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The death of the specialist high street audio dealer?

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  • The death of the specialist high street audio dealer?

    This is a fork of a thread which started discussing the vinyl experience, here.

    ================================================== =======

    Wow. What an extraordinary thread {see above note} this has turned into. From a simple, grovelling if you like, admission on my part that for years I've failed to grasp the attraction of the vinyl experience, but now do, I have a PM that I'm belittling someone's life because I don't engage with streaming. Has the world gone completely mad? I though prior discussions about cables etc. could fray the odd nerve or two, but this is ridiculous.

    By all means use streaming, enjoy streaming, subscribe to streaming, it keeps the wheels of big, global commerce turning. As I've said repeatedly, it's not for me any more than vegetarian food is. I don't personally need streaming, and if you do, and extract value, I'm truly delighted for you.

    But let's not forget one small but vital detail that may not have flashed across the collective conscience. Streaming does not, will not and cannot put more than scraps bread on the table of your specialist hifi dealer, nor musicians, nor anybody connected with making a living out of live music. In that respect alone, setting aside all others, it quickens the demise of bricks and mortar high street audio dealers by commoditising music and hence high-end hardware. Those are the facts. Streaming, convenient or inevitable, fun or fascinating, does not lie comfortably on a forum such as this - a specialist audio manufacturer's forum - because it is not likely, en masse, to motivate consumers over the specialist, high-end dealer's door step.

    My loyalties, personal and business, are to keeping our dealers in business and healthy, and if that's interpreted as hostility to those who are passionate about their on-line audio life, I'm sorry. But I see the bigger picture.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  • #2
    Education

    Well, first you educate many people here about all the advantages of digital versus analogue/vinyl . People who had admired the beautiful engineered and understandable turntable became less focused with this old fashioned object which is not able to produce high fidelity they now know. So the members are confused, now you tell them records and cd's are valuable and I totally agree. Not for the business ( for me a very weak argument) because the business will always change in time but for pleasure and enjoyment.

    Most of us here do like audio equipment otherwise we wouldn't be posting here and what is the most interesting object for this hobby... of course the turntable.The revival of vinyl is a fact. I listen to all sources; streaming/computer , cd's and lp's and I have to say streaming is an eye opener for me as a music lover. The entire music library at home is fantastic but the sensation of playing an old record or cd is incomparable. For me exactly the same as the difference between looking at old photo's in an (physical) album with personal handwriting and 'streaming' the same pictures to the television or computer.

    Comment


    • #3
      The similar demise if the book

      Originally posted by EricW View Post
      where someone is just as likely (perhaps more likely) to respond to the most recent post as to the original post. I think it's just the nature of the medium.
      Good point. It is indeed the nature of the beast. It can be tamed, but needs very active moderation by eliminating/redirecting every off topic post.
      Originally posted by A.S. View Post
      But let's not forget one small but vital detail that may not have flashed across the collective conscience. Streaming does not, will not and cannot put more than scraps bread on the table of your specialist hifi dealer, nor musicians, nor anybody connected with making a living out of live music. In that respect alone, setting aside all others, it quickens the demise of bricks and mortar high street audio dealers by commoditising music and hence high-end hardware.
      The death of brick and mortar stores is inevitable for the large part, in every sector of the retail economy. A niche market may buck the trend against such stores for a while as long as it has enough customers to remain viable. And this trend does not necessarily spell the end of high end hardware. As long as that keeps delivering enough perceived value to a large enough population, it will survive in some form or the other, via some channel to market or the other. And if it doesn't - the classic story of the buggy harness industry killed by the advent of automobiles comes to mind.

      I don't however agree that streaming will kill off musicians - very little streaming now is of the illegal kind. Streaming has actually expanded the access to market of many musicians that would not otherwise have been "heard" by the giant recording companies and there are also many very successful musicians that bypass these companies and go straight to market via the streaming route. Streaming now looks to be the business model of the future and it could not get there by killing the most important part of it, the musicians. Intermediaries of different kinds may get disintermediated by changes in the technology involved and listening preferences, but if anyone has to survive for its success, it is musicians. And listeners of course.

      Something similar is happening in the arena of books.

      Comment


      • #4
        Fascinating business insights from the last few posts, from outside the audio industry looking in.

        It seems a great pity that such cold, ruthless inevitability can be applied by consumers of quality audio hardware to the extinguishing of the very retail environment that has given two generations of audiophiles access to quality gear from around the world. Brought to a high street near them.

        Yes of course there are seismic shifts in the retail environment globally. Shame that nobody is considering the real consequences of not being able to demonstrate audio equipment in a specialist environment, let alone interact with the dealer over a listening lifetime. Are we really so cheerfully ready to consign that experience to the dustbin of commercial inevitability? I think that's both shocking and very sad.
        Alan A. Shaw
        Designer, owner
        Harbeth Audio UK

        Comment


        • #5
          Let them die

          Originally posted by A.S. View Post
          Are we really so cheerfully ready to consign that experience to the dustbin of commercial inevitability? I think that's both shocking and very sad.
          This isn't the first time this is happening in the world, is it? High end audio isn't unique, seen from a distance, and almost all that happens in the world can be found to be similar to something that has already happened in the past.

          Mass manufacturing spelt the demise of village artisans starting a couple of hundred years ago. One could argue similarly about even the demise of the corner mom and pop store that gave way to malls and hyper marts and how that affected community lives beyond just those of Mom and Pop. Or about the demise of book stores - my favourite past time growing up was haunting a large book shop, stacked with all manner of books whose owner was more passionate about books than business. That shop is long gone because its customers took their business to the internet. A matter of regret, but customers, or a lack of enough of them, caused that to happen once they had a different choice. Just as customers made that book store successful in an earlier era.

          One can't really argue against these changes without also then arguing against all the consequent benefits of the modern global economy. There are those that will question the worth of these benefits and of those that do, a few will even stay away from them, at what appears to be, to the many that don't, at great personal inconvenience. Plus, one has to have the means to afford to do so, this behaviour is usually for the affluent!

          Comment


          • #6
            My streaming epiphany

            Originally posted by A.S. View Post
            Yes of course there are seismic shifts in the retail environment globally. Shame that nobody is considering the real consequences of not being able to demonstrate audio equipment in a specialist environment, let alone interact with the dealer over a listening lifetime.
            Please, elaborate on how streaming could possibly prevent this.

            Just for the record: the first time I was exposed to the immense possibilty of streaming was when looking for new speakers, it was 2013, the dealer, after some CDs I brought with me from home, connected a PC to the system on audition (with Harbeths on the other end), fired Spotify app and told me to seek for whatever I wanted to: see how these little wonders make everything sound better, he said. I called for some very obscure classic pieces... and that was a real epiphany for me!

            Comment


            • #7
              Pushing snake oil

              We can have a rational technical discussion about the sonic merits of different media and delivery systems. The conclusion is simple, however: digital is far superior. Predicting the future of how consumers will want their music is delivered is harder, but I am convinced that the vast majority will opt for streaming, with a few remaining vinyl romantics. I may be wrong, but I don't think so.

              What this means for the audio trade is a different matter, but it surely is part of a much larger and longer trend that started well before the age of streaming. Technically the electronic side of things has matured ages ago, and the gear has become a pretty homogeneous commodity where price matters. Just think of CD players. A decent one will cost less than 100 pounds and is sonically perfect. The sad thing is that much of the quality audio trade has opted to respond to this by pushing snake oil like vinyl, valve amplifiers, and cables, products where markets are not competitive, or to be technically precise, they are markets with so called monopolistic competition. This means suppliers of basically identical goods come up with a marketing spin that their products are not identical to others, but have some magical element X (if only a classy case). We have discussed this tack at great length, and Alan has exposed the technical waffle convincingly. But the end result is that there is huge crowd who do believe all this snake oil. For the retail trade this is great news, for as long as it lasts. In the meantime, of course, many people have come to realize that you can have a pretty decent system for not that much. For that, they don't go to the high end stores with their elevated prices, but they go to Richer Sounds etc.
              So what is the specialist retailer to do: is there an alternative to pushing snake oil/emotional experience? My suggestion would be to join the future, and try to add value not from selling snake oil but from selling real value, i.e. use the budget that is freed by the low price of electronics, and use it to push superb but expensive speakers like Harbeths, and offer room optimization, and invest in the acoustic skills needed for that. So maybe leave that expensive High Street store, and invest in a van with demo speakers, and some room equalization gear for home demo's.

              Comment


              • #8
                Is my home still my castle? - debatable text.

                This thread surprisingly exploded to maybe very deviated, but I must say very interesting, multi-layeral discusion on HUG site.

                My observations, maybe cruel and very sad:

                1. High street marketing hi-fi products in smaller cities and rural areas is continuously shrinking in last decade. All this business is based on medium and big cities and their nearer or farther outskirts.
                2. The general move of population to the areas outside cities is remarkable and inevitable.
                3. Gross marketing kills traditional European model of sales functioning.
                4. More common goods per capita are obtainable to customer via simplified, more concentrated system of distribution.
                5. Only some very basic goods’ trading (especially of agricultural provenance and local specialties) resists a/m trends quite well. Even youngest smartphone obsessed clients prefer locally baked bread etc.
                6. Core of EU audio business, like pc industry in 80s (Taiwan), migrated to the areas of lower or lowest possible salary for advanced or highly specialized job.
                7. Serious speaker industry in EU is limited now to a niche and highly specialized or robotized production of top, prestigious production lines.
                8. Regardless all those efforts the pricing for newly issued top hi-fi and so called high-end production constantly rises sometimes simply rockets. This alarming process was and is frequently signalized in more serious audio press (e.g. by frequently cited Stereophile here on HUG). That gives the root and sumpt for finding another ways of cheaper delivering “hi-fi” (means undistracted and clear, thus digital), mostly popular music to the mass, non golden ear customer. CD industry is practically 99% dependable on this kind of entertainment.
                Vinyl production is a margin niche, nevertheless very profitable compared to cd production. The prices of new vinyls are insane, I was frequently asked by young collectors if I sell some of my mint old pressed albums. For romantic reasons I refuse.
                9. Most of independent classical music labels (followed by phonographic giants, although somehow unwillingly, probably decisive slowness ), on advent of those inevitable changes and the advance of computer web network’s communicative capabilities, started selling their releases by downloading musical content and adequate information (electronic booklets). For now the incentive for buying via internet is rather poor – for the same price I can order cd or sacd at local distributor, but things can change rapidly and drastically when big brothers and general picture will push their backs to the wall.
                10. Even the biggest group of older and supportive consumers and fans for traditional way of calmly digesting beloved classical, jazz and progressive music (namely described by youth “nice, highly cultural old farts”), to which I personally belong, is in no financial position to change the deep economic changes on the clash between invasion of mass marketing and old style habits we cherish so much. Cry over spilt milk.
                11. If the things go further I will be forced to invest into my own tablet to cultivate “my home is my castle” rule to read respective text while listening to bought and downloaded music.
                For now I occasionally base on borrowed (but funded by me) one from my younger child. Children tell me I will be more on eco side. Signum temporis.
                I think the only what can be done is the adoption of new technologies, reworking them and selling back with cultural superstructure of old continent to the centres of origin. It is not the first time.
                12. I live in the country (mostly) where all those economic changes and clashes are more intense and harsher for rather poorer, hard working traditional and culturally established but well adopting and financially aspiring society, thus the new changes are indicated more rapidly like on litmus paper.


                My son and daughter already incorporated older, for them “vintage” but hi-fi and hi-end monitors and audio blocks, daddy’s former proud, still highly regarded. If they wanted to buy their equivalents today ….

                Comment


                • #9
                  Less is far more

                  Such a great pity that the sentiments I alluded to in my initial post have been misunderstood. I didn't want to mention it, but now I must in defence of my position, which is actually neutral to streaming.

                  What I miserably failed to convey was the comfort that the vinyl experience conveys to owners. It has nothing whatever to do with technology, as I clearly stated, and all to do with returning or engaging the owner with a simpler, easier to appreciate experience, perhaps of their very first contact with quality sound in their teens and twenties. There is much comfort to be gained from revisiting happier, less stressful phases in ones life, and streaming, obviously being a new invention, may to some be an icon of a present, more stressful modern life. It certainly feels like that to me, when for lord knows how many weeks I've promised I'd update the music on my gym MP3 player, but not found the time or motivation.

                  When one loses a parent under shocking conditions, as one rakes through the detritus of their life and then looks closely at the 'stuff' one has accrued in ones own, one realises that one has all the music, books, ties, friends one will ever need, and starts a process of gradual clear-out, de-cluttering and preparing for the inevitable process of ones own children repeating the miserable chuck-out and burn. In my life I don't want more, I want less. What I was saying in my first post was that reaching back via vinyl to those happy, simple days of circa 1973, has enormous appeal to a whole generation of similar aged consumers to me.
                  Alan A. Shaw
                  Designer, owner
                  Harbeth Audio UK

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Planning an exit strategy

                    I can totally sympathise with that. My Wife and I have a huge amount of stuff for our kids to dispose of when we are gone. Even more of a worry is that even larger hoard of Hi-Fi related equipment, parts, literature, LPs and CDs which I have accumulated over the past 50 years. All of it has some value and a lot of it is worth serious money. I would love to thin it out but can't bear to part with much of it just now.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Prices loaded by overheads

                      Originally posted by pkwba View Post
                      the pricing for newly issued top hi-fi and so called high-end production constantly rises sometimes simply rockets. This alarming process was and is frequently signalized in more serious audio press (e.g. by frequently cited Stereophile here on HUG). That gives the root and sumpt for finding another ways of cheaper delivering “hi-fi” (means undistracted and clear, thus digital)
                      You make some very good points, I will take this one to reply to. I am not a pessimist about the sound quality from modern budget audio gear as some here seem to be, and poor sound quality isn't an inevitability at budget price points any more.

                      Mass manufacturing has brought the prices of everything in the chain to levels that many can now afford without compromising listening pleasure, because these levels are high enough such that the brain can quickly and easily compensate for the little bits that may be missing at times. We ought to envy the next generation for the choices it has!

                      On the other hand, the price for "high end" - whatever that means - gear rockets because of lack of customers, leading to shrinkage of scales, leading to higher component costs. Low volumes also means that fixed costs including those of marketing are to be absorbed by shrinking volumes, driving up per unit burden, and increasing per unit selling price for achieving business sustainability. As a buyer of this gear, one often isn't paying just for what the product contains, one is also paying for the fact that there isn't enough of it being sold. Of course this vice can always be turned around into a virtue by nifty marketing that appeals to the elitist in us.

                      Vinyl gear may be in a slightly different category here - it doesn't cost much less to make quality turntables today than what it did a few decades ago.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Streaming as a motivator?

                        There is anecdotal evidence of some correlation between streaming and a general increase in awareness of "quality music" and of consumers pursuing that by purchasing (a little) more physical media. As a minor by product of downloads, that's possible, but not witnessed amongst my three grown up children.

                        But our primary interest here in HUG is physical audio products, since the enterprise that runs this group make physical audio products, which need to be demonstrated in physical audio stores.

                        My question then is, and I'd like to understand the truth, after investing as little as $40 in a steaming device (Chromecast etc.) almost certainly not bought in a specialist audio store, did it motivate you to visit a specialist audio retailer? Did that purchase spur you on to explore upgrading any worthwhile part of your system core? How much time passed before you went, and what did you actually buy there.
                        Alan A. Shaw
                        Designer, owner
                        Harbeth Audio UK

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Specialist Audio Dealers

                          Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                          ...My question then is, and I'd like to understand the truth, after investing as little as $40 in a steaming device (Chromecast etc.) almost certainly not bought in a specialist audio store, did it motivate you to visit a specialist audio retailer? Did that purchase spur you on to explore upgrading any worthwhile part of your system core? How much time passed before you went, and what did you actually buy there.
                          When I first got into ripping my CD collection and playing my music computer files from an Acer Revo computer in February 2013, it did re-invigorate my interest in music and I did visit a specialist hifi dealer to buy a pair of speakers in October 2013 so I could have a quality music system set up in another room of the house (separate to my music/home theatre set-up). In over 40 years of listening to music via hifi the only products I have ever bought from specialist hifi dealers have been 3 pairs of loudspeakers, and a pre-amp. Concerning the pre-amp the dealer persuaded me (incorrectly I now believe) that the pre-amp would be better than my existing set-up at that time of passive volume control directly from CD player to my power amp.

                          I have long considered that the digital front-end and a decent solid state amp (from a major Japanese corporation or similar) will take care of the signal into the speakers, and that it is the speakers which need the most care taken with selection for suitability.

                          Edit - I forgot that my record deck and first solid state amp were bought from a specialist hi-fi dealer along with my first pair of loudspeakers. How could I have forgotten that?
                          Last edited by Jeff_C; 17-04-2016, 05:59 PM. Reason: Correction to the facts

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Harbeth speakers available in U.S. via on-line supplier

                            Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                            But our primary interest here in HUG is physical audio products, since the enterprise that runs this group make physical audio products, which need to be demonstrated in physical audio stores.
                            Yet, in the U.S., at least, one does have the option to order Harbeth speakers from an on-line dealer, without the in-person demonstration.
                            http://store.acousticsounds.com//s/32/Harbeth_Speakers

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Are high street stores needed?

                              Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                              My question then is, and I'd like to understand the truth, after investing as little as $40 in a steaming device (Chromecast etc.) almost certainly not bought in a specialist audio store, did it motivate you to visit a specialist audio retailer? Did that purchase spur you on to explore upgrading any worthwhile part of your system core? How much time passed before you went, and what did you actually buy there.
                              I discovered streaming/local NAS the wrong side of middle age, so I can't help you! It allowed me to get rid of a lot of kit bought from specialist retailers in the past, not the other way around. I suspect that most on this forum that now use this tech will have a similar direction to their stories.

                              For what its worth, I bought my C7 pair direct from Harbeth UK, unheard. A retailer with a demo set up would have been nice to have, but clearly wasn't essential.

                              I suspect that a lot of audio gear is now being sold on places like Amazon. I know I bought all my Sonos kit there. Again, physical retail presence would have been nice to have, but it wasn't essential. For something like Chromecast, it isn't even a "would have been nice to have" thing.

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