What Audiophiles Don't Understand About Millennials... Or Music

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What Audiophiles Don't Understand About Millennials... Or Music

Parents just don't understand. The same could be said of audiophiles. When I was first starting out in the hobby, I really wanted to be looked upon as an audiophile; I thought it was a term to be revered, and one that had to be earned. I looked at renowned audiophiles, some writing for rags like Stereophile and The Absolute Sound, and thought, someday. It was one of my dreams, and as I worked my way up the specialty AV ladder, from a lowly reviewer of remotes to eventually managing editor, I kept wondering when, if ever, I would feel like an audiophile. When would I become one?

I know that may sound like a strange obsession, but it's one that for years tore at me. Here I was, a regular among audio and video circles, a staunch supporter of the cause, and one of the industry's more prolific writers; yet, I never felt like an audiophile. Okay, maybe that is a bit of a stretch: I may have felt like an audiophile, but I never felt as if the "community" accepted me as one. Why, you ask? Well, because it would never take long for one of the self-appointed representatives of the audiophile community to comment on my love of subwoofers, or digital EQ, or heaven forbid, professional PA amplifiers. The point being, large portions of the community didn't accept me, or want to hear what it was I had to say, because I had failed some arbitrary litmus test.

Sound familiar? Ahem, Millennials. 

This is the same attitude that I fear drives younger audiences and women away from the hobby. I don't believe I'm out of bounds in saying that, along with the audiophile community being a bit of a boy's club, it's also pretty damned judgmental.

Of course, audiophiles also like to argue that young people don't care about quality, nor do they have the resources to buy anything, let alone stereo equipment, so why should our industry care about them? This argument is as misinformed as the green Sharpie hack for CDs and audiophiles' silly obsession with the first-generation PlayStation as a music source.

Last month I had the pleasure of taking part in Record Store Day at a number of different locals. Record Store Day (RSD), for those of you who don't know, is a day of celebration that takes place every year and promotes local record shops and vinyl culture through the special release of albums and pressings made just for the day. RSD has been with us for a while and continues to grow in popularity, much to the delight of fans and to the chagrin of some who claim the commercialization of RSD killed it long ago--but that's for a different article. 

Anyway, spending an entire day with a large cross-section of music and vinyl lovers, a few things became immediately apparent. One: the average age of the crowds hovered around twenty. Two: there were a ton of young girls, teens, and women among the crowds--and, no, they weren't there because of their significant others. Three: the excitement was palpable, the mood positive and familial. Four: tons of money was spent (at one shop, the average was over $200 per person). Lastly: there was virtually no specialty AV industry presence whatsoever. There also were very few audiophiles.

Wait, what?

That's right: I spent most of my afternoon talking with strangers in line at the shops or inside the shops themselves, and most admitted to listening to their records on budget turntables through headphones, or powered speakers with either phono or Bluetooth connectivity. Few, if any that I can recall, mentioned having setups beyond what you may be able to scratch together while at your local Best Buy--Magnolia excluded. While this may cause many within the audiophile community to scoff or proclaim it as proof that younger generations don't care about quality, I ask: what are you smoking?

The debate over which is better--vinyl or digital--notwithstanding, the fact that here we have hordes of young people with money to spend buying physical media should be chum in the water to audiophiles and those who cater to their every whim. And yet, it isn't. Why aren't manufacturers partnering with record shops and putting systems in their stores? Hell, why aren't they going into business together and building retail stores around the culture of music rather segregating the gear and the entertainment as if they have nothing to do with one another? I know it's trendy to be online only these days, but could you imagine a record shop with new and used vinyl, selling sub-$1,000 AV gear from two or three reputable brands, complete with a cappuccino machine and some comfy couches for kids to hang out in and be social around music and the hobby? If that doesn't sound like heaven to you, I have to question your religion. The next generation of consumers longs for the sort of social experience that your typical audiophile shop hasn't had for a long time. It isn't just about listening to well recorded music by yourself in a dark room. It is different now.

This is what is missing from the audiophile community: the community part. And much like in the old days, this new record-buying crowd focuses on the music first and foremost. There is a pot of gold out there for the AV companies who can figure this out.

Additional Resources
• Selling Audio/Video to Gen Xers Versus Baby Boomers at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• The Demographics of the AV Enthusiast Are Changing Faster Than the AV Business at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• A Tale of Two L.A. Malls Sheds Light on the Future of AV Retail at HomeTheaterReview.com.

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