It seems audio, like many other things like TV and Movies has gotten a lot less conservative over the years. Prices and claims are often sky high and not as many care about credibility. P.T. Barium once said “there’s a sucker born ever minute,” but there is also hundreds of people born every minute who do not like the idea of being hoodwinked. It is interesting that a lot of what gets labeled as snake oil (cables for instance) is really a blessing from heaven. I would not even want to picture what my sound would be like without my beloved cables which has enhanced my sound quality so much. But the plethora of amps, speakers, turntables, even cables; that cost many tens of thousands of dollars? People like to get a fair deal; their moneys worth, and hearing about stuff like that which is priced way out of proportion to what it costs to make, sews in the heads of many people, the idea that much of high end audio is a fraud. That is not good.
Speakers for instance. Back in the late 1970’s you could buy a really nice sounding set of bookshelf speakers for around $100 a pair. They had limited bass response as today. A teenager like myself back then had the decision of shelling out a hard earned $100 or saving up another $100 for something much more exciting; something much fuller range with much deeper bass and with bigger sound for around $200 a pair on sale; and the sales were every weekind, starting Friday! Nowadays a larger speaker with near full range bass is a hell of a lot more than an extra $100. The price of wood, or more likely MDF is not the reason. You can buy a 4×8 sheet of MDF at Home Depot (enough to build a good sized speaker) for less than $20. A bigger size speaker with deeper bass has just become an excuse to charge a lot more money. It seems like at some point it became, ” you want deep bass; then you are going to really pay for it.” Oh sure, there were some freakishly priced products back then, but you could almost count on the fingers of your hands how many there were. People wondered, “could they be worth that much money?” Did they offer something truly magical in the way of performance? There was only one way to find out. Go down to your local audio store for an audition.
Somewhere along the way audio companies realized that at least some people will pay big amounts of money to get better and better sound. Did these products really deliver? KLH, Quad and Beveridge top of the line electrostatics; yes I’d say so. Infinity Quantum Line Source, ESS Transar? it depends who you ask. That the big in size (speakers) could get lots of money out of some audio hobbyists pockets, eventually evolved into even the very small being able to do the same thing, and soon there were $275 phono cartridges then $300, then $500, then ones costing thousands. Before this all got out of proportion, even the audio review magazines of the time were very conservative. I remember reading the very first review of the then brand new Shure V15 V cartridge in High Fidelity magazine. The review concluded with the very cautious conservative statement that “we are going a bit out on a limb here, but at times we think we could hear a somewhat cleaner sound coming forth from the Shure V15 V… (versus the displaced Shure V15 IV). Nowadays its “this makes this sound broken” or ” its performance blows away the older model” etc.
Even Dishwasher, a highly trusted audio accessory company to the masses, after years of its LP record cleaning products being in nearly every audiophiles home back then; when they came out with their Gold End plated RCA cables; I Don’t recall in any of their ads them making the claim that their cables actually sounded better. Being firmly established as a trusted audio accessory company, they easily could have done so and got quite a bit of interest, but claiming superior performance for something that many people would have trouble believing, would have been too non-conservative and radical for the times. The atmosphere of credibility was high back then. Not as many people were smelling snake oil and corporate greed.
Magazines like The Absolute Sound (still relatively underground & unknown to the masses at the time) went a little further in stressing the importance of subjective evaluation of sound and catered to the new products with their previously unheard of prices like $600+ phono cartridges and it served to give these products and their pricing, credibility and rationality; at least for some. Even back in 1981 an audio hobbyist could afford the best preamp on the planet; said to be the David Burning TF10 for a mere $900. Or the cleanest solid state preamp on the market, according to TAS at the time, the PS Audio IVa at $625 retail.
How do you feel about this? If you are old enough to remember, do you miss the days when audio was much more conservative and more of a hobbyists venture than a game where only the wealthier among us can afford to fully get into without compromise?