It seemed that just a few short years ago, you couldn’t visit any major town or city without tripping over audiophiles in the foyers of hotels all intent on seeing the latest and greatest in hifi. Well perhaps not, but there did seem to be more shows of an international bias, drawing crowds from far and wide. Today, it’s refreshing to see shows such as the Wigwam Festival (this year re-named the Pie-Fi show due to its location at Melton Mowbray, home of the Pork Pie!) in addition to trade shows and fairs. It demonstrates that hifi is alive and kicking, but for me there’s still one issue with many hifi shows. They are speaking to the “converted” and are geared at either demonstrating wares to the hifi buying public or showing off very individual systems for those already bitten by the bug.
What’s wrong with this picture? Well nothing insofar as it continues to offer insights to systems and components and access to manufacturers and enthusiasts. However, it doesn’t seem to be drawing the younger generation as perhaps such things related to technology and music should. In the effort by marketing types to make music accessible and convenient and for companies to back this with manufacture and sales of very profitable music gadgets (I won’t call it hifi if that’s ok) it seems the industry has created a problem. Its denigrated music for the next generation to something like “fast food”. Convenient, affordable and accessible, but like fast food, its lacking something and that’s quality. Not how such gadgets are screwed together, but the sort of music they offer. Compressed streaming, I-pods, internet libraries of MP3 play-lists. The list goes on.
What all of this is lacking is not so much true musical appreciation, as that would be an erroneous conclusion (I’m sure anyone listening on any device is doing so because they want access to the music), but quality. It’s denying the younger generation in particular access to wide dynamic range, superb mastering and the sort of wonderful experience that only a good hifi set up can offer in conjunction with a well recorded and mastered piece of music. Well, second only to live music that is. In effect, the industry has cut its nose off to spite its own face and the payback may not come today or tomorrow but in a decade or so down the line.
Many Hifi manufacturers and dealers, big and small, are beginning to struggle with so called “high-end” (I prefer the term “High-Fidelity”) dealers going underground. Sure, they’ll still get their business from enthusiasts as long as they’re still around but come the next generation, hifi could, if all us enthusiasts, dealers and manufacturers don’t do more about it, disappear completely. Well perhaps not altogether but I wouldn’t mind betting that the industry will shrink, and in doing so, economies of scale will be lost, costs will rise and fewer sales will result.
It’s not just the business and availability of kit being lost that matters though. If we look at how we relate to the world around us using our senses, we will have lost something very special; the ability to re-create as near as we can, full dynamic range in our living rooms; the loss of nuances, detail, true dynamic and frequency range along with the harmonics that are lost through frequency compression as well as dynamic compression. We are in effect denying the pleasure we’ve all had from music to the younger generation for no better reason than “that’s what the market wants”. How about this for a radical thought, why don’t we concentrate on “what the market needs” in order not just to survive, but also to allow the next generations access to the pleasure we currently enjoy in our hifi? Lets make it an obsession, a target for every young man and woman to need music in their lives, and not just compressed convenience hifi food, but a full on balanced and high quality tasty diet!
So how can this be achieved? Well it should start in the home. Sharing our musical passions is a form of education and guidance, so let’s do that and make it mainstream and desirable as it should be. Involve our youngsters, and help them build their own systems even if it does add to the clutter! Let’s influence shows by bringing our youngsters and having something for everyone. Also, us enthusiasts are partly to blame. When was the last time we took our youngsters to live music events? Once they get a flavour and a taste of “real music” they’ll soon learn to abhor any form of compressed convenience in favour of high fidelity except perhaps when on the go when MP3 players have a good function.
The recent Pie-fi show perhaps offers us a model as it demonstrates not only the great and good in quality hifi, but also just what can be achieved on a budget. Demand quality of everything in your own systems, do not put up with second best unless there’s no alternative and above all by example do not fall into the habit of making hifi a convenience habit.
Author – Paul