Ian Ringstead takes a look at the state of the hifi industry and asks what we can all do to boost the popularity of two channel audio in the home.  

For sometime now I have been pondering the state of the hifi industry and where it stands today. When I first started in the business in 1980 everything was rosy and the hifi business was booming. The Linn LP12 was the new king on the block and was changing our thinking of how we listened to music and the importance of source components. Many new companies were emerging along with the old hands of Quad etc. and hifi was exciting. Everyone wanted a decent separates system or at the very least a midi or mini system and if you ever asked anyone back then what was in  their list of top ten wants, hifi would be high on that list.

Move on 35 years and the climate is very different. Now a decent hifi doesn’t even register on the list of wants and when I talk about it to colleagues at work or my friends I generally get a shrug of the shoulders or how much!! Youngsters just don’t dig hifi or even realise what decent separates can sound like. The way people in general listen to music now is very different. When I was younger I couldn’t wait to get home from work and spend all evening listening to my hifi in my bedroom (pity my parents and neighbours). Even now that I am married and 35 years older I still love to listen to my system when possible and regularly buy new music on cd or records. Youngsters in particular don’t follow this pattern. They want instant music on their mobile phones and are happy to download poor quality mp3 files preferably for free if possible and listen on in ear headphones or through the speaker walking along in the street. headphoneskids

I see this every day at work or on my way home especially on public transport. Now that’s fair enough, especially if they used hi resolution players, but most don’t. The mobile phone rules and even my daughter and son in law happily put their mobiles into the docking station in their flat or play music through their TV. Music tends to be used as background entertainment rather than the main attraction and they wouldn’t dream of listening seriously for several hours. That’s their choice and I understand that habits have changed and evolved over the last few decades. My fear is that our wonderful hobby will die out with the older generation i.e. 45 plus males especially.

When you go to hifi shows now there is a predominance of grey haired middle aged men who drool over the kit they can’t afford or they are looking for a new toy to upgrade to. Of course hifi is all about the desire to get better kit or achieve a more believable sound, but how we achieve this is our prerogative and is fun. The problem is it might die out with this older generation unless we can make it attractive to the youngsters.

I have talked to many younger people about this issue and most shrug their shoulders. First you need a desire to listen to music whatever genre it may be and get excited by it. Then you need to want to hear it on decent equipment or ideally be educated to the fact of how good a decent hifi can sound. That means attracting them into good dealers and going to shows. This I feel is where a lot of the problems lie now. Without wishing to offend dealers, unless they are open to truly wanting to attract customers and educate them as to what is possible then we as an industry are doomed. The number of dealers I have walked in to and been ignored because they are on the phone or assume I can’t afford the dearer kit is astonishing. Shows can be no better either. If manufacturers don’t make the effort to try and demonstrate their equipment properly or show interest in the public attending (don’t be on your mobiles all the time and looking so bored that it’s obvious you’re not interested). That may sound harsh but I have witnessed this at every show I have attended for years and I go to three at least a year. I and two of my friends one year walked into a well known company’s room where there was some very tasty but very expensive equipment that we wished to listen to. The exhibitor looked down his nose at us as if to say you can’t afford this so I can’t be bothered to even talk to you. One of my friends was abhorred by this attitude and proceeded to walk out of the room saying if that’s your attitude I won’t ever buy your equipment no matter how good it may sound. Snobbery is totally unacceptable and my friend was brave enough to say what I felt. I am not wishing to tarnish all dealers or manufacturers with this brush , believe me there are many friendly dealers and companies who are very professional and deserve to do well , but the few that don’t try or care annoy me. Why bother to even turn up if you are bored by the whole affair. I know I am not the only person who feels this way having talked to many colleagues in the business.

So what do we do to address this situation? There is no easy answer or magic wand that will solve it easily. The population in general needs to be enlightened again to the joy of music, and when Top of the Pops finished (an institution in its day), I feel we lost a conduit to enriching the public’s interest in music. Radio is still there, especially Radio One and Two but the charts have disappeared as we knew them and only youngsters probably look at the download charts now. So do people still listen to music as much as we used to? I don’t know for sure. Habits have definitely changed and maybe we need to adopt a different approach. Music is still used a lot on computer and console games which sell in their tens of millions and youngsters love them, so why can’t we attract them through that avenue. Maybe we can. Marketing strategies need to be radically altered and shows need to be fun to attend for every age group. This means they need to be more than just rooms full of hifi, other attractions to satisfy everyone and keep them amused would attract larger numbers and hopefully result in more sales / interest.

These are just my own thoughts and opinions amassed over time and as stated earlier there is no simple answer to this conundrum. I in no way mean to sound negative about the hobby I love, I just wish to see the future being brighter with more people enjoying what we enthusiasts do now and have done for years. On travelling to work today Chris Evans was talking to Darcy Bussell about her career and the fact she had just released a new cd with music that had inspired her during her dancing period. She said how music is universally liked by people and is such a great communicator of emotions. I have felt this for many years and I feel music is an integral part of our being and psyche. How you can not helped to be moved by the many great pieces of music that have been written and performed over the last few hundred years. Music stirs most people’s souls spiritually, so why not enjoy it on a good system?

Feel free to disagree with me if you wish, but if you can come up with any good ideas to reinvigorate this industry please write in with your suggestions. Hifi is not dead, just not as cool as it once was and has fallen out of fashion. How many millionaires do you see or hear talking about their fabulous hifi systems; now if it was a new super yacht they would be shouting about it from the rooftops.

Ian Ringstead




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