Many argue that it was affordable transistor radios that got Baby Boomers hooked on audio at a young age. At the time, the portability of music was a game changer that, when paired with a global renaissance of music in the late 1960s set forth a love for audio that was at the time as much a status symbol for upwardly mobile men as, say, a muscle car. A generation later, many of these same men are the remaining audiophile hobbyists. They are the ones buying and selling gear on Audiogon.com and making strategic moves to get their audiophile systems to new levels of perfection. They know their Wilson Audio, B&W, Audio Research, and Mark Levinson.
For Generation Y, the largest generation ever in America, they don't see audio and the hobby of audiophila in the same way. They don't have the patience to listen to 44 minutes of an album in one sitting. They listen to songs or bits of songs. They listen on the go - not necessarily in a treated, dimmed listening room. And despite their large numbers and youthful enthusiasm, Generation Y have been born into a terrible economy and with social standards that still to this day suggest that one should spend one's self (and or their parents) into servitude with student loans. With unemployment at what seems like above 10 percent- many 20-something kids put their loans in remission and nest at home with their parents while trying to find their way. These are exactly the consumers who, through Generation X and the Baby Boomer's rise powered both audio/video sales as well as music software sales.
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It's not to say that Generation Y doesn't spend money on anything. They do - as proven by the five day, $650,000,000 sales total for Call of Duty: Black Ops video game. They also spend on their cell phones. For Generation Y, texting, video chatting and downloading just about anything are not luxuries - they're a way of life. So what we have here is the largest demographic ever of kids who have 100 movies and 10,000 songs in the palm of their hands, right as they are about to start their careers and make some real money. Enter the role of the headphone as the savior of the audiophile business.
With cell phones as much a part of life for today's youth as air to breathe - headphones have become an everyday accessory like sunglasses. You just have to have them - but beyond necessity headphones are becoming a fashion statement. Apple did a good job marketing their white ear buds to differentiate the iPod back in the day but anyone who has jammed those God-awful ear speakers into your lobes knows they are both uncomfortable and sound like garbage. Speaking of sounding like garbage: Monster's successful line of Beats By Dre' (and other artists) pack obnoxiously poor audio but carry ghetto street credibility on the "b" logo on the side of your ears. They may sound awful but they are selling like hot cakes at relatively high dollars because they are a fashion statement.
Head into an Apple Store and you will see quite a few audiophile grade options for earphones. Bowers and Wilkins P5 are a notable addition. Bang & Olufsen's architectural headphones are less an audio statement as much as they are a statement about luxury and design. Sennheiser has good options . So do Sony, Panasonic and many others playing in the headphone world.
Give Generation Y a few more years and don't be surprised to see them start looking for even higher end audio solutions from brands like Ultimate Ears, Etymotic Research, Stax, Grado, Sennheiser and others. To go one step further - don't be surprised when the economy starts recovering in earnest and the banks start lending again, that this large demographic of youth starts to buy into a deeply discounted housing market with low cost loans. Living at home with your parents is lame even if they try to sell it another way and when Generation Y starts buying up the millions of homes in the marketplace today - they might just start showing the transition from earbuds to better headphones to entry level audio system to excellent audio systems when the money is there to justify the luxury. Their Baby Boomer parents did it. Generation Y might too if powered by their mobile soundtrack coming through their headphones today.