Long Live High-End Audio
While we contemplate high-end audio’s long, slow, and stinking death, Magico, manufacturer of high-performance, high-priced loudspeakers, is in the mainstream press: USA Today ran an article earlier this week, which asked, “How much would you pay to bring music to life?”
The author, Marco Della Cava, seems convinced of hi-fi’s potential. He writes: “Opening your eyes to see not a band but a cold rack of hi-fi gear is a genuinely jarring experience, like drifting to sleep in a hot tub only to wake up in the factory that makes the hot tub.”
This comes just weeks after two NYC hi-fi salons, DUMBO’s Oswalds Mill Audio and the Flatiron’s Audioarts, were profiled respectively by Jay-Z’s Life + Times and the Wall Street Journal.
While the recent press has been overwhelmingly positive, the fact remains that we focus almost entirely on the most extravagant segment of the high-performance audio world, suggesting that high-end must be high-priced. Remember what John Atkinson said: High-end doesn't necessarily have to be high-priced.
For some reason, for as long as I’ve worked at Stereophilewell over a decade nowolder, more experienced audiophiles have asked me two questions: 1. How can we prevent hi-fi from dying? 2. How can we attract a younger audience?
Never have the answers to these questions seemed more obvious.
First of all, don’t be stupid. Hi-fi can’t die because, luckily, it’s inextricably tied to music. (Although it can be argued that audiophiles have tried their best to kill music, too.) Hi-fi will exist for as long as music exists. And music will always exist. So, while hi-fi’s popularity will rise and fall, hi-fi itself, for better or worse, will certainly stick around. Follow the music and you’ll find life. However, if you want to attract a larger audience, offer the products that most people want. (Duh.) When we launched our three sister websites, we focused on the areas of high-performance audio that showed the most growth, not only among audiophiles, but among all music lovers. These areas are, clearly and undeniably, headphones (InnerFidelity.com), computer audio (AudioStream.com), and vinyl (AnalogPlanet.com). Makes sense, right? To launch a site today devoted to, say, cassette decks, probably wouldn’t make a lot of money.
So, to prevent hi-fi’s death, make stuff that people want to buy. And do it faster. Stop wasting time making fun of how other people choose to listen. Instead, improve that listening experience. Remember what Jon Iverson says: Audiophiles perfect what the mass market selects. Get on it. There are plenty of opportunities. (Hint: headphones, computer audio, vinyl.)
And, if you want to attract a younger audience, make stuff that younger people can afford. (Duh.) Try to remember what it was like when you were younger or less privilegedthat is before (way before) you thought a $1500 amplifier was "affordable." Realize that, to many people, there is an enormous honking difference between spending $150 and spending $300. Realize that, to many people, the idea of spending $1000 or even $500 on anything is really freaking scary.
Make stuff that people want and make stuff that people can afford.
And if you’re not really interested in attracting a larger and younger audience, stop pretending that you are, and stop asking stupid questions. There are better things to do and more records to explore.