I've been an audiophile for about as long as I can remember, or most of the last forty-three years anyway. I've gone somewhat hot and cold over Audiophilia in that time, sometimes highly passionate, sometimes not so much. Looking back, I don't think my commitment has ever been stronger or my enjoyment of the hobby more heightened than it is today.
When I listen to music I do so in two basic ways - pleasure and critical critiquing. Sometimes I just want to listen to a song played on my stereo. At the end of a long day working, or after I've returned from a multiple day business trip, it's nice to just collapse on the couch, play a song or two, and forget about pretty much everything.
There are also times when I am seeking a higher truth - the ongoing quest to extract the last measure of sonic excellence in whose starting point is critical listening. Maybe I've made a minor change or moved a speaker a fraction of an inch and I'm verifying my efforts. Maybe is it in suspicion of whether or not I actually heard some sonic detail not previously recognized. Maybe I'm evaluating a newly acquired piece of music. Maybe a new piece of equipment. Maybe it could be any number of things.
In both instances, particularly a higher truth, it's something I do mostly alone.
Because I certainly don't know every audiophile out there I have no way to know for sure, but my guess is that most audiophiles enjoy the hobby predominately by themselves. My suspicion is, and it is only a suspicion, for the most part wives (and girlfriends) are essentially indifferent to our hobby. They probably view it as something they tolerate their husbands doing chiefly because it keeps them at home - certainly better than running around in say, a vintage muscle car. They'd probably prefer the space a system occupies for a new piece of furniture. Are there exceptions? Of course. A lot of them I'm sure. But for the most part...
How many audiophiles have a cadre of close friends that, while positively amazed at what they hear, really couldn't care less about high end audio? I had some friends over to watch football the other weekend and not one of them ever asked, suggested or had even the slightest glimmer of perceptible interest in turning on my system. Because I am enamored to the degree I am about this hobby, it makes me wonder if it's just me or is every one around me musically blind, deaf and indifferent? Could my friends not see this glorious system and desire, even demand to hear something?
I've thought about this quite often. If a music loving person can be excited by his or her favorite song played back on an Mp3 or mid fi system, why on Earth would they not be absolutely bowled over by that same song delivered on a high performance system?
Certainly cost is one notable factor. Since the 1960's high end audio, or what ever it was called in those days, carried with it a certain mystique. Somewhere, I forget where, I saw a reprint of an article from a 1960's magazine that portrayed someone with a high end system as "sophisticated," in possession of "style and class," and the unmentioned other intangible - wealth. Okay, we all know this hobby can be exceedingly expensive. Do those descriptions of an audiophile seem accurate across all audiophiles today? Maybe so for those in the small percentage of buyers who can afford the absolute best. But everyone else? Honestly, I'm not so sure.
How many people visited, or have since read about the ELAC room at RMAF in October? How expensive were those components compared to the sound? I read and see so many articles on budget priced gear these days. From what I see at shows, dealer locations and the audiophile press, it sure looks like a considerable amount of budget priced gear is now available. Is their cost more than a system from a big box store? Probably so. Is that pricing such that budgets and wives can find some modicum of agreement? On the whole, I'd have to say yes. Can tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, be spent on a system? Of course. Will there be a higher preponderance of lower cost gear sold than six figure gear? That seems obvious.
So if someone loves music, enjoys hearing it reproduced to a high degree of excellence, can afford a system they really like, and gets "approval" from their wife, why is this hobby not attracting new proponents in droves?
Attend any sort of gathering where audiophiles congregate and eventually the topic of attracting "new blood" into the hobby may certainly come up. We seem to talk about it quite a bit. We drone on and on about converting the youth from the sonic evils of Mp3. Yet we fall silent when posing the question of how to go about really accomplishing recognizable change.
I've had a couple of friends and their young teenaged sons come over for a listening session. I've seen the utter amazement on these kids faces when they hear what's possible. I'd like to think I've created an audiophile in the process but maybe that's wishful thinking.
I am ever hopeful. I don't by any measure think our hobby is doomed. Let's face it, it has survived this long. I do wish, however, that our hobby had a larger following. What I hope for high end audio is more wives, friends, sons and daughters can discover what so many audiophiles already know - glorious music reproduced with amazing sonic excellence.