So farewell then Amp and Deck, as buyers ditch hi-fi in favour of DVD

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The Independent Online

It looks like the end for amp and deck. Hi-fi separates, once the must-have home entertainment accessory, have all but died a death.

As consumers flock to digital stereos, which can store music downloads and play DVDs and mini-discs as well as the traditional CD, tape and radio, Pioneer - the king of separates - is phasing out single-format players and speakers.

"Stack systems with one box for radio, one for tapes, one for CDs and then a record player on top have disappeared," said John Bamford, Pioneer GB's product manager.

"We make some stereo amps but there is no demand for them. We sell 1,000 surround-sound amplifiers for every stereo amp."

He added: "I imagine we'll stop selling them completely within the next three years."

Which is bad news for anyone who has spent the past decades carefully cultivating their "stack" stereo. The mass-market Japanese companies that used to manufacture separates - Sony, Pioneer, Kenwood and Sharp - have all moved on to DVDs. Four million DVD players are now sold in the UK every year, and this Christmas discount DVD players are set to become the most popular electrical gift with high-street chains selling them for as little as £30.

There has also been an explosion in computer-based music servers. An iPod stores thousands of tracks in its digital memory and fits into your pocket. This Christmas it costs £250.

In contrast, quality hi-fi separates now cost hundreds of pounds for each piece. "The core of the market has shifted from around the £100 mark to the £500-£1,500 price range," said Ketan Bharadia of What Hi-fi? magazine. "Over the past couple of years the decline has been really dramatic, and it will slide even further."

Last week, hi-fi enthusiasts at Birmingham's Richer Sounds - a specialist hi-fi store - were resigned to seeing separates go the way of the gramophone. "Separates give sound quality and flexibility," insisted John Parkes, an insurance claims handler. "But more and more people are opting for the easy option - something that looks pretty."

Robert Poynter, a 47-year-old teacher, ruefully admitted he had moved on to a single, all-in-one system. "I'd prefer to have separates but a single unit probably does the job. Separates seem the more expensive option."

A store spokesman said that even in a specialist hi-fi store such as Richer Sounds separates were dying out. "They used to dominate about 70 per cent of our shop - now it's less than 50 percent. What it'll be in another 12 months' time will be quite interesting to see," said the spokesman.

Over at Dixons in the new Bull Ring shopping centre, the demise of separates was reflected in the growing sales of mini and midi systems. "People want greater functionality out of a smaller unit," said Graeme Shelley, the store's floor manager. "It tends to be people who are really serious about music who buy separates."

This comes as no surprise to James Jolly, the editor of the high-brow music magazine Gramophone.

"Rather than having a television in one corner and a hi-fi in another, everything is coming together," he said.

"The audio-only system is dying out in favour of multimedia systems. We like our music to be able to come with us - you can pick up a little gadget and off you go."

The British Federation of Audio, which represents manufacturers of hi-fi equipment, admits that the audio separates market has fallen by 25 per cent over the past four years, but insists it is not just because of the rise in digital technology.

Steve Harris, the federation's chair, said: "The competition to hi-fi isn't just television and DVD. It's computers and holidays - things you spend your disposable income on."

Mr Bamford disagrees. "DVD has changed everything," he said. "Home cinema is taking over. There are DVD players that make CD players sound pathetic.

"Separates have become marginalised. The only person who would buy them is the sort of guy who'd buy a Morgan sports car instead of an S-class Mercedes."

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