From day one, the goal of FutureAudiophile.com has been to be a disruptive force in the world of consumer electronics, specifically the audiophile hobby. Like it or not, the demographics of audiophilia are changing. We owe a big debt of gratitude to the Baby Boomers for creating and curating the audiophile hobby for us for more than a generation. With time, it is only normal to see a demographic change coming, but hi-fi enthusiasts typically don’t do well with change. Younger people need and want audio for different reasons than those of us who have been involved in the hobby for the past 20, 30, or more years. And that is a very reasonable and good thing.
From personal experience over 49 years, I can tell you that Generation X are stereotypically total workaholics who put productivity over happiness and often even wellness. Present company included, many Gen Xers suffer from relatively serious health issues as a result of our professional and personal life choices. Could a spin of a fantastic John Coltrane record wash away some of the agony of a stressful workday? You bet it can. Does it have short- and long-term health benefits? Absolutely, yes, but rarely is the audiophile hobby presented from a lifestyle perspective versus technology or luxury perspective. Gen X needs audio in their lives, perhaps more than our Baby Boomer parents.
If you believe the mainstream media and university generational experts, Millennials stereotypically value experiences over assets. When asked one of my favorite loaded audiophile question, some Millennials still struggle over the option to have $5,000 for audiophile gear or $5,000 to attend a weekend music festival like Coachella, Bonaroo, Stagecoach, or any number of others. When the audiophile hobby is explained rationally to younger Millennials, it is not uncommon for them to become enthusiasts at some level or another. Millennials connect with and identify with music in ways that perhaps no other generation before them ever has. They also understand that even a modest audiophile system is, in effect, an experience machine. With unlimited access to high-quality versions of practically every record ever released, it’s easier than ever to become an experience-seeking musical time-traveler with a nice little audio system. One night you might listen to Sinatra: at the Sands (buy at Amazon) and the next a recent Beyoncé concert live recording. The world is your oyster, musically, in 2023.
Zoomers are, by contrast, a pretty young demographic relatively, the oldest of which are just graduating college and the youngest of which are going to be entering middle school in the coming years. Their generation stereotypically deals with issues of fear and anxiety in ways that are hard for older folks to even wrap their minds around. Do you know what can help soothe social media pressure, fear of climate change, and any number of other scary real-world global topics? That would be listening to some absolutely gorgeous-sounding music on a capable audiophile system. Try this test at home if you have a simple blood pressure meter. On a day that you are specifically stressed out, check your blood pressure then play say Miles David Kind of Blue (buy at Amazon on vinyl) for a good 15 to 30 minutes and retest your blood pressure. I bet you will see your diastolic number (the bottom one) drop a good five to 10 notches. What’s the value of that? It can be lifesaving at best.
The challenge for the current audiophile community is how to appeal to a new and very different audience of audiophiles. How can we bring them into a hobby that hasn’t always been all that inclusive? Here are four words or concepts that likely will help.
Audiophile Keyword Number One: Collect
In every AV publication that I’ve ever worked for (most I actually owned), I’ve written about the concept that ours is an OR hobby versus something like collecting fine watches or wine. Those are AND hobbies, meaning that you don’t sell your favorite Rolex to buy that next Patek Phillipe timepiece when you might sell your Audio Research amp to get that new CH Precision. That’s an OR hobby.
Headphones bring the concept of collecting audio into the hobby, not just for the wealthiest of audiophiles, but for our younger enthusiasts. Owning wired headphones, wireless over -ear headphones, in-ear-monitors, earbuds and any number of other congruent or competing technologies is perfectly reasonable. Chi-Fi make this even easier to do, as $50 to $100 goes a long way with these new, value-oriented audiophile brands.
Electronics are getting physically smaller, which means less metal, lower shipping costs, and an easier time storing more than one, say preamp in your home. You can reasonably collect Chi-Fi or other more audiophile-grade yet affordable components easier today than ever before.
Audiophile Keyword Number Two: Value
I am a bit of an extrovert. I am from Philly and I will talk to anybody basically anywhere. If they are smiling and friendly looking, we likely can talk about something that interests us both somehow, somewhere. When I talk to younger, Millennial and Generation Z audiophiles, there is one concept that comes up in literally every conversation, and that is value.
Recently, I interviewed a recent business school graduate from University of Maine. He is early in his career of being a wealth manager, but you can easily see how he’s going to be successful. He’s into video gaming as well as surround sound. He has a gaming PC as well as fast-refresh TV paired with a sexy new Denon receiver with Dolby Atmos plus a few pairs of Definitive Technology speakers that come with height effect channels on the top of the speakers. When asked, “If you won Powerball, what audio gear would you buy that you don’t have?” he looked me right in the eye (well, via Zoom but you get the point) and said, “nothing.” “I would build a hospital,” he told me, or, “I would invest in a lot of real estate to generate income.” It isn’t that he wouldn’t design and build an absurd AV system eventually, but his priorities aren’t audio-first – and that is perfectly OK.
Younger AV enthusiasts love music, movies, television, gaming, and all sorts of other relevant media, perhaps more than anybody else, but they aren’t likely to spend sell-an-organ money to upgrade their D-to-A converter. How do you tell a 42-year-old Millennial who paid in blood to pay off her student loans by 35 that she needs to get back into debt for audio? You can’t and certainly shouldn’t even try.
The future of the hobby has a lot to do with finding a starting point that younger audiophile men and women can tolerate and then let them grow as life allows it. The key is, we have to find a way to get them started. Going to regional audiophile show that has nothing but $5,000-and-up components is nice in theory, but in practice, there’s nothing for the entry-level set to dream of owning or experience. We must have a realistic point for new audiophiles to start. Someone at the recent AXPONA show had an interesting thought: anybody with a pair of earbuds is a potential audiophile. The more that I think about it, the more that I agree with this industry executive.
Audiophile Keyword Number Three: Inclusive
How many times have you seen that audiophile room that has that one chair in the sweet spot and you thought, “what if somebody else wanted to listen to this guy’s system with him?” One of the co-founders of a cool, old-school but now defunct brand called Evett and Shaw once pointed out that home theater is a concept where the whole family (men, women, children, and even the dog) can enjoy media together, whereas audiophiles build the hobby around listening by themselves. Rooms lack the interior design that matches the rest of the house. Rarely, do couples sit down after a dinner party and listen to jazzy-cool music over drinks and clever conversation. Maybe that needs to change? I’ve suggested to audiophile companies going to regional shows that they hire a real estate staging company to put real furniture into their demo rooms. Plants, lighting, seating. Create an inviting environment for husbands as well as wives. Make your audio room look as good (if not better) than the other rooms in your home. That will potentially bring more than one person in to listen. That’s inclusivity.
Women love music just as much as men, but the male/female split in the audiophile hobby, historically, has been close to 99:1. That’s going to change, I think, going forward. Young women aren’t afraid of tech. I met four 22-year-oldsfrom Iowa at AXPONA and two were female engineering students. The tide is turning for music lovers and audiophiles. Music has lifestyle benefits and, if presented in the right way, music is pure luxury. Everybody likes luxury and relaxation, thus most will want that as part of their living environment when the time, funds, and opportunity present themselves down the road.
Bringing younger and more diverse people into the hobby will make it thrive going forward. It doesn’t take much for an established audiophile to show a potentially likeminded youth how the hobby works and some of its benefit. A trip to an audiophile store, spending a few hours at a regional audiophile show, or just playing your system for them in ways that illustrates why we all put some much time, money, and effort into our audio systems. Mere minutes later, what could seem from a distance to be a dorky hobby all of a sudden starts to make sense. We just need to invite people into our exiting world of music and technology.
Audiophile Keyword Number Four: Future
One of the biggest plagues on the audiophile hobby is its traditional love of all things retro. Tubes over GaN amps or vinyl over streaming HD digital files are two examples. Any way you look at it, the audiophile hobby isn’t too into change. The hobby will have a future no matter what; the question is will it be a bright one or a sad one? If we find a way to embrace new technologies, new concepts, and don’t get hung up on anti-fact clichés that limit the appeal of the hobby, my vote is for a bright future. Clearly, we need new people in the hobby that bring enthusiasm and passion that drives the audiophile journey for decades to come. We chose the word “future” in FutureAudiophile.com carefully. Our future is unclear as a hobby and a business, and we are here to try, as best we can, to shape that future to one that it is as bright as possible.
Tell us about your outreach to younger potential audiophiles. If you are a younger audiophile, how did you get involved in the hobby? What have been some of the most fun stops on the audiophile journey so far? We love to hear from you in the moderated comments below.