We Are Millennials. We Are The Future.

(Brooklyn, NY). I wake up. It's one of those perfect Sunday mornings—66°, pleasantly cool, with sparse rays of sun peaking through. I have the whole day to devote to eating and writing my Stereophile column—my two favorite pastimes.

The morning begins with me putting a record on: Elton John—Greatest Hits, the soundtrack of my life. I then proceed to hand grind some Counter Culture coffee beans from Kapchorwa, Uganda, and proceed to brew them in my Chemex. Since I am an extremely gluttonous eating machine, and Sunday is boozy brunch day, I attempt to preemptively offset the rest of the day by juicing some fresh, farmers-market greens.

On an average work day, I would've hastily stuffed my cheapo Apple earbuds in, poured some cold brew into a canteen, grabbed some random snacks, and rushed out the door. This process, on the other hand, is calming and restorative. Weekends are for slowing down, after all.

As my morning kitchen routine winds down, my morning tech routine begins. Switching from vinyl to Tidal, I respond to emails, make a few phone calls, peruse social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), browse my rss news feed, browse my rss audiophile feed, and lightly skim NPR and the NY Times. This continues for about an hour until I put a stopper on it and attempt to start writing.

Recently, I've been finding myself increasingly curious about the relationship between modern listening patterns and advancements in technology. Or rather, why the majority of the world chooses to forgo high-fidelity, premium listening experiences, for convenient, (often) lesser-quality ones? I am obviously guilty of this too, at times, so this is in part an introspective self-study. Of course, the obvious culprits come to mind: modern lifestyle, the media, (perceived) affordability, and accessiblity. But one word in particular comes up quite frequently: "millennial" . . .

Millennials are—allegedly—the scum of the earth. They're a load of lazy, self-absorbed, uninformed, whiny twerps who are in for a rude awakening. At least, those are what seem to be the highlights of the fraction of internet drivel I've come across.

[Recess] I set down my organic coffee. It's time to bring in the big guns: the Bruichladdich Octomore 6.1. A secret weapon reserved primarily for special occasions, but also for reading sickening articles online. [End recess]

Supposedly, we, an entire generation of people, are to blame for everything? We're lumped together, generalized, and harshly labeled in a shockingly large spread of articles. (Need I point out that the vast majority of Trump supporters are over the age of 45?) Sigh. Reading unintelligible, indiscriminate hatred can be so tedious, but with Elton by my side, I feel indestructible. These innumerable allegations span across a wide array of industries, so naturally, millennials in high-end audio are not immune to this unwarranted hostility.

In the audiophile world, millennials are often blindly associated with crappy headphones, crappy digital downloads, crappy music, and a crappy over-reliance on technology. Is this completely false? No. Of course I've encountered my fair share of millennials matching this description. And of course I'm guilty of many of these accusations as well. But some of the most passionate audiophiles I've met also happen to be millennials. And inversely, I've met some pretty disappointing Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers too.

We live in a weird world of people who use apps to order life partners just the same as they do hot meals; where one can make a good living and have a thriving social life without leaving home. There's an app for everything. Modern technology addresses pain points you never even knew you had to make life easier in ways previously unimaginable. Some solutions are useful, while others are completely absurd. It's the same with everything. What strikes one as an unnecessary technological crutch is a key solution in another's daily routine. We all have unique lifestyles with individual needs that require specific crutches (technological or not) to assist us. Why should variations in music listening be viewed any differently?

I'll drool over an exquisite two-channel system just as much as the next audiophile, but I'm equally appreciative and grateful for my Apple earbuds, my $20 Audio Technica exercise buds, and my occasionally skimpy digital downloads. Life moves at different speeds, and there's a time and place for everything. Yes, even Apple earbuds.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm just a cheap, weak, millennial nobody preaching to no one. Maybe all millennials really do suck, and the high-end audio industry—no, the world!—is doomed for failure. But here's what I think. I think that we millennials are on to something. We are the future.

Music can and will be lifestyle friendly, to each individual's respective lifestyle. A diversity of digital music formats, portable technologies, wearables, hearables, multi-room functionality, subscription services, streaming experiences—these are glimpses of the future that millennials and Gen Z'ers will continue to improve upon. Our modern lifestyles are pushing technology, urging it to move forward in all directions. Perhaps not every single direction is quite clear or refined yet, and perhaps some advancements favor lifestyle over fidelity, but I promise you this will change. Hopefully the future of music listening will be an equal balance of high-fidelity and technological convenience.

We are millennials. We are the future.

Ixtayul's picture

Can anyone really take discussions about generational differences seriously. Imagine the audiophile that had only ever heard Caruso sing in an opera house cringe as he listens for the first time to Caruso sing on radio or on a Victrola. He wouldn't stop cringing for 30 years till technology could make his living room sound like La Scala. The same goes when said audiophile heard Miles Davis on the first transistor radio. Cringe again! Till Walkmans and Boom Boxes came along that could make you backyard sound like the Fillmore East. And now digital. Audiophiles cringed at the crisp, soulless sounds emanating from their "high end gear". But now digital is getting to the point where it feels like you are in the studio or cafe or opera house with the musicians. We need the music loving non-audiophile to popularize a new medium and them improve it. Think buggy whip to Porsche 911. You don't get there without a lot of Model T's and Edsels being sold.

HJC001's picture

It takes time to realize these "Gen BlahBlah" things are more divisive than helpful. Also, I thought Edsels didn't sell well and failed to rise to its own brand...?

Ixtayul's picture

The Edsel had some advanced feature designs later adopted by most car manufacturers. It was just too butt ugly to survive.

dalethorn's picture

You obviously have discriminating tastes in music and hi-fi, as well as nutritional items. Then your tastes in non-audio media fall to the lowest common denominator.

HJC001's picture

NOt sure it's "LCD", but certainly this writer is attempting to be "in touch" with popular culture. Perhaps there is something about the LCD media/consumer that may enable the magazine to remain in business. However, I hope that the technical AND artistic insights which compelled me to pay cover and subscription prices for over 20 years will be strengthened, and I hope the Editors do not weaken the publication with a drive to stay profitable by appealing to the whims of the InstaFacePinTweet.com crowds.

lo fi's picture

Being hyper self-aware might be tolerable if references to hand grinding coffee beans from Kapchowra, Uganda and juicing fresh farmers-market greens were self-deprecating and confined to Jana's blog.

Anton's picture

As mentioned above, every Hi Fi enthusiast has "risen above" his or her era's music loving plebs to acquire the gear fetish. I overcame the convenience of a poolside AM transistor radio, then the convenience of cassettes in the car, etc.

Audiophiles are simply fully fetishized ritualists who need an affectation or paraphilic gizmo to get the heart of the musical experience, I think. We should be given a blue parking sticker for when we go to the Hi Fi shop!

My new motto should become: when life gives you LCD sound, play it on an LCD soundsystem!

As to millenials: The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.

As David Byrne said, same as it ever was.

This is a great topic, by the way. Please pardon my lack of flow, I am on an LCD phone!

HJC001's picture

Ms. Dagdagan, I'm overjoyed to have a voice like yours appearing in Stereophile; it gives me hope for my own 5yr-old daughter's future as I try to brainwash a love of music into her. I'm an English and Lit teacher, so here's my 2 cents. For a short blog piece like this, I'd advise students to begin with this paragraph: "Recently, I've been finding myself increasingly curious about the relationship between modern listening patterns and advancements in technology." It concisely states your intent with teh piece, BUT it appears about half-way down the page, by which time I wonder whether I am reading a social commentary site or Stereophile. As a long-time reader, I'd like to see insightful writing like yours, but strictly within the scope of "STEREO" and "-PHILE" first and foremost. Also, don't ever let chatter about "generations" get to you. Ignore it. By the time one becomes a parent (or "Old"), most notions of generational differences subside under the ancient weight of providing a life for our children and/or dying gracefully. Thank you, and best wishes :)

Bagret Topogwa's picture

HJC001 well said and stay to the point. English is spoken at this site.

Music_Guy's picture

Your generation, my generation and the ones that will follow stand on the shoulders of and enjoy the fruits of the innovations of those that came before.

Today, you may feel a certain amount of persecution from the previous guard of audiophiles. But take heart. The readership here is not all universally closed-minded. The time for your generation's rise to audiophile/cultural dominance is now. Enjoy it while you can. Like those generations before you, it will feel all too fleeting in a very few short years.

I have enjoyed learning about your erudite taste in Scotch almost as much as your taste in things audiophile. Until I looked it up, I thought that Octomore 6.1 was a new multi-channel audio standard :-)

Bring us more of your clear writing style and fresh outlook on these absurd matters audiophile. Break the stereotypes and blind associations.

Show us what you got!

Allen Fant's picture


what gear, including cables/cords, is in your 2-channel system?

jimtavegia's picture

The fact remains that 80% of your generation still buys MP3 downloads and show little, if any interest in high resolution audio, the future will be what it is.

The high res market will always remain small and will get even smaller as we older audiophiles die off. There will be a few who will buy some $500 turntables, but not many and their record collections will be small as most will not pay the $25 to $50 an lp price for reissues and most millennials are not into the products that are being reissued anyway.

The sad part is that they could just buy a great set of cans and a nice, affordable USB dac, or even consider MQA, but most will not see all that can do as they won't buy a MQA capable USB dac so they won't hear all that the potential medium could bring.

I'm glad you are here, but you will have a tough time converting the masses who are already too deep into MP3s and generally only listen to music as a background filler anyway. I wish this was not going to be the case, but I just don't see the millennial masses moving to high res in my lifetime.

the industry gets it as they are limiting what they call high resolution to l 2448 and we all know that is not high resolution...2496, 24192, and DSD and SACD are. If and when Sony comes back and really starts supporting SACD again with music and affordable players I might begin to believe it. Most millennials don't even know who OPPO is I would bet. Their $599 player might be an ear opener for them.

I would love for you to do a Go-Pro man on the street video and just ask millennials walking buy if they know about high resolution, or if they know anything about resolution at all and how many audio formats are out there? That would be fun. I would love to be convinced at how wrong I am.

Eoldschool's picture

Ms. Jana, there are exceptions in every group if you will. You are an exception. Don’t sell yourself short!

I just read this piece of brilliant writing! Jana, you may wax all day about your consistencies of being guilty of this or that, but you are consistent in something else that is brilliant, your articulate and eloquent voice through your writing!! You consistently write brilliantly and genuinely. Frankly, I don’t know how you do it.

I being someplace between Gen-X and before Baby Boomer (AKA the lost generation) if I even have that correct, have no hesitation stating that you are one of the most intellectual Millennials I’ve ever heard! You almost don’t fit the stereotype. In fact, I don’t care for stereotypes of all this Gen-x, Baby-boomer, Millennial garbage. It doesn’t matter when folks share the same passions and such. Why can’t we seem to move beyond the stereotypes?

Jana, you have a very unique and long needed overdue voice in this wilderness of audio industry and who says we can’t sometimes all learn from each other regardless of age, gender, race or any other factor?

As for all the hateful negative stuff you either read about or that is directed at you, you may be better off trying to ignore it at least for now. I know it gets me down, so I try to avoid reading that stuff and in fact, I don’t turn on the TV except to watch something educational or the latest Michael Fremer video on YouTube or something. I don’t even have broadcast TV because I don’t want it. I’d far rather listen to music or read about some new truly affordable piece of fine audio, etc. (Not being an aficionado of drink or really not much of a drinker myself, I thought the Bruichladdich Octomore 6.1 was some sort of weird amp or something. Now I find out that it’s one of those things that perhaps should be, but isn’t). See, already you showed me something I did not know. (Don’t ask me to pronounce it please).

agb's picture

Times They Are A'Changin' - Bob Dylan if I recall correctly...an old man now, that's how much times have changed. Jana, the truth be told, high end audio is an old man's sport, at least States-side, for several reasons. One, they started out building Heath and Dynaco kits which were, in their time for a price of $200, "expensive." They never imagined speakers and whole amplification systems that could buy a moderate house today, back then. Back then is when they were millenials. Second, they can afford it. Which is helpful as an alternative to robbing a high end shop at gunpoint.

Many of these geezers have "graduated" to higher end using the best headphones, good DACs and wires, and music players in their MACs that resample iTunes; and if used properly, cover pre and post-ringing in the sense MQA might. I won't go into this theme deeply. Suffice it to say that digital technology has caught up, and is technically as well as musically, eclipsing analog. Some of us are not as nostalgic about analog as others might be who are also in the business of selling and promoting it for ad revenue, and have no skin in the game either way. I have, btw, a very fine analog system too. I won't go into that either, let it suffice that it has its own nasties that are arguably worse than good digital.

I will go however into the obviously Brooklynite left-leaning slant of Stereophile, which from time to time finds it comprehensible to alienate potentially half its readers with its sense of history, politics and their preferences for whom they wish to lead the nation to its destruction. I propose that one's personal politics has no business in an audio journal . . .

Let me put it this way: Many of us were millenials at one time. I know it's unbelievable, but trust me, it's true. As sharp as many hipsters have become, far more sophisticated that we ever were, trust me on this too Jana: we who were millenials at one time know more today than we knew when we were younger. It is the path of life that one learns stuff on his way to the onset of Alzheimers, which many of us, once we get there, will find a blessing. . .

[Deletions of political content, for which we have a section called "The Open Bar" in our website forum. - John Atkinson]

The millenials, because they are smarter than the rest, just proved it with their good judgement based on a lifetime of experience.

Anton's picture

Someone lives in an unhappy world.

I recommend some cowbell. It cures everything. ;-D

MilesFerg's picture

As Millenials, or any generation, advance in careers, earn more income and begin to increase their appreciation of the enjoyment that the extra few percent of quality can bring (whether audio reproduction or scotch), a subset will embrace audiophile quality. I'm glad their is a voice that will help nudge and introduce them to this. We should all strive to not look down, but without judgement on them, expose them to how much greater enjoyment there is when listening to higher quality reproduction of music.

And Jana, if you switch to the Port Sherry, you can get your peat fix and afford more audio equipment. ;-p

MilesFerg's picture

It's Port Charlotte. I think sometimes they use Sherry casks, thus the confusion. Also, as I thought about this more, I remembered that as a teen and young adult, I was listening to cassette tapes on a boom box of mostly songs recorded from the radio. Easy, portable and cheap. Later on, a lowly NAD 3020B with Boston Acoustic monitors opened my eyes (ears?) to how much more satisfying music could be.

agb's picture

Good sound is affordable, and a little "more" gets one great sound. For let's say under $3000, my desktop system, or the cost of one of my high end interconnects or cartridges, one can enjoy arguably GREAT sound. As in politics, it's the values one has, or standards one lives by, not the cost, that should make one decide. If one were to evaluate cost-benefit ratios for dating women, politics, and audio, one might not only make irrational decisions, but most importantly, not even beneficial ones...and the two, rational and beneficial are one and the same.

With respect to most people who will never buy the $100,000 audio system, or the $100,000 turntable (which is about as irrational as it gets), the $3000 desktop system will be rational and beneficial.

Cost to performance ratio is high for the latter, extremely low for the former.

On that note about "rational" which should drive our decisions. High end watches and high end wines, as well as many other high end goods, for example Leica and Hasselblad film cameras, retain and sometimes increase in value. High end rare autos do too. High end audio, except in very rare exceptions, does not.

As one who has owned too many high end components to count, and reviewed more than one can count, I can say that on a cost-benefit analysis they are not as a category, rational purchases. Enjoyment is another matter, and even to that a cost-benefit analysis can be applied.

The millenials as a group can appreciate high end sound, but they will do so only on their desktop while they are attached to their computers trying to make a living.

With 95 million Americans now out of the workforce, a true unemployment rate of 20% and more, courtesy of the current administration, the hope for a resurgence of the domestic high end industry has been dashed possibly for a generation, possibly forever. This development is ironic given the political sentiment of the two major high end journals, most of whose participants will vote again for the same people who have given us our economy as it is.

To be specific, more millenials than ever before are moving back to their parent's basement apartments to while away their lives staring up at fading Obama '08 posters hoping for change.

Change doesn't come from hoping for it.
That is so because there are people who do, and people who don't.
And people who will; and people who won't.