Sometimes it's fun to play good cop/bad cop just to stretch our envelope of perception. Today I'll play bad cop to Marc Mickelson's good cop in his July SoundStage! Editorial titled "A Bright Future". In it, Marc argues persuasively how, despite the onslaught of the iPod, HighEnd audio continues to renew itself by developing cutting-edge designs that enhance the experience we call HighEnd audio. Citing Yamada-San's statement digital separates both Marc and I have reviewed and currently listen to -- and Roy Gregory of HiFi+ incredulously called as good as the best of analogue -- as well as Wilson Audio's Alexandrias and Siltech cable designs, Marc feels the future looks bright indeed. These products and others like them redefine what's possible. There clearly is no shortage of motivated engineers who continue to charge forward in an attempt to shatter previous performance barriers.

Alas, the future of HighEnd audio as an industry doesn't merely rest on creative cost-no-object designs but solid sales based on demand and desire. Consider that Audiophile Systems just announced letting go of Acoustic Energy, Nagra and Verity Audio. Audiophile Systems and Sumiko Audio are America's two premiere audio importers with widespread distribution, a solid rep network and established dealer accounts. When asked why the recent cutbacks of brands he handles, Gary Warzin -- according to Wes Phillips' Stereophile on-line Editorial -- cited limited resources at cross purposes with lagging sales and the efforts required to maintain rather than grow sales. Unlike Arcam, a line Gary Warzin called growing by 40%/year, Nagra and Verity and AE consumed undue manpower and financial efforts to support shrinking sales. He had to put his resources behind products that already had an audience rather than struggle to create an audience for products nobody wanted at their prices despite fabulous reviews and universally acclaimed performance.

That's the chink in the armor of our bright future. Are enough customers interested in our better products to support the industry? If one of our best distribution houses makes a de facto statement much to the contrary, this seems questionable indeed. Consider further the developments over at Audio Circle where small manufacturers host their own dedicated chat rooms to interface designer-direct with their customers. When someone like Bryston's James Tanner can be seen actively participating there, it should signal a trend to concerned bystanders. Our industry is seriously ailing when we view the traditional means of distribution that, by way of demonstration and stocking facilities, provided a backbone for our specialist pursuits which were always contingent on synergy, personal biases and the need to try before you buy.

I don't believe doomsday visions are appropriate. Firms like, CIAudio, Decware, MorningStar Imports, Omega Loudspeakers, RedWine Audio, Zu Cables and many others like them continue to focus on consumer-direct interactions with attractive return privileges and highly value-conscious pricing to begin with. That part of the industry seems to be doing well, something difficult to gauge because the audiophile press tends to focus on the established mainstream.

It's mainstream audio and the firms that ply its querulous currents where trouble is brewing and only getting worse. For every Wilson Audio who proudly suffer back order pressures for their $120,000 flagship, there's 20 other firms struggling to generate enough orders to keep the flag on their ship hoisted in the wind. Add how the unstable Euro exchange rate keeps undermining the value part of the import equation from Europe and the future for very specific players looks anything but bright. Call it an oversaturated market that hawks products which lack large-enough demands. Call it savvier customers unwilling to support traditional dealer markups for shrinking support and knowledge. Call it a well-developed 2nd-hand market with a solid buy/sell infrastructure. Call it all of that plus many intangibles. The only ones for whom the future looks assured? The press. No matter who struggles or triumphs, our industry seems to attract an endless stream of newcomers that keep our kind in the business of reportage. Just because we keep having things to talk about doesn't equate to a bright future for those we write about - in my book. But then I'm playing bad cop with a dim perspective on current goings-on today. Things are supposed to look grim wearing that hat...