I was first introduced to audiophilia by way of an all-McIntosh system when I was 15 years old. I was still riding a bicycle and most of the music I heard was by way of a handheld AM transistor radio my dad bought me. That McIntosh system transformed my relationship with music and led to, admittedly, a potentially expensive hobby, but a fun pastime nonetheless.
Over the years, I’ve wondered why that old McIntosh system caused me to abandon all interest in my transistor radio – arguably the iPod of its day. Why was a handheld transistor radio suddenly passé? Why this hobby? Why has high-performance audio thoroughly captivated me for most of the last 50 years? Despite the many years of pondering I’ve done on the subject, about all I can come up with is “I don’t know.”
Dinner and Music Plans For My Millennial Guests
Imagine my interest when my fiancé, Holli, informed me she wanted to invite four ladies with whom she works, two of which were married, over for drinks, dinner, and a listening session in the audio room. She also casually informed me they were basically younger or “tweener” Millennials – 26 being the youngest and early 30s the oldest. Despite this, Holli told me, she got along really well with each one and, having told them about my audio system, surprisingly discovered they were very interested. One of her newfound friends, Kelsey, the 26-year-old, loved Taylor Swift. I have several of Taylor’s CDs on my server and also access to Qobuz, so I was prepared.
I set about selecting the wine to be served, fine-tuned the hors d’oeuvres, made my meal plans, and began developing an event-specific musical playlist. One of my principal problems was I had little in the way of music that twenty-somethings enjoy ripped to my music server. I can stream, but I am not the biggest fan of streaming when it comes to the best possible sound in an ultra-level system. So I instead decided to buy a few relevant CDs from Amazon. Streaming would happen eventually for our soirée, but not in the beginning when I was showing what was possible.
Time for Dinner and Music
On the evening of our get-together, we did a quick house tour and as is my custom, saving the audio room for last. When they walked in, they started looking around as if they were on a different planet. Suffice it to say, the 7.5-foot-tall line array speakers and all the acoustical panels on the walls and ceiling were not what they expected. Now the fun would begin.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but in a situation like this, I have to fight the irresistible urge to go soaring into a potentially boring, technical dissertation about how sound propagates an enclosed space. These people were not in any way interested in hearing me blather on about first order reflections and standing waves. Like many people who have graced my audio room, the science of audio was not their predominate interest. Generally speaking, the principal interest typically centers around playing high-octane music, really loudly.
In this instance, my mandate was to serve dinner, crank up some Taylor Swift, and call it a night. There we were, however, gathered in the audio room when Kelsey again exclaimed her excitement over hearing her favorite artist, the one and only Ms. Swift. Our evening’s musical roadmap was now made quite clear. Without question, we were setting up to have a very fun, hopefully eye-opening, experience.
After dinner and the requisite toast with Limoncello, we all headed upstairs where eight chairs awaited our arrival. I like to start with something out of my guest’s wheelhouse, so my first song was from the Andrew Lloyd Weber production of The Phantom of the Opera (buy at Amazon). The track was “Music of the Night.” I told them to listen for the clarity and accuracy. They could, I informed them, distinctly be able to hear the “th” sounds, as well as the “dh” sounds at the end of words and how the vocalist took a breath when starting to sing. I reminded them to listen to the power of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. They were intrigued upon hearing what all audiophiles know as imaging. Several wondered if I had multiple speakers hidden around the room. My dissertation tendencies once again started to rear their ugly head. I had to keep reminding myself these people were not interested in audio technicalities as much as feeling the emotional power of music they love, likely sounding better than they’ve ever heard before.
Over the course of the next couple of hours, I managed to answer a few questions, asked almost exclusively by the husbands of my fiancé’s colleagues. And we had a really wonderful time, even if I was indifferent to most of the music. I asked everyone to request a few songs (thank you Qobuz) and invited them to sit in the listening position when their tracks were playing. This was very well received, and as I watched how everyone reacted, what initially began as disinterest, punctuated by discussions about work, became an eyes-closed, thoughtful reflection on the music. Almost without exception, each of these six young people ultimately cast aside their initial predilection of indifference and became engaged with the music. This was the effect for which I was hoping. And all too soon, our evening was at an end.
Audiophile Expectations for Non-Audiophiles…
In no way do I realistically expect any non-card-carrying audiophile to leave my home and suddenly feel compelled to assemble an audio system. I have every confidence none of the six will suddenly abandon their smart phones or Alexa device to play their favorite music. What I wanted each of them to know and understand is that something else was out there. I wanted them to know high-performance audio was a thing. I wanted them to fondly remember our evening of finely reproduced music, and, hopefully, well-crafted hospitality.
My hopeful expectations aside, there is also the possibility that soon after leaving my home, my audio system became a distant memory. Over the years, I’ve had dozens of non-audiophile guests in my home and my audio room. I would, in no way, be surprised to discover whereupon ending our sonic pursuits they left with the same outlook on music (and audio systems) as they did when they came in the front door – which would be fine. Like trying something new at a fancy restaurant, you might like it (or love it), or you might chalk it up to experience and never order it again. I am just proud of anybody who will try something new.
I’ll continue to enthusiastically promote the audiophile hobby, especially to younger music enthusiasts. If I can possibly create a musical scenario by which a 20-something can sit back and say “wow,” then I have done my job.
The stated goal of FutureAudiophile.com is not just to provide another source of fact-base, non-voodoo reviews to people who are already into the hobby, but to reach a badly needed new audience of audiophiles who are younger and more diverse. There simply aren’t enough women and younger people involved in the hobby at this point. We encourage our beloved readers to take a younger person to the local stereo store or play them your system. Perhaps even spend a few hours at one of the many audiophile consumer shows with them.
My colleagues here at FutureAudiophile.com are getting even more creative. Our publisher, Jerry Del Colliano, recently had his 10-year-old son set up his SVS Prime Wireless Pro speakers for review, including wireless connectivity. Long-time audiophile writer Brian Kahn is currently reviewing four mid-priced turntables and he had his 15-year-old son set up each and every one of them (with careful oversight from Dad, of course, but hands-off nonetheless). Steven Stone wrote about his audiophile wedding gift to his 30-year-old Nephew in Denver that outfitted his Scotch and Music Room with a modest Chi-Fi based system suitable for his AC-DC-loving musical tastes. Rhode Island-based audiophile reviewer and colleague Michael Zisserson brought a 19-year-old neighbor over to hear his bright orange Tekton Design Pendragons during the review process. Outreach is the first step in bringing new people into the hobby, right?
The power audiophiles have is that we’re really technological ambassadors for the hobby. The stereotype of sitting in a messy room in the basement in which only one person listens is flawed and likely not sustainable going forward. When possible, we need to share the health benefits, the fun of exploration and enjoyment of music as art, as well as the often amazing looking/feeling/sounding technology that goes into the audiophile hobby. We have that power. We just have to do the outreach. And take it from me, it is not so very difficult and well worth the effort on so many levels.
Share with us any stories you have of ideas or examples of how to do outreach to new audiophiles. We love to hear from you in the comments below.