Written by 4:19 am Audiophile • 2 Comments

Toy Joys : The Role Of Entry Level in High Performance Audio

Mark Smotroff rambles on while thinking about the pre-audiophile experience…

I don’t usually review electronics products for numerous reasons. But, I do love good high-end audio gear, especially when I can afford it. The harsh reality is a lot of us can’t afford or simply don’t have space for all the electronic toys we want. So some of us improvise to make do with what we’ve can get.  

AR-DuoTT.jpgI’ve seen and heard discussion over the years about the struggling consumer electronics market place, much of it impassioned and as often spot on as it is off. But I rarely hear people talking about the need to build — and in the case of audio, re-build — the marketplace. I have seen some audiophile brands embracing this notion by offering entry level products bearing their hallmarks of a quality. Still, it stands to reason that someone who is spending $300 on a Pro-ject or Music Hall “entry level” turntable is already further along in the process than an awful lot of the public at large. In their heart of hearts those $300 customers are already audiophile wanna-be’s!

But what is being done to reach those newbie folks who don’t yet have the perspective or the complete interest yet, that potentially much larger audience lurking out there?  It’s probably more than just so-called “Millennials” who, if you believe everything you read, eschew physical things and collecting stuff (I don’t believe that fully).  Using them as a starting point, I wonder if there is a place for the Millennial mindset in the audiophile food chain?  Or are they to wallow in low resolution digital audio hell for eternity?  Are they stuck in a rut of overpriced, poorly made reissue vinyl to play on cheap and poor sounding portables they find at trendy urban clothing stores? Is there a way to begin stepping those people up with more thoughtful products that fit their lifestyle? Finding and nurturing people who have even a kernel of interest is essential for the survival of the industry. 

Street Corner Research

AR-DuoTTAlexa25.jpgA certain warm spot glows in my heart every time I see one of those modern cheap-o portable turntables cast aside at a garage sale or thrift shop — and these days I see a lot of them! Usually these are sadly found alongside other audio components (especially outdated but still useful AVRs). As sad as this may appear, it may also indicate something of a technology food chain in action and some consumers are learning to step up along the way (hopefully better!). 

How do I know they’re stepping up? Well, this is purely non-scientific research based on my experiences living in a major urban market. Often times when I see a young couple having a garage or street corner sale because they’re moving – – and I see a lot of that these days in San Francisco due to the ridiculous costs here – – I will often engage them in conversation. If I see audio gear being sold — such as a Crosley or an AVR or an old educational grade industrial mono record player (the hip kids like those things, btw)  — I will ask : “Are you selling your albums?”  Happily, most young people in general will look back at me in mock-horror saying “No no no, we are holding on to our vinyls!” 

That is not to say I haven’t found some cool vinyl cast offs of late out in the wilds but for the most part I see young people holding onto their beloved LPs, which makes me happy. They are embracing the physical product. 

So, thinking of physical products like the vinyl LP and the realities of modern digital listening, streaming and the need for compact flexible equipment that can move with the times, I had to smile when a friend recently “tagged” me on a social media thread / kickstarter campaign for a fun looking lifestyle audio product called the Duo. This may make some of you either cringe or break up in laughter (or both!) as the Duo is an all in one Bluetooth-enabled turntable with detachable speaker!

AR-DuoTTGrafitti225.jpgNow, I don’t know about you folks out in the countryside but here in the big city these Bluetooth speaker-thingies (yes, thingies!) have become very popular and are taking on an interesting role as an option to those who no longer want to use earbuds for listening on mobile devices. Around town you commonly hear people riding bicycles blaring their music or sometimes you see people walking the streets with one of these things in their backpack or dangling from a chain around their necks or simply being carried by hand. 

I even have one of these little things which turns your mobile device into basically a 21st century DIY boombox. I think that’s pretty cool and I’m OK with people blaring their music out for others to hear because it sends a different message about music listening than you normally get from just watching somebody listening with earbuds in. Playing music loudly and sharing it with others is fun… arguably more fun than sharing it while tethered to earbuds. 

But … what do we make of this turntable device with detachable portable Bluetooth speaker? Just looking at the images of this little player and it’s spring-loaded counterbalance tonearm you’re no doubt saying to yourself “OMG, that’s going to destroy those records…”

And you may be right but that’s not the point. The concept is to get people engaged in the music again. Let them bask in the joy of playing a physical product alongside their 21st-century options. Let them play their beloved LPs where ever they may be going. 

AR-crosly44a.jpgThe tone arm on this new gadget actually warmed my heart because it reminded me of those little portable record players many of us older folks had when we were little kids. And don’t you know that I still have one or two albums that I know were played on those types of record players which still sound remarkably good! Given that this new device uses an Audio Technica cartridge, it’s probably not gonna destroy the records… That’s more likely to happen for people who let their records get scratched or at parties when the unit tips over after somebody spilled a beer on it.

But you know, folks… As I go through my record collection and as I scour endless crates and bargain bins and boxes at garage sales and estate sales and rummage sales,  I find that lots of rare old albums – – some of the rarest actually – – are ones which were well loved and played at parties! In a way physical media like vinyl is sort of like hi art because of its impermanence, deteriorating a teeny bit each time you play. Of course, most of us reading Audiophilereview know that if you take care of your records, they can last a very long time, providing decades and decades of enjoyment and fun

And ultimately isn’t fun what all this is about? 

Personally I think the Duo is a great concept even though I have never seen or heard one in person. I’m not a huge streaming fan for numerous reasons beyond the scope of this article. 

So I applaud new devices like this. If it succeed and gets a new generation into audio and entertainment technology in a way that relates to and fits their lifestyles better, then that is a win win for everyone. And perhaps it may just open up some minds to the joys of hearing their music sounding even better. Perhaps a device like this is just the right stepping stone up to a proper home audio system.

Entry level gear is part of the audiophile continuum. Let’s nurture future young audiophiles-to-be rather than deride them for their beginners choices.

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