For years I’ve been calling myself “a recovering audiophile” but perhaps that’s too harsh a term, even if it is intended to be a nod toward the often addictive and abusive nature of the hobby. That really isn’t the problem, though. The problem is that the word “audiophile” itself doesn’t exactly exude coolness. And if you really want to be honest, it’s far too close to the word “pedophile” despite the fact that the two inclinations have literally nothing in common other than both having awful names.
At any rate, nobody–not even the religious audiophile true believer–thinks that our hobby can survive without new blood. Perhaps, it needs a new name too. Let me make my case. While I really dig on audio gear and have been blessed to own some of the best ever made, the lure to procuring said gear since 1987 wasn’t the gear itself. Not by a large margin. The lure was to reproduce the music that I love so much in ways that added to the emotional experience of musical playback. I desperately want to hear exactly what the producers, engineers, and musicians intended when they were in the studio or on the stage. I want the dynamics, the openness, the bass, the impact, and the overall experience at home. Much like you, I have invested thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars in music software that I truly cherish and consider a solid investment, even if damn near every record ever made is on Tidal now for $20 a month (many in HD formats). I don’t want to think about what I’ve invested in audio gear over the years–even with industry accommodation prices that help reviewers like me buy above our pay grade. I am sure it’s well in the six figures, but the gear has always come second to the content. And it always will.
So, if we aren’t going to be called audiophiles any more, what the hell should we call this hobby or the people in said hobby? This is where things get tricky. Does “music lovers” say enough about the hobby? Not really. A music lover could be someone realistically satisfied by a Sonos system. Could that be you? For me, Sonos is fine for background music and that’s about it. Could we be “audio enthusiasts?” That’s better than being a “-phile” of anything, right? Would you want to be an “Anglophile” even if you really loved England and everything about its culture? I think I will pass, as it’s just not that cool. I don’t want to be a “-phile” of anything, just like I won’t purchase anything from a “shoppe.” Yes, its semantics, but it’s also a rule of mine.
There are all sorts of techy names that we could go by, but tech isn’t really the draw–the music is. Don’t get me wrong: tech is a key part of the audio experience, but it’s not the driving force. I am not seeing a techy name sticking. We aren’t gear heads like in some hobbies. We are “enthusiasts,” like people who love cars, wine, watches, and so on.
Last week, I had dinner with a true industry icon in Manhattan at one of the Flat Iron District’s hippest eateries, Upland. There were way too many trendy-ass hipsters packing man-buns and handlebar mustaches for my tastes, but the food was very simple and the service was quite attentive. During dinner, we really dove into the main issue that has hurt the hobby the most: the drastic narrowing of the specialty dealer distribution pipeline. 10 years ago, a high-performance audio company could sell their products nationally in dealers like Magnolia, Circuit City, Ultimate Electronics, and Tweeter–not to mention many more regional chains and one-off specialty audio salons all over this fine country.
Today, in terms of specialty AV on a national level, there is only Magnolia (almost always inside a Best Buy) and they can’t sell every product known to man like four national chains could. Yes, now there is Costco, Target, Walmart, and Amazon.com, but they sell more mainstream AV–not truly specialty audio and-or video. I am talking about products that don’t just sell themselves into your push-cart that’s already rocking a 32-pack of Quilted Northern and an industrial sized box of Cheerios.
Simply put, there just aren’t as many places for people to find out about the hobby of high-end audio, as audiophile regional shows cater only to those who have found the religion. They don’t have the foresight to color outside the lines in terms of media partnerships and or other outreach. The fact that the hobby is becoming more and more niche is a real problem. It’s a problem that I argue starts with the hobby’s scary name, but that’s only a start. Issues extend past the name to the sloppy way far too many audiophiles install their gear (think: messy, dedicated listening rooms jam-packed with cluttered equipment racks and cables flowing damn-near everywhere) to the fact that most audiophiles listen alone when they could integrate great sounding music (even at low levels) into social channels.
Bringing, say, wine tasting together with a listening party might comingle two related hobbies as well as appeal to more of the ladies out there–and wouldn’t that be something considering what a sword fight of a hobby audiophilia is today and always has been?
Going deeper, one might argue the overall cost is another key problem, but I reject that notion. Today’s audio gear is getting more and more affordable while getting more and more high performance, so I’m not buying cost as a real issue.
So, I am not sure I’ve come up with a new name that sticks, but I think it’s clear that we need one. So, I turn the topic over to you. If being an audiophile is too creepy for a new generation of more mainstream buyers? What should the hobby be called to reach more people–people who love music and are actually willing to invest in the technology required to make it sound its best?
What say you? Chime in below in the comments section.