How Today's High-End Installed Car Audio Can Help Save the Hobby

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Lexus-LFA_MarkLevinsonAudio-1.gif Today, the car audio market is owned by Harman (the parent of Mark Levinson), as the company didn't stop with the Lexus deal. It expanded to all sorts of brands, including Mercedes, Chrysler, Toyota, Porsche, and many others. Harman is the leader, but it isn't the only player in the game. 

Here's a list of some high-end audio companies that have made car audio deals:
Acura - Krell
Audi - B&O 
Bentley - Naim Audio
Bugatti - Dynaudio
BMW - Harman/Kardon
Chrysler - McIntosh (John Varvatos)
Fiat - Beats by Dre'
Land Rover - Meridian
Lexus - Mark Levinson
Lincoln - THX (Harman)
Maserati - Bowers & Wilkins
Jaguar - Meridian
VW - Dynaudio

Maserati-Bowers&Wilkins.gifThere is a lot to like about the world of luxury and/or high-performance cars embracing audiophilia. These car companies have marketing budgets, reach, and sophistication that no specialty audio company has today. Inherently, people love music. If their cars bring music into their lives in more meaningful ways - be it via satellite, phone, hard drive, whatever - it gets them thinking about how they can have the same luxury at home. It wouldn't be crazy for a new audiophile store to rent space at a high-end car dealership. Imagine a few demo rooms adjacent to the service area of a Lexus dealership, set up with Revel's latest speakers, an Ultra HD television, and some Mark Levinson electronics. People who can afford an up-market car can afford up-market audio. Have these people ever played with a Kaleidescape? Sonos? A well-programmed Crestron remote? Have they seen Ultra HD from, say, a Red-ray server? I bet not. One dealer here in Santa Monica, The Audio Salon, is riding the coattails of the local art dealers in Bergamot Station on the argument that someone who can pop for a $35,000 Andy Warhol "Soup Can" or Damien Hirst "Opium" print can also buy some Magico, Spectral, and Transparent. In effect, the dealer's rent becomes marketing. Car dealers have lots of parking. They tend to have lots of space. People with money and good credit often have time to kill at car dealerships.

Meridian-LandRover.gifIs this too crazy an idea? I don't think so. It's time to start thinking beyond marketing to the 56-year-old guy who wears a worn-out Dark Side of the Moon t-shirt and goes to the stereotypical record store with a copy of Jazz at the Pawnshop on 180-gram vinyl for hours-long demos to then buy basically nothing. This guy might be the target customer of some of these regional audiophile shows, but he's not the future of high-end audio. Not even close.

Don't get me wrong, headphones are a great (and affordable) way to get people into high-performance audio. But high-end car audio offers a way to bring the emotion, the art, the luxury of high-end audio to the well-heeled but still mainstream consumer. If we can get people energized or re-energized about music and audio, then there's a reason to swing by the old stereo store or to call that custom installer. Car audio has the chance to make household names of companies that we all know, but which aren't often as well-known to mainstream buyers ... and that's a really good thing.

• Comment below on what type of car audio system you have in your car. 
• Did you buy the aftermarket or OEM-branded audio in your last car? 
• Will you buy up-market audio in your next car purchase or lease?
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