The ugly truth behind hi-fi's growing infatuation with nostalgia

Jacore

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Mar 31, 2015
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I find it astounding that an author for What Hifi does not understand is that a significant amount of the vintage gear sounds a whole lot better to many than newer products and certainly proposes better value. Surely there's a nostalgia element as well, but in the world of Hifi , especially High-end the quest for aesthetics has always been essentially tertiary - just think of those horns! I for one welcome the return of the vintage look. Definitely has the cool factor for me.
 

djh1697

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Nov 27, 2008
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I find it astounding that an author for What Hifi does not understand is that a significant amount of the vintage gear sounds a whole lot better to many than newer products and certainly proposes better value. Surely there's a nostalgia element as well, but in the world of Hifi , especially High-end the quest for aesthetics has always been essentially tertiary - just think of those horns! I for one welcome the return of the vintage look. Definitely has the cool factor for me.
I agree, my original Mission Cyrus one from 1983, had a phono stage that I would put on par with a Naim Stageline. Indeed when I had a Naim Nait 5i, I used the Cyrus phono stage until I got a Naim 202 and a Stageline, to my surprise the Cyrus phono stage was in some respects better/different than the Naim. The latter had more PRaT, the Cyrus was more open as far as I recall.
 

Geoff-W

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May 15, 2020
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Why are an increasing number of manufacturers obsessed with past glories?

The ugly truth behind hi-fi's growing infatuation with nostalgia : Read more
I don't replace Hi-Fi equipment very often. I have an 18 year old Art Audio Quintet Integrated valve amplifer, 13 year old Spendor A5 speakers and an 11 year old Quad Elite CD player. Two years ago I got the notion in my head to replace the power hungry valve amplifier. Surely after 18 years, solid state would have developed to a point where it could out-perform my old amp? I home tested several highly-thought-of modern designs. None of them could hold a candle to the Quintet. They may have controlled the bass better or had more detail, but they all lacked one important feature - the foot-tapping involvement and mid-range presence that a valve amp has in spades. So I have abandoned the search for a new amp and have had the Quintet serviced by the manufacturer (New power supply capacitors and new valves where needed). So for me, it's not an infatuation for nostalgia, I never moved on from the older designs.
 

Tinman1952

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May 19, 2021
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I find it astounding that an author for What Hifi does not understand is that a significant amount of the vintage gear sounds a whole lot better to many than newer products and certainly proposes better value. Surely there's a nostalgia element as well, but in the world of Hifi , especially High-end the quest for aesthetics has always been essentially tertiary - just think of those horns! I for one welcome the return of the vintage look. Definitely has the cool factor for me.
Well supposedly he's technical editor....
but he contradicts himself by saying 'design and engineering from 50 years ago' and then...'thoroughly modern sonic engineering....' !
Make your mind up....😣
 

highflyin9

Active member
Dec 23, 2021
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I'd imagine with all the woes of the world lately that people want to recluse themselves to (what they perceive to be) a simpler time. As theSplund mentioned, manufacturers wouldn't be producing them if people weren't buying them, and not responding to market forces in a field this competitive would be self-immolating.

I personally like the retro chic of some tube amplifier designs that harken the past, however I don't see myself going back to large square boxes with drab veneer. Thankfully in this sector no matter what you like, there is likely a manufacturer out there making it.
 
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PM@7

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Oct 30, 2019
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Whilst the topic of the current trend for "hi-fi nostalgia" is interesting, this piece seems a little mean spirited to be honest. Lots of people enjoy nostalgia, and this is seen in almost every hobby going. Cars, fashion, gaming, design.... The theme of the article appears to be "in hi-fi, audio quality is sacrosanct, and must be pursued at all costs." This isn't always the case, as sometimes people have other drivers influencing their purchase decision. It's a little like saying anyone who buys a 1950s style 2022 Timex reissue (wind up) watch is a fool, as for the same money they could have a new G Shock. They'll buy the product they want, not the product which is technically "best". Finally, if this is an area of the hi-fi industry which is currently booming, it seems a shame to dismiss it so casually.
 
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nopiano

Well-known member
Aside from class D, I’m not sure that any affordable amplifier designs have progressed the state of the art for decades. Some, iirc like Rega acknowledge that the designs date from Wireless World circuits from the 1950-60s, simply made with modern components. Most gains, if that’s what they are, are in streamlining mass-production to keep gear affordable.

Retro-look speakers however, seem to be distinctly superior to their namesake fore-runners, as thank goodness for that. Most old Wharfedale and. Issuing were very coloured by todays standards, but that’s why buyers liked them - because liked that particular ‘flavour’. However, the appeal suggests to me that the majority of buyers are like me, of pensionable age,and happy to relive their youth!
 

Mr. C Nation

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Mar 21, 2020
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Why are an increasing number of manufacturers obsessed with past glories?

The ugly truth behind hi-fi's growing infatuation with nostalgia : Read more
The music reproduction industry now has two options - 1] to make products which major on the latest technology, for these products to 'do more' in terms of connectivity, control, boil an egg, let the cat out ....

As technology throws up more and more things that electronics can 'do', there's scope to design, make and sell such products. For example, who would have guessed 10 years ago that a sub-industry would emerge making sticks to hold a mobile phone at arm's length x2 from the holder? When the Walkman appeared, models suitable for joggers followed, as did models to use whilst swimming ...

None of these things make music sound 'better' but they make money.

2] Try to make music content sound 'better' than the product the latest one is replacing.

Big problem here - content quality. This is the limiting factor for every piece in the chain of music reproduction.

I have a pal who has written and performed the s/t music for a big-budget movie,[ Malpaso Productions - Clint Eastwood's company] , with access to the best in movie industry audio facilities. His own albums of the '70's and 80's were recorded with state of the art audio industry technology. He now releases music on-line, recorded at home on technology costing a few hundred pounds, not 100's thousands.

No amount of money spent on a system is going to improve the quality of the home studio content to the level of that achieved by the studios of Island Records in St. Peter's Sq Chiswick [as was] or Olympic Studios, Wembley, audio studios dedicated to the movie industry.

But for the listener, the music of the home studio recordings may be the music they enjoy, in preference to the music recorded elsewhere by the same artist.

It seems the audio industry may have peaked. There's nowhere to go in terms of adding musical value to current content, so it is having a trip down memory lane.

I would be interested to know the result of a blind test of 10 people dragged in off the street of the last 4 models in the Marantz stereo amp range, the latest being the PM6007. I have the 6006. Not long after that was released a model with the Union flag stuck to the front appeared. This was written up as 'better' than the original 6006 - but owners of that were told it was not worth 'upgrading' to the UK Special version.

When I consider replacing any of my audio products, after a moment's thought I realise I would be doing this as 'retail therapy'. I don't even have a dedicated CD player. I play CDs on my BluRay player. It's true that CDs probably sounded better on the Marantz CD63 KI that I sold because it had no digital outputs but - I'll live.

The 'hi-fi' industry is heading down the route that the guitar industry had to take, making 'specials' - whole ranges of specials, variations on the theme of the original which made the reputation of the model and the company, but adding nothing to the musicality of the instrument.

'Blackie', Eric Clapton's Fender Stratocaster that sold for $1m some years ago, was a 'Partscaster' made up of parts of three Strats of six he bought off a wall in music shop in Nashville, TN.

Music Center, the US music shop chain that bought Blackie, released a limited run of clones of Blackie, complete with cigarette burn at the headstock. The buyers of these guitars spent several thousand dollars on a nostalgia trip, the original having cost $400, to no musical benefit.
 

leemccann1

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Sep 2, 2020
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Bit of a daft article I think, not a great name either in the 'ugly truth' I think the nostalgic products we are seeing are a great addition to the world of HIFI and it gives us all the choice to choose what we want to buy, its not a replacement for new products more of a choice and good to see historic design with new technology. We have seen this for years with UV meters on amps etc, The part around 'As an industry, I think we should aim to make new products that become classics rather than try to relive past glories' is ridiculous, look at all the products we now have, DACs, all the AV amps tech, TV's etc etc, they are cleary moving the HIFI world on. Just look at KEF and B&W for moving the industry on, they may not be everyones cup of tea but again they are a choice, buy some Kef LS60's, B&W 805's or go the other way and buy some JBL L100's, thats the choice that we can make. I want to see the come back of tapedecks, for me in the 90's as part of an overall seperates syetms the tape deck with all its buttons and stuff to fiddle with was by far the best component...
 
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Jonas Snik

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May 26, 2022
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I might agree that new equipment attempting to emulate vintage gear is questionable. However; with actual vintage equipment, you get a different flavour - which I like. In addition, buying actual vintage has a sustainability aspect to it as well. Fantastic sound and a clean conscience after buying something - what's not to like?
 

bigfish786

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Jan 29, 2013
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I think the industry is cleverly targeting the people with the money and the nostalgia for these kinds of products, and probably the odd hipster too.its All about making money, nothing more, nothing less.
 
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king_alphonso

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May 30, 2022
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Why are an increasing number of manufacturers obsessed with past glories?

The ugly truth behind hi-fi's growing infatuation with nostalgia : Read more
I think the HighEnd Show 2022 in Munich offered modern systems as well and not in a small number! Probably it's only a matter of perception? If you look at turntables, I guess they will always look 'nostalgic' but you'll find the best turntables in point of quality, running smoothness, accessories, etc. today and not in the past. On the other hand you'll always need to have a look at the 'inside qualities' - Aston Martin, Rolls Royce they are but brand new, have but a nostalgic outside -> customer won't buy a modern Rolls Royce I guess...

Everything else is already mentioned countless times - industry produces what customer wants to buy! And then on top some marketing :)
 

HoxtonBridge

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May 28, 2022
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Why are an increasing number of manufacturers obsessed with past glories?

The ugly truth behind hi-fi's growing infatuation with nostalgia : Read more
Interesting take. Of course, this particular trend is not operating in a vacuum. There is a cultural shift to designs of the past; witness, for example, the growth of mid-century furniture and design aesthetics not only in the antique market but also in many consumer items made now. Equally, architecture is rediscovering a 1960s/70s aesthetic against the shrinking size of modern boxes where a kitchen shares space with a television and a sofa. Part of this, I think, is a desire to embrace a time when things were less 'throwaway', and when furniture was made of solid wood and not chipboard covered in a1mm veneer for hideous prices, and dare I say it, when a loudspeaker was a reasonable item of furniture rather than vinyl wrapped black block. I might also add that things lasted longer, rather than some chipboard atrocity from IKEA. For many people, wood is simply nicer than plastic and clean lines are more pleasing to the eye, heck, for me a tube amp has a style all of its own, distinct from bland silver and black boxes. I'm not necessarily saying this is a good or bad thing, but it is a thing!
Best, HB.
 
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LesterPJ

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May 23, 2022
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This retro trend is more than a love of the old look or the old sound. There is a lot of sentimentality thrown in too, or so the manufacturers appear to think.

The article talks about Wharfedale introducing a new version of the Dovedales and Astons. They intend to make them in a new facility in England despite being a Chinese company and having their own factory in China. It would be precisely the same design, sound, look, materials, build quality, finish and everything whether made in China or England. The days of Chinese manufacture being poorer is a long way behind us. Anyone who is prejudiced against Chinese manufacturing can’t have an iPhone. According to tradingeconomics.com in 2020 average UK manufacturing wages were over 3 times average Chinese ones. And as the What Hifi article on Timberworx suggests there’s a lot of labour in loudspeakers. So they are deliberately increasing their manufacturing costs to make precisely the same product!

The retail prices will be higher and substantially so. Factories, retailers, distribution companies and VAT mark ups are usually based on percentages. Every increase of £100 in manufacturing costs won’t lead to a £100 increase in retail price but much more. Depending on the margins taken this could be between 3 and 6 times as much.

No pretence of it being a better product, no pretence of better sound per pound, the exact opposite in fact. Their market research must make them believe for retro products some customers will pay more, probably a lot more, maybe several times as much, for precisely the same product if it comes with a made in England badge. This is just charging for sentimentality. It’s not just in the UK this applies - assuming they intend to export the products. Maybe there is a market of anglophiles living abroad for this stuff.

Its ironic that much of this sentimentality is about 1970’s products, hardly a glory period for UK design and manufacturing. UK manufacturers of motorbikes, televisions and hifis couldn’t compete with the Japanese and the motor industry was consolidated into British Leyland – remember the great hope the Austin Allegro!

Last week a Danish online retailer listed the Dovedales for the equivalent of £5185 a pair. The product looks similar in construction and build costs to the Lintons - similar looking cabinet, stand, mid-range, tweeter but smaller woofer. Even the designer just called them Lintons on steroids. But the Lintons are made in China and retail at £1250 a pair. This Dovedales’ price, if anywhere near correct, looks to include a lot for sentimentality.

Dewy eyed sentimentality about glory days, which weren’t so glorious, is driving the retro market as much as sound quality. Give the customers what they want, satisfy their prejudices. That’s good for business.
 

LesterPJ

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May 23, 2022
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However possibly the biggest fans of 'Made in England' products are in China and Japan! 🙂
Maybe their memory of some of 1970s UK manufacturing and design is not good!

There is a demand for the UK hifi sound in the Far East. But if the choice is presented of a pair of speakers made in England and precisely the same design made by the same company using the same materials but put together in China and the Chinese made ones are available at a mush lower price, how many people even in China or Japan are going to buy the more expensive made in England ones?

Wharfedale appear to think quite a few!

Of course they will never be presented with that choice. So everyone that wants the product has to pay the higher price.
 

walshbouchard

Well-known member
Jun 20, 2011
3
0
18,520
I find it astounding that an author for What Hifi does not understand is that a significant amount of the vintage gear sounds a whole lot better to many than newer products and certainly proposes better value. Surely there's a nostalgia element as well, but in the world of Hifi , especially High-end the quest for aesthetics has always been essentially tertiary - just think of those horns! I for one welcome the return of the vintage look. Definitely has the cool factor for me.
\This guy is not hi fi a nut, , he seems to know very little about hi fi enthusiasts and the way our minds work ,much less about the equipment manufacturers and basic economics, if the majority of audiophiles didn't want retro designs the manufacturers simple would not make them ,besides as another poster pointed out most of these retro designs are built with modern tech anyway, as for vinyl well any fool knows it has more soul than digital ( except for sacd which comes close) especially playing RCA living stereo 1950s originals or reissues or warner classics , and sorry digital downloads which are not DSD don't even come close to physical media and their the majority, he's probably on a career journey towards hi tech gadgets working for apple or something ,take no notice he will be gone in a few months ??
 

walshbouchard

Well-known member
Jun 20, 2011
3
0
18,520
This retro trend is more than a love of the old look or the old sound. There is a lot of sentimentality thrown in too, or so the manufacturers appear to think.

The article talks about Wharfedale introducing a new version of the Dovedales and Astons. They intend to make them in a new facility in England despite being a Chinese company and having their own factory in China. It would be precisely the same design, sound, look, materials, build quality, finish and everything whether made in China or England. The days of Chinese manufacture being poorer is a long way behind us. Anyone who is prejudiced against Chinese manufacturing can’t have an iPhone. According to tradingeconomics.com in 2020 average UK manufacturing wages were over 3 times average Chinese ones. And as the What Hifi article on Timberworx suggests there’s a lot of labour in loudspeakers. So they are deliberately increasing their manufacturing costs to make precisely the same product!

The retail prices will be higher and substantially so. Factories, retailers, distribution companies and VAT mark ups are usually based on percentages. Every increase of £100 in manufacturing costs won’t lead to a £100 increase in retail price but much more. Depending on the margins taken this could be between 3 and 6 times as much.

No pretence of it being a better product, no pretence of better sound per pound, the exact opposite in fact. Their market research must make them believe for retro products some customers will pay more, probably a lot more, maybe several times as much, for precisely the same product if it comes with a made in England badge. This is just charging for sentimentality. It’s not just in the UK this applies - assuming they intend to export the products. Maybe there is a market of anglophiles living abroad for this stuff.

Its ironic that much of this sentimentality is about 1970’s products, hardly a glory period for UK design and manufacturing. UK manufacturers of motorbikes, televisions and hifis couldn’t compete with the Japanese and the motor industry was consolidated into British Leyland – remember the great hope the Austin Allegro!

Last week a Danish online retailer listed the Dovedales for the equivalent of £5185 a pair. The product looks similar in construction and build costs to the Lintons - similar looking cabinet, stand, mid-range, tweeter but smaller woofer. Even the designer just called them Lintons on steroids. But the Lintons are made in China and retail at £1250 a pair. This Dovedales’ price, if anywhere near correct, looks to include a lot for sentimentality.

Dewy eyed sentimentality about glory days, which weren’t so glorious, is driving the retro market as much as sound quality. Give the customers what they want, satisfy their prejudices. That’s good for business.


well Spendor make retro classic speakers and there not made in china they purchased a furniture maker to make their cabinets just down the road lol however their speakers are a bit pricy compared to the others in the same quality level so we cant have both ways ,cheap and Chinese or hand built by brits and bloody expensive
 

walshbouchard

Well-known member
Jun 20, 2011
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well Spendor make retro classic speakers and there not made in china they purchased a furniture maker to make their cabinets just down the road lol however their speakers are a bit pricy compared to the others in the same quality level so we cant have both ways ,cheap and Chinese or hand built by brits and bloody expensive
 

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