Many years ago there was a popular song by Ian Dury and the Blockheads titled “Reasons to be Cheerful.” It came roaring back into my head last week during a period when I was not feeling terribly optimistic. At the same time my publisher, Jerry Del Colliano, mentioned that some of my recent posts had been downers, so I thought, “OK, what are the reasons that being and audiophile right now is better than being an audiophile at any time before?” And then that old song popped into my head.
Besides listening to music, I also play several instruments. When I look at what can be purchased by the way of an entry-level guitar these days I can only shake my head in wonder. Nowadays for $150 you have your choice of quite a few well-made and very playable instruments for a beginning electric guitarist. Back when I began playing that was certainly not the case – my first electric guitar, which was a Kent, made in Japan, was a wretched excuse for a guitar-shaped object and cost more than $150 (in 2016 dollars). The same thing was true of entry-level audio gear back then. I’ve written previously about the least expensive Sharp SA-150 receiver that listed in 1984 for $119.95 ($280.07 in 2016 dollars) and how for that same equivalent amount today you can put together a very nice sounding portable system with far greater sonic capabilities.
Obviously, the cost of music itself has also plummeted. When I was in my music-buying prime (let’s pick 1975) it was not uncommon for me to burn through my monthly music buying budget of $100 ($455 in today’s money) per month during the first two weeks of any given month. That $5.99 David Bowie Young Americans cost $27.30 in 2016 dollars. That’s even more than a current high-rez download. If I had that same monthly budget today I would be hard-pressed to spend it all each month even if I threw in a live concert or two. For the music consumer that is a win, although from a musician’s (or record company) angle it isn’t so great.
Is there more good music today than in the past? Well, if you take every great piece from the past and then add in current music that makes it into your personal playlist the answer again would be yes. Never before have we had more music choices in more formats or delivery methods. Last month alone I added thirty new titles to my Tidal albums library. While still not as large as my physical music library, my Tidal library is growing at a rate that will, eventually, eclipse it.
Today there are more ways to access music than ever before. We have all our legacy formats as well as multiple streaming options. I’m an active Tidal user, and I also use Roon so that I can access both my streaming and local music libraries simultaniously.
And then there is audio quality. Yes, I know that some audiophiles consider an LP the gold-standard for audio quality. But even with the LP as your yardstick, if you are willing to invest the capital you can put together a better analog system today than you ever could in the past. And if you are a fan of high-resolution digital there is nothing in the past that can begin to compare with current-gen digital, no matter what higher-resolution format or delivery method you choose.
Are things better for us lonely audiophiles today than in the past? Undoubtedly, yes. Perhaps that old song, “Reasons to be Cheerful” needs to be resurrected with a couple of more verses…