It’s the time of year for saving money!
I wrote my first column for Audiophile review in November 2010. Since then I’ve written approximately 450 entries for this site. Some have gotten approbations while others have been tagged with negative Disqus comments. That’s just what happens nowadays on the Internet…
But, how have things changed in the world of audio since my first column?
The first major change is that there are fewer older audiophiles still buying bleeding-edge ultra high-end gear because there are fewer old audiophiles…and while some younger audiophiles are attempting to take up the slack, especially in those countries that have seen rapid economic growth during the last ten years, in most parts of the world, including the USA, it seems that most of the new blood is in the portable and personal audio areas.
It’s not that “trophy” audio gear has stopped selling, but while ten years ago a flagship component might sell 500 units, nowadays 200 or 300 would be a more realistic sales goal…and many older audiophiles, especially in the U.S., are either downsizing or looking for more affordable alternatives instead of the more gilded higher-end offerings.
The second big change is in how gear is sold – sure there are still some high performance audio shops in major metropolitan areas, but their numbers have been reduced by the winds of change.
Rents for retail space in every major urban area have increased to the point where for many retailers, the cost of doing business has become prohibitive. For some even moving into a “home showroom” wasn’t sufficient to counter the loss of margins and overall profitability. Parts and local repair have also been affected…while there used to be a place where you could drive to get parts and accessories, and even drop off repairs, nowadays getting those same sorts of things requires an Internet search, some emails, and virtually no helpful human contact…
And while on the subject of human contact – the way we listen to music is change number three. While many older audiophiles recall holding and attending regular listening sessions with a circle of like-minded audiophile friends, I rarely hear about such get togethers nowadays.
Even trying to organize a group session involves more work than many older audiophiles can muster…between dead friends who can’t attend and still extant friends who can’t travel anymore, the roster of folks to do social group listening has dwindled. Sure, some audio clubs such as The Boston, Denver, or LA audio societies take up some of that slack…but it’s not the same as a session with a few trusted old friends.
The fourth big change I’ve seen is how we get our music…yes there has been a resurgence in physical media with the “vinyl renaissance,” but the reality is that music files and streaming deliver the vast majority of music to the vast majority of human ears.
And while this new way of getting out music may not result in any losses in overall sound quality, it does limit choice and certainly hampers fan’s ability to get the same level of information about the music – with the exception of the premium streaming services and playback apps, there’s not a lot of background info about recordings, which used to be standard for a physical album…if you’re a Spotify listener and you want to find out who produced a particular track, you will have to resort to a search engine to locate that information.
Fifth is how we interact around music and audio. While it used to be a big deal when a new album came out, nowadays even the mega-stars have to do a whole boatload of drum-beating to make the same impression on the public as the latest version of a popular video game.
Music, by itself, does not have the same level of cultural importance as it once did. For many “music fans” music is merely a background noise, designed to counter the alien sounds of an increasingly noisy world. Music has become a security blanket instead of a defining light…
So, what’s an old audiophile to do? While I’ve read that some people feel that the best use of older audiophiles would be to die quietly while consuming as little medical resources as possible, most of us are not going to go into that great black night without a fight.
And for many of us that fight is simply to keep doing what we are doing, enjoying what we enjoy, and basically cherry-picking what we want from the new tech and letting the rest lie, rotting on the ground. It’s not that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks” but “If you can’t convince an old dog that a trick is worth learning, he won’t bother learning a new trick…”
And now, I guess now I’m supposed to scream “Get off my lawn!,” except for the fact I’ve got no lawn…and my ability to scream ain’t what it used to be…
Hey you kids, get off of my LAN!
Of everything you named, the stripping out of information about the people who wrote, played, produced, recorded, and mastered the music saddens me the most. When I hear a great guitar lick on a vocalist’s album, I want to know who played it. And when an audiophile plays something from a demo disc, and the only “artist” listed for a track is “Chopin” — that’s a sad commoditization of music. Those who care often can find the information, via Roon, Wikipedia, AllMusic — as long as the release was popular enough.
Was saddens me even more is that truth that a whole lot of the modern music (last decade or two would be a REAL shortits of musicians because they have been replaced by drum machines and computer generated synthesizers.
“While it used to be a big deal when a new album came out, nowadays even the mega-stars have to do a whole boatload of drum-beating to make the same impression on the public as the latest version of a popular video game.” That really resonates with me. I guess people still get excited about a new Rihanna album or something, but in the 70s and 80s, a new album from a major group was a pretty big event. The shift from people playing instruments to producers tapping on a MIDI interface has stripped most of the human element out of pop music, and it’s harder to care about.
In my little circle (Boston in the late 60s), it was a big event when even a local beloved act like Jim Kweskin (and his Jug Band) came out with a new album. No internet, no Netflix to occupy us, and as you said, it was people making music on instruments, not machine-manipulated sounds. I still love music made by a small group playing together, and without a lot of fluff. A string quartet, a jazz trio, a string band — all wonderful to my ears!
Steven, I’ve been “doing audio” since the mid 60’s of the last century. I love it now, if not more, than I did then. Music has been my professional life since I was a 15 year old concussionist in a rock and roll band or 5 back in the mid to late ‘60s. I built my first Heathkits and Dynakits when there was very little interest in musical reproduction other than the Philco or Magnavox consoles in my parent’s living room. I have to thank my long since departed friend Cal for turning me on to the educational, rewarding fun of building audio gear.
I loved reading about, talking to and sharing experiences with musicians back then. I met so many R&R stars in the 60’s because they were real people doing what they loved and being appreciative of their fans. What a great time to be alive and a music freak!
I am still searching for that “they are here” experience after 57+ years. I am still in love with great music (not the pablum of contemporary pop) and find an amazing catalog of truly great music being made today. Not a day goes by that I don’t add another wonderful piece to my stupendous collection of people’s hearts poured out via art.
I do miss those days when someone would come over with a new black disc of wonder. Instead, I now send my recent finds via email to a huge list of like minded music lovers regularly.
Digital has finally gotten to a be a totally enjoyable media and my ears have gotten to be less discerning and now I can fully enjoy the message and joy of real people playing real music no matter what.
Disco still sux.
Like the art in my room says: music is life.
Play on, Steven and enjoy…
’60’s-chiled here–love hard rock from Zep to Audioslave, Velvet Revolver, etc…but have a very hard time finding much of any value, in the modern day. I would be forever in your debt if you added me to your email list. My email is “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
I signed you up for the HTR weekly newsletter with links to articles. You can unsubscribe at any time, really… 🙂
So, really good reading , so much so I have been motivated to get out my old stereo, Garrard 401 / SME / V15 Shure cartridge, Cyrus 2 and Royd Doublets. Been stored for years, surprise it sounds awful. Current 2nd system Naim Unitilite + Audio Physic speakers leaves it for dead. Sort of reminds me of old cars really love them, until I drive one. Underpowered, terrible performance , poor ergonomics, needs lots of maintenance and cost a fortune.
All valid observations, though I would add that in the 60s and 70s there were not only many a seminal album destined to become part of a rich — and some might say yet-to-be-eclipsed — songbook, but major advances during those years in recording studios and record engineering produced more than a few ground-breaking sonic experiences. This coupled with major leaps forward in loudspeaker, phono and amplifier design created a perfect storm for the evolution of audio as a popular avocation among boomers…an avocation catered to by a vibrant and widespread brick and mortar business model. The thinning ranks of this generation combined with more incremental (though significant) engineering advancements since those glory days form the backdrop to all the subsequent developments that have taken place and that Steven has accurately identified.
I am old. How old you ask? Here’s what I miss. Walking downtown to one of the record stores, seeing a row of listening cubes and one with a cute girl from my school listening to a recently released 45. Seldom did we listen to albums because we couldn’t afford them and we really wanted just “the hit song” on it. Sometimes I would grab an adjacent cube and sometimes I’d boldly crack open the door and ask if I could join her. Sharing a ride into musical nirvana was great but doing it with a friend was better. It was almost as good with one of my guy friends but the joy of a shared love of music made the experience magical. After an hour or two, we would wander to Newberrys or Sears or a local burger place for fries and a shake. Life was good and simple. I purchased my first “high end” stereo In my junior year of high school, having saved since I started working at 13, to buy a car and a Luxman integrated and. Dual turntable. At that point, most listening migrated to my place and it was great but not as much fun.
What a depressing article and comments??? But all very true, which makes it even worse.