Back in the bad old days it was very easy to identify a “lifestyle product” because they always sounded like crap. Clock radios, boomboxes, un-dolbyized portable cassette players, and portable AM radios are all prime examples of what used to be called “lifestyle products.” In every case the primary goal of a lifestyle device was ergonomic – to perform a particular task. How well or high fidelity these devices were was not only secondary, but a tertiary afterthought – if sound, any sound, came out their job was done, even if it was at more than 10% IM distortion.
But somewhere, sometime, audio equipment manufacturers decided to change the rules of the game – the meaning of “lifestyle product” morphed into something new – it’s been expanded to encompass virtually any portable device that emits music, even, it seems, high quality music.
Recently I reviewed two “lifestyle products” from two different high-end audio manufacturers, both of which were priced around $2000US, both sounded superb, but my problem was that I have a difficult time seeing them as lifestyle products – they were too good and too pricy to fit into the older lifestyle definition.
I would have been much more comfortable if manufacturers called high-performance entry-level devices what they are, which is an entry-level high-performance audio device, not a “lifestyle” product.
Now I know some readers are thinking $2kUS is a lot of money, far more than most people are going to spend on their first audio device. I agree. But if a component is a manufacturer’s least expensive offering in a particular product category, it IS their entry-level device. If you can’t pay the cost of their entry-level offering, it’s probably best to not even look at their flagship models.
Conversely, there are some manufacturers, such as FIIO, whose gear is priced so reasonably that based on street prices they MUST be lifestyle products, but if you listen to them, they qualify on purely sonic terms as high-performance audio devices. I wouldn’t want to denigrate them with the term “lifestyle audio.”
So, the next time some salesperson says, this is “a lifestyle product,” ask them “what exactly do you mean by that?” Their answer could be very interesting…