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"Houston, we have a problem"
"Houston, we have a problem"
By Gregory F Morgan
Posted: 2023-11-30T01:41:34Z

We have a problem. It is a problem that is rarely mentioned among audiophiles, as they focus on component upgrades, speaker placement, and room tuning. It’s time we at least acknowledged the 800-pound gorilla in the room - we are a dying breed. Young people are not joining our hobby. Women are not joining our hobby. Minorities are not joining our hobby. All these demographics enjoy music as much as anyone else, so why aren’t they interested in achieving the best sound possible on their individual budgets?

I believe there are a several factors to the slow decline in people choosing not to seek out high end audio systems. From what I’ve seen the youngest members in our group tend to be in their late 40’s to early 50’s age wise. People’s taste in music tends to be somewhat frozen in their mid to late 20’s, which means that most of the music people in our group listen to would be considered somewhat archaic from the standpoint of the average college student. Hell, I’m in my early 50’s and I cannot stand Steely Dan, a band popular with a lot of audiophiles just a bit older than I, so how would someone entering college view the music I like? I have been to many audio shows in the past where young people have requested that the exhibitor play requested music tracks only to be told no. If we want young people to enter our hobby, they need to be able to hear their music played on a high-end system. I have a friend that worked in an Apple store years ago come over to my place to listen to music. His entire music collection up until that point had been lossy filed played back on his iPod. I played him an album by The Pogues, one of his favorite bands, and he was thoroughly amazed. His first remark was “Oh my God, there’s a harp in this song,” which was followed by “It’s like I’m hearing this album for the first time, and I’ve owned it for more than a decade.” This is the experience that we need to present to younger listeners.

Another major factor is us. That’s right audiophiles themselves are a problem. Audiophiles have a habit of talking down to non-audiophiles, and let’s face it, often to each other. Most of the conversations audiophiles have among themselves are like foreign languages to the uninitiated. Opinions among audiophiles seem to be more plentiful than stars in the sky. This can be very confusing for someone starting out in our hobby. When people ask audiophiles where to start and get many conflicting opinions, it is very frustrating and confusing. Moreover, there is a lot of absolute insanity to some of these opinions. I have had at least one person tell me that the most important part of and audio system and the part that should be considered first and foremost is the AC power supply. To which response my response was, “Really? You think that’s more important and should be give greater consideration than having components that will actually play music?” Still, he was adamant about the AC power issue. Many audiophiles don’t seem to be able to tell the difference between a discussion and an argument, and regularly end up in the latter, which is a turn off to any would be new audiophile.

The expense of some of these systems can be daunting to those new to the hobby, and the expense can be very hard to justify. Unlike other industries where the cost of a given product is based on Design Costs, Bill of Materials, Manufacturing Costs, plus a profit margin, Audio products seem to be more arbitrary. A cable manufacturer will price their cables based on how they compare to another manufacturer’s cable and price regardless of Bill of Materials and manufacturing cost. I recently heard a very expensive pair of speakers that did not impress me despite their six-figure price tag. I didn’t see where the money was going. Looking at the speakers, I thought the Bill of Materials, manufacturing costs, and research couldn’t have cost more than $15,000 and that includes a generous amount towards the purchase of a CNC machine, which would be amortized across many pairs of speakers. An 80% profit margin would put the price at $27,000 - far from the six-figure asking price. So then where did the other $100,000+ dollars go? This is not lost on a new person looking to get a nice stereo system. The cost issue is especially relevant in the era when a soundbar is considered ‘good enough’ for a lot of people. For people to make the decision to move beyond a soundbar, there needs to be affordable systems that are significantly better than current soundbar offerings.

So why is the lack of younger audiophiles an issue? Younger people getting into the audio hobby early will hopefully mean there will be new young designers creating new and exciting products for decades to come. Somewhere, out there, is the new John Curl, Roger Modjeski, or Nelson Pass, if they are guided in the right direction. So how do we fix these issues? I am not going to pretend that I have a solution, but I am hoping to start discussion on how we get younger people of all walks of life to join our merry band of music listeners and to share the music that moves them emotionally. To fix a problem, you must first recognize the problem exists.

Tagged as Audiophile