The Next Generation of Audiophiles Are Spending Big Bucks (and Time) Gaming

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Have you ever eaten at Din Tai Fung? It is a Taiwanese soup dumpling restaurant that is the only “chain” to have earned a Michelin Star, which is about as lofty a culinary goal as there is in the world of fine dining. A few years back, Din Tai Fung opened outposts near tech centers in Seattle, and then in a high-end shopping mall in Glendale, California. To call these restaurants a success would be to understate their global foodie appeal. More locations have followed, including in the Santa Monica Mall, the Century City Mall, and even in the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas, to mention a few. By noon on any given day of the week, these large restaurants can be reporting as much as a two-hour wait! If you have the time, these handmade steamed dumplings are simply to die for and certainly worthy the awards from Michelin.

This is actual article research, people. Seriously, how else do you expect to get these great photos without the publisher doing it himself.
This is actual article research, people. Seriously, how else do you expect to get these great photos without the publisher doing it himself.

Everyone in our family loves Din Tai Fung, but few of us have the ability to wait hours for a table during prime time, so we often arrive between 10:30 and 11 AM. There is no shame in wolfing down some hot and sour soup and soup dumplings before noon, especially if you don’t have to wait very long (if at all) to get a table at this foodie destination location. A few weeks ago, after finishing our simply fantastic meal at the recently renovated (Westfield, the mall management company, allegedly spent $1,400,000,000 making this Beverly Hills-adjacent shopping center into something unlike anybody has ever seen) experiential mall. In the Century City mall, you will find non-mall-like establishments, like an uber high-end health club and spa. There is also a pretty comprehensive UCLA Health walk-in facility. There is another medical spa directly below this that offers Meyer’s Cocktail IVs (very trendy in this part of the world, but boy, does a Dr. Meyer’s Cocktail of vitamins nip a cold in the bud, thus a very worthy expense of $150 and 40 minutes of one’s time), but the retail store that my 11-year-old son couldn’t live without if we didn’t visit was Razer, the high-end gaming store a few doors down from Din Tai Fung. 

The artisans making my soup dumplings with amazing care and precision.
The artisans making my soup dumplings with amazing care and precision.

From the second you walk through the threshold of the Razer Store, it feels like you’ve entered the 24-bit realm of an HD video game. The walls are painted flat black, but there are neon colors, lights and lots of pulsating and flashing attractions to catch your eye and attention. The company’s high-performance gaming products are presented in a very Apple Store-like way, in that only one item is on display, with all of the volume of inventory kept in the back. This store makes their own brand of gaming peripherals, but delivers the whole gaming experience from nose to tail in this store. There are gaming mice and keyboards. There are high-refresh-rate, 4K curved video screens connected to Alienware gaming PCs that come pre-loaded with the fastest, RAM-loaded, multi-core processors and more, all designed for the high-performance gamer who wants the best of the best and is willing to pay extra for it. Additionally, there are gaming chairs, high-performance mouse pads, gaming headphones, and even clothes to wear when you are gaming, all neatly displayed and very much for sale. Under one roof, this retailer has everything you need to become a high-performance, bleeding-edge gamer and in an odd way, it was a somewhat inviting shopping experience.

There are many compelling vignettes inside of the Razer Store that highlight every element needed to be a pro gamer at the highest level.
There are many compelling vignettes inside of the Razer Store that highlight every element needed to be a pro gamer at the highest level.

We left the store that day with a nearly $300 Razer gaming mouse for my son, as my ability to say NO was significantly impacted by the all-encompassing power of a few dozen Xiao Long Bao (shrimp and pork) soup dumplings that I had seemingly consumed. My son’s new peripheral is an open frame design made of carbon fiber and, with a wired mouse, it has slightly less latency for games that need really fast clicking. Bed Wars on ROBLOX is my son current favorite game, and I don’t really love that I can actually hear the never-ending clicking sound of this new and relatively expensive mouse. If you ask him about the mouse, he will show you exactly what it does, why it is good, and can wax poetic about the value of said purchase like an audiophile showing off his new stereo preamp or DAC. 

Today's automotive and aviation SIMs are nothing short of amazing toys for big boys with a lot of money to spend
Today’s automotive and aviation SIMs are nothing short of amazing toys for big boys with a lot of money to spend

The Next Generation is Ready for Us but Few (if any) Audiophile Salons Actually Speak Their Language

At this fall’s CEDIA EXPO in Denver, I spent some time with companies that made some of the most amazing car and airplane simulators. These amazingly crafted SIMs aren’t cheap, being priced from $50,000 to over $120,000, depending on the complexity, but they are about the coolest toys that you’ve ever seen and/or experienced. There are oligarch audiopriced digital-to-analog converters that cost many times what these automotive or aviation-based SIMs cost, and luxe audio-priced audiophile components don’t let you fly a F-35 or drive a La Ferrari. These SIMs speak to the ultra-high end of gaming, and serve as a reason for today’s youth to engage with a retail experience that often is very much stuck in the past, with turntables, tubes and whatnot. 

How hard or expensive would it be to set up a high-end gaming suite in an AV retailer? A gaming PC, the variable height desk, a few curved high-refresh-rate video monitors, a purpose-made gaming chair, mouse and keyboard all represent a good start and a low four-figure investment at the retail level. High-end headphones with a microphone built in are needed next in order to communicate with other players during one’s high-intensity gaming session. Everything about this gaming experience matches the core principles of the audiophile hobby. Even young gamers like my son are looking for the Nth degree of performance in their gaming franchise of choice. For my son, how is this any different than his Dad, who is still somewhat miserable in that he sent his review sample $10,000 Pass Labs XP-22 stereo preamp to another reviewer to listen to, instead of writing the check to own it, as that preamp has that last drop of performance type appeal? Aren’t we all seeking the same kind of performance? 

My 11-year-old son getting ready to play ROBLOX with his $300 mouse.
My 11-year-old son getting ready to play ROBLOX with his $300 mouse.

The Next Generation of Audiophile Will Need to be WOOED and WOWED, Not Lectured and Hazed

If the first time an OG “original audiophile” encountered a McIntosh amp, say, back in 1968, and it was playing some Lawrence Welk while glowing with lovely tubes, it might not have had the same appeal as if it was playing Axis Bold as Love or Led Zeppelin II, right? What can today’s AV dealers do to be more relevant to their next generation of audiophiles? There’s plenty – let’s make a list…

  1. Find audiophile-grade modern music to play for new enthusiasts – Don’t tell me that you have a better chance selling a pair of speakers playing a demo of “Peg” or “Us and Them” versus more modern, dynamic and, most importantly, relatable recordings. We all have to work to find new music that meets our standards for recording quality, but also makes us feel something. With the vast reach of HD streaming, there is really no excuse. Demo tracks like Marcin’s cover of “Kashmir” is a perfect example that has become an instant classic for audiophiles, not just because of the recording or performance, but also in part because of the familiar melody and songwriting. This is a real-world challenge that isn’t easy, but is anything but musically impossible.  
  2. Deliver on the WOW factor of audio – Many of my long-time staff members cite going into a Circuit City in the 1990s and hearing and seeing the iconic MartinLogan speakers for the first time. At first glance, one might not believe that sound can come out of a curved, visually translucent speaker, but it can and did, much to the amazement of many an audiophile, who saved every penny they could find in order to buy one. Delivering that same WOW experience, even if it is expensive, is important. If you are a retail store looking to find younger and more diverse customers, you better be able to deliver a more impressive experience than the local Magnolia Store inside of a Best Buy. 
  3. Resist living in the technological past – The term “disruptive” is considered a very positive one in the world of technology, and the next generation of audiophiles were born and raised on technology. They want to know about the newest and coolest gear. Can today’s audiophile dealer deliver a compelling demonstration with many or all of the new Class-D, semiconductor-based amps? If not, figure out how, as it isn’t hard or expensive. Do your audiophile stereo preamps have features like HDMI inputs, room correction and 32-bit upsampling DACs? If not, perhaps it is time to change things up with what is being displayed on the floor, much like the way Cadillac pivoted from cars like a Fleetwood Brougham (possibly with whitewall tires), which appealed to The Greatest Generation, to more updated rides, like a Tony Soprano-tastic SUVs such as the Escalade. Other than foolishly shit-talking the inclusive and game-changing market trend, what can your local audiophile dealer teach a new AV enthusiast about Chi-Fi
  4. Finally embrace video, as it is simply not the enemy of any audiophile – Gaming needs video, and so do so many other viable sources today, yet too many audiophiles refuse to integrate into a 4K UHD monitor into a modern audiophile system. Traditionalist audiophiles view video as the enemy, but younger audiophiles look at YouTube.com like a modern-day MTV or FM radio, while Amazon Music, Spotify or Tidal is tantamount to a record store. Both platforms benefit from having a video display thoughtfully integrated into a modern audiophile system, but how many neatly-installed Samsung The Frame UHD TVs do we see mounted on the wall between a pair or two of nice audiophile floorstanding speakers? You might see one out of 100 at an audiophile show, with the same scarcity in audiophile retailers as well. 
  5. Don’t forget the audiophile-grade headphones – Younger audiophiles or people who might aspire to be audiophiles are likely already in the headphone market with the mainstream brands. Can you illustrate to them what the benefits are for a pair of $999 Mark Levinson No. 5909 wireless headphones that are the closest thing that you can get to the Harman Curve, versus a more mainstream, lower-cost pair of cans? Can you give a young audiophile an experience as to what more exotic open-back or electrostatic headphones sound like when using a rig designed just for audiophile headphones perhaps with a dedicated headphone amp, DAC and whatnot? These experiences are key to the WOOING and WOWING process. They are low barrier to entry challenges that also speak to younger audiophiles in terms that they already relate to, which makes inspiring them to get more involved in the hobby a little bit easier. 
Yet another gaming suite at the Razer Store in the Century City Mall.
Yet another gaming suite at the Razer Store in the Century City Mall.

Let me be clear, I am openly challenging today’s specialty audio-video dealers to start rethinking the way that we bring younger and more diverse consumers into the hobby. The video game industry is projecting total 2023 revenues of $356,000,000,000, and shows no sign of this number rolling off any time soon. They reach tech-crazy teens and pre-teens who understand and are already willing to pay for technological performance. They understand what the Nth degree of performance is and what the specific value is for investing that last drop of technological excellence. Basically, these young folks are predisposed to become audiophiles, as so many of them love music as much as gaming. The warning comes from the idea that if things are done with a love of the past and fear of change, as the audiophile hobby has always done for its entire existence, then this massive opportunity will be sadly lost. Best Buy sells video gaming titles, gaming PCs, more traditional gaming consoles like Xbox and PlayStations, and much more. Do you want to leave a Big Box store to be the place that these kids learn about real audiophile gear, or do you want them in your store? That is the question today’s (and tomorrow’s) audiophile stores need to ask themselves and then take action accordingly. 


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