A popular proverb attributed to both a Chinese blessing as well as a curse is “may you live in interesting times.” Depending on your point of view, as it specifically applies to high-end audio, interesting times may well be a description equally of either one. Is the future of high performance audio then a blessing or a curse?
We live in a modern, fast paced world. Having moved way past the “Greatest Generation Ever,” and “Gen X” to the modern incarnation of “Millennials” or “Generation Y.” Kids of today obtain music and entertain themselves in ways many of us could have never imagined when we were teenagers.
We have moved past the age of performers with a first and last name, to performers with one name, and finally to performers with abbreviated – hyphenated names. Oh, lets see, J – Lo, Scar – Jo, and J – Law come to immediate mind. Maybe I should start calling myself P – Wil? Yeah, well, maybe that is a bit too much.
It has been said in audio forums that we have raised a whole generation of young adults whose sole knowledge of music seldom extends beyond an inexpensive device with cheap earphones, and an MP3 format holds a multitude of songs. They willingly subscribe to low-resolution music chiefly because they have not been introduced to the possibilities of something better. In the recent past, that may well have been absolutely true. Is it the case today?
On the audio front, we have the epic rise in LP sales, something not many experts would have predicted. We also have young people who also a few years ago would have shrugged off a turntable as some antiquated thing their grandparents used to listen to Frankie Valli. Contrast that to the VPI Nomad Turntable, which has a built in phonostage, can play an album and allows the listener to plug in a set of headphones and hear music. All for less than $1000.00 US retail and precisely directed towards the young music listener.
The MP3 format, while for more than a decade the medium of choice for young people, is slowly, happily, beginning to give way to higher resolution music in small portable devices. Perhaps this will spawn the audiophiles of tomorrow. There is a long road ahead to be sure, but it is also said “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” But knowing where the digital road will lead future audiophiles is something akin to knowing who will win the Super Bowl ten years hence.
In the most little known segment of music playback systems, a.k.a. “The High End,” manufacturers are creating new products that sound really wonderful but are not as terribly expensive as their world – class cousins. This change in a business model can be likened to Mercedes, who in the early 1980’s introduced the 190 series, which made the luxury brand more accessible to the average car buyer. This was heresy to some Mercedes owners, but a joy to others.
So where will the road into the future lead? Ah, that is the big question, right? Most likely technology will continue to advance so better, more reasonably priced products in a variety of categories will continue. Very possibly, these advancements may come in the form of smaller components or through consolidation of multiple components into one box. Hopefully better sonics may be more affordably achieved.
It is not difficult to find opinions and articles with a vision of a declining high-end market. Most audiophiles with whom I speak disagree. Many see this as exciting times and are anxious to see what is just around the corner. They are looking forward to the prospect of better technology that is hopefully provided at more affordable pricing.
Where we go in the next ten or twenty years remains to be seen. Any predictions are mere speculation. One thing is for sure, for the high – end devotee it will certainly be a fun ride.