Wanted : Audiophiles

(under 40)

There has been a concern for years about the loss of interest in high fidelity. Audiophiles have always been a minority, but today that minority is not being replenished by the younger generation. The shrinkage is due to a number of sociocultural, economic, and technological reasons. I took some time to examine the subject. I thought there’d be a couple of big reasons and a couple of minor reasons. Turns out I turned up more reasons why the under 40 crowd has little to no interest in high performance home audio then I expected. The list kept growing. Finally, after reaching nine reasons, I thought that was it. At a count of ten, I felt I had exhausted the possibilities. Then I thought of yet another. It’s possible you could think of more, too.

  1. Financial. Even with a college education, the Millennials are finding good paying jobs rare, mid-pay shrinking, and evermore low-pay jobs.
  2. Space. The requirements for a better than good system means that the Millennials who live at home, or only able to afford a small apartment haven’t the room for racks, components, and large speakers.
  3. Real-life reference. Most have never heard voices and musical instruments in person with no amplification, and in varying acoustic spaces. Real-life reference is unknown.
  4. Artificial reference. Most only hear walls of speakers at rock concerts, or over-amplified movie theaters, or club PA systems EQed with a hugely boosted bass and screeching treble. Their ears only know completely artificial sound. False reference equals false expectations.
  5. Technology. Digital has made good sound cheap and easy. Unlike the past, with staticky AM radio, scratchy records, and hissy tape—back when great sound took great efforts—digital is comparatively amazing. Today’s average is better than yesterday’s state of the art.
  6. Attitudes. Even if most have a distorted reference for sound quality, and no one knows how highly processed pop music is really supposed to sound, it still sounds reasonably clean and clear even through earbuds, which may not be all that good, but hey, “It’s good ‘nough.”
  7. Education. Music (and arts) education in schools has been decimated. Exposure to a wide variety of musical styles, learning an instrument and music basics all help to foster a greater appreciation for both music and sound. (see #3)
  8. Knowledge gap. Short on knowledge about how sound is reproduced, and long on heaps of marketing hoopla that obscure any reasonable attempt to understand sound reproduction, leaves consumers not realizing what they’re missing. (see #s 4 & 6)
  9. Pretensions. High-end audio is so full of astonishing nonsense—the kind even novices sometimes clearly see—and so geared towards making grossly expensive showoff products for the super if-you’re-so-rich-why-aren’t-you-smart? mega-moneyed, that honest affordable high-performance, like arts education, is left behind and forgotten. (see #s 7 & 8)
  10. Dedicated listening. Few people actually sit and listen exclusively to music. People are buzzier and more distracted, bouncing from one thing to the next, rarely devoting any time to concentrated listening. (see #s 2, 6 & 7)
  11. Isolated listening. There’s the rise in headphone/earphone use, for the obvious reason, a) no one is sitting down to listen; and for a good reason, b) it’s the easy and inexpensive way to get better sound. That means less demand for amps, pre-amps, speakers, and accessories—further dividing the market into low-end junk, and the crazy extravagant high-end. There’s little room left for affordable high-performance audio systems. (see #s 1, 2, 9 & 10)

With a list as long as this, and the way the reasons interrelate and magnify each other, it becomes obvious why audiophilia is dwindling. There are too many good reasons not to do it and not to care.

Nonetheless, I don’t believe for a second that an interest in high quality sound is going extinct. People under 40 have ears to hear and the ability to appreciate the difference between good ‘nough and excellent. But those eleven reasons add up to a lot of resistance. The rise in average quality that pulls up the bottom end to passable makes today’s run of the mill sound lightyears ahead of fifty years ago. Consequently, superior quality isn’t superior enough to break through the resistance. These changes have altered the market. There’s no going back. And it’s not just audio. All our modern conveniences and technological advances that are saving us time, sparing us drudgery, improving efficiency, raising the quality of life, and opening the world to us, have by some contorted irony also made our lives more hectic, our thoughts more frazzled, and our leisure time more elusive. Such a strange paradox. . .

. . . one that gets a little clarification next time.

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