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  1. #1
    Ajani
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    Next Gen of Audiophiles Hiding in Plain Sight???

    From about 10 years ago (when I first gained an interest in High End Audio, by accidentally stumbling across audioreview.com, in my quest to find a review for some cheap Technics speakers) I've seen threads claiming that audiophilia (how I hate that name) is dying/dead... Of course that really refers to North America and not places like Japan, where Hi-Fi is still booming...

    Anyway, a recent thread on a Stereophile forum left me wondering if audiophilia is as strong as ever, but that it has morphed with the new generation... The point was made that the market for high-end headphones is growing and growing and that many younger listeners are as hardcore (if not more so) about their headphone rigs, as the the 'traditional' audiophile is about his loudspeaker setup...

    A quick look at the number of younger persons actively involved on Head-Fi.com and regularly attending annual Head-Fi meets indicates that audiophilia is still very much alive and kicking...

    Also, an examination of the headphone market shows new players vying for a spot selling high-end headphones... Monster has a line of them (starting with the Beats by Dr Dre - which have received excellent reviews and are featured in a number of pop music videos), B&W is entering the market... Earlier this year, Denon launched a $1K flagship pair... Sennheiser launched their $1.4K flagships, etc... Even Bose has received good reviews for their noise cancelling phones...

    As I've mentioned in a previous thread, the trend towards high-end headphones rather than speakers makes sense, considering that most of us in the younger generations start off with an iPod or other portable player... So our first upgrade would usually be to buy a nicer pair of headphones... And considering how much cheaper it is to get to true high-end sound with a pair of cans than with loudspeakers, it is the only way many persons can afford high-end...

    Now, some persons believe that the younger generation will eventually buy high-end speakers as their earnings grow... but IMO, whether they do or not is irrelevant, the fact that they are buying high quality gear already shows that our hobby is alive and kicking...

  2. #2
    Sgt. At Arms Worf101's Avatar
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    Hmmmm

    Your points seem logical, make "common sense" and seem to be borne out by evidence that can be seen on the heads of people all around us. It makes sense I suppose that, with the reduced economic fortunes of the current generation, they'd see to get improved sound in the arena where they listen to music the most, and that's on their heads. This will probably mean that the audiophile of futre will NOT have a dedicated 2 channel system as he or she rarely shares their music with others outsdie of a boomin' system car. I suspect as you surmise they'll spend their money on better digital storage, DAC's, headphone pre-amps, mulitplatform interfaces and improved cans.

    Only makes sense.

    Worf

  3. #3
    Vinyl Fundamentalist Forums Moderator poppachubby's Avatar
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    Ah, personally, I don't see this "generation" you're talking about. If they exist, it's a small percentage versus those who are wearing cheap earbuds and the like.

    Whether or not these people would move onto 2 channel, is a question no one can really answer except those individuals. Everything else is just presumptuous...

    The hobby is in decline, let's face it. That doesn't mean that it's headed to extinction. It also doesn't mean that it has to do an about face to change. Its appeal is already there, once the interested people find it, THEY will do the changing.

  4. #4
    Ajani
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    Quote Originally Posted by poppachubby
    Ah, personally, I don't see this "generation" you're talking about. If they exist, it's a small percentage versus those who are wearing cheap earbuds and the like.
    Well, first you can try checking sites like head-fi.org, and check out their annual 'Can Jam' Meets (events that have far far far more younger persons than any of the traditional Hi-Fi shows, and if I'm not mistaken have better overall attendance)...

    As for percentages: well that's always been true of high-end audio... The number of persons with quality speakers and electronics has always been a small percentage of those using cheap all-in-one turntable/cassette/CD mini systems or iPod docks... So the same should be expected of headphones...

    Quote Originally Posted by poppachubby
    Whether or not these people would move onto 2 channel, is a question no one can really answer except those individuals. Everything else is just presumptuous...
    Firstly, headphones are 2 channel... But I assume you mean whether they will move on to speakers... As I said earlier: whether they do or don't really doesn't matter... high-end audio is about pursuing better quality sound... whether that is done using a turntable, tube amp and loudspeakers or a DAC, headphone amp and headphones makes no difference...

    Quote Originally Posted by poppachubby
    The hobby is in decline, let's face it. That doesn't mean that it's headed to extinction. It also doesn't mean that it has to do an about face to change. Its appeal is already there, once the interested people find it, THEY will do the changing.
    Obviously, I disagree with the view of decline... I think the hobby has already changed for many persons... But one of the cool things about being an audiophile today, is the wealth of choice available... Whether you want a tiny but high-quality headphone rig or you have a dedicated listening room for a pair of Soundlabs U-1PXs, the options are there... I think it is a great time to be an audiophile...

  5. #5
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    A few thoughts from me who's been in hifi since 1971.

    The '70s were the heyday of hifi. The general population, (in North American and Japan, at least), were really into it and there were hifi shops on every street corner.

    By the early '80 things were in hard decline. To some extent the market had become saturated, but the bigger factor, IMO, was the advent of the VCR. Video trumped audio for the majority of people then and it still does now. Today the mass market can only be moved by way of home theatre, though presently many are content with HTIB. But a stablization of the video technology, (no super new displays and commoditization at some), might divert the consumers' attention back to the audio aspect.

    Audiophile interest persists however, and will continue to do so indefinitely. Interest is still very strong in Japan, (as mentioned), and is growing strongly in China and elsewhere in Asia. However it will remain a niche market more or less.

    Notwithstanding, there is a better selection of really high-end equipment today than there ever was in the pass. On the other hand high-end is also more expensive than ever. Dedicated audio brands like Cambridge and NAD deserve a lot of praise for holding out in the entry and mid-range markets; of course they can only do so having move production off-shore to low wage markets.

    A negative factor for hifi (and everything else) is the pending impoverishment of the American (and Canadian) working and middle classes. North America has shot its bolt in world economic affairs and most of its denizens can only look forward to an inevidable, though hopefully slow, decline to third-world living standards. Hopefully that third-world benchmark will rise a little in the meantime, but the forces of global wealth concentration work relentlessly against the common man & woman everywhere. Not to mention that 1.5+ billion people will be displaced due to seaboard inundation and desertification due to global warning -- since it's obvious the governments of the world can't agree to do anything to forestall the problem.
    Last edited by Feanor; 12-17-2009 at 10:19 AM.

  6. #6
    Vinyl Fundamentalist Forums Moderator poppachubby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ajani
    Well, first you can try checking sites like head-fi.org, and check out their annual 'Can Jam' Meets (events that have far far far more younger persons than any of the traditional Hi-Fi shows, and if I'm not mistaken have better overall attendance)...




    Firstly, headphones are 2 channel... But I assume you mean whether they will move on to speakers... As I said earlier: whether they do or don't really doesn't matter... high-end audio is about pursuing better quality sound... whether that is done using a turntable, tube amp and loudspeakers or a DAC, headphone amp and headphones makes no difference...


    Well, we have differing views on what qualifies as an interest in this hobby vs. a commitment. I am very much pro-headphones, but I don't think someone with a decent set of cans and a dac is all set-up in the ways of hi-fi.

    As far as the decline thing goes. Feanor hit it on the head. My dad was huge into hi-fi, he was HK all the way. I remember when hi-fi was a huge buzz when I was a kid. Young guys with any kind of cash ran out to buy the biggest system they could afford. Times have changed, it's simply not like that right now. Besides the fact, who has money for any of it anyhow?

    Anyhow, that's my 0.02

  7. #7
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    But, even with the iPod and these high end headphone options, the market for audio products remains small. The average household spends less than $50 a year on audio products. Keep that in mind when painting a pretty picture about the industry -- it's just not that big.

    The home audio component market has been persistently shrinking since it peaked in 1992. As I've pointed out many times on this board, the audio market has been shifting towards portables and mobility products for decades. Consider that the iPod alone outsells the COMBINED home audio component more than threefold. Headphones are part of the iPod ecosystem, and that's where the market has gone. Even high-end components have begun to add iPod docks at least as an option.

    High end headphones have always been around, but with more megabuck options, it looks like more manufacturers are trying to appeal to the "silly segment" of the market (i.e., the part of the market that charges exorbitant prices for incremental or illusory sound quality improvements). But, bear in mind that high end headphone options does not mean that people are buying them in droves.

    The way I see the home audio market evolving, it's the middle market that has gotten squeezed. High end components can proliferate because those companies can survive by producing low volume with extremely high margins. Mass market components will do fine because economies of scale and cost reductions with electronic components and manufacturing techniques have pushed prices downward while keeping the sound quality at the same plateau. But, the options for higher quality in the middle price points have been dwindling.
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  8. #8
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    What gloom and doom!

    Guys, I don't share all the gloom and doom voiced here. We're headed towards third world status? Audio is dead? Wha?

    As for me, I think this is a golden age for those who really love music. Good quality gear has never been cheaper. Everyone can afford taking their favorite music mobile with incredible flexibility. Instead of being limited to radio or a single cassette, one can fit a library in their compact player. Not to mention having a CD changer or iPod dock in your car. There has never been more choices in terms of music deployment. Vinyl is still very much available and there are multiple digital formats, most of which can be centrally stored in a computer environment for immediate access. Compact bookshelf speakers today are incredibly good. For the crazies like me, available sound quality has never been better. The used market brims with great deals and with the internet, we have easy access to finding it. NOS tubes are easily found. And - as this forum demonstrates - there is an incredible source of sharing experience with others that never existed in the alleged "heyday" of audio. Call me an incurable optimist, but I can't imagine things in audio being any better for us!

    rw

  9. #9
    Vinyl Fundamentalist Forums Moderator poppachubby's Avatar
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    Hmmm, well put E-Stat. Those are all true. Perhaps you're right, a little too much gloom.

  10. #10
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woochifer
    ....

    High end headphones have always been around, but with more megabuck options, it looks like more manufacturers are trying to appeal to the "silly segment" of the market (i.e., the part of the market that charges exorbitant prices for incremental or illusory sound quality improvements). But, bear in mind that high end headphone options does not mean that people are buying them in droves.

    ...
    High-end 'phones have indeed been around for a while.

    Circa 1972 I bought Koss Electrostatics for C$400, close to $2000 in today's dollars. They need to be driven by a power amp; they were painfully heavy and head crushing. I never really like the sound either -- maybe it was my Dynaco Stereo 80 s/s amp driving them.

    A few years later, perhaps 1977, I got myself Stax Electorstatics, paying maybe C$700, over $2100 in today's dollars. The Stax also need to be power amp driven; they were more comfortable and better sounding than the Koss.

  11. #11
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by E-Stat
    Guys, I don't share all the gloom and doom voiced here. We're headed towards third world status? Audio is dead? Wha?

    ...
    It's just me, 'Stat. Just me, but then I could be right.

  12. #12
    Forum Regular audio amateur's Avatar
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    I wholeheartedly agree with E. For one, good quality sound is cheap. On top of this, it has never been so easy and cheap to own music, and the choice is vast.

  13. #13
    Class of the clown GMichael's Avatar
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    I feel that as more and more people get into HT that it's inevitable that a percentage of them will take notice to 2 channel. Sure, most people are happy with a HTiB solution, but hasn't it always been that way? Even my modest HT system does 2 channel music better than the average stereo from 30 years ago.

    But I also agree with Ajani. With Ipods being the walkman of the 21's century, it's only normal that we see a growth of headphones in use. It's also inevitable that as these kids grow up and buy homes that they'll want music there too. A percent will want real systems.

    The information age is a good thing.
    WARNING! - The Surgeon General has determined that, time spent listening to music is not deducted from one's lifespan.

  14. #14
    Can a crooner get a gig? dean_martin's Avatar
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    I'm pretty much on board with E-Stat. Availability of both gear and music (as pointed out by aa) is at an all-time high, IMO.

    Whattabout the music? Do young people still hear their first "favorite" song on FM radio? I'm by no means an expert on what's going on out there, but does the quality of popular music (both quality of recordings and quality of performers) effect the market for top-notch gear? If there is a relationship between demand for better gear and popular music, then where does today's popular music stand in relation to years gone by? (This is from a guy who hasn't kept up with the top 40 in many years.) OTOH, is this new generation mining music from all decades? I'm interested in knowing what the new generation to which Ajani refers is listening to.

  15. #15
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dean_martin
    I'm pretty much on board with E-Stat. Availability of both gear and music (as pointed out by aa) is at an all-time high, IMO.

    Whattabout the music? Do young people still hear their first "favorite" song on FM radio? I'm by no means an expert on what's going on out there, but does the quality of popular music (both quality of recordings and quality of performers) effect the market for top-notch gear? If there is a relationship between demand for better gear and popular music, then where does today's popular music stand in relation to years gone by? (This is from a guy who hasn't kept up with the top 40 in many years.) OTOH, is this new generation mining music from all decades? I'm interested in knowing what the new generation to which Ajani refers is listening to.
    There is no necessary connection between music loving and audiophilia -- there was a recent thread that touched on this.

    In the '70 it might be said that people can to hifi because they had at least some love of music. Today that isn't necessarily true given most equipment today sold for HT -- movies not music. But pure audiophilia for the purpose of music listening won't die, albeit it is and will be a niche market.

    Speaking of music, I've been hearing about the demise of classical music for a couple of decades at least. This ain't gonna happen either. Like high-end audio, there is more choice and better availability today than ever before. Granted, classical will be as it always has been: a niche reserved for the elite crème of music listeners.

  16. #16
    Forum Regular audio amateur's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dean_martin
    I'm pretty much on board with E-Stat. Availability of both gear and music (as pointed out by aa) is at an all-time high, IMO.

    Whattabout the music? Do young people still hear their first "favorite" song on FM radio? I'm by no means an expert on what's going on out there, but does the quality of popular music (both quality of recordings and quality of performers) effect the market for top-notch gear? If there is a relationship between demand for better gear and popular music, then where does today's popular music stand in relation to years gone by? (This is from a guy who hasn't kept up with the top 40 in many years.) OTOH, is this new generation mining music from all decades? I'm interested in knowing what the new generation to which Ajani refers is listening to.
    It really depends which 'generation' he's referring to, and the person too. As an example, I'm 22 and one of my good friends listens to the Rolling Stones and the likes (which I think you'll agree are way before his time), whereas another would listen to the latest commercial cheese (though I do every now and then listen to the cheese). I don't believe it is really possible to generalise what that generation is listening to. A lot of people have eclectic tastes, and different people listen to different music.

  17. #17
    Can a crooner get a gig? dean_martin's Avatar
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    My son is 20. I have no idea what kind of music he's downloading, but I do know what he listens to on other formats like vinyl because he often gets me to help him find a release and I give him vinyl for Christmas, birthday, etc.

    As far as classical goes, there is a small minority of us who grow up exposed to classical, rebelled against it and then succumbed. Some of us weren't exposed to it by our parents, but rather we actually played it while in high school band, college band, taking piano lessons, (or perhaps others who could, sang in a choir) etc. And/or, we were blown away by a piece we heard in the soundtrack of a movie and had to track it down. As long as we continue to offer a well-rounded education there will be interest in classical music.

  18. #18
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dean_martin
    And/or, we were blown away by a piece we heard in the soundtrack of a movie and had to track it down. As long as we continue to offer a well-rounded education there will be interest in classical music.
    When I was a teenager, I was really into prog rock. It was EL&P that got me started with Mussorgsky and Copland. At the time, I was a bass freak and had double Advents (as I do today in the garage). Their product brochure talked about the 32 hz note found in Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra tone poem. While the low C pedal doesn't last very long, I found I really liked the piece. As for soundtracks, there are numerous ones today that I thoroughly enjoy. John Williams continues to be prolific with his early "Harry Potter" scores and "Memoirs of a Geisha". The later "Harry Potter" scores are equally well done with Nicholas Hooper. The Hans Zimmer score from "The Thin Red Line" is also quite tasty.

    rw

  19. #19
    Can a crooner get a gig? dean_martin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by E-Stat
    When I was a teenager, I was really into prog rock. It was EL&P that got me started with Mussorgsky and Copland. At the time, I was a bass freak and had double Advents (as I do today in the garage). Their product brochure talked about the 32 hz note found in Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra tone poem. While the low C pedal doesn't last very long, I found I really liked the piece. As for soundtracks, there are numerous ones today that I thoroughly enjoy. John Williams continues to be prolific with his early "Harry Potter" scores and "Memoirs of a Geisha". The later "Harry Potter" scores are equally well done with Nicholas Hooper. The Hans Zimmer score from "The Thin Red Line" is also quite tasty.

    rw
    Who knew the bass demo track would be so awesome!

    My son's a drummer (marching band and drum set). He was a huge drum corp fan and went to many shows and watched them on video. As I'm sure Sir T can attest, drum corps' classical repertoire is quite vast. Next thing I know, I'm on the prowl for the "best" recordings of "The Planets" and "Pictures at an Exhibition".

    Some of my favorite classical works I first heard watching movies like 2001, A Clock Work Orange, The Hunger and on and on. I've only skimmed the surface, but about once a year I do some research and add a couple of classical titles to the collection. Last year I took the wife to the Mobile Symphony Orchestra's Valentine's Day performance. I noticed I was on the edge of my seat during parts of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet.

  20. #20
    Ajani
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    Quote Originally Posted by poppachubby
    Well, we have differing views on what qualifies as an interest in this hobby vs. a commitment. I am very much pro-headphones, but I don't think someone with a decent set of cans and a dac is all set-up in the ways of hi-fi.
    Unfortunately, I've been marking exam papers all day, so I'm just getting a chance to catch up on my thread... However your comment caught my attention... So rather than assume what you mean, I'll just ask:

    1) What qualifies as a "commitment" in this hobby as opposed to an "interest"??? (Since based on the discussion it would appear to me that you are referring to headphone/DAC users as only having an interest and not a commitment - So I really would appreciate the clarification)

    2) What does your last sentence mean? It's very ambiguous and could easily be construed to mean that Cans/DAC are not hi-fi... So once again, I'd love some clarification...

  21. #21
    Ajani
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    Quote Originally Posted by audio amateur
    It really depends which 'generation' he's referring to, and the person too. As an example, I'm 22 and one of my good friends listens to the Rolling Stones and the likes (which I think you'll agree are way before his time), whereas another would listen to the latest commercial cheese (though I do every now and then listen to the cheese). I don't believe it is really possible to generalise what that generation is listening to. A lot of people have eclectic tastes, and different people listen to different music.
    Don't think it really matters which generation as many persons have very eclectic tastes (as you pointed out)...

    I am 29, but I listen to everything from 60's Rock, R&B, Classical and Gospel to Gangsta Rap, Dancehall and Alternative.... as do many persons near my age....

    BTW, part of that appreciation for music from before I was born, can be attributed to the "nemesis of so many audiophiles" - MP3s (really AAC).... as I was exposed to and was able to purchase a wide range of music from iTunes that I would not have had access to otherwise (as those CDs long left the shelves of the local record shops)...

  22. #22
    Ajani
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    Quote Originally Posted by E-Stat
    Guys, I don't share all the gloom and doom voiced here. We're headed towards third world status? Audio is dead? Wha?

    As for me, I think this is a golden age for those who really love music. Good quality gear has never been cheaper. Everyone can afford taking their favorite music mobile with incredible flexibility. Instead of being limited to radio or a single cassette, one can fit a library in their compact player. Not to mention having a CD changer or iPod dock in your car. There has never been more choices in terms of music deployment. Vinyl is still very much available and there are multiple digital formats, most of which can be centrally stored in a computer environment for immediate access. Compact bookshelf speakers today are incredibly good. For the crazies like me, available sound quality has never been better. The used market brims with great deals and with the internet, we have easy access to finding it. NOS tubes are easily found. And - as this forum demonstrates - there is an incredible source of sharing experience with others that never existed in the alleged "heyday" of audio. Call me an incurable optimist, but I can't imagine things in audio being any better for us!

    rw
    Well said... That's exactly the point I've been trying to convey... That there is so much opportunity for someone interested in music or Hi-Fi today... The musical selections are endless... the formats are varied as well...

    And even though I hear persons complaining about how there is a decline in the middle of the market for hi-fi gear; There are still virtually endless ways to assemble a good 2 channel setup for ANY budget... There is no shortage of quality new or used gear available...

    Yes, 2 Channel Hi-Fi might not be the focus of every electronics store on the corner anymore (as is claimed to have existed in the 70s), but that in no way means that hi-fi is dead or even dying...

  23. #23
    Vinyl Fundamentalist Forums Moderator poppachubby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ajani
    Well said... That's exactly the point I've been trying to convey... That there is so much opportunity for someone interested in music or Hi-Fi today... The musical selections are endless... the formats are varied as well...

    And even though I hear persons complaining about how there is a decline in the middle of the market for hi-fi gear; There are still virtually endless ways to assemble a good 2 channel setup for ANY budget... There is no shortage of quality new or used gear available...

    Yes, 2 Channel Hi-Fi might not be the focus of every electronics store on the corner anymore (as is claimed to have existed in the 70s), but that in no way means that hi-fi is dead or even dying...
    No, actually your original point was concerning Ipod/portable and headphone users entering a higher bracket.

    My comments are simple. Sure. OK. A dac and headphones can be considered Hi-Fi. But I find it ironic for someone like yourself, who reveres this hobby so much, to really beleive that this is good enough.

    It kind of mocks those who have made real effort to find a path and arrive at their chosen "nirvana". I suppose for some, headphones could very well represent the best of hi-fi. I simply don't see it that way.

    Yes, there are tons of options out there for us all. The real question is, do non-audiophiles care? I personally think that many simply don't, and this is the "decline" I'm talking about. Maybe decline is a bad word... Anyhow, I don't think a pair of upgraded headphones constitutes much, even if they are on head-fi.com.

  24. #24
    Ajani
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    Quote Originally Posted by poppachubby
    My comments are simple. Sure. OK. A dac and headphones can be considered Hi-Fi. But I find it ironic for someone like yourself, who reveres this hobby so much, to really beleive that this is good enough.

    It kind of mocks those who have made real effort to find a path and arrive at their chosen "nirvana". I suppose for some, headphones could very well represent the best of hi-fi. I simply don't see it that way.
    Since reviews of headphones from just about all the major Hi-Fi mags regard them as being genuine high-end at incredibly cheap prices (relative to speakers), I think my point of view that they are Hi-Fi is more than justified...

    Your point that "A dac and headphones can be considered Hi-Fi" is based solely on your own prejudices....

    Sam Tellig's review of the AKG K701's in Stereophile pretty much sums up why many persons respect headphones greatly:

    "Why mess around with speakers costing tens of thousands of dollars when you can have this?"

    I have no issue if you want to spend every last cent you earn on Loudspeakers, amplification and room treatments, but that in no way diminishes the quality of a headphone setup...

    Since clearly you just don't regard headphones as being real hi-fi based on your own prejudices, I won't spend any further time debating the subject with you... Enough experts rate headphones highly, that I don't need to convince you... I'll continue to enjoy my high quality rig and you can continue to enjoy yours...

  25. #25
    _ Luvin Da Blues's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ajani
    I have no issue if you want to spend every last cent you earn on Loudspeakers, amplification and room treatments, but that in no way diminishes the quality of a headphone setup...
    Some music just lends itself better to headphones, some to speakers. Completely different presentation. I really wish I could afford a real nice set of cans/headamp but I've spent enough on the main rig for now. Maybe next year.
    Back in my day, we had nine planets.

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