When Was The Audio Golden Age?

I looked at the Vintage section here for the first time.  It made me speculate on what other forum users would view as the best era in Audio.  For me it is the present.  The level of quality is just so high, and the choice is there.  Tube fanciers, for example, are able to indulge in a way that was impossible 3 decades ago, and analog lovers are very well set.  And even my mid Fi secondary systems probably outshine most high end systems from decades agoHowever when one hears a well restored tube based system, play one speaker from the mid to late 1940s it can dazzle and seduce.  So what do others think?  Are we at the summit now, or did we hit the top in past and have we taken a few steps down?


I think now for sure, and I think there is still lots more to come in the digital space, active speakers and Class D. All these improvements will trickle down to make serious hifi more accessible. Meanwhile I still like my separates and passive speakers. 

I think OP is right. Since the last decade there was an offer in quality and improvement at such low price which was never seen before.

But there is not much acoustics basic consciousness in most audiophiles yet,all attention is focused on the gear pieces not on what we do not see ... We must wait audiophile acoustic A.I products yet to come....( Dr. Choueiri is the first such offer but not yet A.I. driven )


Myself i did not wait...And i used modest tools and basic concrete means for minimally acceptable acoustics results ..

Then i had the two feet and the head also in "the golden era" for acoustically educated audiophiles: right now...

Golden Age can be given at any point of time and it all depends on how and when you label it

Was it when copper was cheap enough to make faucets and tea kettles? 

Seems to me a true "Golden Age" of audio doesn't exist. The Golden Age is the future, not the past.

We may be nostalgic about a certain look or style, but with audio it all comes down to sound. The only possible exceptions might be true analog record production and music in the 1960's and 1970's.


Anybody know that the concept of "golden era" is relative...😊

But here we spoke about the last 100 years in audio playback reproduction. Not about the dinosaurus takes on the world  before comets strike them ...

And sorry but it is not only about sound  quality  which rely now as much  on acoustics than on the gear but about the offerings of combined S.Q. with low price...

The audiophile era begun few years ago in my opinion being 73 years old soon  ...😋

Will it go on ?

Probably the technological and psychoacoustics improvement allied to industrial manufacturing always lowerede cost price (robotisation) will not stop.


To me, the "golden age" of hi-fi began after WWII and especially with the advent of the LP. Marantz tube gear, big Bozaks, KLH 9s. Raw drivers, DIY, and pretty hands on. (Of course, there is the pre-war WE and Klangfilm equipment, originally designed for theater). 

I got into this "hobby" in around 1970, coinciding with the dawn of the first generation of "high end" (a term I think Harry Pearson claimed to coin). 

As to what is the "greatest" era for gear, I think that depends on what you are after. 

I’ll tell ya what; it sure as crap ain’t today.
When a depressingly high number of people think they’re “listening to music” on a f**king cell phone speaker the size of an M&M, or think, “ok, now I’m really listening to music when I stream data over the internet through a Bluetooth speaker the size of a golf ball,” we are definitely not in the Golden Age of audio today.
The fact that there are always a few people who are seriously interested in maximized audio fidelity and/or rich people who can afford high-end stuff is irrelevant to the larger picture. Good for them. They are a sliver of the total population and the other 90% are punishing their senses (in the case of these uber-rude dum-dums that subject others to their noise pollution in public places, punishing others as well) with shrill noise pollution spitting out of a cell phone speaker, not “listening to music.”
Actual music being played in a physical space used to be normal.
Now “normal” is something that vacillates between indistinct, shrill noise pollution screaming out of a cell phone speaker and crap sound from streaming data through a little speaker that fits inside a purse.

The golden age was the first of such, followed by the silver, bronze, heroic and iron ages. The term denotes times of plenty with no strife. Audio seems to be immune from that, going it’s own way and has quite the road to travel. I refuse to think it all lay in the past as that’s too nostalgic for me. That’s vanity.

All the best,

The ratio S.Q. and price has increased meaning we can afford better system at a lower price. It is a golden era.

But musical classical education which existed in some school 60 years ago dont exist anymore.

On this aspect it is not a "golden era" ... For sure ...😊

Then we must define the acoustic perspective from which we spoke : musical or gear focused...

For those like me who are very centered on acoustics,  Roman Vitruvius using Greek architecture acoustics methods, the same which will gave us Hemlhotz resonators for example already lived in a "golden era" ...😊

1950s into the 80s. Tubes were plentiful and inexpensive. Everyone built their own amps. Recordings were crystal clear. Folks sat around and listened together. Music was awesome. 

Perhaps you are right! You are not alone thinking such , i  had read it a lot and it is the reason why i bought my Sansui and my AKG K340 products born exactly at this era end.

Nobody ever build an headphone so complex after ( too costly to design it  well said Kennerton guy )

And i dont think that many amplifier of today beat the Sansui alpha in the range quality pieces, quality design and price today...if we transpose inflation cost...

Anyway for cheap and low cost  good product we cannot beat our times i think ...

But i am not an audiophile market specialist... 😊


1950s into the 80s. Tubes were plentiful and inexpensive. Everyone built their own amps. Recordings were crystal clear. Folks sat around and listened together. Music was awesome.

I think the golden age of audio is normally thought to be the 50’s and 60’s because of the quality of the recordings. At that time the art had reached its peak before solid state and digital really compromised the recording industry.

As far a playback, it has never been so good in most respects. But I think some still think back to the 50’s and 60’s in playback because tube amplification was ubiquitous. So, most everything sounded natural and musical regardless of how truncated or attenuated the treble and bass. Low level systems and high end systems were magical.

Over the following decades transistors and then digital allowed a huge reduction in noise floor and increase in detail and bass… but it was often at the cost of the heart and soul of the music.

So, where we sit now is that we have an incredible variety of sound types available with details and bass so far beyond anything dreamed of back then but there are a few companies that have managed to keep the emphasis on the heart and soul of music and added the details and bass. I have to say that only about 20% of the high end systems I listened to over the last twenty years captured the music… most are sound spectacles in slam and detail but to me are missing most of the music.

A case could be made that it was when there were VERY affordable heathkits, hafler kits, and dynaco kits, to introduce people to the experience of HIFI.

Of cvourse there has been great technical progress since those times, but much progress has been ignored due to the likes of spotify and lossy digital encoding.

Why invest in multi-thousand $$ system if you have a lofi source and can't hear any improvement over a boombox?


Golden age = Now

For example, I used to have one of the Wilson Wamms from the 80s. Inflation adjusted price is ~100k.

My current Borresen X6 (20k ish....) kills that Wamm’s hiney on all counts....No contest, not even remotely. Heck, a X3 (10k ish) kills that Wamm, no contest.

Trashy old vinyl VS modern hires official studio masters (8 bucks a pop?!?!).....No contest.

I think of a Golden Age as a time when obstacles were overcome and a spate of innovation took the art to a higher level.  The mature vacuum tube era of Marantz 9 and McIntosh MC275 through MC2301. The application of Theil-Small filter theory to reflex speaker design.  The arrival of mature solid state designs by James Bongiorno…GAS in particular, when harshness was tamed in high power transistor amp designs.  The maturing of computer assisted design in loudspeakers, bringing KEF 105s and B&W DM6.  We may be now entering another such period, with enhanced analytic tools for speaker designers and the perfecting of new amplifier designs like Purifi and GaN FETs, and improved room correction like DIRAC.

The 50s and 60s stand out for the quality of recordings. If we define “the best era in audio” as the greatest opportunity to maximize the enjoyment of music it is now. The technology continues to advance and for those willing and able to invest in a little more than entry level gear great choices exist to suit almost any taste and any room.

What makes this era the best, however, is the unprecedented access to an endless variety of relatively well recorded music for next to nothing. A Qobuz or Tidal subscription puts the work of a seemingly endless number of artists at your fingertips. To me, there are few greater advances in the ability to enjoy critical listening than this one. When I started this journey you bought a record then maybe an 8 trac often for one or two songs you knew you liked. Unless you were fabulously wealthy ( I wasn’t) you sure weren’t going to pick up a dozen albums at the record store of unfamiliar artists just to see if they suited your taste.

 The affordable access to virtually any music out there has increased my listening enjoyment more than any other advancement. I’ve discovered artists that have brought me untold hours of listening enjoyment that I would never have experienced until relatively recently, even better, the sound quality of streamed music now rivals that of physical media- not something I would have said that long ago. And the availability of products like Roon makes it even better 

so, for the ability to immerse oneself in the joy of listening to music in a serious way- this is it IMHO


Today is the current peak with computer modeling, testing, measurements, and materials engineering plus the ability to analyze and compare results quickly has improved so many manufacturing practices.  The improvements in fuel efficiency and horsepower/weight improvements in cars is amazing.

I would expect that improvements in hifi would continue with advancements in modeling and engineering.


The term Golden Age has traditionally referred to the 1050’s and 60’s, when the KLH 9, Quad ESL, Klipschorn, Bozak, and Hartley loudspeakers were state-of-the-art (along with the Hartley 18" subwoofer)---with the new AR-3 nipping at their heels, powered by either Marantz or McIntosh tube electronics, and a Thorens TD-124 or Garrard 301/401 turntable fitted with an SME 3009 arm and a range of cartridges. These were all products of the WWII generation of hi-fi engineers, who got to work after returning home from the war.

The next era began at the dawn of the 1970’s, with the appearance of Bill Johnson (Audio Research Corp.), Jim Winey (Magnepan), and countless others whose new products replaced those listed above. But those 50’s/60’s products held their value, and are now of course considered classics, in general more so than those of the 70’s.

Then there are the recordings and resulting LP’s, primarily the RCA Living Stereo and Mercury Living Presence. They were brought to the attention of 70’s-era audiophiles by Harry Pearson and his colleagues in The Absolute Sound Magazine, and thereafter rose dramatically in value.


I agree regarding the 60’s and 70’s. Huge gains in speaker technology, turntables, and then you had the receiver wars. I would compare all the monster receivers of the 70’s to the muscle car era on the 60’s and early 70’s. They can’t outperform modern vehicles but great lookers and still a lot of fun to own and use.  Every town had at least one local stereo shop and a decent size city had multiple.

Then you have the dark ages. Started with the near death of vinyl due to the cd and the invention of 5 channel surround. You could hardly find anything that wasn’t black  and the  focus was running 5 and then 7 channel systems that ran double duty for movies and music play back.

We are now in another golden age though. Great speakers, huge gains in digital, tons of options for high end audio whether from the companies that weathered the storm and recovered or new boutique manufacturers. The only thing missing is you have to go to a large metro area to see great audio. We have your Best Buy’s etc but the small local shops are long gone. That’s a metro area of about 1m. Hard to compete with the internet.

"And I'm surfing on a wave of nostalgia for an age yet to come" - Buzzcocks 1978



 In the sixties people were happy with AM transistor radios and jukeboxes.  I remember car radios being blasted for all they were worth.  Idiots that can’t appreciate how to reproduce music properly, or are interested in using music to assault others, have always been with us


I think the late 1960's through the early 1980"s are often referred to as the "Golden Age of HiFi". General consumer interest was at it's peak, a multitude of retailers were selling stereo equipment, returning GI's from 'Nam were bringing home huge Japanese systems bought at the PX for a pittance, the receiver wattage wars raged among the major equipment players and such. I concur that modern stereo equipment generally sounds better and is more price effective, especially when adjusted for inflation. What I do miss, is looking inside of a good quality mainstream amplifier and seeing huge transformers with painted metal cases, massive soup can sized output capacitors, a line of MOSFET transistors on beautifully cast aluminum heatsinks and yards of nicely routed point to point hand wiring among discrete components. I'm sure an amp like that is available today for $25,000.

The golden age of music started in 1955 and ended when the calendar turned to January 1st 1980 for the most part with some exceptions. That is different from the question asked about the audiophile golden age. I think technology has continued to improve and progressed where the very best sound has to be today and has to put us into the golden age for the audiophile. Having said that, in the 60s I had a pioneer amp 25wpc and Kenwood speakers (when they were made in Japan). I remember that combination sounded wonderful and when I got rid of them, I spent years chasing that sound that I let get away. Today if you have the money better sounding equipment can be found in many different combinations. Therefore sound and music has disjointed somewhat so you really have to say today has to be the golden age for the audiophile because of the sound you can get from your stereo.

Late 50s to early 60s for recordings with the invention of stereo.

Now for equipment with the constantly evolving streaming technology.

It’s been a Stairway, pick a step, call it Golden.

Your actual experiences, age related, count the most, reading audio history can be fascinating, but living it is/was quite another thing.

Costs: Initially a rich mans game becomes affordable for ’well off’, then everybody can buy ’it’. I suspect the ’well off’ stage is your age related Golden Era.

Economic Advancement: boom or bust cycles are very much involved. Wage growth was a steady climb up to 1973 (I graduated college 1970), then stagnated.

"A startling fact is that average real wages have grown by only 0.7 percent over the half century beginning in February 1973. In February 2022 dollars, wages have grown over this period by $0.18. There is no question that an $0.18 increase over a half century is correctly interpreted as stagnant"

Thus, did the Golden Era end in 1973?

Many members here (not all) then and now are way above average earners, much higher disposable income.

Technological Advancement: During any war, or race to space, technology advances then trickles down. Also format wars push things along: 45/33; Betamax/VHS ......

then standardization (not always ’best’, think laserdisc/beta/vhs) yields profits for manufacturers to invest in the next thing.

Speakers have been a never ending quest for manufacturers and consumers.

Mono to Stereo, in any format was each a revolution.

Reel to Reel, wire to tape, dictation to music, mono, stereo, dolby, dbx ...

Turntable/Tonearm/Cartridge/Stylus Shape/Moving Coil .... each step by step

FM radio, Multiplex Stereo FM

Cartridges: Dictaphone; 8 Track; Cassettes; VCR; VHS; SVHS

Discs, this format, this size, ours is better than theirs ....

Broadcast, Streaming

On and On it Goes.


Recording (ignore content) also advanced by technology and affordability: think major labels, expensive recording studios; early equipment allowing garage bands, darn good garage band equipment; anybody can record anything at home, phone in tracks .....


I think the End of the Golden Age for Me is when accessories, some/lots of ’snake oil’ entered the game. I think it coincides with when measurements became unmeasurable.

Personally, I primarily prefer Vintage, equipment that sounds as involving as current production. What is Vintage? How far down the stairway do you go?



Modern analog equipment based on old design. Great selection of cartridges, tubes, and passive speakers available today. 

When a depressingly high number of people think they’re “listening to music” on a f**king cell phone speaker the size of an M&M, or think, “ok, now I’m really listening to music when I stream data over the internet through a Bluetooth speaker the size of a golf ball,” we are definitely not in the Golden Age of audio today.

How is this any different than the vast majority of people listening to music over AM/FM radio in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s? Or listening to radio/vinyl on their Zenith console system with a stacking turntable and $5 stylus in the living room? 95% of people enjoyed their music during the "Golden Age" in social settings like soda shops, get-togethers, and swinger parties. Not everyone had the Hugh Hefner bachelor pad setup or the Don Draper penthouse built-in system. 

The Hi-Fi people claiming the late '60s through early '80s were the Golden age of Hi-Fi are nostalgic for a time they fondly and foggily remember. It's like watching Mad Men and getting swept up in the nostalgia of the era, thinking wouldn't it be great if we could all teleport back in time to relive 1968 to 1975? 

I've always only been able to afford mid-fi. 98% of my friends, family, and acquaintances don't have dedicated hi-fi systems. Many never did or will. I went through a brief period in grad school listening to music on either headphones or crappy computer speakers via a laptop. Since the early 00's, it has taken time for me to rebuild a system up over the last 20 years. Having listened to better quality audio components to enjoy my CD and vinyl collection, I could never return to listening to music on a $50 Bluetooth speaker or even laptop speakers. But, I also know that I wouldn't build a system from 70s and 80s components either. That era holds no nostalgia for me with regard to equipment. The quality and technology of that era lacks in so many ways compared to what I have now.  Even my wi-fi powered speakers I use for multi-room listening are far superior to what my 80s Boston Acoustics could put out. 

I have a vintage Adcom GFA-1 amp that I keep for sentimental reasons and not because it sounds better than my Marantz unit. The Adcom still sounds good but it also has that vintage hum that can become bothersome over time compared to the cleaner sound I get on my modern integrated. When I'm on vacation I have a decent, Bluetooth speaker I bring for beach or pool-side background music. But I don't expect that to be hi-fi because, for all intents and purposes, it is a radio. 



Recordings were crystal clear. Folks sat around and listened together. Music was awesome.

Small market recordings beg to differ on being crystal clear. I have some 50s and 60s jazz and blues recordings from local New Orleans labels and the SQ is OK and few are just bad when it comes to clarity of recording. 

Maybe if you focu only on big label recordings and certain 1st/2nd pressings would the statement that records from the 50s and 60s were crystal clear be true. And only if you were listening to that vinyl on a high-end system from that time. The majority of people were listening to music on console systems and cheap set-ups, not high-end or DIY setups. 

My late 70's Pioneer SX-1250/Denon DP59L Turntable/Denon DL-103R/Magnepan 1.7i are good enough for me.  Every day is "golden".

You are not wrong!

Yesterday i entered ectasy with my Sansui alpha  from year 1980 and my AKG K340 from year 1979... Ratio S.Q. /price  impossible to beat !

Every night is golden!  😊


My late 70's Pioneer SX-1250/Denon DP59L Turntable/Denon DL-103R/Magnepan 1.7i are good enough for me.  Every day is "golden".

@erik_squires wrote:

When were Snell A/IIIs made??

I believe they entered the market in ’84 and were replaced by the A/IIIi’s a few years later, if memory serves me correct.

For me it was 70’s -90’s. I call it the Audio Center days. I recall 6 dedicated audio salons on Oahu. 2 "high end". Hanson’s place in Kahala and super underground Alston. Lafayette, Holiday Mart, Shirokiya and tv repair shops had their stereo corners. I don’t know if the military PX still sells stereos. Lots. LOTS of military were into stereo. From high mass market high fi, went crazy. The "Power Wars". Then this guy Mark Levinson shows up with a 25 Watt power amp. I don’t remember $2500 pr. or $2500 per channel. Stax, Magnepan, Audio Research, IRS, HQD, Hill Plasmatronics, Luxman, Wilson Audio, Koetsu, Linn... came on the scene.

However, I recognize and appreciate the advancements of audio today. But not as exciting for me as it was back in the day.

The boom-box Radio Raheem carried around sounds better than the typical stuff today.
It’s dishonest to frame this as though it’s ‘20s-‘60s vs. today, as though the ‘70s-‘90s never existed.

I was graduating University of Michigan in 1980 when a friend got a job as a salesman in a high end audio store.  I remember a wall stretching to the ceiling filled with McIntosh components.  He let me bring a few records in and listen for a few hours after closing time.  From then on I was seduced by the high end but it was a quarter century before I had disposable income to spend on anything but mid Fi (Graduate School and Family obligations disposed of anything previously).

  How that stuff would compare to my current gear is anyone’s guess.  My rose colored glasses aren’t known for improving my visual acuity.  But that night was an awesome memory 

Does the "Golden Age" question refer to recording or to advances in equipment?

If recording, then the 50s and 60s. If equipment, then circa 1972 - 1995. This was a period where we still had brick and mortar establishments and people got to hear equipment easily. Also, the tube made a comeback (thank you, William Z. Johnson), and triggered a rush towards achieving the "absolute sound."

That is no longer the case. When people discuss music, they refer more to the "features" of a component, very rarely actually addressing the music itself (which IS the purpose, no?). This, by itself, is less "involving" than what the High End scene was like even 30 years ago.

And "The Future" does not - to me - automatically indicate that we will make advances in reproducing music (and I mean, unfiltered, unprocessed and un-manipulated, which removes nearly the entire pop music kingdom of recordings as far as sound quality goes). People discuss soundstaging and imaging instead of talking about the music itself. And you have critics online who had no idea what acoustic music sounds like, which is ironic: the whole High End came into existence because of a desire to make music sound more as it did in the symphony/opera hall or jazz club. Given that classical and jazz music are the least known to younger audiences, hearing a trumpet the way it was actually played seems less an imperative than whether or not it has ’x-inputs" or the newest datachip. Passion and curiosity to create magic thru either tubes or transistors drove the first wave of "The Golden Age"; I’m uncertain what direction we are headed in right now. But with AutoTune, mediocre singers (clearly, a stunning voice is not a requirement for fame in the music arena nowadays) and with the amount of manipulation that is visited upon so many recordings, this is most certainly NOT the "Golden Age of Recordings."

There was a time when people were more attuned to music, and that changed around the very, very early 21st century. The move seems - in this era -  towards tech-in-audio, and away from (unaltered/acoustic) music as heard with minimal electronic intrusion.

In terms of when hifi was at its pinnacle and garnering much attention from the general public, that would have been in the latter 1950’s when hifi 33 1/3 Lps were brand new and companies aggressively marketed good sound to the masses.

Once that fad passed, things continued to move forward but fewer people payed attention to sound quality, either not caring or taking it for granted.

Which brings us to today which is the true golden age for those who care. Best sound ever available to more than ever who might care and access to any music desired on a whim via streaming. No doubt today is the golden age. The world of good sound and music as at the fingertips of more people than ever, for those who care or even think about such things anymore

The last 2 posts have been especially thoughtful.  They both emphasize the paradox that while the the access to music, and the sheer skill in playing it back, has never been higher; yet the general interest in sound quality amongst the general public has never been lower.

  The bricks and mortar stores had their flaws-most seasoned audiophiles probably had at least one bad experience in their lifetime- but just the fact that they even existed seems from today’s vantage like a miracle.  Imagine enough people in the world caring enough about sound to want to visit multiple locations, or to spend time in a given store, and to support an entire industry.

  My genre preference will show here, but as one of the posters noted, pop music played a big role in dumbing down standards.  It’s very ubiquity as background music creates a numbness to nuance. It’s processed, canned nature makes the relationship of instruments and voices to each other almost irr.  Yes, Classical and Jazz are much more demanding on sonic reproduction, and their listeners more discerning.  
  So music is a commodity, and like all commodities the emphasis is on fast and cheap.  We have the ability to listen to perfection and most people prefer sonic dreck.

I think the 'Golden Age' was when The Absolute Sound Magazine entered the scene. There were so many discoveries being made, people finding out that there really was something beyond their table radio. Interesting personalities bringing new ideas and products to market. 

Today is a fantastic time to be into high end audio, but a few decades back there was an 'organic quality' and 'esoteric dimension' that causes some of us to wax nostalgic. 


I’ve been in the hi-fi retail business for well over 50 years. The golden age absolutely existed before video games and personal computers. Back then I will estimate that 70% of people that bought hi-fi equipment more into the equipment than for the music. They were hi-fi clubs all over the place. There was a Saturday radio show in the Boston area just on hi-fi. I actually hosted the Wednesday night club at my hi-fi store in Providence, Rhode Island and then video games and Commodore 64 showed up and many of the people that used to come in and bring their turntables in for a wow and flutter check or their amplifiers in for a THD check we’re not showing up anymore . With the compact disc, there was a resurgence from people that were into hi-fi for the music. CDs just made it so convenient. But then Walkmen, discman and other personal portables, including early cell phones earbuds took over nearly the entire generation for music reproduction. I believe now we are going through a small resurgence due to Covid.  With folks getting government checks and having time on their hands. And retirees having time and a few extra nickels to spend on stereo equipment that they probably wanted when they were younger. Golden Age?…1965 to 1980.

I didn’t start reading Audio magazines until the early 2000s so I can’t comment as to what their contribution was in the historical sense. I also gave up on TAS when they became a shill for MQA but that is another story . And lately I’ve stopped buying Stereophile and others unless I’ve been alerted in this Forum to an interesting article. I’ve found that after a few decades even the best written audio prose can’t really tell me what something sounds like better than non professional reviewers.

However a few people here have singled out the impact of TAS in helping launch a Golden Age of Audio. I am not intending to disrespect those who state this, but I’m skeptical. Can a magazine have created an industry, as opposed to simply reporting on it? What was the peak circulation of TAS? I suspect that most people who bought systems in the sixties and seventies had never heard of it. Stereo Review,otoh, was fairly ubiquitous then. I also suspect that the relatively small number of Audio Connoisseurs that were strongly influenced in their formative years by TAS are likely to be posting on a site like this


I googled TAS to try to get a circulation number.  There was a retrospective from HP in which he mentions that by the third issue their circulation was up to 1500 but nothing else.

+1 @mahler123 I have gotten into arguments with friends who defend crap/cheap sound. It’s almost as if they are rebelling against good sound because it costs more than $150. But it’s worse than that; they do not understand that they can have good sound, or what that even means, and they do not care.

They both emphasize the paradox that while the the access to music, and the sheer skill in playing it back, has never been higher; yet the general interest in sound quality amongst the general public has never been lower.


"When a depressingly high number of people think they’re “listening to music” on a f**king cell phone speaker the size of an M&M, or think, “ok, now I’m really listening to music when I stream data over the internet through a Bluetooth speaker the size of a golf ball,” 

Your statement is correct, but your premiss is wrong.

I don't think today is any different from any other era. There has always been a very small percentage of the population that value sound quality at a ridiculous level, while the masses are more than satisfied with a transistor radio, an 8 track tape or a bluetooth speaker.

In fact, I would argue that more people listen to higher quality sound reproduction today, than any point in history.

There might be more total listeners for the higher quality sq than in previous years, but in the past it seemed like more people prioritized having a mid Fi system or better.  While there are exceptions, the younger generations simply don’t prioritize it, and most of the people previously mentioned that cared in the past no longer care