Where have all the experts gone?

August 24, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

As our industry morphs from its heyday of local experts to a more globally connected version, we see a shift that affects us all.

I remember well the differing areas of influence exerted over localities. Big, influential high-end dealers in one area would have their favorite go-to systems peppered throughout their spheres of influence. Thus, audiophiles in New York might have systems very different than their west coast brethren.

Now that we are increasingly connected together by the internet, there’s a homogenization of systems around the world.

I think this is a good thing because it allows us to share together information and ideas we might never have had access to.

There are no fewer HiFi experts than there were before.

You just have to look for them online.

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53 comments on “Where have all the experts gone?”

  1. Where have all the experts gone, long time passing?
    Where have all the experts gone, a long long time ago?
    Where have all the experts gone?
    Apple i-pods killed every one.
    When will they ever learn?
    When will they e-e-ever learn?

    (Apologise to Peter, Paul & Mary)

    1. Indeed, good one.

      On the off beat. we have lost another brother to the Great Gig in the Sky. I would say rest in peace, Charlie, but he’s probably already bashing away at a cosmic level now, gravity waves propagating out from our little ol’ Via Lactea.

  2. Most of my system was purchased from the same dealer. One demonstration at a dealer (or a home loan) is worth more than a thousand claims or opinions on the internet.

    There may be a lot of similar technology around the world, but there still seems to be a lot of preference for local brands.

    I own audio from overseas brands, but only because I can rely on my dealer for service and support, irrespective of the warranty.

    PS Audio do trade-ins in the USA, but not in the UK and it took me over a year to sell PS Audio gear, a DAC for under half cost and my regenerator I almost gave away to someone in Germany. Both were current models.

    There are very audio different cultures. In the UK, for many people cables are no big deal and use fairly basic wire, unlike the USA where they seem to be a matter of life and death. If people use power management, it will most likely be mains conditioning, not regeneration. Products from UK companies IsoTek, Isol-8 and ifi are very popular, when I owned a regenerator I felt I was the only person in the UK with one.

  3. The trouble is that the internet makes it easy for anyone to claim to be an expert, and post all sorts of videos, while in truth, many are no more expert that most of us here. Heck, Fat Rat is more expert than most of them.

    1. Agreed, Fat Rat and Michael Walker have been great sources for me when I’m ponding something in my head on equipment and music. Experts I’d say! By the way, Big Mic, that album you sent was awesome! Big thanks to you guy’s for being true friends audiophiles and sound enthusiast alike. And to you Paul for caring enough to do with you do.
      PS, I went all the way back to your very first video Paul and have been watching them all. I should finish by this weekend, Ok there are a lot of them so maybe Labor day”ish” 🙂

      Can’t resist the “Expert”, I may have told this story before, but what the hell, I feel like writing today. So when I got married to my new and last “Administrator”, she encouraged me to put my audio gear back out. (the administrator previous did not). I think it was her curiosity that got the best of her seeing all my equipment on the self in the closet, so I did just that and it sparked me to rebuild my system. I didn’t realize how much I missed listening. We bought our new home and I was given my own room! I did just that! I took it! When I started building you(Paul) came on the scene and I was introduced to the “Sub separate” not just the woofers in my speakers. So I got one, No clue how to set it up, I started watching video after video and got it all hooked up and ready for play. I set back in my chair and off I went, only the sub sounded horrible!! really, really bad! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing right! It’s just plug and play right? I asked my fellow audiophile and home theatre builder, my brother “the expert” and after doing what brothers do “ARGUE LIKE HELL” he kept asking about the volume adjustment knob! over and over and over! I, not knowing what I’m looking at “the crossover knob” kept saying yes it’s down! I hung up on him fully frustrated at this point and ready to set this damn sub on the curb with a for free sign on it. I set down in my chair completely heart broken. As I was sitting, I was stirring at the sub. There was something that caught my eye, a yellow label or tag of sorts. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, so I got up, walked over and looked down at the label and there it was!!! the volume label with an arrow pointing to the side of the sub unit…..Well damn, I turned it down and whalla! It was as thou the gates of sound heaven opened and all that I built was not for nothing. I did apologize to my brother…. after a day or two cause he thinks he’s always right! Can you believe a person like that, always right! Oh well, now I have moved my speakers more out into the room Paul and that was another level elevated. Thanks for reading, I only hope it bought some laughter to your day.

      🙂 Keep listening

      1. That strikes a chord…
        Many hours spent with a beloved brother.. Except it was me that was the unknown quantity of a drip under pressure (the X-spurt). Oh yes, the sub, one or two… What a debate!
        We went for two (rationalizing we had one each !). Absolute cows to set up right, we didn’t have a clue really, but we got there eventually, with me fussing over the volt drop per amp per meter of cable we ended up using welding cable (that’s how you do it in the country y’all) I was happy with the math, while he foamed at the mouth in exasperation – he came around after a couple of hours a few wines and some Pink Floyd – earth shatteringly good, it was a late night that night. He has passed now, but the memory of that first time we stood there with our mouths open in wonderment, as we had experienced our first sound stage,
        nicely resolved with two subs lives on.

  4. Music on the move, music of your choice. It all started with the Sony Walkman. Digital then made it simpler.
    CDs on the move?
    MP3? Yes.
    How to be an expert on mP3?

  5. Back in 1977, when Texas Instruments introduced the TI-58 Calculator (which used plugin memory modules), I was working for Chafitz Equipment Company, which at the time may have been the largest mail-order calculator dealer in the US, if not the world. In August 1977, I envisioned that unit with the modules having digital music on them, and Albums being for sale on the modules. This was two years before Sony introduced the Walkman cassette player, and about 20 years before the first portable digital music player was released. Then again, back around 1967-1968, while listening to my portable RCA reel to reel, I thought how nice it would be to have a centralized archive of all music there was with easy access to it. To bad I did not have the know how to invent/develop and market my ideas. Oh well. I didn’t want to be rich anyway.

  6. A world of experts. None (ok very few) of them have heard or have experience with more than what they use or are selling. As Paul states In the US there’s minimal dealers anymore. You want to to audition something’s of interest, you’ve got to travel. What a fun trip, load the family and head to HiFi auditions with the clan in tow…. Especially since they’re into audio as much as you. 🙂 Then you may or may not get to hear gear on a variety of electronics or worse a variety of speakers.

    The answer to the above dilemma is the great home audition. Try it free for some period of time. If some how you’ve whittled the list down to say 4 items. At 30 days pack it up send it back, wait for the purchase price to be refunded, then on to the next one. So after a conservative 6 months of trials do you remember how much better or not you liked the first one versus all the rest? What about the 2nd or third one? I like PSA products, but since I auditioned them 1st and don’t remember whether they broke in completely, plus with the room and cable changes that had to be made for each new trial, screw it… I’m keeping the audition set up I have now.

    The answer to the question in this posting area is that is what shows are for. I challenge anyone reading this to walk into a hotel room once, state that’s the sound for me and plop down $20 – 30k -$100k – $200k or more on a spur of the moment decision, and then live with it for the next 5 years.

    The talk here almost always falls back to the individual’s hearing and perceptions. How much of that do you get reading reviews, from marketing spiel, or perusing the internet?

    The real issue for me becomes speakers. How do you know what you prefer….Wilson’s, Maggie’s, Martin Logan’s, Quads, Harbeth, D&D, Magico and the list goes on almost forever. Make a choice now!

    So for me personally, I’m willing to audition electronics unheard before the audition. For speakers that will never happen.

    A better way to sell direct needs to happen….

    1. “Wilson’s, Maggies, Quad,, or?”
      At shows or? An answer:

      Visit like minded consenting adult audiophiles. Hifi clubs are all about this.
      Our Melbourne Audio Club with a hundred members typically (except in lockdowns) run half a dozen music and gear meetings in homes, and which is where hifi is designed to be heard at its best.

      That way you can decide what really matters in audio.
      Some and/ ors:
      Which of bass extension / tightness, transparency, Centre image solidity /depth, dynamics/ subtlety.

      Choose what matters most to you, and what you care less about— once you know yourself.

      I NEED dynamics. I don’t need depth of image though I rather like solid left-right.

      1. Another classic answer Allen. Thanks.

        If one lives in a larger metropolitan area where audiophiles congregate then that’s a perfect answer.
        Not so practical in the part of the rural area I live in. 😀

        The point being, at least for me, that speakers are the end game. Without a lot of comparison and the ability to hear them 1st, how does one know? Pretend you’re new to this game, and all you have is the internet and magazines. Also, You don’t have the benefit of years of experience or trial and error.

        1. Plan a long weekend to a major audio show and you will advance your magazine/internet acquired knowledge by a decade or more. It could be the best $1000 you ever spent on audio as it will put all your “book” knowledge into greater perspective. Unfortunately, Axpona has wisely decided to cancel again this year and aim for next April. With fewer rooms booked for this year’s show, the rooms would likely have been packed out to the hallways with people from all over the country–making it a field day for Covid.

          1. Hey Longplayer,

            I don’t question your advise. But I still contend that a show is not the place (for the most part) to make big purchasing decisions. They’re a great place to obtain knowledge and see multitudes of all kinds of equipment. Maybe coming away with a list of what one wants to pursue.

            Not only that if I’m spending a grand or more for a getaway, I’m looking at a stay and golf package. Not being in a closed environment, hoping for the best…

            1. A good answer, Mike, except for the golf part. lol
              In addition to just the gear, it is a great place to experience a wide variety of sound quality and learn about what your own preferences and priorities are. That said, there is always a bit of give and take between predetermining your priorities and discovering what a piece of new gear can bring to your listening experience at home. I love it when I get a new piece of gear and can say “Wow, I didn’t know I was going to get THAT, too!” Be well, Mike.

              1. Thanks Longplayer.

                The point I am trying to make is that while the whole direct sell can be convenient and for the most part painless, it’s really limited those who live outside reasonable access to a metropolitan area to the direct sellers only and without the chance to compare a few side by side.

                I have a lot of respect and fondness for PSA, and their products. I don’t want to be the one who try’s and returns on a routine basis. I also am realistic enough to know there are others out there I may be interested in.

                So it’s just a different time… and a different approach is needed by those like me.

                You be well also and enjoy. I’m about to land for a few weeks of ‘hard time’ in New Mexico for work.

                  1. Thanks Longplayer,

                    Of course there’s the 6-8 hour drive one way also. 🙂
                    If I get a chance you know I will. 😎
                    I lived for 15 years in AZ and lots of work time in ABQ – Los Alamos – Santa Fe – Denver – Golden – Boulder & Longmont. The trick is having an appointment now and the time.

                    Have a great rest of the day. (Headed to the driving range now and then work hell starting in the AM) AZ is where I got the golf addiction / affliction…. My youth is where I caught the audio addiction

          1. Tried that. No success. Steroid creams.. no success…. Swimming in the ocean… no success

            The only thing that works is a cone around the neck with built in speakers. Fidelity off of plastic sucks, plus now I’m getting a neck rash. 😮

  7. For me shows have always been fun, a day out with like-minded audio buddies.
    NOT to make a decision what to buy (if I wanted to buy something in the first place). No way.
    Although… I don’t need a lot of time to hear whether I like a speaker or not.
    A few days with the right cd’s and I know all I wanna know. It’s all about the soundCHARACTER. The fine tuning (placement) comes later.

    1. Jb4,

      Shows are fun. See the new, see and hear the trends. Going with buddies is even more fun.

      When I bought my speakers it didn’t take much time to know that’s what I liked for the price I was willing to pay. To ensure I was correct I spent the better part of six months traveling around the northeast US (for work) while finding the time in the middle of the day to listen to them and many others until I was sure my choice was correct for me. I eventually bought them at the dealer (not the closest by any means) who treated me the best. One part off all that looking was also being able to hear them on many different electronics set- ups and rooms.

      If PSA hadn’t had the benefit of a dealer network, what kind of reputation and name recognition would they have today.

      What a crazy mixed up world…

      1. PSA has rolled with the times, for sure. Today, upstart companies have to rely on shows, reviews and web groups for marketing, and offer 30-day home trials.

        1. Not sure about that.

          My dealer (KJWestOne) stocks only selected products from relatively few brands from reasonably budget to extreme high end. The have just taken on a brand new fairly budget brand to the UK, HiFi Rose, their RS150 and RS 201E streamers, because they are superb products.

          A good dealer will source good products for their customers and offer services well above and beyond the internet.

          1. That’s certainly a commendable dealer, Steven. My comment above was thinking more about new manufacturers who face steeper marketing challenges than more established companies. And your comment supports another observation, which is, in this time of rapid evolution of audio resulting in a significant uptick in interest in the hobby, there are a lot of upstart (meaning new to audio, not necessarily brand new) companies with surprisingly good products on the market today. Plus a lot more trans-oceanic cross selling (in spite of the nationalistic loyalties you’ve mentioned.)

            1. I am an hour away from Cambridge Audio’s design centre, but it’s a global brand because it’s manufactured from a low cost base in Asia and can fill a 40ft container and ship it anywhere in the world for $5,000. PSA has a very high cost base and is on the wrong side of the Rocky Mountains.

              I see no reason why a team of good engineers and designers in their 20s can’t take the market in digital audio, Auralic is a good example, HiFi Rose another. Paul mentioned Octave most of the time has had only 2 or 3 software engineers working on it. My son was on a team that launched an audio product that had about 10+, Roon has something like 75 programmers. Globally successful products must take the lead, not lag 10 years behind the market.

              1. Okto Research in Prague is an example. Their affordable Stereo 8 DAC is so oversold they have not been taking orders on it for many months now. And there are a number of Chinese companies producing very fine DACs for not a lot of money, also. Success comes down to marketing and the internet can be a huge factor in that pursuit. Stack Audio in Great Britain is a small upstart company that makes an affordable streamer and a lot of kick-ass aftermarket components for the Linn LP12, which admittedly, is a limited audience.

              2. Steven, Have you ever worked in product development. I know your son has, but have you? I worked the last 20 years of my career in product development. I did this at an enterprise business ( IBM ) with about $100B in revenue each year. I went from doing actual product development, to leading small product development teams, to running multiple product development teams, to running large mission critical product development efforts with budgets in the $50M range with as many as 90 people spread over several sites. Its fare to say that I used to know about product development in the semiconductor industry ( I have been out of the game for about ten years now ). In spite of my 20 years of experience in product development, I would never assume to tell Paul how to run product development in his small business that appears to employ 30 to 50 people who have to do everything, not just product development.

  8. In the on-line community, the word they use is “Influencers”. It’s a good word, because they seek to influence, rather than inform, and there’s little to no way to meaningfully evaluate any expertise they may claim to have. And, frankly, whether they have any expertise or not is rather beside the point.

    1. Influencers… OK, you have absolutely no skills. But you’re pretty. And entitled. And you have internet access. For that, people & companies should give you free meals, free hotels, free drinks and money? I’m sorry – you are not an Influencer, you’re an e-prostitute.
      Overheard on a date: “What do you do for a living?” “I’m an Influencer on Instagram. What do you do?” “ Well then, I guess I’m a soldier on X-Box’s Call Of Duty”

  9. The problem is in audio there are no qualifications for being an expert. You can go to work for a magazine and suddenly you become an expert with no testing whatsoever. A good definition of an expert is someone from out of town.

  10. I’m one of those audiophiles living in Western NY. My main system is made in CA, Japan, England, and Belgium. Some others designed and built in the good old USA like my B&K ST140 amplifier that was designed and manufactured here in Western NY. I still have some speakers in my collection that have that East coast New England sound. There was a time my area was flooded with speakers from Advent, EPI, Boston Acoustics but that’s no longer the case when I visit the local Hi Fi Dealer in my area.

  11. While a college student in southern Calif, I made my first significant purchase – speakers. The big question was whether to go with “California” sound (JBL, Infinity) or “New England” sound (Advent, KLH). I chose the latter after a lot of consideration and wasn’t disappointed. The Advents had just come out and seemed very balanced and refined (at the time) if a bit less “lively” than the Calif. alternatives.

    1. I recently became aware of a small used record shop here in town: Lefty’s Records (also CDs and even a few prerecorded cassettes!). Music in the shop was played over a pair of Small Advents driven by a similarly vintage Marantz receiver with burnt out light bulbs. Lefty said he bought them new back in the day. They still sounded really good.

      I once owned a pair of the white vinyl clad Advent 2s. I followed Mick’s advice and painted them black. When I upgraded to my venerable and beloved ADS L520s, which I still have, I sold them to a friend for a token $10.

  12. Paul and I are both born in the early years of the baby boom. I started becoming an audiophile in my undergrad years and by 1970 had my first serious ( at least to me it was serious ) audio system. I spent the 70’s decade in grad school in St. Louis where there were about 8 or 9 B&M audio stores of which half were hi-end. By 1982 I was living in the Hudson Valley of NY and visiting audio dealers in NYC regularly. On business trips I occasionally had an opportunity to visit dealers on the west coast. I saw no significant difference between east coast and west coast audio dealers with respect to what kind of gear they had.

    The rise of the internet has had three major impacts on the consumer audio business:

    1. A huge decline in B&M audio dealers

    2. The birth if online audio dealers of which a few actually sell hi-end audi0 gear

    3. As discussed above in several of the comments, any of us can become experts in just about anything with use of the internet. IMHO, it is a crap shoot as to whether or not this is good or bad.

    1. A B&M dealer can offer far more than any internet dealer. If they go out of business it is likely the fault of the dealer and the manufacturers they work with. We have plenty of dealers, and new ones too. One guy has set up a great audio business, on a farm in the middle of the countryside, he started in 2013 and last year made a profit of almost $1m.

  13. It’s hard to sell hi-fi to people who have never experienced the emotional impact of live unamplified music and hence treat recordings as fashionable background muzak.

    1. It’s also hard to sell hi-fi to people who have experienced live unamplified music. Hi-fi has always been a niche market attracting relatively few followers. We sometimes underestimate the live music experience of common folk. Nearly everyone is exposed to live music in schools, churches, universities, parades, festivals, free concerts, musical instruments in homes, etc. Having heard live music makes some of them even less impressed with hi-fi.

      1. Professional musicians are almost never heard without PA systems today. There is as much talent as ever but there are lots fewer really experienced musicians working than 50 years ago.

        1. Still there are plenty of live, unamplified music experiences most people are exposed to in the venues I mentioned. Most of the music is not performed by professionals.

  14. Experts? Why, look no further than this very column. There’re nothing but hoards of experts posting expert replies with expertly unshakable, irrefutable, unassailable expert confidence in their own godly expertise.

    Every expert here is 100% secure that his/her/its/shits expert opinion is 100% expertly correct – always and forever.

    Hail, Great Experts.

    Rock on.

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