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Convincing People to Spend $5,000 – $10,000 on Their Next Stereo Will Change High-End Audio

What will it take for the high-end audio industry to reach the next generation? We think a focus on the middle and system building is the answer.

Bluesound Node 2i digital music streamer in hi-fi-system

Hit the one in the middle. And I’m not just saying that having just consumed the hottest chicken sandwich ever at a Houston’s Howdy Hot Chicken. Nice people. Seriously hot chicken sandwiches that can cause hallucinations. So do high-end audio systems that cost nearly $600,000. We heard one of those this week. It disturbed us. Not in a good way.

Perhaps Paulie and Tony “Duke” Evers had it correct in Rocky IV. 

Sometimes, when you have too many moving targets in front of you – the best strategy might be to hit the one in the middle. 

High-end audio has battled through that for a few decades. 

The inability to convert a new core generation of audio enthusiasts; both male and female who are emotionally connected to their music collections but completely turned off by the perceived price of admission to join the high-end club. 

It is easy to point fingers at manufacturers who charge $3,000 for cables, or $20,000 for loudspeakers, but the reality is that they wouldn’t make such products if there wasn’t a customer out there willing to buy them. 

The problem is that they are selling to the same customer. All of them. 

And that customer base isn’t getting any younger. Or larger. 

The high-end press doesn’t get a pass here either. 

While there have been positive changes over the past few years thanks to the growing influence of YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, the reality is that the press is still too focused on the portion of the industry that has zero chance of growing the base. 

How do I know this?

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We made a strategic decision back in 2020 to shift our focus to more affordable high-end audio, vintage audio, system building, a much bigger emphasis on music, and we brought some amazing new staff writers onboard who have contributed in a huge way.

All of them shared a few things in common which they expressed with a sincere degree of frustration. 

Their audience loves music but has almost no idea what to buy and is completely turned off by the “insane” prices at the top of the audio pyramid and the lack of quality on the ground floor. 

Their audience reads hardware reviews but walks away without any real understanding of how to assemble a system.

Their audience reads reviews about $3,000 cables, $4,000 record cleaning machines, $3,000 power conditioners, and $8,000 phono cartridges – and completely tune out. 

Our Music Editor, Lauren Halliday (with close to 15,000 followers on her Instagram vinyl page) started laughing when we said you could spend over $1,000 on an Ethernet cable.

She replied, “that is just dumb.”

And she’s not wrong. Dumb beyond.

The audio industry needs to become more inclusive and stop paying lip service to women and the 25-45 age segment who want to spend between $5,000 – $10,000 on a complete system.

That ceiling can be expanded but retailers need to ask themselves a simple question. 

Do they want 100 new customers in 2021 who will spend in that range for the very first time and upgrade slowly over time or do they want the same old customers who will upgrade a solitary component after a favorable review? 

Some will get that answer wrong. 

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The middle is where we are going to succeed with this group. 

Hit the one in the middle. 

Sonus faber Lumina I Bookshelf Speaker Pair
Sonus faber Lumina I

Offer customers quality products from the middle. Because the quality is there and that’s what they can afford to spend. 

If I am wrong – then why did Sonus faber introduce the excellent Lumina I loudspeakers? 

Why does ELAC sell a lot of loudspeakers in this range? 

Pair of ELAC Uni-Fi 2.0 UB52 Bookshelf Speakers in black, model UB52-BK
ELAC Uni-Fi 2.0 UB52 Bookshelf Speakers – $599/pair at Amazon

Schiit Audio, iFi Audio, Rega, Naim, Focal, Wharfedale, Pro-Ject, Bluesound, NAD, Magnepan, Q Acoustics, PSB, Polk Audio, Quad, Cambridge Audio, Klipsch, Heed, Decware, Omega, and many others offer excellent sounding products that fit into this system range.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a new high-end audio store in Houston, Texas and I think Focal & Naim have the right idea. Perhaps not as much “affordable” equipment as I would like to see but they are selling the high-end experience with their new Focal Powered by Naim Houston location and with plans to roll this out to other major cities — this is a step in the right direction.

Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition with Focal Clear MG Headphones
Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition with Focal Clear MG Headphones

I like that Focal and Naim are focusing on personal audio with their headphones and Naim Uniti Series. I tried the new Uniti Atom HE Network Headphone Amplifier this week with both Focal headphones and my own HiFiMan and Meze Audio cans — it was perfect for people who want a hi-res streamer/DAC/headphone amplifier that can also serve as a preamp with active loudspeakers. Same tactile volume dial and one of the best control apps available from any manufacturer.

People gravitate to headphones and I can see this being a very successful gateway drug for people who want to use premium headphones instead of loudspeakers.

Naim disclosed some new information about their control app that we did not know and how they are working with one of the major streaming platforms in regard to how it will work going forward with their new lossless tier and Naim’s streaming products.

Naim gets it. Both on the hardware and software side of the streaming category.

Another new interesting feature of the Uniti Atom HE is its ability to be the hub of a multi-room Naim/Focal configuration in your home.

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I’ve spent the past few days in Houston and visited 3 of its best record stores. They were all busy during the day and the excitement (and trepidation) in each store for Record Store Day 2021 was on full display. I tried to bribe two employees to sell me some of the records on my list early but they refused.

The Future is Now

We’re going to continue on our new path because it’s working. We have published the 2nd most new content of any consumer A/V publication in the world in 2021 (on pace for over 900 articles this year) and our focus on vintage, vinyl, affordable systems, and the changing face of the audiophile community is having a huge impact on our traffic.

Our publication has more than doubled in readership in less than 1 year and we are very grateful to our readers for their daily support. We are on pace for over 500K monthly readers by the end of Q3 and that comes with a degree of responsibility and the willingness to have more open conversations with all of you.

Tell us what you want to see going forward. Let us know whom you would like us to interview on the ecoustics podcast.

Ian White & Brian Mitchell

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Mike

    June 7, 2021 at 11:08 am

    A pair of Sonos Ones would be all most people need or want. A pair of Sonos Fives and a Sonos Sub would work for all but the most diehard music lovers. Forget all the cables, power conditioners and vinyl. Way more than 99% of folks wisely don’t give a Schitt. This industry is dying.

    • Ian White

      June 7, 2021 at 11:33 am

      Mike,

      The problem is that people think they have either the option you suggested or the $$$$ nonsense that some in this industry push.

      The industry isn’t dying. The problem is that music became a background activity for a lot of people when it used to be THE activity at home for most people.

      People will spend money. You’re wrong. But we need to stop talking about $3,000 cables, power conditioners, and $100,000 speakers and focus on the middle.

      I spent last week on the road visiting dealers. Including a new one that Naim/Focal have created and will be rolling out. COVID helped folks in A/V survive in 2020 because consumers were stuck at home and were bored — but the opportunity exists to build a middle and we will die if we don’t.

      IW

  2. MadMex

    July 11, 2021 at 6:00 pm

    Great piece. $10k system is a perfect range for folks with the funds, I being one. Beyond that is living in la la land, I feel.

    More importantly, thanks for the heads up on Houston’s Howdy Hot Chicken. As a frequent business travel there, it’s now on the list along with Turkey Leg Hut.

    As for Sonos mentioned above, these brands take the joy out of owning, caring for, swooning over “true” hi-fi, whatever budget. Wireless? Powered speakers? Get lost.

  3. scott rex

    October 12, 2021 at 8:45 pm

    Thx, nice read and I agree… I am in my early 50’s have been assembling my first real HIFI system. Gave myself a $5k budget. I am fortunate as to work in a HIFI store as a commercial sound engineer (our red-headed stepchild division). I have Focal Utopia, Sopra and Kanta speakers in the showroom as well as Sonus Faber and JL Audio. For electronics we carry Gold Note, Naim, Jackson, Chord, Marantz, TEAC & McIntosh. We even have a Meyer Sound 9.2.4 theater system… Plenty of ways to enjoy my lunch hour. I live in a small space and chose the following for myself.
    Focal Aria 906 stand speakers, JL Dominion 8″ sub, TEAC AX-505 integrated amp and Brennan B2 CD jukebox. I already have a Clarus CODA DAC for streaming HiRes from my phone or PC. Got my eye on a RME ADI-2 DAC down the road when they add the ability to unfold MQA files, but for now I think I am set with a strong 2ch system. The Brennan came in yesterday, Focals today, waiting on the amp and sub!
    On the edge of my listing couch, can’t wait!!!

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