Audiophiles Need To Embrace Science Over Religion For The Hobby To Have a Future
The demographics of the audiophile hobby today are downright frightening, a fact that I’ve been harping on editorially for years and years. It is well known that there are close to zero female audiophiles, and the current trajectory of the hobby isn’t likely to change that. The Baby Boomers, who invented, created, grew, and now curate the hobby, need to be concerned about the average age of the audiophile hobbyist. The number is high when the goal is to sell them expensive technology. While(think: mid-40s to later 50s in age today) is not excluded from the hobby – they spend on all sorts of technology with enthusiasm – it is that time in their lives to invest in marquee material goods, like a fine pair of speakers or an OLED UHD-TV. In regards to the future of the hobby, the question is, just how many more 72-year-old audiophiles will want to upgrade their $12,000 tube preamp to a $20,000 one when they are 10 years older? Not many. Can Asian, Middle Eastern and other overseas markets make up for the dwindling demand, lack of displaying retailers, and other problems in the United States? Unlikely, as they’ve sustained the business of high-performance audio for longer than most American audiophiles understand and/or admit. It ain’t a news story that the audiophile hobby needs a sea change to save the business of consumer high-end audio.
The solution to the business model problems of the audiophile business/hobby is agonizingly simple … They need new blood, male or female (it won’t be female), but it must be younger. And younger people view technology as a future-facing proposition, while audiophiles look to the past for inspiration needed to fuel the passion of the hobby. The past includes the music that they listen to, the technologies that they embrace (vinyl’s resurgence is a good example) and, in too many cases, they with their last breath will fight new science (think: room correction, modern subwoofers) while embracing faux science like snake oil cables, after-market AC power cables, green paint on CDs, Mpingo discs, NOS (not on sale or “not oversampling”) retro-digital products that go 30 years backwards to Gen-1 of the CD for state of the art playback in 2021. If the QAnon shaman ever gets out of jail (so we are talking more than a decade), when he goes back to Arizona, he might just open the next new audiophile salon, while donning his Viking headdress.
So how do we get new audio enthusiasts into the hobby in meaningful new volumes?
1. The audiophile establishment needs to embrace the fact that, for $20 per month, an enthusiast can have unlimited access to nearly every recording ever made in at-minimum Compact Disc-level resolution, with many others in near-master tape-quality HD streaming. Fighting over MQA and talking about silver discs from 20 years ago is poison. Supporting vinyl as a high-performance audiophile format is even worse. Yes, vinyl is analog and retro-kitsch. Yes, on vinyl you are forced to listen to the record in the correct order and cadence, but that is the end of the benefits. The scientific fact is that vinyl is a low-resolution, low-dynamic, high-distortion format that was relevant 65 years ago, but is the biggest example of the failure of the elders at the audiophile print magazines to have the foresight to embrace the future. In terms of audiophile recording, the future is here. Think I am wrong? . Ask Amazon Music how their HD subscriptions are growing (hint: it’s booming).
2. Audiophiles need to fight the urge to believe junk science. People think the hobby is lame because they walk into a room with big, ugly speakers connected by speaker cables propped on mini-saw horses, and they say “not in my house.” When some jackass seated in his new Ferrari makes a YouTube video touting why an audiophile needs to spend $10,000 on a pair of his “special” interconnects, question the value proposition as if it is an infomercial for My Pillow. Can you hear the difference between them and a well-made pair of cables from a company whose stated goal is to make products that don’t affect the signal? Maybe you think you can, but could an acoustician like or a room-tuning wizard like actually measure the difference? Unlikely, even with the most sophisticated, expensive, and modern audio measurement rigs. Do wooden discs stacked up all over your room have the same measurable effects as a professionally designed and room-appropriate-design acoustical treatment system? Nope. Not even close.
Can a 1984 DAC chip perform like the best over-sampling, super-computer DACs of today to make digital more analogous to the master tape? No, it can’t. Take it from someone who had more than one early Compact Disc player in the 1980s – they have the subtlety of a methed-up cat clawing his way up an aluminum screen door. If you want to compare that digital to vinyl – I am on the vinyl train for the first time ever. Today’s audio is powered more and more by science, yet audiophiles fall victim to fraudulent claims of unprovable performance boosts that can only be heard based on the placebo effect. Audiophiles need to follow science, wear a mask, and get vaccinated when it is their turn … Wait, what?
3. Audiophiles need to embrace their rooms before their gear. Interior design is important, so that the hobby isn’t about some mad-scientist dude with dandruff flaking onto his Dark Side of The Moon T-shirt (yes, I’ve been to Rocky Mountain Audiofest and AXPONA and THE Show and others) and his oddball laboratory. Embrace rack-mounting gear. Embrace the incredible mainstream options in lighting control available at places like Home Depot, Lowes, Best Buy, or Amazon. Embrace room treatments, ranging from affordable options from the likes of to expensive ones from the likes of and many others. Hire an electrician to bring in enough dedicated power that your gear is never hungry for more juice. Hide cables in the walls, floors and elsewhere, so that gorgeous audio gear is treated like sculpture. Work with a top HVAC technician to find ways to hush the sound of your heating and cooling. Work with a seamstress or blinds company to get excellent window treatments that work in conjunction with your other room treatments, be they diffusion, fabric wall absorption, bass traps, or any other type of solution that is relevant in your room. Lastly, look into the power of digital room correction. Today’s best audio gear can measure your room with your system in it and show you its flaws – and then fix it. Too many audiophiles would never even try such a powerful solution, because it represents change. It represents the end of the stab-in-the-dark carousel of gear, cables and junk that make up too many audiophiles’ journey. The hobby doesn’t need to be that.
4. Subwoofers are important, even though audiophiles would rather try to get the lowest of low frequencies from their front left and right speakers. You don’t need a room tuner or a Powerball victory to afford low bass. My monster SVS subwoofer is a world-beater, and it allows me to not have to spend $30,000 or more on speakers that rock my world. My SVS does that, and quite nicely.
5. Stop fighting video. Install a kickass OLED or QLED set safely flush-mounted on the wall behind your audiophile speakers. Watching sports, streaming 4K from Amazon or Netflix or Hulu or Disney+ or DirecTV quality content increases the real-world relevance of an audiophile system. Wanna go one deeper? The videogame industry today does more business than all of Hollywood, all of the music industry and all of the book publishing business combined. How about installing a Sony PS5 as a source and let your Wilson Audio speakers play back some Grand Theft Audio 19? Blasphemy, say the people who don’t want their hobby to change. But are they okay with the hobby dying? Because the audiophile business is at a critical crossroads.
Embracing the Future of Audio, Lead by Example
COVID-19 shut down Los Angeles County, and kept it shut down with some of the worst numbers in the country, week in and week out. I used to go to Beverly Hills to get my hair cut once per month. I come from a family with strong ties to the terrestrial radio business (my father founded the radio industry publication Inside Radio the year that I was born, 1974), and the only time I ever hear FM radio is when I am getting my haircut. On one trip to the salon to try to make me more beautiful (no easy task, mind you), the place was playing KRTH, which is the Viacom owned “oldies” station, but something was very different. While the jingle package was the same, as were the call letters, the music was not the same. Gone were Motown, Philly Sound and The Beach Boys. In was Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson. These are oldies? Then am I an oldie? (Don’t answer that.) No, I am not, but what I am is the target demographic that Viacom needs to reach with their ultra-powerful FM signal. Generation Xers are still buying technology, insurance, furniture, homes, and beyond.
The oldies station’s demographics got too old. General Motors figured this out with The Greatest Generation. Boomers and Xers don’t want to drive a Fleetwood Brougham with white walls. They will drive an Escalade, however. They will drive a sporty Cadillac sedan (or even station wagon) with a Corvette engine shoe-horned under the hood. GM pivoted with their marquee brand. Viacom pivoted with their flagship FM oldies stations in most major markets in the nation with success. Can the audiophile industry follow suit? History would suggest no. The elders hate change. The print magazines sell ads to snake oil companies and they don’t want to stop. I say: if the collective “we” don’t change our outlook towards new technology, change, and proven science over the voodoo that woos too many audiophiles, we are doomed. Somehow, I am optimistic that this memo will get on enough desks that change is coming, because the alternative isn’t very pretty.
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The salient thing to embrace is love and kindness to one another, getting along, understanding one another, accepting one another, supporting one another, and helping one another.
People want digital and convenience? No problem.
People want analog and vinyl? No problem.
We can make room for both.
Sorry, that's about as upset as I can be about not going.
shadyJ, post: 1481410, member: 20472I've watched some videos of International hi-fi shows on Analog Planet and there is a lot of eye candy but generally the gear is reported as sounding very good, just silly expensive. Those high end manufacturers though are pretty much forced these days to display thick power cables and fancy interconnects and speaker wire. Who would want to be the one guy pitching thousands of dollars in gear with home made speaker cables? I imagine there will always be a need for sites and forums like this that promote honesty and fact based reporting. It is nice though to see guys like U-Turn Audio at those shows, making a quality product at reasonable prices. I think some reviewers could help debunk the junk science if they stopped listing their power cords and interconnects in speaker reviews, as if it made a tangible difference.
Going back to the article, I think the kind of audio hokum that it complains about is waning. Maybe I'm not in the hi-fi loop, but junk science audio is such a niche portion of the audio market, and it seems to be getting nicher as time goes on. Maybe I am just better at tuning it out. There will always be folks who want living room jewelry, which is what this stuff really is, and they can come up with any hair-brained justification for it, but this isn't the direction that the audio hobby has been heading in for a little while now as far as I can see.