Or, Why Our Kids Will Love High End Audio As Much As We Do!
by Anthony Chiarella
After 40 years in audio, I’ve got a pretty awesome stereo system. Of course, it didn’t start out that way…
In 1975, when I bought my first rig, I spent every dime I had on a Kenwood Integrated amp, a Philips Turntable and a pair of KLH speakers. It was a popular “Entry-Level” system and cost a fortune! Back then, we didn’t know electrolytic capacitors, tone controls and most of the other technological particulars of this system were sonically degrading, or that it would quickly become obsolescent –its resale value sinking like a stone.
Back then, all of my friends wanted a slammin’ stereo. Aside from a car, it was the “Dream Purchase” for virtually every High School student in America. Nowadays, with computers and a host of tech toys competing for young consumers’ attention (and cash) stereos haven’t been the “Objects of Desire” that they used to be. That’s all about to change. Today’s entry-level gear is SO good that it is attracting young music lovers in numbers not seen in decades!
Millennials and Hipsters are discovering the pleasures of High End Audio, drawn largely by the resurgence of vinyl records. On a recent trip to my local Barnes and Noble, I was amazed and gratified to see that almost 20% of the store’s floor space was occupied by record bins, with dozens of hip young gunslingers flipping through stacks of freshly pressed LPs. Just last week, legendary recording engineer, Bob Ludwig, told me that every album he masters is now released on vinyl as well as digital. The “Analog Boom” has caused turntable sales to skyrocket, and the quality of entry-level turntables has kept pace. Pro-Ject has just built the largest turntable factory in Europe, capable of cranking out over a quarter million ‘tables a year! Rega has recently introduced new models at both lower and higher prices than ever before, hoping to lure first-time buyers with bargain ‘tables and then encourage them to upgrade to flagship products.
Sales of tube electronics—especially at lower price-points—are also flourishing. PrimaLuna, whose all-tube integrated amplifiers start at $1,799, has experienced sales growth of over 25% per year for the last several years. Rogue Audio, another bargain-priced tube brand headquartered in Pennsylvania, has experienced similarly spectacular increases. On the speaker side, KEF’s LS50 redefined what’s possible for under $1,500, while Elac now offers more than a half dozen high performance models which retail for under a grand. And of course, Nordost’s Leif Series has put ultra-high-performance cabling systems within the reach of every music lover.
Thanks to the “Hip Factor” of vinyl records and vacuum tubes, a new generation of consumers (with high disposable income!) is discovering the pleasures of Audiophilia. Better still, entry level equipment has gotten so good—and for so little money—that it’s now possible to assemble a world-class HiFi system at prices that would have been impossible just a few years ago. A NAD 316BEE Integrated Amplifier ($379), Project Debut Carbon Turntable ($399) and Elac Debut B4 speakers ($179/pr) deliver super sound for less than one thousand dollars, giving budget-constrained consumers a heaping helping of high-end panache and long-term investment potential for about the same price as a weekend at the Jersey Shore.
Want a super-cool system? Match a PrimaLuna Prologue Classic Integrated Tube Amplifier ($1,799), Rega RP3 Turntable ($899) and Dynaudio Emit M30 Towers ($1,199). You’ll get dynamic, full-range sound—and the warm glow of vacuum tubes—for under four grand. Throw in Nordost Blue Heaven Power Cords, Interconnects and Speaker Cables and the tab is still under five thousand bucks. An ARCAM irDAC II (arguably the world’s best budget D/A Converter) adds $800 to the package, along with superb digital sound quality! Fully loaded (including appropriate cabling and accessories) we’re still around $6,000 for a system whose performance would have cost over ten thousand dollars just a few short years ago.
My point here isn’t to design systems for the readers, nor is it to pitch products that I admire. I’m simply trying to illustrate that High End Audio, whose long-term viability was once in question, is alive and well and growing at a healthy and satisfying pace! More importantly, it isn’t just veteran audiophiles upgrading existing systems; rather, it is Millenials, Hipsters and other first-time buyers looking to make a lasting investment in quality HiFi gear. Of course, these new customers will upgrade over time, as we all do, which should guarantee a long and prosperous future for the hobby we love. For all of you who are worried about the future of HiFi, rest easy. High End Audio is getting better and better!