A couple of weeks ago Steve Guttenberg asked the question on Facebook, “What can we do to make being an audiophile cool again? Of course, the first question the comes to my mind is, “Was being an audiophile EVER cool?”
Purveyors of high-performance audio have been trying to make audiophilia cool since the days of the first mini-skirt with some limited success. Hugh Hefner’s Playboy made it cool to own a stereo, but not necessarily with the endgame being the love of music. But the current 21st century quandary is how to increase the awareness of the general public, all the folks with smartphones, that there is something better than MP3. At the 2017 CES a cadre of manufacturers exhibited in “the Hi-Rez” pavilion, which was in the main convention hall, in an outreach effort to influence all the folks who were buzzing around looking at drones and self-driving automobiles. Was this effort a success? Well, at least they had more foot traffic than the poor fossils over at the Venetian, which was the official home for “High Performance Audio.”
And although being an audiophile in 2017 is still a long way from being Hugh Hefner Playboy cool, Michael Fremer has been evangelizing vinyl releases for the last thirty years, and judging by LP sales his efforts have borne some fruit. As to whether most LP purchasers are buying them for the graphics rather than sound is not really important. LPs are cool and peeps are buying them. But buying an LP does not instantly turn you into an audiophile, does it? No, you’re a cool music fan, not an audiophile.
Some marketing types argue that to make something hip all you need to do is get hip people to be seen using it. Celebrity tie-ins worked well for Monster, and later, Beats, and Sol Republic, but even Noel Lee must be wondering whether that route is finally played out. I think that marketing gambit is more about hero-association than end-product, which makes it more about fashion than performance.
Unfortunately for most humans, sitting down and listening to music at the exclusion of everything else is becoming a lost black art. The multi-tasking ethos has affected almost everyone. For the vast majority of folks, it’s become “Listen to music AND?” And that is one of our principal problems – delving deep into listening does require your full attention, just like meditation. Perhaps someday mono-tasking will be the new thing, and therefore hip, but until that happens we have a problem…
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not predicting doom and gloom for the audio manufacturing business – portable and personal devices will keep any manufacturer who can produce an even half- competitive product in shekels for a long time to come.
Despite all these trends working against audiophilia, we audiophiles still have a powerful tool at our disposal – the sound itself. If you can get someone to sit down and listen without distractions to a high-performance system, and they have any amount of love for music as music (and not merely background for their own personal movie) you can hook them. Because the first time you hear your favorite artist through a high-performance audio system, if you listen, it will not be your last. So – Evangelize! – Give away good stuff to young-uns. Try to give others that “aha” moment that made you an audiophile.
Be loud, be proud, be an audiophile! That, in the end, is pretty darn cool…