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Does audio gear need to be sustainable?

svart-hvitt

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#1
We live in a world of consumerism. Overconsumption is a concern of many. One example is the fact that the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015*.

Audio gear - except speakers and acoustics - has reached a level where there are no more secrets. Transparent gear can be acquired at a reasonable cost. Yet, producers try and entice potential customers by means of marketing; colors, looks, words, storytelling etc. The question is, do we need yet another DAC, yet another amplifier when all you need can fit in a box the size of a small box of chocolates?

What would an informed buyer of audio gear put weight on in 2019? Colour and looks only - as transparency is already a given - or do we want our audio gear to fit in a grander scheme of things?

Would an informed buyer of audio products also put weight on intangibles like sustainability, i.e. the underlying corporate strategy of the producer of audio gear? Or is the audio gear buying process just a matter of tangible specifications like audio transparency, colour, looks and price?

If we broaden our persective a bit, sustainability has become an issue in other parts of society. You will hardly find a successful company of size that hasn't thought through how to deal with sustainability. And scholars at our universities try and understand if focus on sustainability is a source of competitiveness and profitability.

In a Harvard working paper professor Serafeim write**:

«We explore the extent of adoption of sustainability practices over time and the implications for firm performance. We find that for almost all industries, sustainability practices converge within an industry over time, implying that they spread as common practices. We also find that the extent of convergence across industries is associated with the adoption of sustainability by the industry’s market leaders and the relative importance of environmental and social issues compared to governance issues. Further, we distinguish between a set of sustainability practices on which companies converge within an industry, which we term “common practices,” and a set on which they do not, which we term “strategic.” We subsequently explore performance implications and find that the adoption of strategic sustainability practices is significantly and positively associated with both return on capital and expectations of future performance as reflected in price to book valuation multiples, whereas the adoption of common sustainability practices is reliably correlated only with expectations of future performance. Overall, we provide evidence about the role of sustainability as a long-term corporate strategy and as a common practice».

There are two key words here: "Common practices" and "strategic practices". In the conclusion, it says: "...we propose a new distinction between increasingly more common sustainability practices and those that are less common and thus, more unique and potentially strategic in nature".

As audio gear has entered the era of commoditization, what should audio gear producers play on and what should audio gear consumers demand in 2019? Is it sustainable to discard cheap commodity audio gear as your preferences change? Or should we make more informed purchases, where sustainability in a broader sense is taken into account?

To cast some light on my point I will use two examples of strategies that are not sustainable in a post-consumerism world:

1) Apple push out firmware to make existing gear slow and obsolete. Planned obsolescence increases a company's sales and profits.

2) Companies make different amplifiers that look exactly the same, but there are inside differences. So the cheapest version measures not as good as the most expensive ones. Is it only production costs that drive this compartmentalization of the same product into low, medium and high quality, or is it marketing behind the scenes at play which means the producers make inferior products on purpose in order to sell the "same" product to different segments like an airliner that uses creative tactics to find every customer's point of buying willingness?

In other words: Is it possible to put forward guidelines on what constitutes sustainable audio gear and sustainable purchase of audio gear? Is sustainability of relevance in audio (gear)? Or is sustainability just a fad that will go away in the future?

:)


*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_Development_Goals
**https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/deliver...0004125117006093026120074030116072119&EXT=pdf


 

dallasjustice

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#3
In terms of energy consumption, it’s alresdy happened. I believe the EU has rules that make it difficult to produce big amps with linear PSUs. So we see super high end companies like Soulution move everything over to SMPSUs. I think the future is much brighter for companies who build smaller, cheaper and more efficient gear; especially integrated equipment. The ones who refuse to do that will simply die out because the younger buyers don’t want it. There’s no energineering reason why all gear couldn’t run off of switch mode.
 

svart-hvitt

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#4
Can you give a precise definition of exactly what you mean by the term "sustainability"? It's a rather slippery word meaning different things to different people.
Good question!

I think it’s not in my powers to define sustainability once and for all to everyone’s satisfaction. However, waste and careful, intelligent use of resources are uncontroversial points to make in regard to what is sustainability.

Check out goal 12 in the UN link above too.
 

Blumlein 88

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#5
Economic sustainability is the first requirement for any business. If efforts at sustainability result in better products it works. Otherwise not.

There are people with Mcintosh gear from the 60s that still functions fine and has. That's no planned obsolescence. But like LED bulbs will a couple years use of it burn enough energy to buy a new better more efficient class D amp? Which is better?
 

dallasjustice

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#6
I’d be interested to know about demographic preferences for certain types of gear because that can tell us where the industry is going. IMO, one of the best persons to know the answer is @amirm Amir has owned a top audiophile forum inhabited by mostly middle age to retired men. I believe that forum focused on tubes and fabulously inefficient gear. Amir has also owned this forum for a while now, which focuses on highly engineered and modern efficient gear. What are the demographic differences between WhatsBestForum and ASR?
 

svart-hvitt

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#7
Economic sustainability is the first requirement for any business. If efforts at sustainability result in better products it works. Otherwise not.

There are people with Mcintosh gear from the 60s that still functions fine and has. That's no planned obsolescence. But like LED bulbs will a couple years use of it burn enough energy to buy a new better more efficient class D amp? Which is better?
Economic sustainability for the firm is of no importance if negative externalities are greater than the private profits.

McIntosh is indeed an example of good engineering philosophy. I wonder, however, if the new private equity ownership is capable of preserving the McIntosh legacy in this respect. Any idea?

In real estate, retrofitting has become a term. It’s often more sustainable to retrofit an old building to new standards instead of discarding the old building to erect a new in its place. I encourage @restorer-john to come up with some calculations to illustrate how old gear can be «retrofitted» for a more sustainable life cycle.
 

amirm

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#8
I’d be interested to know about demographic preferences for certain types of gear because that can tell us where the industry is going. IMO, one of the best persons to know the answer is @amirm Amir has owned a top audiophile forum inhabited by mostly middle age to retired men. I believe that forum focused on tubes and fabulously inefficient gear. Amir has also owned this forum for a while now, which focuses on highly engineered and modern efficient gear. What are the demographic differences between WhatsBestForum and ASR?
We have significantly younger members. Our two dominant groups are 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 year olds. From what I recall, WBF was 45 to 54 year olds.
 

RayDunzl

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#9
We have significantly younger members. Our two dominant groups are 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 year olds. From what I recall, WBF was 45 to 54 year olds.
I guess we need a large print section for the antiques like me.

That's OK, anyone who isn't a day older tomorrow morning, let me know how you do it.
 

Blumlein 88

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#10
Economic sustainability for the firm is of no importance if negative externalities are greater than the private profits.

McIntosh is indeed an example of good engineering philosophy. I wonder, however, if the new private equity ownership is capable of preserving the McIntosh legacy in this respect. Any idea?

In real estate, retrofitting has become a term. It’s often more sustainable to retrofit an old building to new standards instead of discarding the old building to erect a new in its place. I encourage @restorer-john to come up with some calculations to illustrate how old gear can be «retrofitted» for a more sustainable life cycle.
I think history of successful companies is against you here. Ultimately what you say is true. But that conclusion is far in the future. Retrofit, renovation, restoration, preservation all been going on every since I can remember.
 

Blumlein 88

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#11
Extreme example, 1990s Krell KSA 250. Class A stereo power amp. 12 amps at 120 volts continuous power draw. If you listen 4 hrs per day that's $420 per year at 20 cents per kw-h.

For the used price of the Krell you can buy a nice hypex unit which will effectively not use this energy. Should we recycle the Krell or not?

In time the Krell will all quit working and you'll not have this choice.
 

Willem

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#12
I guess it is all about being economical with scarce natural resources and the environment. In that respect there is a vast difference between the longevity of my old Quad 33-303 amplifier that I bought in 1971 and still own (though no longer in the main system) and the life expectancy of mobile phones and the like. Similarly, my current main power amplifier is a refurbished Quad 606-2 from the early 1990's. It is built with off the shelve parts, so my service engineer could refurbish it by completely replacing all capacitors and resistors with new ones for a few more decades of good service.
The other and increasingly important aspect is energy consumption. Here valves and class A amplifiers are the modern dodo's, and just like with gas guzzlers there is no real future for them in the modern world. Here in Europe, we have more and more legislation with mandatory energy conservation standards for more and more domestic appliances. Also, environmental taxes on energy are an increasingly powerful argument against energy wasting. So the moment may come when, just as with old cars, it is environmentally better to ditch an old class A amplifier even though still functional, and replace it with a modern class D unit. I would certainly not ever dream of buying a class A amplifier anymore.
 
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Ron Texas

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#13
Extreme example, 1990s Krell KSA 250. Class A stereo power amp. 12 amps at 120 volts continuous power draw. If you listen 4 hrs per day that's $420 per year at 20 cents per kw-h.

For the used price of the Krell you can buy a nice hypex unit which will effectively not use this energy. Should we recycle the Krell or not?

In time the Krell will all quit working and you'll not have this choice.
The newer Krell's have trick power supplies, so idle power is only slightly worse than class AB amplifiers. Efficiency is still only around 25%.

I think the bottom line is not a lot of tube and SS Class-A gets sold compared to the big picture. Then again, I suppose it's only a matter of time until some idiot in Brussels decides to write a 120 page regulation which effectively bans tube gear.
 

RayDunzl

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#14
Power is about $0.11/kWh here.

My pair draws 200W at ready to go idle.

It inspired me to investigate solar for the house, however the price/payback left me deterred.

But it did inspire me to buy shares in the electric utility for the dividend to pay most of the electric bill.

Utility sold itself to Canadians and gave me a $20,000 windfall. Bought shares in that company, still receiving a nice dividend.

Bought a pair of JBL LSR 308 in 2017 to be the daily drivers, and do see some savings on the bill. Been using the Krells more recently (cool weather).

Heating/Cooling is the big optional energy use here (red). Everything else is (blue), in kWh, estimated divide based on AC hours used:

1547924549975.png


The Utility is building some solar farms, so, maybe supporting them isn't a bad idea.
 

svart-hvitt

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#16
I think history of successful companies is against you here. Ultimately what you say is true. But that conclusion is far in the future. Retrofit, renovation, restoration, preservation all been going on every since I can remember.
Tobacco companies are among the oldest companies still around. They never contributed to society, did they?

This «economic sustainability is first» line of thought is appealing but it doesn’t stand neither the empirical nor the theoretical test. Bessembinder (2018, https://wpcarey.asu.edu/department-finance/faculty-research/do-stocks-outperform-treasury-bills) documented that most stocks destroy value for their owners. This is not the story we’ve been told in school, is it? Should we therefore conclude that most economic activity is destruction of value, a negative at large?

I guess we need to rethink what’s the purpose of economic activity and the firm. Many companies that destroyed value in strict economic terms - and many more companies destroyed value in modern times than in previous decades - certainly created value for their employees, the community, the customers and many more. Because economic activity is much more than value creation in narrow economic terms (i.e. generating returns in excess of alternative cost, for example risk free notes, papers and bonds), sustainability has a natural place in the priorities of intelligent man. I would thus argue that those who argue that the purpose of the firm is to create economic value, has got it wrong - and they don’t know the history, the empirical record. In fact, it’s as if the ability of firms to create economic value dropped and continued to drop as we entered the modern era where we defined the goal of economic activity differently than in previous decades and centuries. And I wonder: Where did we take it from that the purpose of the firm is to create as much economic value as possible? Is it a natural law that waited for us all the time to be discovered by Nobel economists? The only place I know where people take a law from somewhere as a given is religion.

Speaking of religion: Go back a couple of centuries and the quakers were among the most competent men in the area of economic activity. Quakers never narrowed down the purpose of their economic activities to «economic sustainability».

So I see it as an outcome of the natural order that a competently managed business has goals outside of making as much pecuniary surplus as possible.
 

SIY

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#17
Well tubes can work great in switching amps. The Berning amps are examples of that..
Even the Berning amps before his recent OTL stuff were highly efficient. Screen drive plus near-class-B gave remarkably cool operation. Performance is a different story...
 

DonH56

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#18
Better, longer-lasting gear can be made but consumers do not want to pay for it. Other than outlawing the cheap stuff (however you define it) is there an answer? Forcing manufacturers to use more "sustainable" materials and practices adds cost. Gov't mandates (I am no fan of the UN) will shift manufacturing to areas that are less restrictive again to save costs.

Another issue is the constantly evolving standards in consumer gear. We went from R2R to cassettes to CDs to streaming, video tape (VCRs) to DVDs to BD (now in various flavors from standard to 3D to 4K), stereo, to 5.1 to 7.1 to Atmos, etc. From composite video to SVHS to HDMI. And so forth and so on. Progress inevitably obsoletes older technology, leading to loss and waste. If I had to be taxed to support it (and I am), I'd rather the money go towards advancing recycling operations than arbitrary "sustainability" requirements.

Lead solder bad, so outlaw lead in solder. It is better now, but the reliability or repairability of components using non-lead solder is much worse than the old stuff. And where did the lead come from? The planet? We took it out but now it is absolutely horrible to put back in -- recovering it from components seems a better focus.

To touch upon the two examples:

1. There is a lot more to the Apple story than the media shouted. Battery lifetime is limited and capacity diminishes. Someone probably thought it a great idea to slow down the processor and extend the battery life for older devices, saving consumers from having to buy a new one. Never let a good deed go unpunished.

Making devices that are difficult to repair has been attacked, and I tend to agree with that, but OTOH making something like a phone or MP3 smaller, lighter, and more resistant to the environment (like water damage) means seals and tightly packed products tough to repair. The consumer wants it all, and sometimes reality gets in the way...

2. I guess I am just old-fashioned in that I think competition is good and am willing to let the marketplace (consumer) decide if a new product is differentiated enough from others to justify itself. If not, it won't survive, but the world will go on. Differentiation means much different things to different people; some will pay more for looks, some for additional features, others for better technical specs (I intentionally left off "different sound", no need to add more rabbit holes to go down). A one-size-fits-all approach means building to the lowest or highest common denominator and I don't see either as a viable long-term strategy. The least in terms of performance and features will be supplanted by other products that people will buy for their better performance (audible or not). Building to the most means paying a lot in features, SWaP, etc. for things not everyone needs or wants, again a waste or resources.

My guess is I won't be alive in the "post-consumerism" world. Striving for better seems part of our nature and I don't see that going away anytime soon. For audio components that means always wanting one more feature, one more format, one more watt...
 
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SIY

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#19
Tobacco companies are among the oldest companies still around. They never contributed to society, did they?
Depends on your POV. People who want tobacco and enjoy it are able to buy it in their preferred form. You might not consider that a "contribution to society," but my smoker friends would strongly disagree. And shocking as it may seem, people have (in freer societies) the liberty to make choices that you or their other Besserwissers may not approve of.
 

Willem

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#20
I can only hope that someone in Brussels will introduce standards for audio gear as they did for tv screens. Some of these things do not come about without regulation.
Our current electricity costs some 20 eurocents per kwh, and at that price it was financially very attractive to install solar panels. We now produce about three quarters of our electricity consumption, and now that my son has moved out and I have almost only led lighting the bill for the remaining consumption should be lower again. The next fridge will have to comply with the new EU standards, and consume only about a quarter of the current one. Similarly, our new vacuum cleaner only uses about half of the old one, and is better. Additionally, for me personally it is not just an economic decision.
 
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