The Wealth Gap in Audio

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I know rich audiophiles and poor audiophiles, I even know middle-class audiophiles. And while their systems' price tags differ widely, they are all united by their love of music. Everyone, regardless of their economic position is trying to assemble the finest sounding system they can with whatever budget they have to work with.

All the ugliness starts when someone feels that they can't afford the level of audio quality they aspire to within their economic means. Envy rears its ugly head. Sniping about cables and pricing in most audiophile websites are constant reminders of the economic chasms between audiophiles of modest and comfortable means.

As a result of this latent "class war," none of the audiophile sites with the possible exception of www.Audiocircle.com, have anywhere near the levels camaraderie I see on automotive, watch, and other enthusiast websites. That's too bad.

I have never and will never presume to tell a manufacturer their product is overpriced. I learned long ago there's a customer for almost every product, regardless of its cost. I often ask manufacturers who they think their customer is, and what distribution model they intend to use to find them. Their answers are always illuminating. More and more high-end audio companies are using luxury goods channels and marketing ideas to sell their products. Needless to say, these are not middle-class or traditional audiophile channel sales venues. Are Neiman Marcus and John Varvatos customers ripe for audiophile conversion? I sure hope so.

Judging by the posts I see on AudioCircle and ads I seen eBay for parts, circuits, and power supplies, the do-it-yourself audiophile community is both vibrant and growing. I suspect that more young and middle-class audiophiles will be opting to build their own super systems rather than buy them. I'm sure that part of this growth of DIY can be tied to the current world-wide economic times, but also the availability of parts, circuit boards and new designs is making DIY more attractive to a greater segment of the audiophile community.

During the next year I expect that the most expensive audio products will continue to increase in price and manufacturers will expand their exploration of novel distribution methodologies. Meanwhile DIYers' numbers will grow, as will their activity, and overall presence. Will we see an uptick in complete kits ala Dyna of the '60's and '70s? I sure hope so. I've just got a new pair of close-up glasses and Weller soldering gun, so I'm all ready...

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