Anyone who has attended an audio show in the past few years will see an amazing assortment of products, hear a wide variety of music and most likely universally disagree on what sounds best. One thing on which most everyone will agree is the type of people who attend.
Audiophiles seem to be of the mostly forty (sometimes, like me fifty) year old plus male variety. One thing we as middle aged men who love to huddle around our systems agree on is that we need to pass on our hobby to the younger generations.
I recently invited a friend over for a Sunday listening session. He asked if it would be okay if he brought his fourteen year old son with him. Of course! In fact I was eager for him to do so.
Needless to say asking this teenager to go listen to music with his Dad and some stranger (me) was probably something akin to going in for a root canal. I'm sure he would have rather been anywhere but in my front room.
I had asked his Dad to be sure he brought some of his son's favorite CD's with him. I wanted him to hear what he was missing with mid fi and with his MP3 and downloaded low resolution music. After the usual questions about what all of the components do, I asked this young man if he had ever heard a high end system.
"No" he replied with a roll of his eyes and complete disinterest. I expected as much. I loaded one of his CD's and sat him in the listening seat. I was tempted to tell him what he should expect to hear but I didn't. I wanted him to experience things on his own.
I set the volume fairly low and upon hitting play, I could see that things had not registered. Pretty soon, however, he got this quizzical look on his face. He kept looking from the right speaker to the left and then pointed to the center of the soundstage.
"Why do you have music in the middle?" he asked. "Is there a speaker hidden somewhere?" So I explained soundstage to him. I told him to sit on either end of the couch to hear the difference from what he heard when seated in the middle.
After a couple of songs he said he thought it sounded pretty good. "Pretty good" was not what I wanted. So I played another song on his CD but this time I put the volume to it and now I could see a smile on his face. He was tapping his foot. Dad was also smiling because he knew what was happening. We spent the afternoon listening to, and enjoying, all types of music. We played everything- jazz, pop, rock, hip hop, country and classical. That we all three enjoyed the music almost equally was the most notable fact to me. Because it sounded so pleasing, we all were able to mostly enjoy music to which we ordinarily would seldom listen.
I know of a dealer who on occasion takes a high end system to a local college and sets his system up to introduce students to finely reproduced music. We as audiophiles need to help further our hobby. I fell into a love of high end audio quite by accident. How do we as adult audiophiles invoke that same passion for a hobby that so captivated us thirty or forty years ago in the teenagers of today?
I don't think we can rely solely on dealers to help preserve our hobby. I don't think we can rely on manufactures to shoulder the task alone. I think it is something the high end industry as a whole somehow needs to set about accomplishing. Perhaps rather than listening to music on our glorious systems mostly alone or with our immediate families, we should try to reach out to those around us.
Invite a friend over with a young son or daughter. Have them bring over their music and play it for them. Show them that there is, in fact, life beyond a low resolution iTunes download and a set of ear buds.
If we as an industry are able to change musical perceptions in today's youth, maybe then we will see a young man or woman pulling their Dad's arm at an audio show en route to the next room. Instead of the other way around.