Sex, Drugs and High-End Audio, Part 1

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by Josh Ray on January 23 '06

 Issue23 Images Ipodweed

Hey, everyone, my new article "Sex, Drugs and High-End Audio" is up over at Positive Feedback. First of many articles to come, this one covers why I believe there is a huge potential market for hi-fi in America and how we can turn the audio-anemic masses into educated consumers.

I'd like to get a dialogue going about the problems facing our industry, how we can ignite a revolution and why the hell everyone thinks Bose is the best thing out there. So read the article and let me know if you have any ideas.


Being 36 and into hi-fi since I was 20, I ask you to continue to fight the good fight. -The internet is the only way forward. People can find the products online at their pace as opposed to laying out cash for a magazine with possibly only 1 item that interests them. -Cheap digital storage and broadband now allow easy access large, higher quality files. -More people are listening to music. It has never been easier to access music. -Sound quality has become much worse over the past five years, which opens up a huge opportunity, combined with the other factors, for high-end to increase its appeal. The high-end industry must now market itself to listeners of all genres of music, not just chamber and classic jazz. It must embrace, market and develop more cool products. It must also embrace digital music as the way of the future and give people entry points into the high-end world from their ipod, like $4-500 steps up the ladder. Right now there are $300 'docks' or $2500 systems. Hardly inviting. The high-end community must reach past the old white men with turntables and into the music community as a whole. Local audio shops should regularly have acoustic or 'unplugged' events featuring local musicians of many styles. It also needs to market itself as an industry better, using the wine industry as a case study would be a great start. The Brits do many of these things better than we do - UK mags evaluate a broader price range of equipment and music in every issue. They understand mass appeal. With a small shift in attitude and some collective effort, I feel the time is definately right and high-end could thrive in 5-10 years' time like we haven't seen in decades. Fight the good fight brother.
Thanks for the kind words and, yeah, you're absolutely right about what needs to happen for this industry to grow. The good news is the non-audiophiles I talk to are very interested in high-end audio, they just can't get passed the many of the barriers to entry in this damn industry. They have the music, like you said, but they can't open up Stereophile and understand what the hell is going on. I've got a really cool convergence product in for review right now that would go a long way towards bridging the gap, but the web site is so poorly designed, I don't even want to mention it. Misspellings, nonsense and far too many technical details right on the first page. Does anyone give a damn you have teflon caps or star wiring? Hell, does anyone even know what that means? Any audio newbie that sees that site will never, ever buy that product and will most likely write high-end audio off completely and just buy Bose. So lots needs to be done but, yeah, in 5 years, this whole industry could explode wide open. I'll be launching SonicFlare 2.0 in the next month or two and will really attack a lot of these issues but it's simply going to take a major shift in thinking by the entire industry...
Josh, Great article. I am in agreement with t rice's points. Here is my take on it and it is not just for the audio but can be generalized to high-end electronics. As we know most high-end manufacturers do not have the power for “Apple” like mass reach mainly due to their size hence the buying power. People, not just iPodders do not have the opportunity to listen or see the real deal. Rather they only encounter iPods and Zens in the local electronics chain. The only distribution channel for those companies is to sell through a dealer network. AV Dealers, as with used car dealers, are a nasty crowd not just for the consumer but also for the manufacturer. Not all of them I must say. Markup for high-end electronics starts at 40% so the mentioned $2500 system will go for $1500 or less with manufacturer getting its desired profit should it sell through internet. They could sell the product for $2000 and spend the “extra” $500 for the marketing and explain the difference in popular wording what teflon caps do to the quality. Monster and Bose managed to do their BS so it is very possible with a real product backing the campaign. Internet, blogs in particular, have the power to educate an average person whose world ends at the stand where mp3 players are displayed. You are doing a great job at it. Keep it up. Cheers, Mike
Hey Mike, You're right about the shelf space issue. Interestingly, the editor of Wired mag has a blog called The Long Tail where he talks about the infinite shelf space of the internet and e-retailers like Amazon and Netflix. Basically, the long tail means there's a whole bunch of gear that doesn't have a huge market but, through the internet, can do a sizable chunk of business. Shindo will never be Krell -- it simply doesn't have the watts -- but it can have all the shelf space it wants on the net. And, interestingly, all the low volume companies in the long tail have almost as much combined revenue than the big brands. The tail is just that long...