Interest in the world of audio – in all its guises – is at something of a high point at the moment. With the rise of streaming, the continued interest in all things vinyl, and the tremendous impact of the personal audio world on hi-fi, the audiophile doldrums of ten years ago are little more than a distant memory. However, one important and sustained change took place in the latter half of the first decade of the 21st Century – high-end became a 'concept' not just a 'price tag'.
The old multi-box, high-price system still has an important part to play in the audiophile world, but just as importantly, people are buying products for the sake of the quality of performance irrespective of the amount of shelf space or the size of the hole in the bank account. This has happened because those lower cost products have – on occasion – become a heck of a lot better in recent years.
Past masterpieces are superb, and often a powerful bargain, but when you remove the rose-tinted spectacles you begin to see that a lot of the past deserves to stay there. The greats still remain great, but those bargain 50 year old amplifiers that were OK half a century ago have been thoroughly eclipsed by modern technology. The tonal balance might have changed in the intervening years (the comparison between modern loudspeakers that attempt to preserve the tonality of 1970s and modern loudspeakers that adopt a more contemporaneous voicing is fascinating), but in the main, the technology, the materials, and the production techniques of modern devices far outweigh the variability of performance of older designs. That said, it's hard to imagine someone restoring a 2017 amplifier in the future; not because of the sound quality, but simply due to the difficulty of repairing the surface-mount devices that have largely replaced traditional resistors, capacitors, diodes, and transistors. Although audio components have a lifespan far in excess of most phones and computers, many are designed with 'replacement' rather than 'repair' in mind.
Fortunately, as the quality of good audio continues to improve at all price points, 'replacement' is often not so great a financial burden. There are many 'giant killers' available today, and although this has a knock-on effect of making audio's true giants taller and harder to kill, it does mean there are great products at sensible prices that don't just 'make the grade'; they help define the sound of tomorrow!
It's a great time to enjoy music, and the sound it makes!