Written by 6:00 am Audiophile • 21 Comments

The Changing Directions of High End Audio

Paul Wilson looks at how the audio hobby is changing, and maybe not for the better…

AR-DinosaurSmallFormat.jpgI sometimes fear I am becoming a dinosaur. My long standing audio practices are being displaced, slowly but most assuredly by new designs, new technologies and a new outlook on how a high end audio system is set up and used.

Perhaps I have a somewhat romanticized viewpoint of a time more closely allied with the 1950’s and 1960’s when truly remarkable audio systems were seen as luxury items enjoyed by those with a penchant for music. Systems of that bygone era were made to play music and little else. Maybe even nothing else. 

Systems of those long ago days were all of a similar technology – tubed equipment, turntables and the occasional reel to reel. LP’s ruled the day. Some systems had tuners but they, then as now, most commonly failed to live up to high end standards. While these systems were typically found on credenzas and other common furniture, there were those systems housed in rooms more commonly resembling a recording studio. 

AR-VintageListeningSession.jpgPeople actually gathered together to listen to these systems – sometimes dressed in jeans and polo shirts and sometimes in suits with pocket squares. Friends gathered together for cocktails and music.

It would seem times have changed. 

Today, there are more manufacturers than ever scrambling, racing even to develop systems that serve each and every master. Want a system to play movies and music? No problem. Want a system that is compact, fits nicely and out of the way on a bookshelf? No problem. Want a system that is affordable and can be purchased while maintaining family responsibilities? Of course! 

AR-ClassDIntegratedAmp.jpgAll separate componentry is slowly ceding way to integrated components having multiple functions. It is suddenly possible today to have an audio system containing an amp, preamp, DAC, streaming device and maybe even a phonostage. One box. One not so large box. Quite a profound departure from all separate components.

Speakers are now changing face from large floor standing types to smaller versions, some of which contain amps and can stream music wirelessly. And even though the technology has yet to really become viable, do not for a second think there is not a concerted effort to develop wireless speakers with sonic capabilities equal to the wired types so pervasive today. 

AR-BookshelfSpeakers.jpgLifestyle products. Is it even remotely possible this is the Achilles Heel of our hobby? Might this be the downfall of what has been traditionally known as “audiophilia?” How much impact will this have going forward? Will a “lifestyle product” be a fallback position for the average audiophile because other factors prevent the purchase and use of the system that is really desired? 

Some will say such changes are necessary if the hobby is to survive. It will help attract new listeners. And that’s good for the hobby. It’s just not good for me. 

My audio system is in a fairly large sized room, housed in a large, very heavy equipment rack with all separate components. Room treatments adorn the walls and ceiling. There are no framed pictures, no glass, no televisions. No furniture save for a few listening chairs. Reflective surfaces are kept to a minimum. I listen to music mostly alone. It is then I am able to enjoy the music I want, played how I want, and not worrying about appeasing anyone else. However, I also enjoy a Friday evening with my girlfriend and a nice glass of wine. I also, despite my normal preference, occasionally enjoy having friends over to hear a system outside of their norm. 


Systems like mine seem to be a dying breed, remnants of the hobby’s past. 

I am not even remotely interested in having a nice all in one system purporting to reproduce a high performance sound. I am not interested in smaller Class D integrated amps maintaining equivalency to many of the magnificent Class AB amps – to say nothing of some of the more remarkable tubed equipment. I could care less if a one box solution can be hidden out of the way behind all the bric-a-brac on the bookshelves. I prefer speakers that are floor standing and I am not especially concerned how tall they might be or how much they weigh. My one and only condition is how they perform. 

My audio system will continue to be comprised with all separate components. Separates make as much sense today as they did thirty years ago. Vibration control certainly matters. I will continue to house my system in a room whose sole and singular purpose is for me to sit in a chair and practice the art of listening to music on a world class audio system. My interest extends little beyond playing music and watching a movie is not something my main audio system will ever be able to do. Never. But that’s me. And while this may work for me, it is not the standard others may employ. 

AR-PersonalChoices.jpgHigh performance audio is a very personal thing. My choices are neither completely right nor completely wrong. What they are is mine. Likewise, the choices of those who prefer something different, regardless of system cost, system design, where it is housed, how it is used, or any other condition will be made to suit the needs of the owner. Those choices will also be neither right nor wrong. They will be the mandate of the user. We all do things to suit our own needs. 

I am becoming a dinosaur. I realize that. My hobby may one day change forever and I will be unable to prevent it from happening. I may not like it, but I will have to accept it. I will not, however, be a willing practitioner. I won’t be drinking the Kool Aid. I’m happy being a dinosaur. 

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