The 'golden age' of hi-fi is not over - it's just beginning

I live near 2 schools, judging by the groups of kids walking to school huddled round smart phones playing the latest chart music I think it’s safe to assume music is still a big part of their life and identity, as it was for us old farts!

I am not sure I could have made it through my teenage years without the crutches of Led Zeplin and Pearl Jam ect. Mostly listened to on a hand me down DECCA music system!

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Hard to say. But artists I’ve read seemed to feel they crafted an album and extracted 1 or 2 “singles” for radio play (perhaps shortened with “boring bits” edited out). And now they just make 12 singles and call it an album.

Elvis Presley made a good living out of doing just this.

You could say it about many of the older pop artists, especially those without the clout of the most popular.

Before the rise of the concept album, most were based around one or two singles (right, we’d better make an album now!).

Something is wrong here, because in 2020, Discogs sold 18 billions ( millions in french) lps in the world. Only Discogs.

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I think this shows well the decline of music hardware sales, which is half of the story.

The other half would be the remarkable growth of music as a consumable via the various streaming apps.

Together, I suspect that they would show a growth in overall musical consumption, with that growth coming from mobile streaming via smart phones, Spotify etc.

Your comment is very interesting and makes a lot of sense. I’m sure commercial demands have always played some part in how music is crafted/put together (even back in the days of great classical composers) but I am concerned that the latest output is ‘commoditised’ like never before. On the one hand it probably makes it quite listenable (if you like the style) however there is an element of the music being ‘white goods’ to fit within a ‘consumer’s’ demands rather than any deeper involvement or appreciation of the music itself. I’m sure this has always been the case but I feel it is now more prevalent than ever.

There is also the debate over the use of auto tune which probably explains why so many female vocalists in particular now sound almost identical. Finally, there is the increasing use of swearing in chart music, no doubt in some misguided attempt to make fairly benign music sound ‘edgy’ and ‘cutting edge’ when musically it is middle of the road/inoffensive/dull. TBH it makes me cringe and, having a 6 year old boy and a 3 year old girl, is the reason why I have Kids Bop albums on my Tidal account.


I agree with this. However, I was never keen on/comfortable with the music I listened determining who I was friends with, what I wore or my politics.

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Are we still talking about hifi or music generally?

Music has become more of a consumer product than a hifi one in my opinion, but perhaps it always was. The Mozarts and Bachs of this world seemed to produce their works for wealthy sponsors rather than the masses. That’s where their market was. The modern market is so much more than that. We can all listen to good music (or what we perceive as our good taste) almost anywhere and on many devices. Is that hifi, or just better quality availability? I have four ‘children’ in an age range of 24 to 39. They all listen to music, none of them are interested in my Naim equipment except to mention in passing, more because of its appearance than its sound.
So HiFi is more a specialist hobby perhaps? or increasingly a sign of consumer purchasing power and one upmanship?

Buying hi-fi gear for the sake of it, yes.

But listening to music played through high quality kit, no. The standard of played back music is dramatically better than even 15 years ago (even a smartphone speaker makes better sound than an old portable radio). Making hi-fi level sound available with as little compromise as possible to a living environment (one box, speakers that are less fussy about placement) starts people on the path to a more dedicated listening environment and kit. Over time done of these people will hanker after a higher quality kit in a more dedicated listening environment.

Sorry but I think this is just wishful thinking on your part. I’ve said this before but at uni we all had hifis but out of my circle of friends only 2 of us now have hifis. And I know of zero of any of our children who have what you would call a traditional hifi. My 27 yr old daughter absolutely loves her music and listens all day. I persuaded her to have my Mk 1 Muso but she refused my offer to buy her some hifi. Yes, there may be the occasional youngster who gets into vinyl but I think we would be doing well just to get lots of them to Muso level devices. In reality their listening modes are phones, laptops and TVs


There seem to be two questions here:
is the golden age of HiFi over ?
Do people listen to music as much now as in the past?
For the second question, I think that the answer is obviously yes - in the superficial sense, at least, that people have music playing a lot of the time. Do people listen as seriously or intently as they used to? I honestly don’t know. That is a hard question to answer (partly because its meaning is not easy to tie down). When I was young-ish I listened very attentively to music (as well as to background music) and several of my friends did also. But there were also many people I knew who had music on in the background, but really didn’t take much notice of it, or care much about it.

For the first question, again it is a little complex. The availability of good quality music reproduction systems is much greater now than it was - particularly with the availability of digital systems, which reproduce music more accurately than the systems available in the past (e.g. vinyl and, to a lesser extent, reel to reel). Amplifiers have improved generally, as have loudspeakers.
But what is meant by “golden age”? To me that speaks to something else, perhaps - a time when there were many different manufacturers of high-quality amps/preamps etc., with their own takes on design. Sugden, Armstrong, Leak, Quad, Rogers, Nytech, Garrard, Tannoy, Wharfedale, Gale, Cambridge Audio, Goodmans, Mordaunt Short, Castle, Collaro, Goldring and, of course, Naim to name but a few (British) manufacturers. And there were many kits to build your own system. Plus, of course, all the German, Danish, American, French and Japanese manufacturers. I think that there was a greater variety of hifi solutions then than now - and that could be one definition of “golden age”. Of course, in terms of sound quality, that is much better now than it was then - which, naturally, is to be expected.


Music for most people when I was growing up was part of their identity and culture. However I know 1 person of my age group who has a hifi that cost between £1-2k. Let alone Naim Classic prices.

When I went to see the Lightening Seeds we had spare tickets due to rearranged dates so my friend invited his son and best friend and they knew the songs better than us. To counteract this observation my 16 yr old son and his posse have zero interest.

Regardless of age there will be always be a small number of people where sitting down and listening to music is their addiction.

That’s an interesting point about the variety of manufacturers having waned. That’s certainly been common throughout most (all?) industries. I guess the period of strong experimentation through those times as manufacturers tried all sorts of different approaches (including vertical record players!) has ended up settling on some well established design principles, which you can’t really deviate from as much as you could in the past.

The difference now is that high quality audio reproduction is vastly cheaper than it was, so it’s available far more widely. Music is also accessible more cheaply than before, enabling more people to access and enjoy it.

The issue is that hi-fi is still only dipping its toes in the lifestyle lake. Most people don’t think “I’d like a hi-fi.” Most don’t even think “I’d like to hear good quality sound.” Most just are not aware how good it can sound for comparatively low cost, and they’re the people who need to experience it to generate the demand.

I was really referring to feeling_zens’ comment that more and more music industry output is written/crafted/produced to fit with patterns of consumption and search algorithms rather than purely musical merit. I know that musical styles come in and out of fashion and available instrumentation/playback technology have always determined what is possible (e.g. the two minute single) but his assertion was that the musical craft and structure (not just the production/mixing) is now largely determined by how/where music is ‘consumed’ and how it searched for. Basically if not of a certain construction, it won’t sell.

As for the playback/Hi Fi side of things, lower quality/entry level playback devices/systems are generally better/more flexible than previous efforts. To that end, music is probably being ‘listened to’ at a higher quality than before. On the flip side, are they now good enough for most people so that something better is no longer necessary - from my experience of friends/colleagues, I would say yes. Does this mean that the average consumer never really listens to their music in the best form it could be - probably yes. Are they bothered - probably not. Would they want to invest the money, time, effort (set-up is king IMHO) and space into creating a system that could truly do this - for the average person, almost certainly not.

They’re not bothered before they know what’s possible, but once they know how good it can be, they are.

Look at the quality of the camera on latest smartphones. Manufacturers needed something to differentiate their products. An ability to take high quality images is the result. Previously you needed expensive gear to achieve similar image quality. Most people ten years ago were quite happy with whatever image quality their phone produced, but now they see what’s possible the bar is set higher.

Audio hasn’t yet gone through this phase. YouTube videos are played on devices that have terrible audio quality. It’s ironic that the platform most used to listen to singles, YouTube, probably gives the worst audio playback. Whichever manufacturer figures out how to generate high quality audio playback - easily - from that source will be quids in.

Maybe, what is needed is a more audio-targeted video experience. A wall mounted monitor with audio powered by Naim, for example, that smartphones can easily cast content to.

even in the 1960s, than in underground locations people could -and did - listen to the radio everywhere using pocket radios - forever getting smaller. It was AM, so not anywhere near as limited receivability as FM, and worse, DAB. However it was not stereo, and for the vast majority who did listen where they couldn’t use the radio’s speaker used only using a single earbud so nowhere near as good sounding as modern portable radio can be. But teenagers at least did listen that way - I know because I was one! Music was our lives.


And the radio stations were SO much better (I’m thinking of the pirate radio stations here). Once they were shut down and we were left with BBC and local radio, the quality of the presenters deteriorated. IMA I don’t listen to much on Radio 1 or 2 now, but when I do here it, it seems to consist in continuous chat - verbal diarrhoea of no consequence, and the music often seems to be seen more as an interruption to the flow of worthless verbiage. IMHO.


Definitely. And Radio Luxemburg - though IIRC I could only pick it up at night on Long Wave.


My point is rather that even when presented with what is possible, I imagine most are put off by the cost or the effort required to get the very best out of equipment. I know we all have different experiences and equipment but from my own experiences my main system (which is the most capable) has taken a lot of research and effort over the years to get the best out of it. This has involved dedicated racks, very careful positioning of speakers/subs, equipment changes, acoustic treatment of the front wall, internal (non-electrical) modifications to speakers and amongst other things, a very understanding wife :grinning: to get the results that I really enjoy now.

Perhaps with different equipment this would have been easier, indeed other systems in the house have been much more ‘install and play’ and each definitely has its merits. However, overall I do stand my view that, unless one is lucky, due to interactions with rooms etc. to get the best of many (especially full-range) systems requires accumulated knowledge and skills. In this situation an easy to install system would be better for most and I would argue that with all-in-ones such as the Musso or a good quality unit such as an Atom partnered with smaller speakers, such options already exist.

Is that really the case?

I see thousands of internet radio stations available from all over the world, you can even search by genre and mostly the sound quality is much better.

Listening to boorish DJ’s prattling on about nonsense can be very easily avoided.