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Audiophile Death Watch

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by Josh Ray on November 15 '05

Depending on who you ask, high-end audio is either on life support or has already given up the ghost. But one thing is certain -- no one outside of our inbred community even knows the high-end exists. Reader Matthew writes in about the problems and possible fixes:

"Regarding all things, there's always what you know, what you don't know, and what you don't know that you don't know. I think the problem with this industry, at least regarding "new recruits", relates to the latter: younger people don't get to hear the difference between quality gear and the crap most chains peddle, so they don't know its possible to have an experience with music that they've never had before.

"I have what most non-audiophiles would consider an "expensive" rig: A pair of Zu Cable Druids with an Onix SP3 tube amp and a modified Jolida JD100 CD player - that's about 5K worth of gear. But I also have people coming to my house, listening and saying things like, "It makes me want to break out all my old CDs and listen again." THAT's what the industry needs to advance - the desire to make music an integral part of people's lives, something with which they actively interact rather than have on in the background while they cross-train (there's nothing wrong with that, but there's so much more to listening than hearing)."

Keep reading for my thoughts and other insider opinions. Also, when posting in comments, know that all posts must be approved -- no free viagra here.

So getting people to hear the gear is a catch-22. You can't have mass retail stores until there is a market and you can't have a market until there are retail stores. One monster demographic is, of course, the cutting-edge internet gen with iPods, Treos and foolish amounts of disposable income. And yet, while the new blood is all around us, the barriers to entry are so impossibly steep that any exposure is quickly rendered meaningless. High-end audio is like a hot rod sitting on cinderblocks. What's the answer? Sean Casey of Zu offers this up:

"I think we must run with the direct model, take it to the next level, storefronts, full feature and automated site, more tour stops, the most amazing products, even better service...I think manufactures must stop talking about the pending death of traditional audio, recognize that it's dead and get on with making great sounding gear and getting it in the those hands that will appreciate it, punk rock style, keep putting it out there, with sincerity and marketing will take care of itself..."

Also trying to answer some of those questions is the A5, a not-for-profit working with the manufacturers and publications to get a dialogue going about the problems. Though in the infant stages, the response to the A5 cause has been awesome. Check out the site for how to get involved.

So is it all doom and gloom? Call it youthful ingornace, but I believe the question isn't IF high-end audio will explode in the mass consciousness, but when and to what extent. If the responses to Sonic Flare are any indication, the rabid consumers are ready to sink their teeth into audio, but they have yet to receive a menu.

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