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HiFi Thoughts, November, 2019

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The Musings of one David Michael Blumenstein, audiophile, bon-vivant, world-traveler

Some of my perspectives on the industry, any one or all of which I can expound upon in person:

  • December 7th, 1941, a day that shall live in infamy, but not the only day that the Japanese hit our shores. July 1st, 1979, Sony introduced the Walkman in America and so much changed. In just about 4 months we will ‘celebrate” its 40th anniversary, a biblical one of sorts, as it marks 40 years that the Hi-Fi industry has been lost in the desert. Prior to the Walkman, the industry had its feet on the ground, it had a vision and knew its roots. That changed over a period of time until—through cassettes, mp3s, iPods, and finally streaming services—the experience of listening to music had become too convenient, too thoughtless, too easy, thus robbing the experience of its most intrinsic value.
  • If the Hi-Fi industry is to grow and evolve, it has to realize that it is in a rebirth, and reboot. Those with the inclination to have it be what it was must first remember what is was like for them to be introduced to their first system, and what sparked their love affair with audio. Secondly, they must return to the mid 1970s and revisit the messaging in both advertisements and marketing of that day, and understand that if there is to be a renaissance it will be at the hands of today’s teenagers. The solution is not trickle down but rather trickle up. Back in the day we had a father, an older brother, a grandfather and, in my case, an uncle who led us down the path to Hi-Fi. It was a bonding experience for me with my uncle and that’s what the industry needs now more than ever. Bonding over listening to music regardless of the genre, one-on-one time growing that relationship WHILE listening to music and learning about gear: the brands, the specs, the features. Note: children today have so many competing interests and outlets for their time and attention. That’s hard enough. But if they are NOT reached before they get their driver license then it’s pretty much game over. Too young to drive, not too young to be at home listening to music.
  • Records and turntables are making a comeback today NOT due to their sonics but because they are tangible media, something that today’s generation can physically feel and touch. They do not have a reference point against which to truly judge. Last Shop Standing, the Graham Jones book on the rise, fall and resurgence of record shops in UK, demonstrate just how vital it is for the Hi-Fi industry to work in concert with these shops and the entire movement. I find it ironic that AXPONA schedules its big show on a Record Store Day (RSD) weekend. This is why I am advising so many regional shows to start work on integrating record fairs into their shows and really marketing/promoting this in their respective communities.
  • Disposable income is not what it used to be. Now, I know there are more and more tech billionaires and millionaires out there, but they are not being attracted to Hi-Fi in appreciable numbers, so this is why Hi-Fi manufacturers have to be mindful of lines of products at reasonably affordable price points. In today’s market a more than adequate/decent system of speakers, turntable, integrated amp, and cables can be assembled for $1,500 or less. Not a great system, but one that can serve as an introduction, instilling a sense of pride of ownership. I was fortunate enough to have my uncle gift me his system to safeguard and I have kept it to this day. It is vitally important that component pricing be measured in relative terms to the cost of an entire system. It is also very important that whatever integrated amp someone acquires as his or her first sports a bona-fide headphone jack. Sometimes even when at home you need to keep the volume down. Parents will be parents. Also, if they are accustomed to wearing headphones when they’re out and about, that jack on the front of the amp can be quite welcoming, making them feel that the Hi-Fi/Head-Fi need not be a zero-sum affair.
  • Gender fluidity today is not what it was back then. There’s a reason why most audiophiles that read the magazines and attend shows are at a minimum in their early 50s (see point #1 above and add 40 (years) to the kids who were 12-13 years old back then). Girls matured faster than boys and often dated older boys. Younger boys found themselves in a no-man’s land: too young to drive and be independent, but they had music and Hi-Fi to fall back on. The ‘Father Knows Best” family construct really did not leave America until the mid 70s—in some parts of the country it remains—and if indeed societal liberation and freedom were at hand for girls, the independence of the Walkman and being out and about was too great an enticement. The prospect of girls back then becoming audiophiles was doomed. Sure, there were outliers, but in numbers far too small to be in any way significant. Even with all of today’s societal revolutions and evolutions, it will still be incumbent on males, almost exclusively, to serve as a Sherpa, a role model for curious boys and girls leading them down the path into the hobby.

Note: the age of audiophile in its widest band is bi-modal—those in their early to mid 50s who jumped in the pool as young teenagers and those now in their late 40s who waded in while at University/College.


Copy editor: Dan Rubin

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3 Responses to HiFi Thoughts, November, 2019

  1. My father had a very good system, but he never listened, I took over it without him knowing it, and without permision. I though everything good was vintage until I found out about the existance of High End at a mall shop.

  2. Richard Meyer says:

    Excellent article. I would add that a lot of the music in the top 20 list doesn’t need good hifi. It’s overproduced and overmastered. Would Taylor Swift really sound that much better on a good hifi system?

    What scares me, as a jazz and blues fan, is the lack of interest in these genres. A Ben Webster recording on a good system can be amazing to listen to. Even some classic rock can sound great on a good system. As I right this I’m listening to The End by the Doors and it’s an excellent recording enhanced by my system.

    Finally as manufacturers quickly introduce lower cost components the issue of quality versus price is sure to come around again and again. HiFi dealers need to do a better job of educating the public on great sound.

    As for vinyl, I have heard both sides of the argument of vinyl vs CDs. I know several executives at major record labels who are making a fortune selling vinyl titles for $24.95 or more with box sets. I do have some vinyl but I have stopped buying titles because they’re just too expensive. Now some CDs I want to buy can only be bought used or for big bucks by independent merchants.

    As for streaming I prefer CDs but today’s public was brought up on iTunes and listening to the songs you like.

    The market is changing and if more hifi stores close their doors it will be our loss.

  3. Wm. Viets says:

    People aren’t attracted to high end audio because the stores up sell so much and won’t let you listen to components at home. Plus, people like all in one equipment to avoid clutter. As far as audio shows, I’m tired of the pablum music selected.

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