K for a speaker that their friend got for 60K....that is for sure.

Priaptor -- Wed, 03/02/2011 - 19:35

Sam,

I have to respectfully disagree. Your experience with YOUR dealer may be that way, but has no bearing on how the way dealers once were and reputable dealers still are. It is naive to think that today's companies who have 4 different preamps, 5 different amps, 2 different DACs, 1 CD player to sell is going to find a dealer that can afford to buy all the products for demo. Multiply what I just wrote by 10-12 which is the number of products most dealers sell these days and you can see the issue. These manufacturers and not placing these products in the dealer for free. Given the variables, there is a good chance you are not going to be able to demo what you want or compare it to what you may want to.

My experience with my dealer has been great. I personally doubt many manufacturers are EVER going to send you a product for trial. I do think you may be right that manufacturers may start selling direct, but don't expect discounts, free service and if it breaks down you are on your own. Same with net dealers.

From my perch and with the experience I have had, if I am not happy with a product, my dealer takes it back. If it breaks he comes, picks it up and deals with it. He helps me with the setup as well as the purchase. When a product comes out i want to upgrade, he helps me with a trade.

I have purchased many things over the net, more than I care to admit and in those circumstances where there is a problem, man do I miss the days of a storefront. Now it may not be such a huge issue with a 300 dollar computer accessory, etc., but when it comes to 22K monoblocks or 25K speakers, etc., I really would like to have a dealer to support my purchase.

Why does a dealer deserve a cut? I am not sure what you do for a living, but I am sure there may just people asking the worth of "Sam". To each his own, but I believe the time a reputable dealer spends with his customer and the support he gives is well worth the price.

Sam -- Wed, 03/02/2011 - 19:59

Priaptor,
That's fair enough. I'm not saying I'm better then anyone else, or that all dealers r bad. The guys who r making such expensive stuff should be able to repair it as well. My point is why the hefty cut for ordering it to from the manufacturer and having it shipped or picked up by the client. What work has been done by the dealer? Or is it because "if" and when it breaks we need to be prepared like insurance? I just don't see the logic. The manufacturer could put my address label on it and ship it to me or I could call and order directly from the manufacturer wouldn't that be easier? And if a repair is needed may be they can have certified repair people who could do that. There may be other ways around this. Again no offense to u or othe dealers. The market has changed we all know the current ways r not working and a change of some kind not necessarily what I'm suggesting is needed. When I buy a computer or tv I buy it with a warranty or home service or I take the risk of it breaking down and either getting it repaired or upgrade it. I don't have the things shipped to one person then to me where I can't even see let alone hear the thing. I don't know. Doesn't make sense to me. A car dealer takes u for a spin on the car u may buy, best buy will show u the tv, apple have there stores where u can touch and see stuff. If u r not doing anything at the dealer why go through him price cut or not? I might as well send a gift check to them and in case I need them give them an advance security deposit of some kind like a warranty. But that should be optional. Anyways may be my way of thinking is wrong. It is a hobby and that too a small one. So I guess it's ok. I have the money to spend but the new kids even if they do they won't buy into this. I have had some great dealers and some so so. Some r around for years others shut down and dissapear in no time. Such is life. Again absolutely no disrespect for the great dealers who do spend the time and effort in setting up and helping with products but unfortunately the trend of going to them is shrinking more and more and we have to accept reality and move on from the old days.

Priaptor -- Wed, 03/02/2011 - 20:57

The analogy about a car dealer, etc, I don't believe is the same as those who want to have the ability to try it in their home. People have posted that they want a home trial. I don't think a car dealer will ever say, "hey Sam take this 911 home for the week and if you like it pay me in 30 days, if not just return it"

I actually agree with you more than I disagree.

Where we part is that you assume the manufacturer is wholesome and the dealer nothing but a greedy middleman. My take is that many manufacturers are whores, have ruined a once great hobby/interest/club/etc, by making too many products, selling to anyone regardless of how poorly they represent their products and allowing poor distribution methodology that unfortunately is leading to the demise of most reputable dealers. I understand your point that if you go to a dealer, who doesn't have the product and has to order it for you and you just go pick it up, what is it worth? However, how about the dealers who spend 2-3 hours auditioning equipment for customers, often on multiple occasions, only for that same customer to find some whore that some whore manufacturer is allowing to sell his wares on the NET who can undercut the dealer because the guy on the NET has no overhead. This happens much more than you are willing to admit to as the example you list, namely the dealer not having equipment available for audition. In reality if you are interested in an Audio Research product, the dealer may not have THE product you are interested in but will likely have a similar AR product that you can audition.

The High End Audio dealer is unfortunately dying, but, from my standpoint this is being hastened by the manufacturer and not because of the most reputable dealers unworthiness or right to make money.

Dealers with store fronts have overhead that people selling from their homes or on the NET don't. As to having a high end manufacturer sending a tech over to your house to repair, good luck with that model. This are low volume products, most almost impossible to get to the parts and not snap in boards in most cases like a computer.

The death of the High End dealer for the most part is the death of high end audio. I have no dog in this fight other than to want to continue to see the industry flourish and they unfortunately, IMO, have entered a dangerous and irreversible path of allowing any Tom, Dick and Harry to represent their products.

Sam -- Wed, 03/02/2011 - 21:37

Priaptor, I'm with you on that. There is good and bad in everything. No doubt that there r many snakeoil type manufacturers just out there to make money in pretty boxes and cable casing. Ultimately we have to decide which dealer and what product do we belive in to invest in it. Like you My interest In all this is also that the hobby continues and people enjoy it in the next generations as well. but the whole system of high end audio over the years has been mudied or tarnished by poor reviewers, greedy manufacturers and people just trying to make a buck NOW. that's all. It's not the same anymore. My jaw drops and head shakes in aww when reviewers give amazing awards and reviews to ultra expensive things when clearly less expensive things out perform them. It's a fashion now to price things that way. I also feel that the consumers have been made to believe that the more expensive something the better. Yes there is some level of difference but not what reviewers claim. One day something $50000 is great the next $90000, the next $120000 and so on. Everyone chasing the same rules. Price it higher and people will think it's better sounding. What a shame! I like to listen to things, I trust some people, and I trust in some products. I am faithfull to them and don't mind paying full price. But with snake oil guys I look the other way.

Josh Hill -- Wed, 03/02/2011 - 22:06

I think the snake oil really hurts the industry. Partly because it turns people off, but also because it gives people an unrealistic impression of what it costs to get good sound. Particularly younger people, who can't afford to spend $1000 on cables that make such a subtle difference that some people claim you can't hear it at all.

Priaptor -- Wed, 03/02/2011 - 22:23

Sam,

You got my vote. I agree. I enjoyed the good ole days when things were not the outrageously ludicrous methods of today. How right you are. Today's "best of the best" is bested in every issue with a new "best of the best" with stratospheric pricing.

I have met some very legitimate dealers over the last 30 years and I do feel bad for them as they are literally being thrown under the bus, for as you say, money NOW at the risk of the future destruction of a truly enjoyable hobby.

s08.mbower -- Wed, 03/02/2011 - 21:00

To all,
I would just like to weigh in with my thoughts/observations.  I think I fall into the category of "young" with respect to this discussion.  I am 25 and have been in the hobby for a while but only in the high end side for a few years.  I live in the Philly area and have been shopping for a dealer for quite some time so I think I understand many of the concerns you all seem to be expressing.  Some of the things I have found difficult is to weigh the financial gains available with shopping online with the benefits of having a dealer.  Many dealers seem unwilling to work with younger people because they don't see it resulting in a sale.  I have ran into that problem before.  Also the dealers often have close minded views of products they don't sell.  A big problem to a potential buyer as was mentioned above.  With downsides like this it is hard to chose in-store or online.
I can tell you I remeber vivdly my first experience with a truly magical high end system (it was in a dealer... Magico and ARC no less) which would not have been possible with out visiting the dealer.  I remember "seeing" with my ears like I have never heard before.  I also would like to explain that with out that experience I would not have continued.  It is hard for the younger folks to get into a hobby with which they have no idea what is possible.  Without knowing what is possible there is no way to know if you might have a desire or appreciation for improvement.  If all you know is horse-and-buggy (department store electronics) and you get a ride in a pinto (Best Buy) the pinto seems like the best ever and you would swear by it.  But if you could just drive a Bugatti you would know how to effectively guage what level of performance you are comfortable with.  Many people my age have no knowledge of what is possible.  I have gotten many friends into "it" just by taking them to dealers and showing them.  It is important for dealers to find ways to just show people.  BB and other stores get this all wrong..  Good news is music has taken hold like whoa.  iPods, cars, stores... its everywhere.  
In case there are any dealers on here... Things that would command more of my disposable income would be the things that recognize the adaptation of the home audio system.  DAC/Pre's with HT bypass: any pre without bypass loses sale potential to the young buyer.  Longer term financing: I have student loans, tool loans (technician), car payments, rent... Give me more than 12 months to pay off those $7k+ speakers, even if it isn't interest free.  Invite customers in for "open house days" once a month where we can audition equipment extensively without occuping sales-people from the looking-to-buy-now customers.  Set up aGon accounts so trades can be applied to purchases.  And the last thing I would really like to see is multiple resolutions in house.  The dealers should have on hand Hi-Res material on hand with its mate in standard res to highlight the benefits of improving your system.  If that is where we are going then own it!!  DAC/Pre's with HT bypass could become the most important unit in the young persons future syetem, the processors are here to stay, mulichannels are here to stay, but two channel is still magical to those of us who know of it.
Sorry for the long post but I felt obligated to chime in.  Thank you.
Harvey

Josh Hill -- Wed, 03/02/2011 - 21:34

It's great to hear from somebody under 40, since, alas, there aren't all that many anymore who are. We can only speculate on what's going down.

Priaptor -- Wed, 03/02/2011 - 22:30

What you ask should be a minimum requirement. I started in the high end not too much older than you and despite what people had to say about Lyric in NYC, I was always treated with respect, even though the salesperson knew I was not an easy mark.

A high end dealer should be your advocate and aid to help you build a system to enjoy the music of your choice and to expand your horizons, not only in the store where you purchase but more importantly in your home. It is hard to say which came first, the chicken or the egg and as such, when dealers now have to discount 15-25% to stay competitive with the NET, service, respect and availability will unfortunately suffer.

Elliot Goldman -- Thu, 03/03/2011 - 10:34

Hi Guys,
As a long term dealer I would only like to say that the Industry will go some serious changes and that all of you have valid points.
Manufacturers are not set up nor prepared to have consumers in their factories or have the staff to do demo's for walk ins. This is a fantasy guys it wont happen. They don't have the time and if they did it you would not save any money since they would then have the same issues a dealer has.
THe business model that the Industry works within is over 50 years old. It has not changed and this is the issue,. Every other industry has adapated to the changing times. The math does not work and so the dealer network is struggling to survive. I am not sure where it will end up but I am sure it will be very different.
By the way the dealers are mostly victums here. I am not saying they are all good guys, or bad guys or anything but they don't determine the process. We only work within the framework that the manufacturers set up.
If you want the best product , the best service and the best price it usually does not exist.
If any dealer in any business can not make a reasonable profit they will not survive.
 

Priaptor -- Thu, 03/03/2011 - 10:53

I am assuming that you as a high end dealer must know, when people are forking over this kind of cash, they feel entitled and to an extent they are. However, in an industry where the margins are 40% and the customers wants and demands the best of what a storefront has to offer at the 25% discount the NET seller or the home seller can afford to discount, this leaves no wiggle room for people like yourself.

Right now I see a vicious cycle where the "entitled customer" in their quest for the cheapest price, the manufacturer in their quest to increase margins and bring out ever increasing numbers of new products that all get "best of the best" reviews in order to make the most they can now and the storefront high end dealers getting caught in the fray between the manufacturers, the net sellers, the customer demands, etc., all will be victims of the death of the high end industry.

As a high end dealer, how many times have you been subject to a customer coming in to "audition" and ONLY after the audition telling you that they can buy the product from Audiogon or some other net seller at 20-25% lower than you can afford to? So for the privilege of allowing you to carry some manufacturer's ware, you are nothing but the patsy for them to sell their products by others after you perform the hard part of the job. Or how about some buyer who saved the 20% on the NET now has a problem and the manufacturer, for the privilege of carrying their product, makes the storefront guy deal with any problem of any of their products including shipping costs of anyone walking in their store? Great business model-NOT!

Sorry guys, you can't have it all ways. Something has to give and unfortunately it is going to be the enjoyment we all currently appreciate from these products. These are not computers, LCD TVs, iPads, etc., where it doesn't matter how you get the product. In many ways, the way you get the product is THE most important aspect of High End Audio.

Sam -- Thu, 03/03/2011 - 13:32

These economic times have made people ruthless. And ofcourse those in power can generally push the buttons and make things run in their favor. The thing is how quickly do the guys who r getting abused realize it and get out of it. Those who think they cannot stay afloat should try and get out quickly because greedy manufacturers and CEOs ain't taking any paycuts. They got to go play golf and hangout on their yats. They will try to maintain their life style at ANY COST. I don't mind paying full price to my dealer because they r struggling and need to survive. I do have a problem that a few of us audiophile have to fork out so much crazy amounts of money for these things these days. We need more people to make this thing run. Once the old audiophiles and dealers are drained out I guess only after that well know where it's gonna go. Untill then money needs to be made. And we can only wait and see.

Priaptor -- Thu, 03/03/2011 - 14:39

Sam,

Don't underestimate the high end as one of the ultimate gadgets and hence does have the ability to survive, under the right circumstances and distribution methods. You yourself brought up the idea of certain manufacturers setting up boutique stores like B&O where they partners with dealers to show their wares. I really don't think the death of the high end will be because of those of us old guys dying off but more likely the manufacturers continuing to allow their products to be distributed in unscrupulous manners. Personally, I just don't see high end audio surviving as a NET distribution type product. I believe the kids of today as they age if introduced to one of the ultimate gadgets, namely high end audio, should they have the means to afford it, will buy it. The components may change, music servers or digital streaming replacing transports, etc, but there will remain a market.

However, if there are no manufacturers because they canabilize themselves, there will be no product to sell.

SundayNiagara -- Thu, 02/23/2012 - 16:07

How about Best Buy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DaveC -- Mon, 03/07/2011 - 12:54

For good or bad the internet has changed many business models, not just high end. When we lived in relative isolation and were in contact with only local dealers the price you paid on purchase and the amount you received in trade had no larger context than your own experience or a few local friends. The internet has exposed for all to see the residual market value of many different goods after first purchase. High end audio fares poorly in this regard when the first user typically realizes only 40-50% of initial purchase price (or less) after 1-2 years of typically light use. Once this became common knowledge only very well heeled buyers were willing to pay retail in store fronts knowing that they would lose 50% of their purchase price out the door.  Furthermore, audiophiles typically pamper their equipment making the purchase of lightly used components at 50% of retail a very attractive proposition. In my opinion this has fueled the escalation of high end audio equipment prices toward stratospheric heights, because this is the demographic niche where low volume sales to wealthy (in contrast w/ merely affulent) customers can still net big profits. 

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