Written by 4:08 am News

The Graying Audio Industry

Paul Wilson wonders if the age of audiophiles is getting older…

Growing up, my Dad and I never agreed on music. He liked Lawrence Welk, I liked Led Zeppelin. He liked music soft and melodic, I preferred it loud and mean. He constantly complained about what he termed as “way too much bass” and playing my music so loudly the “pictures on the neighbor’s den wall were probably rattling.”  He was always telling me every song I played sounded basically the same – “boom, boom, boom.” He had absolutely no idea whatsoever who any of the artists I liked and to whom I listened every day even were. Salvation for us both only came when I became of age and moved out of the house. No small wonder there. 

AR-RMAF.pngAfter returning from RMAF a few weeks ago, I recalled my experiences and thoughts on what was certainly another successful audio fest. In addition to seeing some amazing gear, hearing some wonderful music, discovering some new music and seeing some friends I realistically will only see at a show, I came away with two other potential observations. One, I cannot help but wonder if our hobby is growing older. And two, if so, I’m probably one of them. 

When I look at my own audio journey that started what now seems long ago, I remember the various combinations of systems and components I had along the way. Happily, I am able to now afford the system my twenty-five-year-old self could never hope to purchase. I now have the highest and most realistic level of musical excellence and accuracy I have ever had in my life. As much enjoyment as my system finally enables me to claim, I cannot refrain from wishing it had happened many years ago. In that, I am confident I am not alone. 

At RMAF most of the audiophiles I saw were older and looked to me to be in their forties at least. Sure, there younger folks wandering around and on Saturday, there were a few kids I’m confident were there with their Dads. Are those kids, I wonder, the budding audiophiles of tomorrow? 

AR-8TrackTape.jpgIf my memory and math is correct, I have been chasing the audiophile dragon for forty-four years. I have seen fads and technologies come and go, like “8-track” and “quadrophonic” for instance. Even my own level of audiophile interest over the years has ranged from hot to lukewarm at times but never completely subsided.  In my twenties I pined over equipment I could in no possible way ever hope to afford. Comparing then to now, I’m more or less still in the same boat floating along on the “wishful river.” Not surprisingly, I can even today dream about components and luxury audio items I still can’t afford – only now that fact doesn’t bother me all that much. 

To further complicate matters, I find myself completely ignorant about much of the music to which fifteen year olds are listening and enjoying. In an ironic full circle, it would seem that in some ways I have become my Dad, just as he predicted in 1972 when he prophetically told me, “just wait.” Humorously enough, I not only don’t recognize most of the music teenagers like, I don’t know a surprising number of the artists, and moreover, I don’t really want to know them. I don’t essentially like their music anyway. I keep telling myself, however, I still like Led Zeppelin. 

AR-Quadrophonic.pngI am not exactly sure the predominate lack of teens and twenty somethings at RMAF actually conveys anything negative. Maybe they weren’t there because they were in school on Friday or couldn’t get off work for the weekend. Maybe the price of a plane ticket and hotel room was not feasible at this time of their life given their income. Ask me at twenty-five to spend a thousand bucks on traveling to an audio show and I wouldn’t have been in attendance either. Maybe the crowd in Denver was “older” because they could afford to come in the first place and had enough seniority at their job to take Friday off. Perhaps those in attendance will go back and tell their sons, and hopefully daughters, there is all manner of amazing new gear now on the market. 

Is our hobby getting older? I frankly have no idea. One, or even two audio shows (I had the same experience at AXPONA this past April) isn’t sufficiently informative to effect a reasoned conclusion. In looking at the industry in general we see “millennials” warming up to the analog, LP format. Young people are now beginning to realize that Mp3 is not the panacea of wonderment they may have thought it was – and that something better exists. Music is still being made and despite much of it being unfamiliar to me, it does not discount the fact that despite my lack of recognition, it is enjoyed by many music enthusiasts, some of them, remarkably, even my age. Music with higher definition and improved sonics compared to free Pandora and Spotify is becoming, to a point anyway, more widely known. Still, one thing we as audiophiles must seek to accomplish is to pass the hobby along to the younger generation. How, specifically, audiophiles best accomplish that goal is highly debatable. For my own small part, I’ll continue to champion the cause to young music enthusiasts whenever I am able. And despite the fact that I’ve probably in some ways become my Dad, and despite not recognizing much of the music young kids almost certainly think I’m crazy for not knowing, I’ll continue to enjoy and maintain loyalty to the audiophile hobby. Who knows, maybe I’ll be that crazy old man in the retirement home driving everyone else nuts blasting out Led Zeppelin at 95Db.

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