There is a lot to be thankful for in the world of audiophilia as we approach the end of 2018. Yes, the core audiophile audience is getting older, and we’re no longer really any part of the CES festivities in Las Vegas in January. We’ve got to do some clearing of the air over the “subjectivity versus objectivity” argument, and there are fewer and fewer stores out there doing true high-end audio. But all is not bad. In fact, things are actually pretty good. Allow me to explain…
We Got Music in HD (for Cheap)
If I’d told you back in the day that you could have pretty much all of the advanced metadata and cover-flow artwork of a $15,000 Meridian-Sooloos system for $500 today via Roon, you’d have been pretty excited. If I told you ten or fifteen years ago, when HD music was pretty much limited to the failed SACD and DVD-Audio formats, that we would have 96/24 music from hundreds of meaningful artists for about the price of a Compact Disc, you would have been pretty excited. If, back in the era of LimeWire and Napster, I’d predicted that someday soon you would have not one but two sources that allow you to access a nearly unlimited library of music, with much of it streaming right into your system in 24 bit, HD formats for $20 a month, all legally, you would have tried to get me put in a mental hospital for a long weekend. But it is our reality today as audiophiles in 2019.
Great Audio Gear Isn’t as Expensive as It Used to Be
When I started selling audio gear back in 1990, and especially during my days at Christopher Hansen Ltd. and Cello Music and Film Los Angeles in the mid-1990s, great audio gear really cost you. And beyond the good stuff being so expensive, there were actually bad components that you needed to avoid. I can think of good looking but no-bass and impossible-to-drive THIEL Audio speakers that for $3,000 and $4,000 per pair were sought after back in the day. I can’t think of a $1,000 pair of floorstanding speakers today that couldn’t whoop their asses sonically.
A lot is said about China and trade in the news, both good and bad, as there are points to be made on both sides of the argument. But from an audiophile perspective, we are getting better performing products, access to rare Earth materials like Neodymium (that the EPA won’t let us dig out of a big stash hidden underground in Pennsylvania), and low-cost yet very high-quality manufacturing of both electronics and speakers that have simply upped the game for what an audio lover gets with his or her stereo money. How many factories in the United States can make top-level speaker cabinets or cutting-edge electronics and at what cost versus China? Like them or not, China and other spots in Asia are driving prices down but elevating performance standards. This is just fact.
Regional Shows Have Brought the Hobby to More Locations in a Big Way
My first CES was in 1994, which was the last year of the Sahara Bi-Level–an event that I am glad that I got to see at least once, even if I had to stay at Circus Circus and drive to Las Vegas from Phoenix and then back to Los Angeles. I got to see how the old school, founding fathers of our industry did business one last time. Yes, Alexis Park was better in some ways in terms of scope, and The Venetian, at least in the early years, was more luxurious. But the Sahara Bi-Level was the biggest who’s who in the audiophile world. Every dealer was there. Every manufacturer was there. Most importantly, every international distributor was on property.
Do you know who wasn’t at the Sahara Bi-Level? You, the audiophile consumer. And that sucks. You likely couldn’t get into the Alexis Park or The Venetian without your local dealer doing you a skinny or perhaps you coming up with your own fictitious audiophile blog so that you could get a sought-after press pass.
But today, with CES pretty much dead to audiophiles (supposedly there will be one third of one floor at The Venetian dedicated to audiophile or specialty AV displays) there is a whole new group of regional, U.S.-based audiophile shows. Rocky Mountain Audio Fest has been building momentum for years outside of Denver and will soon thankfully move to nicer digs closer to the airport. AXPONA is finding its legs in the spring by O’Hare Airport in Chicago. I’ve never been to the Munich show because the cost of a business class ticket (not to mention the 14.5-hour flight time), but many industry people that I know and respect simply rave about that show in terms of the scope, the city, and the overall event.
There are other audiophile shows in San Francisco, D.C., New York City, Orange County California, Jacksonville, and Toronto. I am likely missing some, but the point remains the same: with a small investment in a drive or a flight, you, the audiophile consumer, can experience more gear, more easily. And the more gear you can hear, play with, and get hip to, the more informed you become as a customer. Plus, it just adds to the fun of the hobby.
Room Correction Really is a Thing–A Really Good Thing
More and more of today’s audiophile electronics are buying into the fast-improving world of room correction, and that’s a very welcomed thing in my book. Chipsets, algorithms, and software today can address the real boogieman in any of our systems, which is our room anomalies. In the old days, we were left guessing if we needed to swap out a DAC’s power cable or paint our CDs green or use some mystery EQed cables to get to the audiophile holy land. Now, a $699 ELAC integrated amp can fix everything in 90 seconds in the digital domain, including your subwoofers–and let us not forget to be thankful for those. The dumb-ass people from the past who told you that you could listen to a pair of British bookshelf speakers standing naked and alone in the middle of your room so you can “imagine” what the bass sounded like need an SVS subwoofer dropped on their heads. Take those same wonderfully imaging small speakers and pair them with a low-cost yet high-output subwoofer and tell me that you can live without the musical information below 50 Hz. Spoiler warning: you can’t. Bass rocks and today’s bass is low, tight, and well merged with your room thanks to room correction, be it in your preamp or your sub itself.
Other Things to Be Thankful for Going Into 2019…
The good remaining dealers are doing a better and better job in so many cities. Voice activation brings Dick Tracy-like control to your music collection. While not in HD, streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, and others allow you to pick a few songs and let their AI create bespoke, no-work playlists that can be tailored exactly to your current mood. The Internet of Things, or IoT (God, I hate that term), brings lighting control, system control, shades, and shade control, HVAC control, home security, and so much more right into our listening rooms. Seriously, a trip to Lowes or Home Depot and $500 to $1,000 bucks gets you fully dialed into what might have cost you $50,000 (or was even impossible) a mere decade-and-a-half ago. What’s exciting is that more and more audiophiles are embracing the IoT and smart home elements to make their two-channel listening experience even better.
Look, we don’t blow smoke up your ass about the hobby of audiophilia in our blog posts all year long. We leave that to the often-misguided elders and special true believers, since we’re working on a new narrative here at AudiophileReview.com. It is just important to take a second to look at the state of the union and to realize the good advances and developments that we get to enjoy as audio enthusiasts going into 2019, because there’s a lot to be appreciative for.
What are you thankful for in the world of specialty audio going into 2019? Comment below, as we want to hear from you.