Last Wednesday I spent the afternoon at Rockygrass Academy.
Usually this time of year I spend more a fortnight there as an Academy student,
But last year I promised myself I’d take a year off after attending eight out
of the last ten years’ academies.
But, in the end I couldn’t stay away, so I set up an interview with
Chris Eldridge, the guitarist in the musically adventurous young band, The
Punch Brothers for Vintage Guitar Magazine. During lunch we got to know each
other. I was trying to avoid the subjects that I wanted to cover during the
interview itself, such as old guitars and music, which is hard when two guys
whose principal passions guitars and music first meet. But we quickly veered
off onto the subject of audio when Chris found I wrote for The Absolute Sound
and Audiophile Review.
As is all too common for many young audiophiles, Chris apologized
as he told me that he wanted to be an audiophile but on a working musician’s
income that wasn’t in the cards. But even on a severely curtailed budget Chris
had managed to acquire a Rega turntable and a Cambridge Audio DacMagic DAC. Currently
he’s saving up for a pair of Focal
speakers.While I didn’t say so at the time, I was as impressed with Eldridge’s
savvy audio choices as I was with his extraordinary musicianship.
But, Eldridge’s feeling that he couldn’t afford “really good
gear” is distressing. The fact is he CAN afford good gear, as the equipment
choices he’s already made indicated. And given the quality of what we long-of-tooth
audiophiles condescendingly refer to as “entry-level” gear, there’s no reason
that other musicians and young audiophiles-in-waiting can’t have good sound.
The problem is that we “state-of-the-art” audiophiles give the entry level
crowd the impression that nothing they can afford is as good as the stuff WE
use. In doing so we are cutting ourselves off from the people who will, if we
let them, keep our hobby alive.
And what can we do to encourage young audiophiles? First off,
we can, as I did, let young’uns know that when we were their age our first
systems were MUCH worse than what they can get today. Much worse. And despite the constant barrage of nostalgia for vintage gear, the plain fact was
that most entry-level vintage gear sucked. Garrard turntables? Puhleeze. Their
highest use was and still is as an indoor jogging platform for mice.
So the next time a budding young potential audiophile asks
about gear, maybe instead of waxing poetic over the latest six-figure piece of
audio art or ancient piece of crap, we should talk about that new entry-level
DACs or headphones that deliver the goods. I have developed an entire “cocktail
party” spiel when I get asked what I do by non-audiophiles. You’d be amazed how
even non-audiophiles get interested when I mention the advances in wireless
systems from Sonos, Logitech, and Apple.
Yes, we audiophiles need to spend some time making our hobby
more rather than less inclusive. And the best way to do that is for every
audiophile to become an evangelist for the hobby. That’s how we can begin to
bring new blood into the hobby. And that’s what entry-level audiophilia is all