I was recently bemused to read an editorial written by the late J. Gordon Holt (JGH), when he was editor of Stereophile magazine, in which he apologised to subscribers for the delay in the latest issue (it was a six month delay, which makes me look very good indeed) and also for the necessity of increasing the cover price. Along with the apologies and the entreaties to subscribers to forgive all and re-subscribe (obviously not effective, because Holt sold the magazine to Larry Archibald with the very next issue) he wrote: ‘When we bannered this issue as a “special CES issue” we meant it. It is entirely devoted to the 1981 Summer CES because, if high-end audio continues to decline economically, there may not be another high-end audio CES.’ [My italics]
So according to JGH, the high-end was declining economically ‘way back in 1981. If it was, it’s been declining very nicely for the past 30-odd years! Yet still the pundits still persist with their predictions of high-end gloom and doom. A well-known journalist who visited both the 2014 New York and Australian Audio shows, posted the following paragraph on his highly popular blog: ‘The warning signs are to be found down every hallway: the 40-plus-yr-old-white-middle-class-male demographic; the tendency for exhibitors to spin the same inoffensive tunes they’ve always spun; the multi-thousand dollar pricing. These are all hallmarks of a journey’s end.’
As I see it, (thanks JGH!) everyone rabbits on about the high-end declining but I don’t see any monetary evidence of such a decline (indeed if I had the space here I’d argue the exact opposite), nor is there any sound sociological basis for predicting one. The simple fact is that there will always be rich folk, and they will always buy expensive hi-fi equipment. And the more we populate the planet, the more rich folk there will be, and therefore ever-more expensive hi-fi equipment will be sold in ever-increasing quantities. The corollary of this is that at the other end of the sociological scale, there will always be poor people, and the number of people on the planet who are poor will also continue to increase. This means that cheap and crappy audio gear will also be around for ever (unfortunately).
The silver lining to all this (and the reason I am writing this at all) is that the rich person/poor person paradigm means that all of us who are neither very rich nor very poor (a demographic that encompasses most readers of Australian Hi-Fi Magazine according to our most recent survey) will continue to be able to purchase well-made, well-designed, high-quality hi-fi equipment capable of delivering true high-fidelity sound, at prices well within our budgets, because the simple truth is that you do not need to spend ‘high end’ money to get ‘high end’ sound.
To prove this, ask your local hi-fi dealer to put together his most expensive system, plus another at around half the price, then put on a blindfold and compare the sound. Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear much of a difference, or if you think the more expensive system isn’t worth twice the price. In some cases, you most likely could assemble yet another system at half the price again and end up making exactly the same observations.
The moral of this story is that given careful listening sessions and informed component selection, high-end sound quality is within the financial reach of everyone... even those who can't afford high-end hi-fi components. # greg borrowman
(This article first appeared in Australian Hi-Fi Magazine, Volume 46 No 4, published in January 2015)