A couple of years ago, Paul McGowan (PS Audio) started selling a nice baseball style hat online. It was well made and had the word "Audiophile" embroidered across the front. I want to say, although I'm not absolutely sure, the purpose of this hat was for some type of charity. Frankly, I don't even remember the selling price of the thing. I just know I thought it was a pretty cool hat. And I bought one.
Recently, I was greeted by an unusually warm for this time of year Saturday morning. Bright and sunny. By 8:00 AM I had developed a laundry list of tasks I wanted to accomplish. One was taking both of my cars to the car wash. And of course, I was wearing the "audiophile" hat.
Paul, the young 20 something who is the manager of the car wash near my house has always been pretty nice to me. Every so often, he "comps" me an "extra" or two at no charge. Maybe it's because we share the same first name or possibly the $20.00 bill I throw him on occasion. Regardless, he tends to my car wash needs quite well. It was on this unusually beautiful winter Saturday morning, armed with car number two, Paul looked at my hat and asked, "what's an audiophile?" I was taken somewhat off guard as I frankly thought everyone knew the term audiophile. I mean, an audiophile, right? How could anyone not know what that is?
Yet here Paul was asking me to explain something I thought was no mystery at all. Maybe it was because he was young. Or perhaps he had grown up with a handled player, ear somethings, and just never knew what high performance audio was all about. I can't be sure about his obvious lack of understanding. I did, however, try to explain our hobby in the pervasively short amount of time before he was called away on some car cleaning urgency. As I drove away that fine Saturday morning, I started wondering just how well known our hobby might actually be. I feel sure older music enthusiasts certainly know the term but among young people, especially "20 something's," does the term "audiophile" even register?
One problem our industry faces is perception. My good friend Robb once told me he wanted a nice sounding stereo system - one not from a big box store. However, he wasn't interested in an "audiophile" system because they cost too much. When I asked him if $1500.00 was too much, he didn't even hesitate. "Na, that's fine" he replied. And I fixed him up with a nice little system from a dealer friend that four years later, he and his wife still enjoy. And best of all, this system sounds dramatically better than ANYTHING he could get from one of those establishments selling practically everything from computers to washing machines. Is my friend Robb therefore an "audiophile" or simply someone who likes higher quality music? I don't know, maybe a little of both?
In the 1950's through the 1970's, the audiophile hobby was generally portrayed as one of class and sophistication. Wealth was imbued. Advertisements of the day showed smartly dressed men and women with fine wines and cigars poised around a stereo. Today, we are lucky to see any advertisements of high performance audio related products outside of industry magazines and web sites. Smartly dressed? Not even close. On rare occasions, I do see ads for manufacturers in magazines not especially related to audio. McIntosh and KEF come to mind. My buddy Mark showed me a KEF ad in a Porsche magazine the other day. So there is an attempt by some manufacturers to advertise beyond our specific industry. However, is the choice of a magazine for a car whose entry level price begins somewhere around six figures the best vehicle (no pun intended) to advertise audio equipment? Does that really send the correct message?
We have, right now, at our disposal, better sounding systems at a lower investment than any time in our past. Audio shows in increasing numbers are now highlighting complete systems for $5000.00 or less. We have smaller, less obtrusive systems that take much less real estate than many past systems occupied. We have, to some extent, young people thinking it cool to buy a turntable and LP's. Who cares if they don't want a half million-dollar system? They are interested in something better than a handheld MP3 player! Yet our industry seems to do very little in the way of making our hobby better known.
I realize the issues, namely cost issues, facing most manufacturers and advertising. I fully understand the difficulties adults face when trying to invite young kids from the neighborhood into their home for a listening session. Yes, ours is mostly an individual hobby. We listen basically alone. Maybe we are a member of an audio society. Perhaps we attend the occasional audio show and circle around looking at expensive gear we would love to own. One question then becomes - how can we, as individual audiophiles, better promote the hobby?
A comprehensive outlook is not all gloom and doom. Most dealers and manufacturers with whom I speak are doing pretty well. Yes, things could always be better - but a lot worse also. New gear is continually being designed and built. Who knows, maybe one day someone will figure out a way to capitalize on the youth market and their interest in "cool turntables."
Are audiophiles an unknown entity? Well, to many we are. To any number of others, we are known peripherally to intimately. Such is the case for most hobbies, especially those outside the norm. Other hobbies need no explanation. I seriously doubt an art collector will ever have to explain what they do. I can breathe one sigh of relief, though.
At least now, Paul at the car wash knows what an audiophile is.