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Music Hardware Technology

Why Your Dad's 30-Year-Old Stereo Sounds Better Than Yours 674

asto21 writes "Cnet's Steve Guttenberg sheds light on this interesting development that over the years, actual sound quality became a secondary selling point since most people started buying their equipment either online or from big box retailers. People started caring more about the number of connections and wireless interfaces and wattage of systems. As a result, there was less money in R&D budgets to spend on advancements in sound."
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Why Your Dad's 30-Year-Old Stereo Sounds Better Than Yours

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  • by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:11PM (#36910314)
    what makes it sound good. Surely there's no need for more R&D to maintain the status quo. What sunk good sound was a desire to push down the costs.
  • by VolciMaster ( 821873 ) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:12PM (#36910322) Homepage
    Who would've *ever* guessed?

    Seriously, though - I think part of it, too, is the use of tubes 30 years ago vs now. My dad's old Teac stereo he bought in 1970 still sounds better than 95% of what I see in stores nowadays :-\

  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:14PM (#36910356)
    Sound quality is still a selling point to people who want it, and those people will still find a wide selection of good quality components. However most consumers dont want to deal with setting up expensive speaker systems and finding the 'sweet spot' in the room etc. They just want a box that noise comes out of, and thats what they purchase.
  • by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:15PM (#36910360)

    I’d also like to throw into the pile the complete obsession with bass in the current generation. It seems to have become the major selling point of speakers at the expense of the mid and high ranges. I like to feel my rib cage rattle as much as anyone else, but I also like those sharp, crystal clear highs.

    And it’s of course mandatory to point out that current music sucks, and kids these days only listen to low quality mp3 versions of it anyway and no one has an appreciation for proper sound reproduction and other such “get off my lawn” arguments ;p

    I’d also like to note that modern speakers aren’t big enough! I don’t care about volume (personally I don’t like stuff ear-bleeding loud) but my dad’s huge (up to my neck) floor speakers have a presence that you just don’t get with the modern stuff I’m guessing because they just move more air due to their size.

  • in other news (Score:4, Insightful)

    by burris ( 122191 ) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:18PM (#36910396)

    Most people buy wine to catch a buzz and are primarily concerned that the product contains sufficient alcohol and isn't totally repulsive. Some people can, or think they can, taste a difference and will pay more. Some people are concerned with impressing their guests and buy expensive stuff with a famous label whether it tastes better or not.

  • Money is fungible (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pavon ( 30274 ) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:18PM (#36910408)

    The patent royalties decrease the profit margin of the device, which affects all aspects of the company's budget, including R&D.

  • by cvtan ( 752695 ) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:29PM (#36910556)
    After working at Kodak for 26 years in electronic imaging and hearing nothing but "IMAGE QUALITY", I am now faced with a world where everyone is taking crappy pictures with crappy cell phone cameras. Why did we bother?? As in the stereo world, cost and convenience trump what used to be important.
  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:30PM (#36910572) Journal
    From the original CNet article:

    Right up through most of the 1990s power ratings differentiated models within a given manufacturer's lineup, but that's barely true anymore. In those days the least expensive models had 20 or 30 watts a channel, but now most low- to midprice receivers have around 100 watts per channel. For example, Pioneer's least expensive receiver, the VSX-521 ($250) is rated at 80 watts a channel; its VSX-1021 ($550) only gets you to 90 watts: and by the time you reach the VSX-53 ($1,100) you're only up to 110 watts per channel! Doubling the budget to $2,200 gets you 140 watts per channel from their SC-37 receiver. Denon's brand-new $5,500 AVR-5308CI delivers 150 watts per channel! The 31-year-old Pioneer SX-1980 receiver Butterworth wrote about was rated at 270 watts per channel. He tested the Pioneer and confirmed the specifications: "It delivered 273.3 watts into 8 ohms and 338.0 watts into 4 ohms." It's a stereo receiver, but it totally blew away Denon's state-of-the-art flagship model in terms of power delivery!

    Emphasis mine. So I noticed that you didn't adjust the SX-1980's price into 2010 dollars so let's ask Wikipedia [] about the cost of an SX-1980 in today's dollars:

    Its retail price in 1978 was $1295.00. According to the average historical price of gold, it would have listed for an equivalent of $8199.42 in 2010.

    Okay. Show me that industry wide receivers that cost in excess of eight grand are vastly inferior to the SX-1980 and we'll have a conversation. What's the Yamaha RX-V1800 cost these days? One grand? Am I surprised your blind listening test found something that costs over eight times that amount sounds better?

    Here's what you're noticing: the market of people who want to sink ten grand into a receiver (just the receiver alone!) isn't big enough for them to waste their time making the absolutely perfect everything just in the name of sound quality. You're going to design the circuit board and power output entirely devoted to sound quality? Not if you're only going to sell a hundred units.

    I have a lot of audiophile friends but I don't often hear "Gee, I wish they sold an eight thousand dollar receiver devoted to sound quality so I could really blow some money to climb from the 90th to 98th percentile of sound quality."

  • Huge Gap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by softWare3ngineer ( 2007302 ) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:30PM (#36910578)
    I think one of the biggest issues is the gap in price between good products and low end stuff. I want my music to sound good and I'm willing to buy something that is 3x the cost of the everyday / low end equipment. But instead I'm given the choice between low end equipment or pro-awesome-blow-your-mind stuff that is 10 times more expensive, with nothing in between. I would love the more expensive stuff, but I just can't afford a 10,000 worth of stereo gear.
  • by treeves ( 963993 ) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:39PM (#36910720) Homepage Journal

    Not only that , but how can a lack of R&D be to blame for a decline in sound quality?
    If audio quality failed to improve, you could blame it on lack of R&D, but there's got to be more to it than that for quality to *degrade* over time.
    With NO R&D AT ALL, at the least we should have exactly AS GOOD sound as "your dad's thirty-year-old stereo".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:50PM (#36910862)

    Don't be silly. A decent camera is a decent camera. You can't compare today's cheap digital sensors to SLRs with decent lenses. Try comparing today's cell phone cameras to the shit of the day, like 110s, disk film, and those utter awful "instant" camera, made by your beloved Kodak I believe?

    Most people what to take a snapshot, and lots of them. They are not looking to send their photos to professional image labs and have them used in print. You can do that perfectly well with any half decent DLSR and a non-budget lens, which is what professionals use today.

  • by eldepeche ( 854916 ) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:52PM (#36910902)

    Your dad's 30-year-old stereo was probably well-made and sort of expensive if it's still in good condition now. A cheap stereo you bought at Walmart is not. The gear being sold today has inferior components.

  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:55PM (#36910942)

    It is actually amazing how good modern speakers can sound. If you buy higher end hardware these days it is damn impressive. However it costs more. Not more than it used to, just more than the cheap stuff.

    This article is stupid because it is looking back and pretending as though 30 years ago HiFi sets were common and cheap. Not hardly. They were expensive and rare. Take the price you'd pay for one, adjust for inflation, and then see what you'd get with your money today. You'd probably be pretty impressed. Please remember that $500 in 1980 is $1,305 today. You can get a pretty heavy hitting receiver for that kind of cash.

    Also 5/7.1 has to be taken in to account. Receivers are asked to do more these days, not even taking in to account the stuff he's whining about. Time was they were just amplifiers and preamplifiers for two channels, and maybe a tuner. Now they do all that for 5, 7, or more channels and handle decoding of digital formats, crossovers, maybe room correction, and so on. For all that, they still sound good, amps are not often your problem in sound quality (speakers are).

    He seems to be whining that they can't make quality cheap. Well, too bad. That is a frequent problem. Quality costs money. You want quality sound? Go buy it. I love my system, it is extremely good sounding. However it did run me like $6,000 for a 5.1 setup. Don't want to spend that much? I totally understand, but you can't then cry that a $600 system doesn't sound as good.

  • by AdamWill ( 604569 ) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:56PM (#36910962) Homepage

    everyone? In my circle, ownership of DSLRs seems to be going up quite rapidly.

    I think there's more a spreading of the market to extremes; medium-quality compacts are getting squeezed out by cameraphones at the low end where you really just want a rough reproduction of some event, and DSLRs and interchangeable lens, large sensor compacts at the high end. (Boy, I can't wait for the NEX-7).

  • Re:Huge Gap (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Zebedeu ( 739988 ) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @02:44PM (#36911774)

    I used to like Denon, until I lost all respect for them because of this: []

  • Re:in other news (Score:4, Insightful)

    by benhattman ( 1258918 ) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @02:50PM (#36911882)

    Actually, the old adage is false. You don't get what you pay for. You pay what the market will bear for a given product. Perhaps, a car analogy will help.

    If you bought a new car in 1993, perhaps you decided between a Chevy and a Toyota. On average, the Toyota was of higher quality, and cheaper. But, perceptions take a long time to change, and you might have been basing your perceptions on the quality of a Toyota built in 1978, rather than one built in 1993. So, you may have purchased the more expensive Chevy because "it's better, after all it's more expensive", and you would be wrong.

    Or, what if I offered to sell you one of two identical paintings. One, I told you was painted by Van Gogh, the other is a knock-off I produced. Which would you pay more for? Keep in mind, these are identical paintings on identical canvases.

    There have been many studies done on the wine thing, and while your perceptions convince you there is a difference, it mostly doesn't exist. The expensive wine tastes better to you because it is expensive, not the other way around.

    So, yes if you insist that between two essentially equivolent products, the spendier is obviously better, it is probably the result of snobbery.

  • by Lost Race ( 681080 ) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @04:47PM (#36913520)
    I have a big bulky DSLR ... in a camera bag ... at home. I also have a camera/phone in my pocket, ready to take a picture any second of the day. Guess which ones takes more shots? Image quality is far less important than image content -- interesting things happen suddenly and rarely wait around for me to run home and get my good camera. Cost isn't nearly as much of an issue as convenience. Remember: the best camera is the one you have in hand, ready to shoot. Of necessity that one is usually going to be small, fast, expendable, and therefore relatively low-quality.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 29, 2011 @12:09AM (#36917606)

    Sucker! monster cables are the biggest rip off that exists! For speaker cables use normal heavy duty cable, mains cable works nicely. You do not need all this low O2 BS cable etc. For your low level signal cables you can make your own using good quality shielded cable or buy reasonable priced cable, not the very cheap stuff.

    Only audiphile subscribers buy the rubbish like monster cables.

    I've been trained as an electrical engineer and worked in RF and that is much fussier than audio and in years gone past I've designed and built audio amplifiers including valve (tube) amps. Give me solid state any day! The so called valve (tube) sound comes from distortion, I want my sound coming out the same as it went in.

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears