Yesterday I was unpacking some books when I came across a copy of an old magazine called HiFi&Music Review. It was its premiere issue from February 1958, featured Arthur Fiedler on the cover, sandwiched between the new Stew Hegeman-designed Eico HFS-2 loudspeaker and several pieces of gear that even I don’t recognize. Published by Ziff-Davis, this magazine included Hans Fantel, Martin Bookspan, Nat Hentoff, Ralph Gleason, and Bert Whyte as contributors. It’s mission statement, included in the lead article; “Why Another Magazine?” was “Every Aspect of HiFi&Music Review has been conceived with the aim of helping you, our readers, develop their awareness, taste, and know-how…(and) use their existing home listening facilities to best advantage and least possible inroad on their financial budget.”
Along with articles such as “Don’t Murder Those Records!,” and “Jamaicans Have it Made,” was “A Talk with Your Hi-Fi Dealer.” This article was a PR piece for dealers – “For the music lover who doesn’t know a tweeter from a piping plover,” and an instructional article. Although some of the information was obviously outdated, such as, “Stereo Hi-Fi only comes from tape,” remember this was early 1958. But other info in the article is still as valid today as is was fifty-eight years ago. The two-page questionnaire (which you could, but fortunately no one did, tear out to bring with you to your dealer) has the following questions:
- What do you want your system to do?
- What kind of music do you prefer?
- Do you like your music loud or soft?
- Do you listen alone? Concentrate on listening? Use music mostly for background? Live in a quiet neighborhood?, Live in a noisy city neighborhood?, Think your hi-fi will disturb apartment neighbors?
- What is the decoration scheme in your living room?
- What are your room dimensions?
- Does your room have a lot of sound absorbing furniture?
- How do you want your equipment installed? Hidden, exposed, or conveniently placed?
- What is preference in operating methods?
10. Is your equipment in danger of exposure to: Children? Technically awkward friends or relatives?
11. Will this Hi-Fi purchase be your first? Last? Gradual improvement? Most perfect you can get?
12. How much do you want to spend? (Which the editor labeled “and last but most important of all.”)
Most of these questions are designed to push the buyer into defining what is most important and giving a sales person the necessary information so that they can guide the customer toward the most appropriate gear choices. Take the “Do you listen alone?” question for instance – the answers give a sales person vital info about the end-user’s listening habits. Someone who wants to listen to music as background and lives in a quiet neighborhood would be best served by a very different system than someone who concentrates on the music and lives in a noisy neighborhood (nowadays most places we humans live would be considered noisy by 1950’s standards).
Notice how even back then the primary focus was how to fit a Hi-Fi system into the existing 1950’s/60’s lifestyle. Ergonomic and listening preferences as well as the existing domestic geography all played into the decision of which gear would work best. Nowadays we call this “lifestyle focus.” The primary difference between then and now is that back then nearly every consumer could walk into a store where they could interact with an experienced sales person. Nowadays not only are there far fewer specialty Hi-Fi shops to walk into, but finding an experienced sales person can also be a challenge – an Amazon “chat” is not the same.
Of course having the Internet makes doing product research, once you have defined your sonic goals, much easier than in the old days. But even in our modern world, you can’t get what you want until you figure out what it is you want in the first place.