Written by 5:00 am Audiophile

Are We Becoming a Lifestyle Hobby?

Paul Wilson wonders if the recent trend toward “lifestyle” audio products is a good thing.

Anyone who has reached or soon will be middle-aged has undoubtedly been influenced in some way by the younger generation. One example would be text messaging. I doubt there are many teenagers who do not send text messages. Lots of them. Not surprisingly, almost every age group using a cell phone now practices text messaging.

Lifestyle-Products.jpgFor most of us middle-aged folks, we’ve had to learn acronyms like LOL, IMHO and BRB. There are many others whose meaning to us is totally unknown. This seems to suggest that the mainstream practices and likes of the younger generation are being adopted by the older generation. Does that, in some way relate to audio?

It is a well-established and commonly agreed goal that the luxury audio industry needs younger practitioners. Audiophiles would like to demonstrate to the youth of today that something exceptionally better than an MP3 player and earbuds exists, and that low-cost, multicolored headphones are not an end-all experience. In the industry’s mad dash to accomplish this goal, we have on the market a host of new devices aimed at doing exactly that. And that’s a good thing.

Regardless of what anyone’s opinion might be on audio there will be no disagreement that our hobby is expensive. We have historically had each component in a single enclosure that is heavy and performs only one function. We have expensive multilevel, multisection audio racks to house all the equipment necessary for a world-class system. Is this on the way to being a thing of the past?

Looking at the host of new products being introduced, many are loosely termed as “lifestyle products.” Basically, the goal is to have multiple system functions in fewer, smaller, even single enclosures that are priced in a $2,000 to $8,000 price range. If you look at high-end audio right now, these types of “lifestyle” products are selling in much higher volumes than many of the traditional components. This is certainly one way to attract younger customers and a very shrewd way as well. It does present the question, though, of who is influencing whom?

One-Box-Solution.jpgI have mixed feelings over the trend towards a smaller, lighter, multifunction system as opposed to the traditional high-end system. In terms of sonics, some have received spectacular reviews so I have little doubt they sound wonderful. Am I, therefore, supposed to sell my multibox system in favor of a one-box, does-it-all lifestyle product? In fact, does the term “lifestyle product” even reflect what high-performance audio represents? That, I suspect, depends on the listener.

If the lifestyle product is going to be a new category to be added to the others — low-fi, mid-fi and high-end — then fine, I’m all for it. Our common goal is to not only perpetuate our hobby, but also introduce the younger generation to what all audiophiles understand is possible with music reproduction. Lifestyle products in the sub $8,000 price range obviously have a better chance to attract younger, new listeners who may be struggling to make rent. It may also help attract a group of new listeners of all ages that will welcome better sound. In the end, lifestyle products may ultimately help save our hobby from a higher degree of obscurity than it has now.

Manufacturers should really welcome these types of products. Sure, there are engineering challenges just as in world-class products. Engineering most anything has proportional difficulties. Once the engineering challenges are overcome and the product is released for production, the manufacturer will undoubtedly, or at least hopefully, welcome higher unit sales volume. All manufacturers want higher unit sales. That keeps people working and machines running. It pays overhead. In the end, it may even help fund the time and expense of bringing five- and six-figure world-class, cost-no-object products to market. Because there will always be a customer base for over-the-top expensive audio gear. Make no mistake; if absolutely no one bought them, there would be none for sale. However, product development is very expensive so if it may be partially funded by a lifestyle product, what could be wrong with that?

Maybe this is one case when middle-aged audiophiles can learn something from the younger generation. In our quest to make something that appeals to a 22-year-old kid listening to music on earbuds, a lifestyle product makes perfect sense.

Text-Message.jpgFor many of us, however, the notion of replacing years of research, work and effort in funding and assembling a system, and the joy derived from doing so is just not a realistic expectation. Because no matter what the sonics may or may not be, it just does not hold our interest. Sort of a “good for you, not for me” thing.

In the end, we all have our own system desires, objectives and obstacles to satisfy and overcome. How we choose to listen to music is based on a variety of factors, the importance of which differs from person to person. So, IMHO, everyone who likes finely reproduced music should have a system that makes him or her happy. Good music, after all, just like art being in the eye of the beholder, is in the ear of the listener. Regardless of the system.

And hopefully, I’ll BRB — next Friday.

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